Authors: Ernst, Kathleen
Old World Murder: A Chloe Ellefson Mystery© 2010 by Kathleen Ernst.
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First e-book edition © 2010
E-book ISBN: 9780738727370
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Cover illustration © Charlie Griak
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For the interpreters and curators I knew,
with respect and affection;
and for Sergeant Robert J. Bord,
Old World Wisconsin is a real place. I had the pleasure and privilege of working there for twelve years, starting in 1982. However, this book is a work of fiction. All characters, including Chloe Ellefson, were born in my imagination. I freely fabricated events to serve the story. For example, although most of the historic structures mentioned do exist, Mr. Tobler’s cobblestone cottage does not. To learn more about this very real and fascinating historic site, visit the website: http://oldworldwisconsin.wisconsinhistory.org/
Perhaps only one thing has remained constant: like most museums and history-related institutions, Old World Wisconsin relies upon public support. Please help sustain your local historic site!
As Chloe Ellefson walkedfrom 1982 into 1870s Wisconsin, a white frame church emerged from the trees, prettily framed against a cloud-studded blue sky. The view alone was enough to make most visitors pause, appreciate the simple elegance of the restored church, perhaps even wonder about the lives of those women and men and children who had first worshiped within its walls.
For Chloe, the historic site’s newest employee, the scene represented a fresh start.
A cadence in her mind kept time with her steps:Must – make – this – work. Must – make – this – work.Dr. Eberhardt could no doubt have written a thesis about that obsessive little drone … but Dr. Eberhardt was still in North Dakota with his white pills and his spiral notebook and his guttural grunts that had reminded her all too often of Markus’ father. Visiting a psychiatrist who reminded her of the people she was trying to escape seemed counter-productive, but Solomon, North Dakota—population 793 on a good day—hadn’t offered many options in low-cost mental health care.
Anyway, Chloe had come to Wisconsin to stand on her own two feet. Although, she thought as she reached the church gate, it would be more accurate to say she’d comehometo Wisconsin. The last thing she’d ever expected to do. But she was here now. A new job. A new life. And she was determined to make it work.
After all, her chosen field was all about façades. Curators at living history sites presented impressions of the past. The bustles and bonnets (or braces and boots) that interpreters wore hid more than modern clothes and hairstyles. Well, she thought, nothing wrong with a good façade. In fact, a huge historic site intended to create and present illusions wasn’t a bad choice for someone wanting to rewrite her own history.
Chloe had visited the outdoor museum during open-hours only once, the day before her interview almost a month earlier. As she’d wandered the sprawling grounds that day, her spirits had unexpectedly begun to rise. Over fifty historic structures had been restored among the Kettle Moraine State Forest’s woods, prairies, and kettle ponds. Interpreters in period clothing brought the farmsteads, homes, and service buildings to life by telling tales and churning butter and making shoes and weeding gardens, and giving visitors as many participatory and sensory experiences as possible. Old World Wisconsin, the state’s newest historic site, was spectacular.
Now, she was hoping to recapture some of that good vibe. It was a late Monday afternoon. The last group of shrieking school children had tramped from the site, quickly followed by the interpreters’ stampede toward the parking lot. Chloe’s first day on the job, a blur of paperwork, staff meetings, and behind-the-scenes orientation, was winding to a close. This was the best time of day to visit any historic site. And having after-hours access was one of the true perks of becoming an employee.
Chloe knew it would take a long time to become truly familiar with Old World Wisconsin. She planned to visit a building or two after-hours each day. Starting with … she consulted her map … St. Peter’s Church.
She mounted the steps and, feeling important, used her new master key on the lock. Once inside she paused, letting impressions of the place come. St. Peter’s Church offered nothing too striking. Good.
Next, she took a quick curatorial survey: plain wooden pews, a pump organ, painted stations of the cross hanging on the walls. Most of the window panes were thick and distorted—original, amazingly enough. The altar cloth needed cleaning, and she scrawled a note on her pad.
Outside, tires screeched on gravel. A moment later heavy steps thumped up the stairs and a stocky, white-haired, red-faced man burst into the sanctuary. “Who are you?” he demanded.
Chloe blinked. “Who areyou?”
He scowled. “Look here, lady, the museum closed at four o’clock. You can’t be in here!”
Belatedly Chloe noticed the vague uniform: dark brown trousers, tan shirt, patch of some kind duly sewn on his sleeve. His official attire contrasted sharply with the non-uniform she’d mustered for the day: tan chinos and a royal blue cotton shirt, long blonde hair captured in a single braid and coiled behind her head.
OK, Chloe told herself, time to get one more working relationship off to a good start. “My apologies. I should have introduced myself. My name is Chloe. I’m the new curator of collections.”
The security guard rubbed his chin. “Marv left something in the log about a new curator starting … but that’s not the right name. It was something Scandihoovian. Inger? Ingrid! Yeah, that was it. Ingrid—”
“I go by Chloe. But Iamthe new curator.”
“Well …” He still looked suspicious. “You can’t come out on the site after hours without letting us know.”
Chloe mustered her brightest smile. “I’m really glad to know that site security is so tight. But I’ll need after-hours access on a regular basis. Can we consider some other solution, um … what did you say your name was?”
The guard hesitated. “Hank,” he said finally. “Well, just be sure to check the alarm before you go barging into buildings. The Village buildings have been switched over to the new security system. Did Marv give you the access codes?”
Had Marv given her access codes? She couldn’t remember. She couldn’t even picture Marv. The day had been full of too many names and too much information. “I’m not sure, to be honest. I’ll have to look through my notes.”
Hank showed her the security touchpad hidden behind a door, and gave her an access code. “That’ll work for every building in the Village,” he told her. “There are different codes for the German and Finn-Dane areas. The Norwegian buildings are still on the old microphone system, so you’ll have to call. You’ll be outta here within the hour?”
“Less,” she promised. “I’ve got a five o’clock meeting in the restoration area. I’ll probably just visit one more building here before heading out for the night.”
Hank made a big show of seeing her out of the church. Lovely, Chloe thought, as she watched him get back into his car and drive slowly away. Day One, and she’d already annoyed a security guard.
“Just keep trying,” she ordered herself softly. She had a new position—and a permanent one, which was hard to come by in the mostly seasonal world of outdoor museums, complete with benefits and a salary that actually covered rent with enough left over for a bit of food each week. “I will,” she announced, “stay positive.”
That resolve fled as soon as she oriented herself on the visitor guide and map. The next building was a small cobblestone cottage across the road from the church. She’d skipped the Tobler House on her earlier visit, but the new curator of collections couldn’t ignore one of the exhibits just because its first occupant had happened to come from Switzerland.
Chloe knew that her Swiss connection had helped land the job. “I see you spent five years at Ballenberg,” Ralph Petty, the site’s director, had said during her interview. He’d tilted his head to peer at Chloe over the half-glasses that perched on his nose. “The Europeans have so many excellent outdoor museums. Did you enjoy living in Switzerland?”
“Oh, yes,” Chloe assured him blithely, as her fingernails dug angry red trenches into her palms. “IadoredSwitzerland.”
“We’re currently restoring the home of a Swiss immigrant in the Crossroads Village,” Petty said. “Aldrick Tobler emigrated from Switzerland to Green County, Wisconsin, in 1872. We were able to get our hands on the small structure that served as both his carpentry shop and living quarters.”
“Will—will I be expected to furnish the Tobler building?” Chloe stammered. If so, they might as well end this interview right now. No way was she up to that.
“Unfortunately … no. We want to open the building to the public later this year, and we couldn’t wait for your position to be filled. I hired a freelancer last winter to develop a furnishings plan.” And Director Petty had rattled on enthusiastically about the project for at least another ten minutes. Chloe had tried to nod in appropriate places.
She could skip the Tobler house today. Just mosey on down the path to the Hafford House. Mary Hafford had been an Irish laundress, and Chloe was eager to visit her home.
But … no. Just check the place out and be done with it, Chloe told herself. She let herself inside and quickly punched in the access code on the security box hidden behind the door.
As she turned, Chloe paused to get a feel of the century-old building. She got a brief glimpse of half-papered walls; a worktable covered with tools. Then the impression came. It was not the distant jumble she’d felt in St. Peter’s Church. Instead, a sense of palpable unhappiness crackled in the air.
Chloe clenched the doorknob. The sensations grew stronger, although she couldn’t quite define the root emotion: Frustration? Discontent? When her skin began to tingle, she bolted from the building.
On the front step she wiped her forehead with suddenly trembling fingers. What the hell wasthat?After a lifetime of absorbing impressions of old buildings, she’d learned to take the occasional flash in stride. But that sensory barrage had been unexpectedly strong. Chloe pulled the door tightly shut and snapped the lock.
It probably wasn’t even the house, she thought, as she hurried away. Poor old Mr. Tobler had probably lived a hum-drum life and died without leaving any bad ju-ju behind. Surely her own bad ju-ju had caused her reaction. It had been a mistake to enter the Swiss exhibit alone. She’d come back some day when the site teemed with hyperactive fourth graders. That energy would dispel bad vibes of any vintage.
Chloe checked her watch. Time to head out, anyway.
Once she retrieved her green Pinto from the main parking lot, she drove down the site’s twisting entrance road. The village of Eagle lay to the left, but Chloe turned right onto Highway 67. She passed the 1940s-era house that inconveniently held Old World Wisconsin’s administrative offices. Another right turn onto County Highway S took her past a tree-lined prairie that marked, if she remembered correctly, the edge of the museum’s German area. The huge historic site warranted several access gates for staff use.
A mile or so later she slowed and turned right again onto a gravel drive with a fading sign that proclaimed “Restoration Area.” In front of her was a long, low building that housed the maintenance staff. A pole barn held a few large artifacts and two of the big trams used to haul visitors around the site.
Two ancient trailers squatted off to the left, almost hidden in a grove of pines. The words “Celebrate The Bicentennial! Visit the History Mobile!” were barely legible in peeling paint on one. The other, an ugly pinkish-gray rectangle on cinder blocks, gave no hint of its lineage. Both trailers had been pressed into temporary service for collections storage, and were crammed with shelves of artifacts.
Chloe climbed rickety steps to the pink monstrosity. The tiny kitchen area had evidently provided desultory office space to a curator who, in a whirlwind of energy, had furnished the exhibit buildings before Old World’s grand opening six years earlier, in 1976. The burned-out curator had soon after joined the Peace Corps and moved to New Guinea. State-imposed budget cuts had left Old World Wisconsin without someone to oversee its collections ever since.
The office held a miniscule table and two chairs. It was cramped and dusty, and smelled of mice. Chloe had been aghast that morning when the museum’s receptionist had handed her a note with the meeting arrangements on it. “You told a potential donor to meet me at thetrailer?”
The receptionist—what was her name?—had shrugged. “Look, once this lady heard you’d actually been hired she called half a dozen times, wanting to know when your first day was. She was determined to come out today.”
Chloe turned on the ancient faucet. After several moments of agonized burbles and clanks, a dribble of rust-colored water reluctantly emerged. She used the tap water and a few paper towels to wipe down the yellow Formica table and two wooden folding chairs. She jumped when a phone rang. She hadn’t known shehada phone in here. By the fifth ring she’d located the ancient rotary-dialed monster—an artifact in its own right—behind a stack of black notebooks.
“Chloe? Listen, are you expecting a Mrs. Lundquist? She ended up over here at Ed House by mistake.”
Chloe mentally fast-forwarded through a filmstrip of her morning. Ed House … yes, she remembered.EducationHouse. Another of the empty homes left behind when the state bought out the few properties that infringed on the projected Old World Wisconsin site, now used by research and interpretation staff. If she wasn’t mistaken, this male voice belonged to the curator of interpretation.
“Right,” she said. “I’m waiting here at the trailer.”
“I’ll send her along.”
“Thanks …”—she went for broke—“… Brian.”
Small silence. “It’sByron.”
“Byron. Right. Sorry.”
“I’ll send Mrs. Lundquist over.”
“Thanks,” Chloe began, but a dial tone already rang in her ear. Evidently Byron was a tad touchy about his name.
Day One. She’d annoyed a security guard and irritated the curator of interpretation.
A few minutes later car tires crunched slowly over gravel, and Chloe went outside. The big Buick dwarfed the elderly woman who emerged. She wore Easter Sunday-best—a pale yellow linen dress, white pumps, matching handbag. Chloe winced, picturing what the trailer’s dust would do tothatoutfit.
“Mrs. Lundquist?” she asked. “I’m Chloe Ellefson. I’m so glad to meet you.”
The hand that clasped hers seemed fragile, like wrapping paper stretched over a toothpick model. Mrs. Lundquist’s carefully permed white hair framed a thin face with anxious blue eyes. “How do you do?”
“I’m well, thank you,” Chloe said, as she led the way into the office. “Please forgive the dust. It’s my first day, so I haven’t had a chance to tidy up.”
“I understand.” Mrs. Lundquist settled gingerly on one of the chairs, put her purse on the table, and folded her hands in her lap. “It was kind of you to see me so quickly.”
Chloe sat down with legal pad and poised pencil. “The phone message I got didn’t contain much information,” she began. “You’re interested in making a donation?”
“Oh, no!” The tiny woman sat up straighter. “I need to get one of my family antiques back.”
“Um … back? Back from where?”
“From here!” Mrs. Lundquist pulled a piece of paper from her handbag and presented it.
Chloe read the faded photocopy. It was an acquisition form confirming the accepted donation and legal transfer of an item described as a “Hand-painted Norwegian ale bowl with cow heads, nineteenth century” to the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. At the bottom was a neat signature—Berget Lundquist—and the date: November 10, 1962.
“Well … it seems this item was transferred to the Society twenty years ago,” Chloe said. “This is your signature?”
“Oh, yes. I made the donation. My son had died, you see. My only child. I didn’t see any point in hanging onto family heirlooms.”
“But … now you want it back.”
Chloe studied the paper again. The donation had been made when Old World Wisconsin was no more than a gleam in some architectural historian’s eye. “Ma’am, I think that you need to contact one of the curators at the Historical Society headquarters in Madison.”
“I’ve already done that, weeks ago. And I was told that my ale bowl was transferred here when this site opened.”
Shit. “Mrs. Lundquist, I’m new, so I’m not familiar with Society collections policies yet—”
“I’m sure you’re doing your best, dear.” Mrs. Lundquist patted Chloe’s hand. “You seem like a sweet young woman. And with that hair … you must be Scandinavian also?”
“Just like me!” Mrs. Lundquist awarded Chloe a delighted smile. “So you understand.”
No, I don’t! Chloe insisted silently. “Mrs. Lundquist, once a donation has been made, it can’t be undone. It’s a legal transfer of ownership.”
“But I must get it back! It’s very important!”
Chloe pinched her lips together. She genuinely liked old people. She liked their stories, their memories, their hard-won experience. Their mementos, their refuse, even their homes—these things comprised Chloe’s chosen profession. Mrs. Lundquist didn’t need to beg, or to cajole; Chloe truly wanted to help her.
“The best thing I can do is check with the chief curator in Madison,” Chloe said. “I can call her tomorrow, and get back to you.”
Mrs. Lundquist’s face crumpled. “But … I had hoped to take the ale bowl with me today.”
“I’m afraid that won’t be possible.”
“May I at least see my bowl? Make sure it’s alright?”
“The thing is …” Chloe massaged her temples with her fingertips. “Did I mention that it’s my first day? I don’t know where the ale bowl is. It could be in storage, or on exhibit in one of the Norwegian houses. Have you toured the Norwegian area on site? Do you know if it’s on display?”
“Old World Wisconsin is so big … I’ve been told that I’d have to climb in and out of a tram to even reach the Norwegian houses. I’m afraid that’s too much for me.” The elderly woman lifted one fragile hand in a helpless gesture. “But surely there are records? Can’t you look it up?”
“Mrs. Lundquist, I’m truly sorry, but I don’t even knowhowto look it up. I don’t know what system the former curator used. The collection here includes thousands of objects. And—” Chloe took a deep breath. “It’s myfirst–day.”
The other woman looked stricken. “Would you mind if … if I looked for it?” she asked, her voice quavering. “I recall the ale bowl well. I’d know it if I saw it.”
“I’m afraid that’s not possible,” Chloe said again, as gently as she could. “May I keep this acquisition form? Good. I will talk with the chief curator in Madison about your … situation. And—”
“—I will get back in touch with you as soon as I can.”
Mrs. Lundquist looked down at the table, but not before a telltale sheen of tears appeared in her eyes. “I see.”
Chloe felt wretched. “I promise you, Iwillfind the ale bowl.”
The elderly woman gently patted Chloe’s hand again—a feeble, papery gesture that made Chloe want to cry herself. Then Mrs. Lund-quist got to her feet, wiping her eyes. “Thank you for your time.”
Chloe made sure she had current contact information, then helped Mrs. Lundquist down the trailer steps. Mrs. Lundquist walked slowly, her thin shoulders bowed. The Buick’s door seemed too heavy for her. Once seated, it looked as if she could barely see over the top of the steering wheel.
Didn’t I switch from interpretation to collections to avoid people problems? Chloe wondered, as the Buick crept from the parking lot. What on earth had prompted Mrs. Lundquist’s sudden change of heart so many years after the original donation was made?
Day One: she’d annoyed a security guard, irritated the curator of interpretation, and disappointed a sweet old woman. Not the promising start she’d wanted.
“Time to am-scray,” she muttered. She’d confront this donation imbroglio tomorrow. Right now she had a mountain of moving cartons waiting at her newly rented farmhouse.
She locked up the trailer, threw her bag on the Pinto’s backseat, and headed for home. She tried to forget Mrs. Lundquist, but as she turned onto County S, the irritating drone crept back into her brain:Must make thiswork. Must make this work—
The incantation died abruptly as Chloe crested a rise. Below her, at the foot of the hill, was the big Buick which Mrs. Lundquist had driven from the restoration area parking lot five minutes earlier: in a ditch, upside down, and partially wrapped around a tree.
Patrolman Roelke McKenna handedthe man in the red Volvo his ticket. “Here you are, sir.”
“I know Chief Naborski personally.” The driver’s tone was peevish. “I think I’ll make a phone call about this.”
Roelke smiled pleasantly. “Be sure to mention that I clocked you doing fifty-seven in a school zone, sir.”
The man tossed the ticket on the empty passenger seat. Roelke had no more than stepped away from the car before the man furiously cranked up the window and pulled away.
“And have a real nice day,” Roelke added, before walking back to the squad car. Was the guy a long-time local? Roelke didn’t know. His old buddies from the Milwaukee Police Department, who often skewered Roelke for “fleeing to cow country,” assumed he was on a first-name basis with everyone. But although he’d been an Eagle cop for almost a year, he didn’t recognize everyone in the village.
Roelke noted the stop on his daily activity report while the radio chattered. Almost all of Waukesha County’s calls were routed through a centralized communications center, which kept the frequency busy. He was putting his clipboard aside when the dispatcher called his ID. “George 220. Respond to S & 67 for possible 10–50.”
An accident. Roelke snatched up the radio. “I’m three minutes from S. On my way.” He turned on siren and flashers and headed west, cutting through the swath of the state forest that bordered Eagle. As he turned left on County Highway S he took several deep breaths, steeling himself for … whatever.
When the cruiser crested the final hill on County S, Roelke saw a white Buick, flipped and crumpled against a massive oak. A thin blonde woman was on her knees by the broken passenger-side window. Roelke parked behind an old Pinto on the shoulder, slid from his car, and scrambled down the embankment. “What happened?”
“I think she’s dead.” The blonde sounded dazed. “I think I killed her.”
“I didn’t try to move her. I’m just holding her hand. But I really think she’s dead.”
“Let me see,” Roelke commanded. “And you—don’t go anywhere. Get in my car and wait for me there.” The woman scrambled out of the way as he knelt beside the Buick.
The elderly woman’s seatbelt tethered her to the seat. Roelke snaked his hand past the jagged splinters of glass and crumpled metal, feeling for the driver’s pulse. A Hardees cup had spilled, leaving brown stains on the victim’s dress and the champagne-colored upholstery. The woman’s small purse—white leather, expensive—rested on the ceiling. One white shoe had fallen beside it.
Roelke turned away, and frowned. The dazed blonde woman sat on the ground at the edge of the road, leaning against the Pinto. She didn’t look like a flight risk, but Roelke took note of her plate number before radioing dispatch for assistance. “George 220. This is a probable J3.” Roelke knew the old woman was dead, but the medical people didn’t like patrol cops calling it.
He needed an ambulance, an accident reconstructionist, a coroner, and a wrecker. While he finished with dispatch, the growing wail of another siren sliced the soft spring evening. A county car braked to a shuddering halt, sending a little spray of gravel across the road. Waukesha County Sheriff’s Deputy Marge Bandacek emerged.
Roelke stifled an inward groan. Sheriff’s deputies provided him backup in Eagle, and he provided them backup outside the village limits. All in all everyone got along, helped each other out. But Marge was a pain in the ass.
He went to meet her. “Hey.”
“What we got?” Marge was a big-boned woman, with gray hair cut in a straight line just below her ears.
Roelke gestured. “Just the driver.”
“Fatal?” Deputy Bandacek said, too loudly. Roelke saw the blonde woman wince.
“Yeah. No skid marks, no sign of other trauma.”
More keening wails scarred the stillness as the emergency squad approached. Marge jerked her head toward the blonde woman. “That a witness?”
“I don’t know yet.”
Marge hitched up her pants. “I’ll talk to her.”
Highway S was just barely out of the Village of Eagle limits, which put Marge in charge. “I already got started with her,” Roelke told Marge, keeping his tone friendly. “She’s pretty upset. I’ll finish up there.”
He turned away before Marge could object, leaving her to deal with the EMTs. An old VW bus zoomed over the hill and pulled to a stop—a good Samaritan or gawker—followed closely by a Department of Natural Resources patrol car. Good. Marge could give orders to the DNR guy, and they’d both be busy with crowd control.
Roelke approached the blonde woman. She still sat on the ground, knees up, staring at the wreck. She was probably somewhere in her early thirties. Her pallor evidently came from genetics as much as shock, for she had the look of a classic Wisconsin Scandinavian. The eyes that finally looked up at him were chicory blue.
“I need to ask you some questions.” Roelke pulled a pad and pen from his shirt pocket, and crouched beside her. “What’s your name?”
“Chloe Ellefson. Um, Ingrid Ellefson.” A rosy flush stained her cheeks. “Ingrid Chloe Ellefson.”
“How did you know the victim?”
“I didn’t know her. I mean, Ididknow her.” Ms. Ellefson stared at her hands, which were trembling. “I’d just met her. Her name is—was—Mrs. Lundquist. Berget Lundquist.”
Roelke kept his tone even. “How did you kill Mrs. Lundquist?”
She jerked. “What?”
“You said, ‘I think I killed her,’” Roelke reminded her.
“Oh, God.” Ingrid Chloe Ellefson swiped at her eyes. The wrecker arrived. Roelke waited. It was a pleasant day, which didn’t feel right, but there it was. The state owned the land on either side of County S, and bits of prairie remnants and oak openings still buffered the rigid rows of pines planted three decades earlier in much of the land southwest of Eagle. In between the sporadic metallic moans emanating from the wrecked Buick as the rescue team bullied the car into releasing Mrs. Lundquist’s body, a meadowlark sang. The spring air smelled damp and fresh.
“She needed help,” Ms. Ellefson began finally. “And I wasn’t able to help her.”
By the time she’d haltingly reconstructed her meeting at the Restoration trailer, Roelke was satisfied that she hadn’t committed murder. “Did Mrs. Lundquist appear to be ill?” he asked. “Did she seem breathless? Flushed?”
While the blonde woman struggled with those questions, the coroner arrived. He’d examine the body and decide if an autopsy was indicated, or if the local funeral home should be called to collect the body. The tow truck driver was getting to work with winch and chain. Two more passersby had stopped to rubberneck. The DNR officer kept them in check while Marge Bandacek oversaw operations by the wrecked car.
“No,” Ms. Ellefson said finally. “I mean, I don’t think so. She was just upset about her family heirloom.”
“Thank you,” Roelke said. “I’ve got all the information I need for now.”
She nodded, wrapping her arms around her knees.
“Is there someone we can call to drive you home?”
“No.” She lay one cheek on her knees. “But I’m fine.”
She didn’t look fine. Roelke turned away. “Hey, Denise,” he called.
Denise, a short, plump mother of two, had been an EMT for years. She looked his way as Roelke walked toward the truck. “What’s up?”
“Give her a quick once-over, OK?” Roelke jerked his head toward Chloe Ellefson. “Make sure she’s fit to drive herself home.”
Roelke checked in with Marge. She would wait for the accident reconstructionist, finalize things with the coroner.
“Looks clear-cut to me,” the young DNR officer said. “The old lady’s time was up.”
“Yeah,” Roelke said. After six years in the huge Milwaukee Police Department, he was still getting used to the assortment of backup that often responded to calls in and around Eagle. Sometimes it was overkill. Mostly it was reassuring.
He got back in his squad and started his report, waiting as Denise cleared Ms. Ellefson to drive home. He watched her slide slowly into the Pinto and drive away. He didn’t know which image was more sad: Berget Lundquist, undignified in death, or Chloe Ellefson, stunned in life.
By the time Chloe turned into the gravel drive circling her farmhouse in La Grange, bats were swooping over the alfalfa field across the road. She let herself into the kitchen through the back door.
Ignoring the cartons stacked on the counters and floors, she headed straight to the bathroom. She rummaged in her little bag of toiletries. The prescription bottle was on the bottom—orange plastic, directions printed neatly on the label, with Dr. Eberhardt’s name and phone number in one corner. It was almost full of little white pills, round and innocuous. For a long moment the afternoon dissolved into that plastic container.
“Damnit.” Chloe jerked open the medicine cabinet over the sink, put the container on one of the empty shelves, and slammed the mirrored door.
Back in the kitchen, she rinsed out the lone cup in the sink. The second-hand refrigerator installed the day before, which was now rattling ominously, offered a liter of diet soda and a half-eaten package of string cheese. She reached for the soda, poured some in the glass, added a few ice cubes and a liberal splash of rum.
She paced through the first floor, glass in hand. The faint hum of a tractor drifted through her living room window. Her landlords lived within hollering distance, but they were little more than strangers. Her parents? She could call them, or drive to their house, but … no. No solace there, either.
After several more minutes of agitated circling, Chloe dropped into a faded armchair rescued from her parents’ attic. She reached for the phone and dialed a familiar number.
She heard the reassuring signal of distant ringing. Then a familiar voice, warm and low: “Hello?”
“Chloe? Good God, girl, is that you? Where are you?”
“La Grange, Wisconsin.” Chloe clenched the phone receiver and closed her eyes. “I rented an old farmhouse about twenty minutes from the museum. The garage door is broken, and the living room carpet is mustard-colored shag, and the whole place needs paint. But you’d love it. You really would. The property backs up against a state forest.”
“I just moved in over the weekend. I’ve got a bit of settling-in to do. You know, unpacking. Stuff like that. But I think I’m really going to like it here.”
Ethan blew out a long, audible breath. Then, “What happened.” Ethan was so sure of his trans-wire assessment that the statement was flat, with no hint of questioning inflection. Damn the man for knowing her so well. Bless the man for knowing her so well.
“Well …” Chloe took a sip from the glass. “It was my first day on the job today, you know? And the thing is … I think I was … sort of responsible for an old lady getting killed.”
That stopped him. Chloe took another sip. Soda pop and rum: inelegant, but effective.
“You what?” Ethan asked after a moment.
Chloe told him what had happened. “So there really wasn’t anything I could do for her.”
“Then why are you taking responsibility for the crash?”
“Because—because she was a sweet old lady. For some reason, getting this ale bowl back had become incredibly important to her. People kept putting her off, saying she had to wait until I got hired. But no one ever told her you can’t just undo a legal donation. So she comes today, thinkingI’llhelp her, and all she gets ismorerunaround. She was really upset when she left.”
“And you think that’s why she wrapped her car around a tree?”
“Maybe she got stung by a bee. Maybe her brakes failed.”
Chloe pulled her heels up to the edge of the seat. “Maybe. But I can’t help feeling responsible.”
“I hope you didn’t phrase it quite that way to the cops.”
“I might have.” Chloe slid sideways in the chair. “This cop from Eagle questioned me. He can’t be more than late twenties, but he had this boss-man air about him. And he wore mirrored sunglasses like some motorcycle cop in a bad movie. He kinda freaked me out.”
“What happened was horrible,” Ethan said firmly, “but you can’t take any responsibility.”
She shrugged. It wasn’t that easy. “Well, enough about me. Tell me about you. What’s going on in Idaho?”
“The beginning of the fire season. Environmentalists and lumber companies chewing on the same bone. Lost campers. Dumpster-diving bears. Same old, same old.” Ethan worked for the United States Forest Service.
“Chris is good.”
“I wish you lived closer.”
Ethan laughed. “Wisconsin is a hell of a lot closer than Switzerland.”
“Hey, Chloe.” He’d stopped laughing. “Are you OK?”
“Yeah.” She got up and stood by the front window, the receiver still tight to her ear.
“Should I be worried about you? I mean, really worried?”
Chloe stared out at the last streaks of sunset staining the sky. “No. Really, Ethan. It’s not like last winter. I’m better now.”
“You’re sure.” He didn’t sound convinced.
“It’s weird, you know? Last winter the thought of death seemed like a comfort. Seeing that sweet old lady dead, though—it was horrible.” A shudder twitched over her skin.
“I can imagine.”
“I truly am better. I think.” Chloe sighed. “I just—I just still miss Markus sometimes.”
“Do you ever talk to him?”
“Talk to him? God, no.” Think about him—yes, every day. His quick laugh and knowing hands. His lanky stride on hikes to high hidden lakes. The smudges under his eyes when he’d been up all night at lambing time. The way his dark hair grew in a tiny cyclone whorl from a spot on the back of his head—
“Chloe? You there?”
“I’m here.” She swallowed down the sudden lump that had formed in her throat. “And I know it’s stupid to still feel this way. It’s been almost a year since we broke up.” Since Markus dumped her.
“It’s not stupid. It just is.”
“I miss school sometimes, too. The good old days.” Forestry school at West Virginia University. Backpacking trips with the Outings Club. Feeling completely at home in a place she’d never been before. Meeting Ethan, who’d become her best friend.
“Me too,” he said. “But now is good, too.”
Chloe realized she was exhausted, and that her glass was empty. “Listen, thanks for lending an ear. I gotta go unpack some boxes. Let me know if you get called out on a fire, OK? I’ll give you my new number.” She waited until he’d found a pencil before dictating the digits.
“Are you still gay?”
He chuckled softly. “’Fraid so.”
After hanging up, Chloe resisted the temptation to mix another drink, and returned the glass to the sink. She located a small carton in the bedroom, conspicuously marked with a Magic Marker asterisk. She dug beneath a photo of her parents, a tissue-wrapped pinecone from an exceptionally wonderful back-country campsite at Dolly Sods, and a small stuffed dog so battered it had no fur left around the middle. She finally found a framed snapshot of herself and Ethan, bulging backpacks visible over their shoulders, dirty and sweaty, posed on a rock outcrop in the southern Appalachians.
Chloe set the photo on one of the empty bookshelves in the downstairs bedroom. The only other signs of life in the room were a sleeping bag and pillow on the bed, a suitcase worth’s of clothes in the closet, and a battered paperback copy of Jack Finney’sTime and Againon the nightstand. “I’ll unpack tomorrow,” she promised herself, and got ready for bed.
When Chloe drove towork the next morning her stomach, acknowledged that morning only with coffee, clutched in protest as she turned onto County Trunk S. Aside from the tire tracks left in the vegetation beside the gravel shoulder, there was little to mark the accident scene. No one had left flowers, or banged a hastily constructed cross into the ground.
Did Mrs. Lundquist have a family? Had that young Eagle cop called them with the news? Or did cops still do things like that in person? Chloe wasn’t sure. The policeman who’d questioned her didn’t seem a likely candidate for delicate duty. His uniform had been a solid, grim black, not friendly blue like on TV. And his manner …
Her thoughts trailed away as she pulled into the restoration area lot and saw a patrol car with “Eagle Police” stenciled on the side. The subject of those thoughts appeared around the corner of the pink trailer.
Lovely. Chloe got out of the Pinto. “May I help you …” She checked his name bar. “Officer McKenna?”
“I need to ask you a couple of questions, Ms. Ellefson.”
Chloe had promised to meet Byron at Ed House in ten minutes. Besides, it rattled her to find the policeman waiting. Couldn’t he have called or something? “Sure,” she said.
He pulled his pad free and uncapped a pen with his thumb. “First—”
“Let’s go inside.” Chloe turned away. Anything to get him to take off those damn sunglasses.
She immediately regretted her impulse, for it was unsettling to walk into the tiny galley where she’d last seen Mrs. Lundquist alive. Embarrassing, too, to have more company before she’d had a chance to scrub and air the place. “I just started working here,” she said, propping the door open with a rock.
He leaned against the sink and—thank God—removed his sunglasses. “I’d like you to tell me again what transpired between you and Mrs. Lundquist.”
Chloe rubbed her palms on her trousers. “I told you everything yesterday.”
“I know. But I’d like to hear it again, now that you’re not quite so upset.”
Chloe eyed him, wondering if there was more to the request. Officer McKenna was about her height, five-foot-ten inches. He was perhaps four or five years younger than her own thirty-two, lean, well-muscled. He looked like a recruiting poster for the Marines, with dark hair clipped close to his head, a too-strong jaw, and direct brown eyes. There was something unsettling about his demeanor—a muscular tension, a sense of perpetual watchfulness. His inscrutable gaze made her long for the mirrored shades.
“Is there a problem?” she asked. “Do you know what caused the accident?”
“It was probably a heart attack or stroke. Is this where you met Mrs. Lundquist?”
“Yes.” Chloe stared through the doorway at the pines and replayed the conversation for him.
He made notes in a tight scrawl. “And you have no idea where this particular antique might be?”
Chloe sighed. “As Isaid, yesterday was my first day on the job. There are thousands of artifacts on this site. Some are on exhibit, in fifty-odd buildings that are open to the public. Some are stored in these trailers, and in that pole barn over there, and probably half a dozen other places I haven’t even seen yet. Some were donated specifically to Old World Wisconsin, and some were originally donated to the State Historical Society and transferred here. There hasn’t been a curator of collections on staff here for six years, and—”
The archaic rotary telephone jangled. Chloe snatched the receiver. “Hello? Um, Collections area. This is Chloe.”
“Chloe? It’s Byron.”
Byron … Shit. “Right. You’re probably waiting for me.”
“You said you’d meet me here by eight-fifteen so I could take you to the interpreters’ morning briefing.” The accusation in his tone slid through the wire.
“Right. I’m sorry. I …” She glanced at the police officer. “I got detained. I’ll be right over.” She glanced at Officer McKenna again. “Well, in a couple of minutes—”
“I have to leave right now. We’ve got seven hundred school kids coming today. You can meet the interpreters tomorrow.”
“That’ll be fine,” Chloe tried, but she was—once again—speaking to a dial tone. She replaced the earpiece and looked back at the officer. “Is there anything else you need?”
“May I see the accession form you mentioned?”
“Sure.” The form still lay on the counter where she’d left it the evening before. She handed it to him.
He squinted at the blurry printing, then handed it back. “That address is the same one we have on file from her driver’s license. The sheriff’s department hasn’t identified any family members yet.”
“All she mentioned to me was a son. She said he died years ago.”
“One of her neighbors told the sheriff that he didn’t think Mrs. Lundquist had any relatives.”
Chloe’s shoulders slumped. The whole thing was horribly sad. Everything was so sad …
Officer McKenna cleared his throat. Chloe snapped back to the morning, and for a moment they stared at each other. He was frowning slightly. Chloe felt stupid. “Is that all? I’ve got to get to work.”
He nodded. “That’s all I need. But if a relative should happen to contact you about that artifact, please give me a call. Here’s my card.”
She took the card.Village of Eagle Police Department, Roelke McKenna, Police Officer. “Rell-kee?” she asked, checking the pronunciation. “Is that German?”
“Roelke was my mother’s maiden name.”
He frowned again. “I beg your pardon?”
She gave herself a mental shake; this was not the time for a feminist lecture. “I’ll call you if I hear from anyone about the ale bowl.”
“Thank you.” He nodded.
Chloe watched him descend the steps, then suddenly bolted after him. “Wait! I was wondering—do you know anything about a funeral?”
He paused, hand on his car door. “No.”
“Well, please let me know if you hear anything.”
“OK.” He nodded again, got into his car, and drove away.
After he was gone, Chloe picked up the old accession form again. All she needed to do was file the form away—when she figured out the filing system—and forget the whole episode.
Still, she stood for a long moment, staring at the mimeographed page. Like many decades-old records she’d seen at various museums and historical sites, this one was frustratingly short on details.Hand-painted Norwegian ale bowl with cow heads, nineteenth century. SHSW 1962.37.3.Hand-painted, Norwegian, nineteenth century—that meant rosemaled. Rosemaling—or rose painting, as it was sometimes called—was a highly decorative style of embellishing that had become synonymous with Norwegian folk culture. The cow head reference seemed odd … but then, she was hardly an expert.
Shouts from two of the teenage boys on the summer maintenance crew drifted through the open door. A truck door slammed. An engine roared to life. A fly buzzed at one of the dirty windows.
Finally Chloe slipped the accession sheet under the metal edge of her clipboard. She needed to find the ale bowl, as she had promised. There were only two places it could be: on display in one of the restored Norwegian farms, or in storage. If the bowl wasn’t already on display, she’d put it out for visitors to enjoy. It will be a silent memorial for Mrs. Lundquist, Chloe thought, and felt a tiny bit better.
Chloe spent the rest of the morning assessing the overall condition of the two trailers. Some artifacts crowded their shelves. Others were packed into boxes, or layered into bags. The benign neglect would have overwhelmed most curators—at least any sane curator, Chloe thought sardonically. But this—thisshe could do. These artifacts needed cleaning, better storage conditions, perhaps cataloging. But they waited silently, without reproach or complaint. And she was the person to improve their lot.
One thing did give her pause. She immediately noticed a few recent smudges in the fur of dust on the shelves. Who would have been in here prior to her arrival? She frowned, fingering one of the clean streaks. Director Ralph Petty? Byron, looking for something for one of the historic homes? She’d have to make sure that no one felt free to disturb the artifacts in storage without her permission. Some of these items were extremely fragile, and even well-intended handling could cause damage.
She’d mention that to the director the next time they talked. When she’d met with him yesterday, the need for permanent, environmentally sound collections storage had been number one on his agenda. Actually, Ralph had talkedather for half an hour, but she certainly agreed with his assessment. She’d made a cheery promise to start considering plans for a collections storage building.
That would take time. For now, she made a list of items she wanted to order immediately: cotton gloves, masks, mountains of archival tissue and acid-free boxes. She’d have to learn the state procurement system, no doubt an overly complex process. Still, it was satisfying to take even the first tiny steps toward providing good care for these artifacts.
When her list was complete—at least for the moment—Chloe searched the trailers for Mrs. Lundquist’s ale bowl. She found a number of rosemaled Norwegian artifacts, but the painted designs she could make out fell into the floral or curlicue categories. One had handles carved as dragon heads. Not a cow head in sight.
Next she poked through the big pole barn. She found some abandoned office furniture shoved into one corner. Side storage stalls were full of large antiques—antique plows and cast-iron cookstoves and aschnitzelbankor two. No smaller items. No ale bowls.
By eleven-thirty she was hot, hungry, dirty, and ready for a break. Years of wilderness camping hadn’t prepared her for the trailer’s neglected bathroom—no one wasthathard core—so she walked across the parking lot to use the bathroom facilities in the maintenance shop. She found a little front hallway that boasted a soda machine and three mismatched chairs. “Hello?” she called, but received no answer.
The garage, storage rooms, and a desk area were also deserted. She had a vague memory of meeting the maintenance supervisor the day before. He was a red-haired man in his mid-thirties, wearing blue cowboy boots, gold chains, and a distinctly smarmy air. What was his name? Stanley something … Stanley Colontuono, that was it.
Chloe passed his desk, which was overflowing with files, boxes of bolts, and the various other detritus of a man whose position straddled administration and hands-on maintenance work. The wall calendar hanging above Stan-the-Man’s telephone featured a naked blonde woman leaning on a motorcycle. D-cup.
Lovely. Chloe pulled the calendar from the wall, ripped each page in half, and stuffed the dreck into his trashcan.
Five minutes later, she emerged from the maintenance building just as an old white Chevette rattled into the lot near the trailers. When the door opened a young woman popped energetically from the car. She was slim and lithe, with milk-chocolate skin. She strode forward, hand outstretched. “You must be Chloe!”
“Yes!” Chloe agreed brightly, allowing her hand to be pumped. “And you are …?”
“Nika.” She was perhaps five inches shorter and ten years younger than Chloe, with fine-boned features and slightly slanted eyes, like a cat’s. A headband striped with yellow and green and blue kept a curtain of shoulder-length braids swept back from her face. “Tanika Austin,” she added, when Chloe didn’t respond.
Tanika Austin, Tanika Austin? Chloe spread her hands.
She had an intern? Chloe tried to hide her dismay. Had Ralph Petty said anything about an intern? Perhaps she should have listened. So. She had an intern—
“Is there a problem?” Nika asked, her eyes narrowing.
“Of course not,” Chloe said. “I’m afraid I’m on overload. Still sorting out names.”
Nika eyed her a few seconds longer before saying, “No problem. I interviewed with Mr. Petty during spring break. I actually started last week. I’m sorry I wasn’t here on your first day, but I took a long weekend. My fiancé’s parents were celebrating their thirtieth anniversary. I told Mr. Petty it would probably be just as well to give you some time to get your bearings, anyway.” Nika’s voice was quiet but decisive, her posture full of self-assurance.
Chloe wondered if Nika expected her to have those bearings magically aligned after a day and a half. “I was just about to go out for lunch,” Chloe said, groping for a reprieve. “Care to join me?”
Nika hesitated, then nodded. “All right.”
“I’ll drive,” Chloe added. Maybe eating lunch would buy her enough time to figure out how she was going to keep an intern busy. After they’d slid into the Pinto, she tried to postpone the inevitable by turning on the car radio. A reporter was cheerily chattering about President Reagan’s trip to discuss the Falklands War with Prime Minister Thatcher. Chloe turned the radio off again.
“Not many places to eat in Eagle,” Nika told her, as they came into town. “Best is Sasso’s.” She directed Chloe to a tavern near the railroad tracks that bisected the village. Chloe pulled the Pinto in line on the gravel lot on the far side of the tracks. The three-story building had a vaguely Western motif. Peeking over the roof was the steeple of a church, and a yellow water tower painted with a huge smiley face. A typical message from small town Wisconsin:Welcome to Eagle. Drink, repent, be happy.
Inside the tavern, half a dozen tables clustered near the front windows. An L-shaped bar ran the length of the north and east walls. A crowd at the bar watching a television mounted in one corner began wildly cheering for race cars circling some track in a maniacal pack.
Chloe had never understood the appeal of watching cars drive in circles, wasting gas and spewing fumes and noise. She picked a table farthest from the bar. A waitress appeared quickly, gave the red-and-white checked plastic tablecloth a swipe, and handed them menus. “Anything to drink?”
Chloe suppressed the urge to order a cocktail; surely guzzling booze on state time wasverboten. She ordered diet soda and talked the young waitress into asking the cook for a grilled cheese sandwich.
Nika ordered a cheeseburger and a side of fries. “Don’t eat meat?” she asked.
“Nope.” Chloe leaned back in the wooden chair. “So. You started last week? What did you do?”
“Well, not much.” Nika made a dismissive gesture with elegant fingers. “Byron gave me a quick tour of the site. Then I spent most of the rest of my time in the exhibit buildings. I made some notes about objects that need attention. Some need actual repair, but most of it would be minor cleaning. Whenever you have time, we can go over my notes.”
“We’ll do that this afternoon,” Chloe promised. Maybe this intern thing wouldn’t be a total disaster. “You’re in museum studies? I apologize, but I haven’t seen your records. What’s your focus?”
The waitress arrived with their drinks. Nika took a delicate sip of root beer before answering. “I got a BA in History from Marquette, and now I’m finishing up the graduate program in museum studies at Eastern Illinois.”
“Why did you apply to Old World for your internship?” Chloe was curious why a black woman would choose to work in a museum focused on white history.
“I have formal museum experience, so I wanted to work at a living history site to round out my resume. I’m particularly interested in racial and ethnic expression manifested in material culture. My fiancé’s in the pharmacy program at UW-Madison, but he’d gotten a summer job in a lab in Milwaukee, so I wanted to be in southeast Wisconsin.”
Chloe blinked. Had she ever been so focused? She doubted it. She certainly couldn’t remember it.
“I plan to get my Ph.D. in women’s studies,” Nika added coolly. “And I may do some extra course work in museum administration.”
Chloe wondered if she would find herself working for Nika one day. There seemed to be a challenge in the younger woman’s eyes:You better prove yourself, because I’m right on your tail.
The arrival of their lunch eased the moment. Chloe took a bite of her sandwich—American cheese. Tolerable at best.
“How about you?” Nika asked. “Mr. Petty hadn’t even done interviews for your position yet when he hired me.”
“I have a Bachelor of Science from the School of Forestry at West Virginia University.Myparticular interest is the historical interaction between people and their environment.”
“How … intriguing.”
“I did seasonal work as an interpreter for a couple of years, then did graduate work at Cooperstown,” Chloe added.
“Oh!” This met with more approval. The two-year New York program, the oldest in the country, led to an MA in History Museum Studies. “And somebody told me you worked in Europe?”
Chloe should have been expecting the question. She wasn’t. “I, um … yes. I worked in the education department atFreilichtmuseumBallenbergfor five years. That’s in Switzerland.”
“Oh, I know! What was it like?”
“It’s similar to Old World,” Chloe said, hoping the conversation wouldn’t digress into a long Q&A about Switzerland. “They’ve got about a hundred historic buildings, all dismantled, moved to the site, and restored. The biggest difference is that there, buildings are grouped together based on the area of origin, instead of by ethnic group like we’ve got.”
“Five years at an open-air museum in Europe.” Nika looked wistful. “I’dkillfor a chance like that.”
It damn near killedme, Chloe thought, but she pasted on her artificial smile. “I learned a lot. Then I moved back to the States. Took a curator of interpretation position at a small site in North Dakota last September.”
“Why’d you come here? I mean, most people don’t switch from education to collections mid-career.” Nika nibbled a French fry.
Chloe shrugged. “I suppose not. But I’ve had basic training in collections care. When I interviewed here, Ralph probably thought my experience at Ballenberg was a big advantage. And I’m a Wisconsin native.” Chloe hitched her chair closer to the table as three men in paint-stained coveralls squeezed past. “How about you?”
“Oh, me too.” Nika took a bite of her cheeseburger and dabbed at her mouth with her napkin. “Wisconsin born and bred.”
“Where did you grow up?”
“Where in Milwaukee?”
Nika picked up another French fry. “Near the lake.”
Well, Chloe thought, that narrows it right down. The entire city of Milwaukee, it could be argued, squatted near Lake Michigan.
“Where are you from?” Nika asked, before Chloe could ask for more details.
“Settled by Norwegians, right? Between my coursework at Marquette and the prep I did for this internship, I have a pretty good handle on Wisconsin’s nineteenth-century settlement patterns.”
“Yep. I’m fourth generation, but pure Norwegian.” At least in the States, Chloe thought. Her European friends were baffled by American tourists’ proud insistence on referring to themselves as Norwegian or German or French.
“So this job brought you home.”
“I suppose, although that’s not why I applied for the job.” Chloe chewed the last bit of her sandwich. The conversation felt strained, with unspoken undercurrents running beneath.
She tried for a brighter tone. “I was ready for a change. Supervising interpreters is exhausting. Classic middle-management, getting complaints from two directions. I guess I thought objects would be easier to handle.” She made a derisive noise. “Little did I know …”
Nika stiffened, almost imperceptively alert. “What?”
The waitress slapped a check on the table. “Pay at the bar,” she called over her shoulder.
“I’ll get that.” Chloe picked up the check.
“Well … thanks.” Relief flashed in Nika’s eyes. That, Chloe understood. Her own financial situation was precarious, but the younger woman was planning a wedding, and no doubt staring at college loans, all while likely working for minimum wage.
Nika brought the conversation back. “What were you about to say?”
“I had a bit of a rocky start in collections work. An elderly woman came to see me yesterday about an artifact. And as I was heading home … I came across her car. She’d crashed into a tree. She was dead.”
“Oh my God! That’s—that’s awful!”
“Yeah.” Chloe left a couple of dollars on the table for the waitress, and shoved her chair back. “Let’s head back, OK?” She didn’t want to talk about Mrs. Lundquist anymore.
Chloe and Nika seizedpossession of a wooden picnic table under the pines near the trailers. Nika fetched a briefcase from the trunk of her car, and produced a notebook and some files. “I made copies of those notes I mentioned. You can have these.”
“Thanks.” Chloe glanced at the photocopies: neat tables, with columns labeled “Exhibit Building,” “Artifact,” “Accession Number,” and “Notes.” Impressive. “I have to figure out where we can even claim a workspace—”
“I have a plan for that.”
Chloe raised her eyebrows. “Oh?”
“Just a suggestion, of course.” Nika met Chloe’s gaze calmly. “I’m not trying to do your job or anything.”
Right. “Did you go into the trailers?” Chloe asked. “I could tell that someone had been in there recently.”
“I took a quick look.”
“Do you have a key?”
Nika shook her head. “No, Stanley let me in. You know, the maintenance guy?” The barest hint of distaste—a narrowing of her catlike eyes, a slight tightening of her mouth—made her opinion of Stanley clear. “I didn’t do anything but look around, though.”
“Well, I think our best option for expanded storage is the basement of St. Peter’s Church.” Nika began talking quickly. “I know it’s not ideal, especially since the church is in the public area.But, the basement does have a separate door, near the back of the building. We could fit a fair amount of shelving and storage cupboards down there. And I don’t think it would take more than a dehumidifier or two to control the environment. The basement already has its own temperature system.”
“It does?” Chloe was struggling to keep up. “Why on earth does the church basement have its own temperature system?”
“The first year Old World Wisconsin was open, visitors received their orientation down there.” Nika smiled at Chloe’s look of disbelief. “Yeah, I know. Byron said it was the only space available. A slide projector, a few rows of folding chairs, and an interpreter to give directions. The visitor center didn’t exist yet.”
“Well, what do you know.” Chloe considered. She didn’t want to confront her intern’s unmasked ambition on an hourly basis. “Nika, we’ve got you for what, three months? How would you like to make designing and setting up our first controlled storage area your project? Assuming we can scrounge basic storage supplies.”
“That’d be great.” A satisfied smile lit Nika’s face. “We can move the woodenware.”
Chloe shook her head. “Textiles are most vulnerable.”
“But … the thing is, I started making plans already. Based on moving the wooden pieces.”
Chloe met her intern’s gaze. “I want the textiles tended to first.”
Nika shrugged, and gave a palms-up gesture of compliance. “Textiles it is.”
“I’ll talk to the division curator in Madison, and let her know what we’re planning. Evidently the historic sites division’s curator in Madison provides some kind of oversight to the curators at each of the State Historical Society’s historic sites.”
Nika clearly knew as much as Chloe about the historical society’s organization. Probably more. Chloe got to the point. “Once you get the proposal together, I’ll add that to my ‘needed supplies’ list.”
“I brought a bunch of catalogs with me, so I can get cost estimates.” Nika began scribbling notes on a legal pad. “I’ll call around to see if we can get shelving donated, too.” She stared thoughtfully at a chickadee darting among the pines for a moment, then focused her direct gaze back on Chloe. “I’d like to ask a favor. I want to get published before applying for a doctoral program. I—I really need financial aid, and publication credits might help a lot.”
The admission of need was clearly not an easy one for Nika to make. “You’re right,” Chloe said. “Pub credits do count.”
“As you familiarize yourself with the collection, could you let me know if you happen to find any artifacts with a particularly strong ethnic story, or a story to tell about a woman, or any pieces documented to African-Americans? There might be an article in it.”
Chloe thought of Mrs. Lundquist’s ale bowl—it’s story would never be known, now—then forced herself back to the moment. “Sure, although I doubt we’ll find many artifacts from early African-Americans. Anything like that is probably held in Madison. The history presented at Old World is pretty much white bread European.”
“It isnow. That needs changing.”
Chloe couldn’t hold back a tiny smile. “Fair enough. If I find any tidbits, I’ll pass them along.”
“Thanks.” Nika stood and gathered up her things. “I’ll head over to the church now and get started.”
When she was alone again, Chloe sat for a moment, collecting her thoughts, appreciating the stillness and the way the sunlight filtered through the pine trees. Nika was too driven for Chloe’s tastes, but at least she was a self-starter.
So, what now? Chloe’s previous museum jobs had all involved supervising interpreters and meeting tour groups and planning special events and the myriad of on-site tasks that kept each day humming. She wasn’t used to the change of pace. She really should start on that proposal for the new storage building.
“Later,” Chloe promised herself. She got into her car and drove back on County S. Her fingers tightened involuntarily on the steering wheel as she passed the crash site. Would she ever pass this spot without seeing the dead woman in her mind? Without feeling those fragile fingers patting her hand? Probably not.
After turning onto Highway 67, she drove slowly until she saw a large sign: “Norwegian Area—School Bus parking only.” Plus staff, surely? Chloe pulled in the open gate and parked her car as unobtrusively as possible among the trees.
Although most Wisconsin children in 1982 could celebrate more than one racial or ethnic branches on their family tree, there had been a time when “old world Wisconsin” was a mostly-apt description. Now, Old World Wisconsin celebrated a heritage that was quickly disappearing. And a big part of that heritage had come from the women and men who had once traded Norway’s fjords and soaring mountains for the upper Midwest’s unknown prairies and pineries.
Old World Wisconsin’s Norwegian area was the farthest from the site’s visitor center. A public restroom and picnic area had been placed discreetly in the trees near the highway. The historic structures were a five-minute walk away. Holding her clipboard—the universal emblem of officialdom—Chloe headed down the gravel lane toward the old buildings.
When Chloe reached a junction in the road, she checked her site map. From this spot she could see the Raspberry School, brought from the northern tip of the state; the 1845 Fossebrekke farm, a tiny log cabin nestled between trees and corn patch and pig pen; and the more substantial Kvaale farm, restored to its 1865 appearance. Two interpreters in period clothing walked down the Kvaale lane, baskets over their arms. A farmer attacked weeds in the Fossebrekke corn patch with a hoe. The air smelled faintly of wood smoke. The sound of the schoolteacher questioning a class drifted through the open windows of the school. A sandhill crane’s faint rattling call floated earthwards.
For a moment Chloe forgot Markus and Switzerland. She forgot the depression that had almost consumed her during the long, bleak North Dakota winter. She forgot that she’d pissed off a security guard and the curator of interpretation. She forgot that her intern probably had more to offer Old World Wisconsin, this summer, than she did. She forgot that she’d seen a sweet old woman in the last moments of life and first moments of death. Chloe allowed herself to simply soak in the intangible pleasures and sensory delights that compensated historic site workers for long hours and low wages.
Then one of the open-sided trams used to haul visitors around the huge site roared from the trees. With a screech of brakes the tram driver pulled into the tram stop and used a microphone to give directions to the visitors spilling from the vehicle. Half of the tourists headed toward the rest area, and most of the others trooped toward the school. Chloe hurried down the long driveway toward the Kvaale farm.
The hewn-timber farmhouse was small, furnished with both Norwegian artifacts—rosemaled pieces, several tapestries, one chip-carved box—and obviously American-made furniture. The curator who’d furnished the building had clearly intended to convey a well-settled Norwegian family, blending old world and new. Chloe paused in the doorway, allowing impressions of the layers of life in the old building to present themselves. Nothing too strong here in Kvaale, just the common jumble … good. She stepped inside.
In the sitting room, a young woman sat behind a spinning wheel. She wore a faded blue dress, a stained apron, and a brown headscarf tied European-style over her hair. She was frowning at the spool, picking at the strands of newly spun yarn. Chloe guessed she was learning to spin wool, had treadled too hard, and had lost the end of her yarn when it whipped around the spool.
“Welcome to the Kvaale farm,” the interpreter said, still poking at her yarn.
Chloe quickly introduced herself. “Don’t mind me. I’m just getting oriented.” She homed in on a high shelf near the kitchen door, where several rosemaled pieces were displayed at a safe distance from children’s grasping hands. One lovely tankard was painted orange with blue, green, yellow, and black floral designs. One carved but unpainted ale bowl featured two squarish heads—horses, or possibly dragons, but definitely not cows. No painted bowl with cow heads.
“Do you want to go talk to Delores?” the interpreter asked.
“Um …” Chloe spread her hands. “Who is Delores?”
“Delores is the Norwegian area lead. Lead interpreter. She’s with a group in the stabbur. Out back.”
Outside, Chloe wandered on toward the back of the farmyard … and stopped, rock-like, when two tiny Cotswold lambs cavorted across the pasture toward the fence to meet her. Living and working with Markus, whose great driving passion had been the preservation of historic livestock breeds, ensured that Chloe recognized many of those breeds herself.
She quickly turned away from the lambs. Markus had nothing to do with her life, now. It was time—long past time—to move on.
The stabbur, a small two-story building of weathered-gray logs, was so crammed with school children that Chloe got no further than the steps outside. “… So, can anyone guess why the Norwegians built their stabburs up on posts?” an unseen interpreter was asking—Delores, no doubt.
No one could.
“Do you remember what I said the farmers used this building for?” Delores asked. Finally a boy retrieved the answer: food or grain storage. “Exactly!” Delores said. “Do you think the farmer wanted to store his grain in a place where mice and other critters could get at it easily?”
“Come on, come on, come on!” Chloe muttered. She walked past the stabbur to explore a two-bay barn nearby. Two squealing hogs raced across their pen behind the barn. Chloe stopped at the back of the barn’s breezeway, contemplating them.
This time she forced herself to stand still. She had to get used to being around livestock—even these damn Ossabaw hogs, with their familiar rough coats and long snouts. They were likely half-feral. Chloe took care to stand well back from the fence as they rubbed against it, grunting. And when she felt ready she walked back to the stabbur, congratulating herself on her composure.
Delores was winding down. “Who remembers visiting the 1860s Yankee house? Did the lady there do a lot of farm labor? So why do you think the Norwegian women were responsible for the cows and milk and butter?”
Once the kids had bounded from the stabbur, Chloe went inside and introduced herself. Delores Timberlake sat at a four-harness loom upon which a few inches of cream-colored wool cloth had been woven. She was perhaps a decade older than Chloe, with gray-streaked brown hair pinned neatly behind her head. She wore a russet-colored dress and a stained and patched apron.
“I’m glad to meet you!” the lead said, so fervently that Chloe felt a twinge of apprehension. “Your timing is good. That was our last school group of the day.”
“I caught the tail end of it, but decided I’d do better to wait outside,” Chloe confessed.
“The kids get squirrely this time of year,” Delores agreed cheerfully. She set a shuttle aside and emerged from behind the loom. “I need to check on Cindy, the interpreter in the house. She’s new this spring, and Ginny is still on lunch break.” Delores led Chloe back into the sunshine.
“Have you worked here for long?” Chloe asked.
“Since Old World opened.”
“In the Norwegian area all that time?”
“I’ve been the Norwegian lead for three years.” Delores stepped onto the Kvaale porch. “Before that I worked all over. Let me tell you, we havereallybeen looking forward to having a collections curator on site! We have these reproduction request forms to let someone know what we need for daily programming. We keep turning them in to Byron.”
“I’m sure Byron’s got them all waiting for me,” Chloe said quickly, wanting to stem a potential side trip into several years’ worth of queries. “I’ll go through them as soon as I can. Actually, today I’m looking for a rosemaled ale bowl.”
“Those are the only rosemaled pieces we’ve got.” Inside the main room, Delores pointed to the shelf Chloe had already examined.
“I’m looking for an ale bowl with cow head decorations.”
Cindy, still valiantly hunched over the spinning wheel, looked up. “That’s funny,” she said. “You’re the second person looking for an ale bowl with cow heads.”
“Some visitor asked me about ale bowls with cow heads. I think it was the first weekend we were open.” Cindy fussed with the tension knob on the spinning wheel. “Delores, are you sure you want me to keep going with this bobbin? Your yarn is so even, and mine is so lumpy. I feel like I’m just wasting wool.”
Delores laughed. “We’ve got plenty of wool.”
“What did they say?” Chloe asked.
“About the ale bowl? Just that!” Cindy shrugged. “Somebody asked me if we had one. I said we didn’t. I work Fossebrekke too, so I know.”
“A woman? A man?” Chloe’s voice sounded sharp, and she tried to tone it down. “Was the person young, old? Try to think back.”
Cindy sighed. “I really don’t remember. That was probably a thousand visitors ago.”
Chloe forced herself to swallow her frustration. “OK, thanks. If anyone else asks about a rosemaled ale bowl with cow heads, could you ask them to contact me? Or—maybe just see if they’ll give you their name and phone number.”
“Sure. Whatever.” Cindy began to work the treadle. The yarn whipped from her fingers, wrapping itself—again—among the coils already on the bobbin.“Delores!”
“I’ll let the other interpreters know,” Delores told Chloe, then turned back to the younger woman. “You just pushed too hard, that’s all. Find the end and I’ll show you …”
Chloe stepped outside. The lambs cavorted in the sunshine. Above her head, a red-tailed hawk circled on a thermal. She barely noticed. It seemed odd that someone had visited the Kvaale farm in search of a rosemaled ale bowl decorated with cow heads just two weeks before Mrs. Lundquist showed up, wanting to reclaim that very item. Too odd to be a coincidence. Mrs. Lundquist had said plainly thatshehad not visited the site.
So … what the hell was going on?
Roelke slowed his pickuptruck and checked the fire number he’d written on the slip of paper. He was driving on a state-designated “Rustic Road.” Nothing more than a tourism official’s propaganda, but the scenery was admittedly classic Wisconsin: stately old farmhouses, hay and corn fields, pastures of placid Holsteins, and nary a speedy-mart or factory farm in sight. Roelke didn’t have the barn gene, even though three generations of his maternal German-American forebears had farmed Wisconsin soil. Still, he appreciated the legacy.
He found the number he’d been looking for posted by a gravel driveway that looped behind a tired two-story frame house in desperate need of a fresh coat of paint. Cow pastures bordered the house on the east and south, with a huge garden and second farmhouse on the west. New alfalfa rippled green in a field across the road.
Roelke pulled into the driveway, got out of the truck, and walked across the lawn to the front porch and door. His cousin Libby’s voice echoed in his head as he knocked:This isn’t your problem, Roelke. Leave it.He ignored the voice.
The inner door swung open. “Oh!” Chloe said. “Officer … Mc-Kenna. I didn’t … that is, um, would you like to come in?”
“Yes, if I may.”
She held open the door, and frowned slightly when she noticed his truck. “You’re not on duty?”
“Just finished my shift,” he told her. “Parking police cars in peoples’ driveways sets off all kinds of speculation. This isn’t official business.”
Roelke stepped inside. Cardboard cartons were stacked in the bedroom he glimpsed to his left. In the living room she led him to, also. Bare walls. No sign of personality. No sign of life.
She noticed his perusal and shrugged. “I just moved in. Can I get you something to drink? I’m having a rum and soda.”
“Nothing for me, thanks.” He perched on the sofa, and watched her sink back into a deep chair by the window. She had traded her casual work attire for shorts. God, she was thin. Too thin. She’d left her glass on the table by her chair, but he saw no evidence of a book or television set.
Abruptly he realized she was waiting for him to explain his visit. “Mrs. Lundquist was a member of the Lutheran church in Daleyville. The minister is planning a service for ten A.M. Friday morning.”
Chloe narrowed her eyes in thought. “Daleyville … that’s west of here, isn’t it?”
“Probably about an hour away. Eastern Dane County.”
“Have any relatives come forward?”
He shook his head. “No. Her neighbor said she attended the church, so the county guys checked with the minister. He wasn’t aware of any relatives, either. Mrs. Lundquist had been a widow for years.”
Chloe picked up her glass and took a sip. “Did they figure out what caused the accident?”
“Heart failure. She was seventy-four. These things happen.” His words sounded clipped and brusque in his own ears. He wasn’t any good at this stuff.
“I see.” Chloe used one finger to poke at an ice cube.
Roelke leaned forward, elbows on knees. “Did you find that antique she was looking for?”
“Does it matter?”
He shrugged. “I was just curious. Wrapping up loose ends.”
“I haven’t been able to find it.”
He got the distinct impression that she had something more to say. He waited, giving her plenty of space to spit out whatever was on her mind. She evidently decided against it. “I’ll keep my eyes open, though,” she said. “And I left a message for the sites division curator in Madison, to see if records on that end are more complete.”
Roelke watched her. Should he press for more? No. He didn’t have any reason to. He didn’t have any reason to even be here, since she’d given him her telephone number.
He stood. “Since Mrs. Lundquist didn’t have any legal claim to the antique, I think the issue is closed.”
“Yes, I guess so.” Chloe padded after him to the door. “Thanks for letting me know about the funeral.”
Roelke drove north through the Kettle Moraine State Forest, thinking about the woman sitting alone in a sterile farmhouse, nursing a drink, surrounded by moving cartons that showed no signs of being unpacked.
He felt too restless to head home. Fifteen minutes later, without conscious decision, he pulled over in front of an old farmhouse built from the locally common “cream city” yellow bricks. Shrubs had grown up over the house’s lower windows, and a garden plot visible in the side yard was choked with burdock and dandelions. The weathered barn showed no sign of animal life. Once, though, Holsteins had filed in and out of stanchions, filling the barn with the warm smells of milk and manure.
And once, Roelke had milked those cows in that barn. After high school he’d left the farm behind, moved to Milwaukee. And if he’d sometimes thought about his maternal grandparents—both dead, by then—he’d given little thought to their farm. But since he’d moved back out from the city … well, sometimes he felt the impulse to drive by the old place.
God knew why, though, he thought. He checked for traffic, put the truck in gear, and did a tight U-turn on the road.
Ten more minutes and he was back in Eagle. He pulled into the space at the village parking garage that he’d vacated before driving to Chloe’s house.
The Eagle Police Department employed half a dozen officers. All but one of those were part-timers, most trying either to break into a police career or to ease out of one. Roelke was officially part-time as well, although the chief gave him extra hours when he could, and had recommended him for pick-up shifts in nearby Palmyra and North Prairie.
Chief Naborski had a private office. Marie, the clerk who entered citations and filed reports and prepared everything for court, had her own desk in the small squad room. The officers shared workspace and a typewriter, a necessity that generally worked out but sometimes got on Roelke’s nerves. Skeet Deardorff, who’d come on as Roelke went off, was out on patrol. Now would be a good time to catch up on paperwork.
He had a lot of paperwork waiting. Chief Naborski liked being able to show the taxpayers exactly how his officers spent their time. In addition to Mrs. Lundquist’s accident and the usual speeding citations and a report of property damage, Roelke had also arrested a drunk driver the evening before.
For some reason, though, he had trouble concentrating. He got up and opened his locker. On the top shelf sat a small photograph of a pretty young woman, smiling from a simple gold frame. His muscles tensed. He’d met Erin Litkowski only once, and weeks went by without him really seeing the photo. Sometimes, though, her smile chided him. Like now. He picked the photograph up, stared at it, put it back in place. When he sat down again he turned back to the DUI report he needed to complete, looked at it, and put it down, too.
When the phone rang he snatched the receiver before it could kick over to dispatch. “Eagle Police, Officer McKenna.”
“For cripes’ sake, Roelke,” a woman complained in his ear. “If I needed help, your tone would scare the crap out of me. When are you going to lighten up?”
“When are you going to stop calling me when I’m working?”
“You’re not working. You went off duty over an hour ago. I tried your place first, and when I didn’t get an answer, it didn’t take a Ph.D. to figure out where to find you.”
He leaned back in his chair, stretching the phone cord as far as it would go. “I’m staring at a stack of paperwork that would—”
“Why don’t you come over to my place? I’ve got bratwursts simmering in beer and I just lit the coals.”
“I went by the farm this afternoon.”
“You—why? Why do that?”
“I don’t know. I just did.”
Libby exhaled audibly. “Roelke, put away whatever you’re doing and come by. The kids want to see their favorite uncle.”
“I’m their second cousin.”
“See you in ten.” She hung up.
The wall clock ticked noisily as Roelke replaced the receiver, contemplating an evening with his cousin and her two kids. Libby had never lost her I’m-older-than-you attitude. She’d scold him for faults both real and imagined, jab the hot buttons she’d identified by age seven, and then make him scrub the grill after dinner.
He grinned. The reports could wait.
Chloe made it towork the next morning in time to attend the interpreters’ briefing with Byron, held on-site in the basement of the Four Mile Inn. Byron was somewhere in his late twenties, of medium height, and thin. His shaggy brown hair, tiny goatee, and wire-rimmed glasses reminded Chloe of early Russian revolutionaries. He led the morning briefing efficiently, reviewing the tour schedule and last-minute staffing changes. The program assistant who helped Byron announced that she hadn’t finished the next month’s staff schedule yet, so there was no point in asking her about it. One of the historic farmers, already sweat-stained and smelling of manure, asked who needed milk for the day’s cooking. Then Byron introduced Chloe, and had each of the four lead interpreters wave as he pointed them out to her.
“I’m glad to be here,” Chloe said, with her warmest smile. “I’m eager to help ensure that the material culture in each exhibit provides helpful tools in your interpretation.” She looked at the ring of faces, suddenly wondering if any of them had worked in the Norwegian area in the 1970s. If so, they might know if Berget Lundquist’s ale bowl had ever been displayed in the Kvaale house.
Then she saw Byron glance pointedly at his watch. “Thanks,” she concluded. The interpreters stampeded toward the steps.
Chloe was heading toward the state sedan when someone called her name. She turned to see the village lead, a stout, gray-haired woman in a blue bustle dress.
“Got a minute?” the woman asked.
Chloe nodded. “Sure.” Byron hadn’t emerged from the basement yet.
“I know you’ll be coming to our weekly leads’ meetings—”
She would? Had Byron told her that?
“—but we have a lot of questions about the artifacts in Tobler—”
“—and all we’ve gotten is a list of facts about the furnishings. We usually get an interpretive plan that helps us understand main themes for each exhibit—”
Of all the personal requests she could have gotten, why did the first one—the very first blinkin’ one—involve the Swiss carpenter’s cottage?
“—and on top of that, the wallpaper is already curling at the seams,” the woman concluded. “You need to look at the paste job.”
Byron bounded up the steps. “We’ve got to get the car out of here,” he barked at Chloe. “There’s an early tour.”
Chloe gave the village lead a rueful gesture:I’d love to do it now, but I can’t. Darn.“I’ll check it out next time I’m in the village.”
“Let’s go!” Byron started the car. Chloe managed to jump in and slam her door before Byron took off.
Byron drove the way he talked—impatiently. He whipped down the village hill, slowed briefly to skirt the German area, and left a wake of dust as he flew along the gravel road toward the gate at Highway S. “You know you can’t drive on the site during open hours, right? But we’re OK until nine o’clock.”
“Got it.” Chloe eased a hand to the seat and hung on.
“And never drive into the farmyards, even after-hours. We don’t tolerate modern intrusions like tire tracks.”
“No tire tracks. Got it. Listen, Byron, I was wondering if any of the original interpreters still work here.”
Byron swerved wildly to avoid a maintenance truck that appeared around a corner. “Yeah, me. I started here as an interpreter.”
“Oh. Did you ever work Norwegian?”
“No. Just the village shops. And that reminds me, we’ve got this great new guy who wants to make a wagon. I think he can do it, but he needs tools. Can you stop by the wagon shop and take a quick look at our jack? It’s an original, but I think it’s sturdy enough for use.”
“Sure, I’ll look at it.”
“You and I need to talk about record collection items—those are reproductions, or artifacts that you designate, that the interpreters can actually use in the foodways and gardening and craft programs.”
“I can’t today, I’m booked solid. You’ve got the dates for the summer interpreters’ training down, right? It’s too bad you weren’t here for spring training, but I’ll encourage the veterans to attend your presentations. And …”
Chloe hadn’t managed to steer the conversation back to her ale bowl by the time they got back to Ed House. “Byron!” she said finally, before he could bolt from the car. “I’ve got another question for you. I’m trying to find a Norwegian ale bowl—”
“Great!” Byron awarded her a look of approval for the first time. “I’d love to see a couple more ethnic pieces put on display. There’s a great tankard in the pink trailer that would work. Acculturation is a big theme in the Norwegian area, and—”
“No,wait. Please. I’m looking for one particular ale bowl. It’s not on exhibit, and it doesn’t seem to be in storage. Is there a place interpreters bring items that are damaged, or need attention? Anything like that?”
“Come inside,” Byron said.
He was inside the building, rummaging in the top drawer of an ancient metal filing cabinet, before Chloe caught up. He began extracting bulging file folders and piling them on his desk. “First, I’ve saved all the collections-related catalogs that have come in. Some are for archival supplies, some for repros.”
“OK,” Chloe said dubiously, eyeing the towering stack.
Byron continued to pull folders from the cabinet. “And these are reproduction request forms. Six years’ worth. There you go.”
Chloe glanced inside the top folder, riffled through the pages, and saw a bewildering assortment of handwriting, pencil and pen, some with a few printed words and some with lines and lines of cramped cursive.
“I’m glad to get all this stuff out of here,” Byron said. “I need the filing space.”
SodoI, Chloe thought, picturing the tiny galley/office/mouse hole of a workspace in her trailer.
“As for damaged items, the interpreters bring them to me. I put them upstairs. Come on. I’ll show you.”
Most of the second story of Ed house was a single, long room running under the eaves. Low metal shelves lined two of the walls, and someone had covered half of the floor space with sheets. These were covered with dozens and dozens of objects in need of attention: cracked china cups, rusted iron ware, books with loose bindings, rag rugs starting to fray … Chloe stared with dismay at the graveyard. She shouldn’t have been annoyed to learn she had an intern. She needed an army of interns.
Byron gave her a satisfied look. “It’s all yours.”
“Most of these things are repros, if that makes you feel any better,” he added.
Byron smiled. “I’d appreciate it if you could get these things moved out of here as soon as possible.”
“Well, don’t get too excited. I have to make a lot of progress in the trailers before I can start moving anything else in there.”
“I’m sure you’ll do your best.” Byron glanced at his watch. “I gotta head over to the visitors’ center and meet some Swedish dancers. Planning session for Midsummer. One of our big special events.”
“Mind if I stay and look these things over?”
“Suit yourself. Just lock up when you leave.”
Chloe listened to Byron bolt down the stairs, then slam the exterior door. A moment later she heard the sedan start and roar away. Only then did she draw a deep breath. Byron was acting like a royal jerk, dumping all of this on her so smugly. Chloe replayed their conversation in her mind, feeling self-righteously indignant—then suddenly hit pause.
Byron had mentioned a tankard in the pink trailer. Evidently Nika hadn’t been the only person in the trailers recently.
Chloe searched carefully, but the rosemaled bowl was not among the casualties. One more dead end.
She gathered the files Byron had given her, made the short drive back to the restoration area, and settled down at the picnic table to take a closer look. She flipped through the reproduction requests quickly, reading a few random samples:
June 12, 1977. We need another tin washbasin in Schulz.
September 14, 1979. The hoe handle at Pedersen cracked. Next time you order hoes, get stronger ones.
May 3, 1981. Any chance we can get a reproduction cookstove at Benson? The stove we have heats really uneven.
Chloe glanced up, grateful for any diversion, as a blue Mustang pulled in and parked on the far side of the lot. Stanley Colontuono burst from the maintenance building. “You’re late!” he bellowed at the young man who emerged from the Mustang.
“Geez Louise,” Chloe muttered, watching the teen slouch toward his boss. The two met halfway across the lot. The offender, a lanky boy with too-long bangs and tight blue jeans, stood silent, shoulders hunched. Stanley dropped his voice but launched into a tirade that included finger pointing and even one hand chopping into the other palm. After several minutes Stanley turned and stalked back toward the maintenance building. Chloe wasn’t surprised. She knew Stan’s type, all false charm that hid an explosive and controlling temper. What a jerk.
She looked back at the files in her lap, then shut her eyes, suddenly exhausted. Perhaps she’d given up the anti-depressants too soon. She thought of the orange plastic bottle waiting all by its lonesome in her medicine cabinet.
Then she opened her eyes. No, dammit. She’d either make it on her own or cash in her chips. She wasn’t going to live some half-life of psychiatrists and drugs.
So. Chloe glanced at her watch, considering. She really should head back to the Village. She should stop down at the basement of St. Peter’s Church to see how Nika was doing with her retro-fitting plan, and then stop by the Tobler House to assess the furnishings and look at the problematic wallpaper. And she would do both of those things, Chloe promised herself. Just not right this minute. Right this minute what she needed to do was get these frickin’ reproduction request files out of sight.
Leaving the files in tidy stacks, she walked to the maintenance building. The young man who’d come late to work was loading flats of sodas into the back of one of the state trucks. “Hi,” Chloe said as she passed. “My name’s Chloe.”
He looked startled. “Uh, hi. I’m, uh, Rupert.”
“Nice to meet you, Rupert.” She smiled. There. She’d done her bit to even out someone’s bad karma for the day.
She found Stanley leaning back in his chair, feet on his desk, laughing into the telephone. When he saw Chloe he planted his cowboy boots—black today—back on the floor. “I’ll talk to you later,” he muttered into the phone, and hung up.
“Sorry to disturb you, Stan,” Chloe said.
He grinned in a manner she suspected he hoped was sensual. She resisted telling him that his boots and red curls made her think of Howdy-Doody. “You’re not,” he said. “In fact, I’ve been meaning to ask you about something. It seems like somebody took a dislike to my calendar. You know anything about that?”
“Not a thing,” she lied calmly.
“I figured it must have been someone who wasn’t gettin’ any.”
Chloe had to unclench her teeth before speaking. “I need some empty cardboard boxes. You got any around here?”
“Sure, doll. Big stack out back.”
She smiled sweetly. “You maynotcall me ‘doll.’ ‘Chloe’ works just fine.”
Stan shrugged and laced his fingers over his big belly. “Well, saw-ree.”
“I’ll go grab those boxes, then,” Chloe said. “Thanks.” Asshole.
After stuffing the reproduction request files into two cartons, she folded the flaps in and dumped them into the trunk of her car. They could wait until she had the time and energy to tackle them.
Inside the pink trailer, she shuffled through her orientation file until she found the phone list she’d been given. Then she dialed a Madison number.
Old World Wisconsin was only one of a handful of historic sites owned and maintained by the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. The historic sites division consisted of a division administrator and a collections curator. The division curator, a woman named Leila, answered her phone on the first ring.
“I’m sorry I haven’t called or been out to welcome you,” she said when Chloe identified herself. “We had some flooding at Villa Louis, so I’ve been helping out there.”
“That’s all right. I did want to check in, though. I’m compiling quite a list of supplies I need. Also, my intern is creating artifact storage in the basement of St. Peter’s church. It’ll be a stop-gap, I know, but a good start until we get a permanent collections storage facility.”
“Mail me your list,” Leila said promptly. “I’ve been holding a pot of money aside for you, and I have some basic supplies earmarked too.”
Chloe raised her eyebrows, pleasantly surprised. “Will do. Can I fax the info?”
“From the site?” Leila hooted with laughter. “Oh, that’s rich. We just got our first fax machines here at HQ. They have to become obsolete before any drift out to the sites.”
Well, no surprise there. “OK. Second, what can you tell me about Old World Wisconsin’s collection records?”
“There should be a stack of big black ledgers somewhere in those trailers,” Leila said. “The former curator bound the collections records in those. One book for each year, and one page for each item donated to Old World or transferred to the site from the main collection here.”
Chloe tapped her pen against the kitchen counter. “One more question. Who should I talk to about a specific artifact transferred here from the main collection there in Madison?”
“The registrar here will have duplicate records. Need her number?”
Chloe took down the name and number. Before hanging up, she and Leila agreed on a date for Chloe to come to Madison for orientation.
Then Chloe dusted off one of the heavy black ledgers piled on the counter and opened it gingerly. Sure enough, the site’s accession records were arranged in chronological order. She hauled the notebooks back outside and planted herself at the picnic table.
It took over two hours to page through them. She justified the time by telling herself that she was acquainting herself with the collection. Shedid,after all, see a lot of information about artifacts donated and transferred to the site. What she didnotsee was any mention of a rosemaled ale bowl with cow heads transferred from the main state collection to Old World Wisconsin.
She headed back inside to call the registrar. The woman who answered sounded brisk and efficient, welcome traits common in a profession that depended upon extreme order. “You’re looking for one record in particular?”
“That’s right.” Chloe looked at the accession form Mrs. Lundquist had given her. “I’m trying to find out the date of transfer—”
“Give me the accession number.”
“OK … hold on … got it. Norwegian ale bowl.”
Chloe’s fingers tightened on the black plastic. “That’s it.”
“That was transferred to Old World on July 17, 1977. You should have a record of it.”
“I’m sure I do,” Chloe said. “But it’s my first week—I haven’t had time to get straight on everything yet.” She was already mourning the fast-approaching time when she couldn’t fall back on that “I’m-just-the-new-girl” excuse.
“Call me if you need a copy of the transfer form.”
“Will do,” Chloe said. “Thanks.”
She grabbed the 1977 ledger and sat on the trailer steps. Perhaps she’d flipped past the transfer form on her first pass through. She thumbed through the July entries. No record of a Norwegian ale bowl.
Frowning, she looked again. The accession numbers jumped from 1977.13 to 1977.15. In between those two pages, she spotted something she’d missed. A tiny triangle of paper with ragged edges protruded from the binding. Someone had torn a page from the book—the transfer form for Mrs. Lundquist’s ale bowl.
Chloe hugged the book to her chest. First an unknown visitor had asked about the bowl. Now this. Strange. And disturbing.
So, what should she do with that information? Talk to Leila in Madison again? Leila didn’t even have time to call a new staff member and welcome her on board. Ralph Petty, the site director? She chewed that over.
Then she went back inside, called the director, and gave him a brief summary of events: Mrs. Lundquist’s visit and accident, the visitor looking for an ale bowl, the missing accession form. “So I was wondering if—”
“This woman is dead?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said cautiously.
“So why are you wasting time looking for her donation? You didn’t think you could return it, did you?”
Chloe rolled her eyes. “Of course not. It’s just that—”
“Stop worrying about things that don’t matter. Are you making progress with the collections storage building plan?”
OK, calling Ralph had been a mistake. “I’m working on it,” Chloe said. “Thanks, Ralph. I’ll let you go.”
She hung up and stood for a long moment, debating. Then she dug through her bag, found a creased business card, and dialed another number.
“Eagle Police Department.” A woman’s voice, cool and competent. She’d make an excellent registrar
“I’d like to speak with Officer McKenna, please.”
“Is this an emergency?”
“Um … no.”
“Officer McKenna won’t be in the office until noon. May I take a message?”
“No, thank you,” Chloe said. She hung up and stared at the phone. She was probably being silly.
Then she remembered Mrs. Lundquist, very dead.
Chloe locked up the trailer at 11:50, and drove to Eagle. She realized belatedly that she should have asked directions, but she had no trouble finding the police station, which shared a roof with the village hall.
Once in the entryway Chloe opened the appropriate door and stopped. She’d vaguely imagined a reception area guarding private office space. Instead she’d stepped into a cramped, narrow workroom. The counters were topped with manuals and stacks of papers and cubbyholes holding an array of forms. Shelves crowded with more manuals and cardboard cartons covered one wall.
A middle-aged woman who’d been clattering away at a typewriter looked up enquiringly, as did a very young officer sitting at the counter. Roelke McKenna stood at a line of lockers in the opposite wall, buttoning his uniform shirt. A framed photo of a pretty young woman perched on the shelf in his locker. She had long red hair, a fair complexion—probably of Irish descent—
“May I help you?” the woman asked.
Chloe flushed. “Um … I was hoping to see …” She looked at Officer McKenna.
He closed his locker. “Is there something I can do for you, Miss Ellefson?”
“You said I should contact you if—if anything came up about Mrs. Lundquist.” Chloe tried to sound matter-of-fact. She was acutely aware of the clerk and other officer.
The patrolman seemed to catch on. “The chief is out. Why don’t we use his office.” He opened a door in the back wall and led her into a private office. Two chairs faced the desk; he took one and gestured to the other. “Please, sit down.”
“Thank you.” Chloe looked away from his penetrating stare and made a mental note to break no laws in the Village of Eagle.
“Did a relative contact you?” Officer McKenna asked.
“No. I just—well, I’ve been looking for this ale bowl, you know, and I haven’t been able to find it. But a couple of odd things have happened.” She told him about the visitor who’d asked about a rosemaled ale bowl with cow heads, and the transfer page torn from the ledger.
He listened in silence. “Do you think someone stole this antique from Old World Wisconsin?”
Chloe spread her hands. “I don’t know.”
“Would this be a valuable piece?”
“I suppose so. Lots of collectors want nineteenth-century ethnic pieces in good condition.”
“Nothing about this piece in particular, though?”
Chloe shifted her weight. She was getting annoyed—whether at him or herself, she wasn’t sure. “I don’t know that either. I’m not an expert.”
“You must know an expert though, eh? Someone you could contact who knows Norwegian antiques?”
“Why, because I’m of Norwegian descent? Do you think we all sit around eatinglefseand painting woodenware?”
“No,” he said carefully. “Because you work for a museum.”
Chloe ordered herself to get a grip. “Yes, of course. I do. I will. My original point, though, is that any rosemaled piece is valuable, and there are dozens of them at the site, both on display and in storage.”
A phone rang in the outer office, and the clerk’s voice cut through Officer McKenna’s thoughtful silence. Then he asked, “Do you happen to have that piece of paper you showed me the other day? The one Mrs. Lundquist gave you?”
She pulled it from her bag and handed it to him.
He stared at it for a moment, then leaned forward and turned the paper sideways. “What does this number mean?” He pointed to the accession number, 1962.37.3.
“Well … the ‘1-9-6-2’ means the ale bowl was originally donated in 1962. Mrs. Lundquist was the thirty-seventh person to donate something to the historical society that year. And the ‘3’ indicates that she donated at least three objects, and that the ale bowl was the third piece the registrar numbered and marked.”
“What about the other two objects?”
Chloe blinked. “What?”
“What about the other objects she donated?” he repeated. “Were those first two transferred to Old World along with the ale bowl? Are they missing too?”
Chloe felt herself flush again. A pox on her Scandinavian features. A pox on Officer Roelke McKenna for making her feel like an idiot. “I don’t know,” she admitted. “I didn’t think to check on that. The registrar in Madison will be able to tell me.”
“Perhaps that should be your next step.”
“Yes.” Chloe took the accession form back and stood up. “I apologize for taking your time.”
“Just a moment.”
Chloe sat back down and waited. The cop’s mouth formed a tight line. He stared blindly at the wall, one thumb tapping a staccato beat on the arm of his chair. His tension was palpable. He was a young cop in a sleepy village. What had wound him up so tight?
He looked back at her. “You don’t have any evidence that a crime has been committed.”
“No,” she said curtly. “I don’t.”
“Old World Wisconsin is a state property. If you do decide that a crime has been committed, your director needs to file a report. It’ll go to the Capitol police first, and probably on to the county. In any case, law enforcement can’t get involved until you make a report.”
“No, I didn’t expect … that is …” Shit. Just what had she expected? She didn’t know. “I just wanted to tell you what I’d found. That’s all.”
She stood again. This time he didn’t stop her.
“What was that about?” Marie asked, rolling a piece of paper from her typewriter.
Roelke finished his quick check of his duty belt: everything in order. “Just a follow-up from that fatal accident on Highway S.”
“What about that fatal?” Chief Naborski walked into the room through the side door, from the village municipal offices, just in time to hear Roelke’s remark. “Some problem there?”
Chief Naborski was a solid man of medium height with a craggy face, tired eyes, and gray hair buzzed in a flat-top that may have been a holdover from his service during the Korean War. He looked at Roelke a moment longer than casual courtesy required, then cocked his head toward his office. “Come in for a minute.”
Roelke followed and dropped into the seat he’d recently vacated. The chief was a plain-spoken and fair man—except during deer season. Chief Naborski’s annual calendar revolved around his week at deer camp, much to the annoyance of some of the younger cops who wanted to take vacation at the same time. Roelke didn’t ask for vacation time during deer season. He and the chief got along fine.
“Anything I need to know?” Naborski asked.
“I don’t think so. An employee from Old World Wisconsin stopped in a few minutes ago. She’d met with the victim just before the accident, and was first on the scene. She’s been trying to find an antique the victim donated, years ago. It hasn’t turned up.”
“If they think something’s been stolen, they need to file a report.”
“That’s what I told her.”
“I’ve got something else for you.” Chief Naborski tipped back in his chair. He had a habit of leaning back so far that Roelke, during his first weeks on the job, had lived with the distracting fear that he was about to watch his boss fall on his ass. It hadn’t happened yet.
“Ginger Herschorn stopped by my house last night. Ginger Herschorn is very unhappy.”
The image of a pinched, disapproving face nudged Chloe Ellefson’s lovely troubled one from Roelke’s mind. Ginger Herschorn, a long time village trustee, routinely campaigned to eliminate the village police force. It would be “free,” she argued, to simply rely on the county for all calls. No one had been able to convince Ginger that one way or another, her taxes paid for law enforcement. Roelke was pretty sure that the first time she faced a real emergency, she’d be glad to have a local cop two minutes away.
“Ginger says her nephew lost seven hundred dollars on a Brewers game last week,” the chief was saying.
Seven hundred dollars far exceeded the scope of a friendly wager. “Where did that happen?”
“The Eagle’s Nest.” The chief picked up a pencil and let it slide through his fingers until the eraser end bounced from his desk. “Evidently somebody’s taking bets on craps or NASCAR or anything else that moves.”
The Eagle’s Nest was a new bar on the outskirts of the village. “Hunh,” Roelke said.
“You been in there yet?”
“I did a few walk-throughs the first week they were open. Found a couple of underage drinkers. A couple more with fake IDs. I’ve mostly been on first shift.”
“Pick up a couple of later shifts, then. Switch with Skeet.” Naborski bounced the pencil off its tip, turned it over, and let it begin another slide.
“Did the kid provide any names? Any other details?”
“Not to Ginger. He only ’fessed up to his parents because he needed to come up with the money. His father forked over the cash so his kid could walk away, then called his sister, the village board member. You can talk to the kid yourself. See if he’ll tell you anything else.” Naborski handed him a piece of paper with some notes scrawled on it. “How do you want to play it at the bar?”
Roelke considered. Up-front, in uniform? Hanging out in street clothes first, trying to blend in, keeping his eyes and ears open? “Up- front, to start,” he decided. “I can make it clear that we’ve had a complaint. That might be all it takes.”
“Do it,” Naborski said. “We need to shut this thing down fast. It’s probably some bookie moving out from the city, thinks he can fly under the radar out here.”
Roelke left the chief in his office, wished Marie a good afternoon, and headed out to his patrol car. But before signing in with dispatch he allowed himself one last thought of Chloe Ellefson. He knew she’d been irritated and frustrated by the time she left. There’s nothing you can do about it, he told himself, which didn’t make him feel even a little better.
Chloe retreated to bedthat evening with Jack Finney’sTime and Againand a glass of wine. Her mind kept drifting, though, from the novel’s plot to the missing artifact transfer record. Who could have taken it? Nika had admitted to being in the trailers recently. And Byron had mentioned a specific artifact in the pink trailer, so he’d been inside recently as well. But why would either one care about one ale bowl? Other people on staff had access, too. Maintenance chief Stanley Colontuono, for one. Director Ralph Petty, for another.
The bedside telephone’s ring startled her. She checked her watch—almost eleven—and eyed the phone with suspicion. Only two people were likely to call at this hour: Ethan or her mother. Quite a gamble. She took a sip of wine. The phone rang again, and kept ringing well beyond the point of politeness. Decision made. “Hello?”
She sighed and relaxed, snuggling farther down on the pillow. “Ethan. Hi.”
“I called to see how you were doing.”
A lump rose in her throat, and her eyes welled with unexpected tears. “Thanks,” she said simply. “OK, I think. I feel like I’m underwater. I always seem to be a step or two behind everyone else. But OK.”
“Everyone feels like that when they start a new job.”
“I guess. How are you?”
“Good. I’m likely to get called out on a fire and I wanted to talk to you before I left.”
Chloe clutched the receiver as if it were his hand. “Where?”
“California. Didn’t you see it on the news?”
“I must have missed it.” Since Chloe hadn’t bothered to plug her television in yet, that wasn’t surprising. “You know, most of the people we graduated with took nice, safe jobs with nice, destructive, paper companies.”
His low laugh rippled through the wire, over the miles. “Yeah. Go figure. So. Are you getting to know some of the people you’ll be working with?”
“A little. It’s quite a crew.” She curled on her side and told him about Byron and Stan, Ralph and Nika. “There are only ten or twelve permanent employees, so I’ll get to know the others. Most of the work is seasonal.”
“Yeah.” Ethan knew all about seasonal work. “Well, give ’em a chance, Chloe. I worry about you being isolated out there.”
Chloe looked around the bedroom—empty shelves, empty bureau, stacks of cartons—and on to the dark, silent rooms beyond. She was living alone in a nine-room farmhouse on a lonely rural road. Yep, pretty isolated. And so different than the small house she’d shared with Markus, which had squeezed European-style between two others in Brienz, within walking distance of almost everything they needed. That little house had overflowed with life: music drifting from the stereo, two collections of books tumbling from over-crammed shelves, the aroma of baking cheese and fresh bread spilling from their tiny kitchen, window boxes dripping with flowers each summer.
God, she missed Markus.
“I was back in Switzerland,” she admitted. “It was just so damn easy there, you know? Markus and I—the day we met, it was like we’d known each other for years.” While Chloe and Markus lived together they’d spent some vacation days touring other outdoor museums and historic sites, interviewing elderly people on remote farms, attending conferences. Other days they laced up hiking boots and disappeared into the mountains with nothing in their daypacks but bread, cheese, and a bottle of wine. Markus and Chloe belonged to a folk dance group. She encouraged him to submit his account of his efforts to stabilize populations of two rare goat breeds,stiefelgeissandfauengeiss,for publication. He encouraged her to pursue her long-held, mostly secret wish to write an historical novel. She—
“Chloe?” Ethan asked again.
She reminded herself that although Ethan was gay and oblivious to the charms of historic sites, he was one thing Markus was not: an ever-faithful best friend. “Sorry,” she said. “I’m here.”
“You need to get out of the house. Go do something cheerful. Remember that bluegrass bar you took me to that Christmas I came home with you?”
“The Green Lantern. It’s near Fort Atkinson.”
“Go listen to some music this weekend.”
“Maybe I will,” she said, knowing she wouldn’t.
“You feeling better about that car wreck thing?”
She hesitated. Her bedroom window was open, and a cow in the pasture just beyond the driveway snorted and stamped. “Well … There’s something going on here that I don’t understand.”
“Why are you worrying about it?”
“I promised Mrs. Lundquist I’d find the bowl.” She flexed her toes. “She came to me for help. I can’t help wondering if someone was bullying her about that ale bowl, somehow. Pressuring her to get it back. What if that’s what caused her heart attack?”
“If that’s the case,” Ethan said, “then Ireallydon’t think you should get involved in it. You can’t bring her back. You have a new job to get a handle on, and your health to take care of.”
He was right, of course. The Old World collections, the interpreters and their artifact-related needs—she had overwhelming responsibilities. There was no time for unnecessary side trips.
“… so don’t try to take this on by yourself, too. You need to get out with other people more. Join a club or something.”
“There must be some kind of adult sports league or something around there. Get on a softball team. Didn’t you pitch on your dorm team?”
“That was a million years ago.” Another person, another life.
“Well, look into it, OK? And get a dog.”
“Get a dog. They’re great companions.”
“I can’t get a dog,” she said slowly.
“They’re—it would be too much responsibility.”
“What responsibility? You feed it, you take it out for walks. In return you get exercise and company and unconditional love.”
“I’ll think about it,” Chloe lied. A dog implied commitment. She couldn’t get a dog.
“Listen, girl, I should let you turn in. It’s late.”
“OK.” Chloe stared at the photograph of her and Ethan perched island-like on the empty bookshelf. She loved Ethan for loving her, through good and bad. She also cherished the living link to her life before her gradual unraveling. Ethan reminded Chloe of her old self—energetic, focused on growing a career, passionate about hiking and paddling and skiing into wooded hills. Content. Normal.
“Thanks for calling, Ethan,” she said. “You be careful on the fire line, you hear? Call me when you get back.”
“I will on both counts.”
“Are you still gay?”
He laughed. “Good night, Chloe.”
Chloe got lost on Friday morning while trying to find Daleyville, but she’d been so sure of getting lost that she still arrived fifteen minutes early for Mrs. Lundquist’s funeral. The old stone church stood on high ground, overlooking farm fields rolling piously into the distance. The string of homes that comprised the village seemed inadequate to fill the imposing church. Chloe’s Pinto brought the total of cars in the parking lot up to a mighty three, and the minister and organist presumably accounted for the other two. Evidently very few people mourned Mrs. Lundquist’s passing.
Once inside, she felt obligated to slide into a pew near the front. A simple white coffin was positioned in front of the altar rail—closed, thank God. Chloe sent a private nod to Mrs. Lundquist, wherever she was:I’m so sorry I wasn’t more helpful. I wish I’d asked you more questions, learned why you were so upset. I’m trying to find your ale bowl, and to figure out what was troubling you.
Three elderly ladies walked silently down the aisle and took seats together a few pews in front of her, all wearing proper black or navy blue dresses. Two wore hats. It hadn’t occurred to Chloe until that morning that she shouldn’t show up at a funeral in chinos and a polo shirt, and a frantic scramble through suitcases had resulted in a wrinkled denim skirt and dark green cotton blouse. She had no idea where her iron was—did she even still own an iron?—so she’d laid the clothes over her kitchen table, dribbled water on the worst of the creases, pressed them flat with her fingers, and pulled them on.
She was grateful for a quiet moment to gather her thoughts. Dust motes danced in a stream of light pouring like molten gold through a window. Sober organ music filled the air. Chloe tried to remember when she’d last been inside a Lutheran church. As a child, she’d attended Sunday School and worship services with her family at Christ Lutheran Church in Stoughton. Markus was an agnostic, but that hadn’t mattered to her—not living in a place where Lake Brienz sparkled on one side, and the Alps soared heavenwards on the other—
Chloe jumped; she hadn’t even noticed the elderly man who’d taken a seat in the pew beside her. “Good morning,” she murmured back.
He was very thin, and wore an old but tidy black suit. He removed his fedora with fingers that tremored with a slight palsy. A fringe of white hair circled his head just above ear level. “Who are you?” he whispered.
“Just a …” Just a what? “I only met Mrs. Lundquist recently,” Chloe told him. “Were you a friend of hers?”
“We were next-door neighbors for twenty-seven years. Years ago me and my wife and Berget and her husband used to get together every Friday night to play Sheepshead.” The man waved one trembling hand in a gesture part resigned, part helpless. “No more card games, now. I’m the only one left.”
Chloe pressed his hand briefly. There were too damn many lonely people in the world. “I’m sorry,” she said, and introduced herself. “I work at Old World Wisconsin. I only met Mrs. Lundquist once.”
“I’m Bill Solberg.” He gave her a searching look with blue eyes that looked pale, as if age was leaching even that color from him. “It was good of you to come.”
“I wanted to. She—she came to see me the day she died.”
“About that ale bowl.” He nodded. “She’d been fussing about that for weeks.”
Chloe sat up a little straighter. “Do you—”
The minister, who had stepped unnoticed to the pulpit, chose that moment to begin the service. Chloe forced herself to swallow her questions.
The service was brief and, with the exception of mentioning Mrs. Lundquist’s dependable presence at Sunday service, impersonal. After the organ postlude, the funeral ended.
Mr. Solberg sat immobile, staring at the coffin. The three elderly women followed the minister down the aisle. Chloe glanced after them, wondering if they had been friends of Mrs. Lundquist … and was startled to see Officer McKenna standing by a back pew. He caught her eye and nodded.
The old man sighed heavily. “I’ll miss her.”
“I’m glad she had a friend like you,” Chloe said. “When I met her, she seemed very distressed about that ale bowl. And then the police told me they couldn’t find any relatives. I’ve been very sad about it all.”
“Were you able to help her?” Mr. Solberg said.
“I’m afraid not. It was my first day, you see, and …” Chloe took a deep breath. “The form she showed me said she had legally donated the ale bowl to the State Historical Society in 1962. I’m afraid that kind of thing really can’t be undone.”
“I told her so, but she was determined to try. I can’t recall seeing her so worked up about anything since her husband died.”
“Do you know why she was so upset?” Chloe asked. “What made it so important for her to get that ale bowl back?”
Mr. Solberg shook his head. “She never said. She was a classy lady, never talked much about personal stuff. Not like most nowadays.”
“Mr. Solberg, I haven’t been able to find the ale bowl. It was transferred from the state collection in Madison to Old World Wisconsin in 1977, and it seems to have disappeared. I’d really like to find that ale bowl, and to learn why Mrs. Lundquist was so worried about it. If you can think of anything she ever said about it, anything at all, it might be very helpful.”
He turned sideways in the pew, a frown creasing his forehead. “Why do you care so much?”
“Because I feel badly that I wasn’t able to help your friend when she came to see me. I promised her I’d find the bowl. Even though she’s gone … I’d like to honor that promise, and to put the bowl on display in one of the Norwegian houses.” That much was true. Chloe chose not to mention her fear that someone might have been pressuring the old lady to produce the artifact.
His forehead smoothed out again, and he turned to stare thoughtfully out a window for a few moments. Then he shook his head. “Sorry, Miss Ellefson. I can’t think of a thing. I don’t know why she wanted it back so much. She had one son, but he died in Vietnam. Pretty early in the war—he was one of the first.”
Nineteen sixty-two, Chloe thought, remembering that Mrs. Lundquist had donated her heirlooms after her son’s death. “Did she mention getting a phone call or visit that distressed her within the last month or so?”
“No. And I kept a good eye on that house, let me tell you. I did it for her husband. I know he’d have done it for my wife if things had been different.”
“I’m sure you did.” Chloe gave him a sympathetic smile. “I’m sorry for your loss, Mr. Solberg. I won’t take up any more of your time.”
She stood up, and he did too. But he didn’t step into the aisle. “I suppose you could look around,” he said slowly.
“Her house. I suppose that would be all right.”
“Look around her house?” Chloe repeated stupidly.
“I have a key. I don’t know what’s going to happen to her things, but nothing’s happened yet. We can go right now, if you want.”
Chloe considered. Shereallyshould start that storage building proposal. Still, her afternoon was clear—she’d actually gone through her orientation notes the evening before, checking for any scheduled meetings. Nika had somehow badgered the restaurant staff into giving up two tables, and the maintenance staff into hauling them down the narrow stairs to the basement of St. Peter’s church. With her own portable typewriter in place, already hard at work, she wasn’t likely to even notice that Chloe was gone.
Mr. Solberg stood waiting patiently. “Sure,” she told him.
“I’ll just be a minute.” Mr. Solberg walked slowly to the coffin and stood, head bowed.
Not wanting to intrude, Chloe turned away. Roelke McKenna still stood near the back of the sanctuary. She joined him. “Good morning. I didn’t expect to see you here.”
“When people die on my shift I always attend their funerals, if I can.”
“Oh.” Chloe stared back toward the casket, wishing Mr. Solberg would hurry.
“Did you check into the other donations?”
Chloe blinked at Officer McKenna. “I beg your pardon?”
“The other donations,” he said patiently. “You were going to call Madison.”
“Oh. Right. Yes.” Shit. Why did she always stutter like an idiot in this man’s presence? “I called the registrar yesterday. She said the ale bowl was the only artifact from Mrs. Lundquist’s donation that was transferred to Old World.”
He nodded. “Well, I need to get to work.”
Me too, Chloe thought, but she felt no inclination to tell this uptight cop that she was about to poke through the dead woman’s home and belongings.
Mrs. Lundquist lived—had lived—in a tiny frame house just off the main street. Lace curtains hung in the window, and a wicker rocking chair waited on the small front porch. Crimson geraniums blossomed cheerfully in half-barrels on either side of the front walk. Life goes on, Chloe thought, but it all seemed strange.
Mr. Solberg unlocked the front door. Chloe stepped inside and automatically paused, taking in the feel of the place. The house was forty, maybe fifty years old. It held a distant jumble of sensory energy, but the strongest sensation was one of calm quiet. That made sense; Mrs. Lundquist had lived alone for a long time.
Pocket doors to the right of the entrance hall led to an eat-in kitchen. Mr. Solberg turned left. “If there’s anything to find, I think it’d be in here,” he said.
Chloe scanned the tidy living room. The furniture was old, worn but not dingy. A recliner waited in front of a television set, holding a half-done crocheted afghan in cheery purple and yellow. Mr. Solberg picked up the project, smoothing the zigzag pattern with his fingers. “Berget always was one for crochet. She’d make blankets and donate ’em to the hospital in Madison for new babies.”
Chloe murmured something sympathetic before turning away from the sadness in the old man’s eyes. Bookshelves lined two walls. Mrs. Lundquist’s reading tastes had ranged from James Michener’s novels to presidential biographies, but evidently did not include Norwegian history or antiques.
A montage of photographs formed a square on one wall, and Chloe stepped closer for a good look. Mr. Solberg joined her. “There’s Berget and Jack. Jack died young. Bad ticker.” He pointed to a black-and-white wedding photograph of a beaming couple. Mid-1930s, Chloe guessed, judging by the gown style. She stared at Berget as a young bride, trying hard not to juxtapose the lovely image with a lined face, slack in death.
The other photographs were older and of still, stern people, stiffly posed. Mrs. Lundquist’s parents, grandparents? “Do you know if both of the Lundquists had Norwegian ancestry?” she asked.
“She did, that’s for sure. She was proud of her people. ‘I’m from good Norwegian stock,’ she always said. But Jack was Swedish. Berget used to say how open-minded she was, marrying a Swede.”
Ah! It was an old jest, but helpful. The sketchy accession form specifically noted aNorwegianale bowl. If Jack Lundquist had been Swedish, the ale bowl had almost certainly come through Mrs. Lund-quist’s family, not his.
“We should take a look at her desk,” Mr. Solberg told her. He led Chloe to a small desk in a back corner, painted white. A tiny, almost thread-bare stuffed rabbit rested against a mug holding pens and pencils. Her son’s? Chloe touched the toy with a finger.
In the top drawer they found neat stacks of bills and canceled checks. “Were you aware of any financial difficulties Mrs. Lundquist was experiencing?” Chloe asked, uncomfortably aware that she sounded more like Officer McKenna than herself. “Property tax payments, a medical problem, anything like that?”
He waved that idea aside. “No. She wasn’t rich, but Jack’s insurance policy left her provided for. She took pills for arthritis, but that’s it. Not like me. I take seven different medications.”
“Then I don’t think we’d learn anything helpful by examining her finances,” Chloe said. The idea of pawing through the dead woman’s bank records felt just too intrusive.
The second desk drawer held packets of yellowed thank-you notes, half-used boxes of faded Christmas cards, one unopened package of elegant writing paper.
“Did Mrs. Lundquist have many friends?” Chloe asked. “Other than you, I mean?”
“She lived pretty much in Jack’s shadow when he was alive. A lot of the gals did, back then. After he died, I think most of their friends drifted away. Jack was orphaned young, so there’s no family there. And then Berget’s son got killed in Vietnam. Now, that was a nasty war.”
“So Mrs. Lundquist never had any grandchildren?”
“Nope. She was a loner, I guess you’d say. She was a regular down to church, and helped out with the altar guild. Those three ladies at the service this morning are altar guild. But Berget was reserved. Always was. Didn’t make friends easy, I’d say. And did just fine on her own.”
Chloe sighed and closed that drawer. Crouching, she pulled out the bottom one. It was heavier than the first two, and revealed two leather-bound photograph albums. Chloe pulled out the first. The most recent photographs were already decades old; evidently Mrs. Lundquist hadn’t taken a picture since her son died. Chloe flipped back through blurry snapshots that documented Christmases, a family picnic, a trip to the Grand Canyon, color portraits of a young man in uniform. Mrs. Lundquist looked perpetually happy.
The second album held more heirloom photographs—cabinet cards andcartes de visites. “Do you suppose this is Mrs. Lundquist?” Chloe asked, pointing to a lovely girl in white. “It looks like confirmation day.”
Mr. Solberg peered over her shoulder, and tapped the photo with a trembling finger. “Oh, yes. That’s Berget.”
“This must be her and her parents. But who’s this?” Chloe stared at a studio-posed cabinet card. A very young Berget stood at her mother’s elbow. A boy stood beside the man Chloe assumed was Berget’s father. “A brother?”
He squinted at the photo. “Perhaps. Whoever the boy was, he must be long dead. I heard Berget say more than once that everyone had died on her. She didn’t have any family left.”
“That’s so sad.” Something began to ache in Chloe’s chest as she stared at the sweet girl Mrs. Lundquist had been—not knowing she was destined to bury her parents, her brother, her husband, her child.
“Ooph.” Mr. Solberg straightened with a little grimace of pain. “Knees don’t work the way they used to. Don’t get old, Ms. Ellefson. It’s no fun. Although, as they say, consider the alternative.”
I have, Chloe wanted to say. Suddenly she’d had enough. She put the photo albums back carefully, shut the drawer, and turned to her host. “Thank you, Mr. Solberg, but I don’t think we’re going to find anything to tell me more about that ale bowl.”
After pulling his squadcar into The Eagle’s Nest parking lot that evening, Roelke surveyed his surroundings. The bar occupied the lower level of a small, two-story frame building. It had stood empty for most of Roelke’s time in Eagle. In the past he’d occasionally made a pass through the parking lot while on patrol, checking for kids huddled behind the building to smoke cigarettes or pot. Now, half a dozen cars and pickup trucks were parked in front of the bar, and three motorcycles waited for their drivers in the glow of a pole-mounted security light. Low gray clouds threatened rain, and made the neon Miller and Bud signs blinking in the front windows seem welcoming.
Somewhere inside, according to Ginger Herschorn’s nephew, a nameless bookie had pressured the underage kid to bet a lot of money on a baseball game. The boy had been half defensive and half surly. “I wagered on a ball game,” he’d said with a shrug, slunk down low on the flowered sofa in his parents’ living room. “I lost some money. No big deal.”
Roelke parked around the corner to keep the car accessible without being blatantly visible. He pulled his nylon jacket on when he got out of the car. The air felt damp and cool as he headed across the parking lot. The shrieking vocals of AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long”pulsed from a jukebox and into the night. Blues, he thought wistfully. Just once I’d like to do a bar check and hear some good blues.
A wall of smoke and noise greeted him inside, accompanied by the odor of fried mushrooms and onion rings. The bar itself stood island-like in the middle of the room. A horseshoe of small wooden tables sat along the front and side walls. A waitress sporting bottle-blonde hair and tight black jeans was delivering a tray of beer mugs to a noisy group in one corner. She glanced at Roelke when he came in, but didn’t stop moving.
Two pool tables sat behind the bar. And in the wall behind them, three closed doors. One no doubt led to a kitchen. One room was probably an office. And the third?
Roelke approached the bartender, a cadaverous-looking man perhaps in his fifties. The barkeep stopped sliding clean glasses into overhead wooden racks, looking wary. He had thinning gray hair combed away from a narrow face. The overhead light’s yellow glow wasn’t kind to his sallow complexion, or to the dark circles under his eyes.
“How’s it going?” Roelke asked, his tone pleasant but not jovial. Finding the friendly-balance in a bar was a knife-edge thing. If he was too friendly, regulars would come to expect chit-chat, slowing him down whenever he did a bar check while on patrol. Not friendly enough, an empty beer bottle might just come sailing from some dark corner next time he stopped by.
“Ah, Jesus.” The barkeep put both palms on the bar. “You got some problem in here?”
“As a matter of fact, we have had a complaint. Underage drinking and underage gambling.” Out of the corner of his eye, Roelke saw the waitress slide quietly through one of the closed doors. “Are you Joe Pagenkampf?” One Joe Pagenkampf had filed a request for the tavern’s liquor license.
“You know anything about those things?”
“Nope.” Pagenkampf shook his head. “I run a clean place.”
“That’s good to know,” Roelke said politely, holding the man’s gaze for an extra moment. Message delivered.
Before leaving he strolled around the room, nodding hello at the patrons. Most looked to be nothing more than tired men and women enjoying a cold one on their way home. He didn’t see anyone who looked young enough to card. He checked the bathroom. A bookie might not operate in the john, but drug dealers often did. This one was empty. In need of scrubbing, but empty.
As Roelke emerged from the bathroom a red-haired man wearing work clothes and cowboy boots burst through the door. “Is he here?” he demanded of the bartender. “Is he back there?”
“Stan!”Pagenkampf cocked his head infinitesimally in Roelke’s direction, then lowered his voice. “Sorry, Stan. Haven’t seen him tonight.”
Roelke had gone very still, watching.
Stan glanced at the policeman and shed his anger like a lizard shedding his skin. “Hey,” he said with a friendly nod, and slid onto a barstool. “Get me a draft Miller,” he told the bartender.
Roelke returned the greeting and headed out to the squad. After calling back in to service he sat, staring at the bar, thinking. Who had this Stan guy been looking for? The bookie?
Raindrops began a tentative sprinkle against his windshield. Roelke tapped a rhythm against the steering wheel with his thumb. He’d done all he could do tonight. The chief would probably send one of the young guys in wearing street clothes, one of the part-timers, not likely to be recognized. The EPD’s newest hire was fresh from the academy, still in the John Wayne phase. He’d leap at the chance to try to make nice with the bartender, and see if he could sniff out any hint of whatever was going on.
But Roelke would quietly talk with a few people in Eagle as well, see what else he could uncover. If a bookie was operating out of the back room at The Eagle’s Nest, the cops would need a warrant to nail him. And to get a warrant, they’d need more than a sullen teen’s vague admission.
His ear caught a call among the radio chatter, just as rain began a torrential timpani on the car roof. “George 220. Respond to a 10-45, northbound lane of Highway 67, approximately one mile north of junction with Highway 59.”
Great. Ju-u-ust great. “George 220. On my way.”
He started the car and pulled out of the lot. If he was a gambling man, he’d have put a lot of dollars on his guess that no one—not from Waukesha County, not from the DNR, not from any of the surrounding municipalities—would show up to offer assistance on this call. His unseen colleagues would no doubt judge Roelke competent enough to move an animal carcass from the road in a downpour, all by himself.
“Protect and serve,” Roelke muttered, and headed north.
After waking up thenext morning Chloe lay in bed for some time, hands on her flat belly, feeling empty and alone. Markus had been an early riser, and often woke her with cups of steaming hot chocolate. Other days he’d plop down on the bed, full of ideas for the day. “We’re out of flour—we need to go to the market,” or, “Let’s take the steam cog up the Rothorn!” Chloe loved the Appalachian mountains, but the Alps … oh, the Swiss Alps, with their steep paths hiked to the music of cow bells and songbirds, were like no place else on earth…
“Dammit.” She abruptly scrambled out of bed. Enough of this. If she didn’t get moving, she’d likely crawl back under the covers. Not good.
After padding into the kitchen, she opened her refrigerator. The shopping fairies had not magically filled it for her. In fact … she sniffed, then stuck a hand deep inside. Lovely. Her brand-new used refrigerator had died. She wouldn’t get her first paycheck for weeks. Fridge repairs were not in the budget. Chloe shut the door again.
It was Saturday, and her mother was expecting her at the old homeplace in Stoughton. Chloe had mixed feelings about going home. Still … she could eat there, and do a load of laundry too.
The drive to Stoughton took less than an hour, winding through small towns and rolling farmland. Her parents still lived in the two-story colonial on South Prairie street where Chloe had grown up. When she pulled up in front of her parents’ house that morning, she cut the engine and sat staring at the sign hanging by the front door:Velkommen til vårt hjem.Petunias and sweet potato vines spilled from rosemaled window boxes. A flagpole in the front yard hosted both American and Norwegian flags. Mom and Dad avoided Norwegian cute—no little ceramic elves peeking around garden plants, no stumps carved like trolls. Still, in a town that had turned its Norwegian heritage into a bankable tourism phenomenon, Chloe’s parents were part of a dwindling minority: the real deal, both born of families that had not married outside the Norwegian community.
Mom met her at the door. “Oh, come in, dear! My, you look wonderful.”
“Not really,” Chloe said.
Her mother blinked, and for a moment Chloe thought she might actually respond. Then Mrs. Ellefson turned away, heading toward the kitchen. “I still have the coffeepot on. Want some?”
“Sure. And granola or something too, if you’ve got some.”
“I’ll scramble you some eggs.”
As her mother bustled about the kitchen, Chloe settled into her old chair. Blue curtains, a blue teapot on the stove, and blue dish towels livened up the white walls and appliances. A wall calendar featuring Norway’s scenic fjords hung above the sink, and akrumkakkeiron hung above the stove. A high shelf circling the room displayed a variety of rosemaled bowls and boxes and trays. Her mother’s work, all of it. Chloe remembered her irritable outburst in the police office—“You think we all sit around eatinglefseand painting woodenware?”—and felt her cheeks warm all over again. The truth was, when Officer McKenna had prodded her about finding an expert on rosemaled antiques, she’d known she wouldn’t have to look far.
“Are you getting all settled in?” Chloe’s parents had helped her move into the farmhouse the week before.
“Sure.” Chloe took a sip of coffee. “Where’s Dad?”
“He’s bowling.” Mom slid the eggs onto a plate already graced with a sticky bun. “Here.”
“Thanks.” Chloe had skipped supper the night before, and she dug in.
Mom sipped coffee from her own mug. She was a tall woman who had recently bobbed her hair after decades of wearing yellow braids in a coil behind her head. Silver had overpowered the blonde, but her eyes still shone Scandinavian blue. “So,” she said finally, when Chloe put her fork down. “When you called last night you said you wanted to ask me a favor?”
“I’m hoping you might have time to do a little research for me.” Her mother knew a lot about local history resources and genealogical searches. And she was cronies with every reference librarian in Dane County.
“Why, of course, dear. What do you need?”
Chloe felt an ache in her chest. Why hadn’t her mother been able to ask that question when her daughter had been struggling last winter? When her personal life was in the crapper, Chloe had wondered just how much to confide in her mother. She’d made one or two hesitant attempts. And Mom simply did not want to take delivery—
Chloe started. “Right. Here’s the thing. On my first day at Old World I talked to an artifact donor about a Norwegian ale bowl. Unfortunately, she passed away before I could get any of her family history.” Chloe poured herself another cup of coffee. “And you know how it is,” she said vaguely. “It would be really helpful for our records if we had a better idea of the ale bowl’s provenance. I don’t have time to do that kind of legwork.”
“What fun!” Mrs. Ellefson leaned forward on her elbows. “Tell me about this ale bowl!”
Chloe pinched off a corner of the sticky bun and popped it into her mouth. “Mrs. Lundquist—the donor I met—originally gave it to the state historical society years ago. It got transferred to Old World, but I haven’t been able to find it. I’m trying to figure out if it might have been more valuable than most other Norwegian pieces, for some reason.” Chloe told her mother what little she knew about the ale bowl.
“Cow heads?” Mom looked thoughtful. “That’s unusual.”
“I thought so,” Chloe said, impressed with herself.
“We’re probably talking aboutkjenge—”
Chloe held up a hand, palm forward. “English, please.”
“Akjengeis a type of bowl carved or turned from a single piece of wood, with handles carved as animal heads. Horse heads and lions are common motifs. And dragon heads.” She smiled. “Those go back to Viking days. You can see them adorning old churches in Norway. During the era when Christianity was overtaking the old religion, people evidently wanted to hedge their bets.”
“The reference to cow heads was probably a mistake,” Chloe said morosely. “The original accession record is sketchy. The curator probably didn’t even realize what she was seeing.” She chewed her lip for a moment. “Mom, what else would make a rosemaled ale bowl particularly desirable to a collector?”
“Well … the obvious things. Age and condition of the piece. The artist’s skill with design and execution and color.”
“I want to look at your collection.” Chloe ate the rest of the sticky bun and washed her hands before following her mother into the living room.
Her mother was a superb rosemaler who had won a coveted gold medal a decade earlier. Her handiwork was displayed in every room in the house. But a glass-fronted cupboard held pieces she’d collected.
“I haven’t bought an antique in years,” Mom said. “The prices have really shot up.”
“I assume some collectors look for pieces from certain regions.” Chloe knew that styles of rosemaling were distinct enough to be identified.
“Sure. Telemark and Hallingdal are best known, of course. Serious collectors might focus on one region, or even one artist.” Her mother picked up an exquisite bowl, painted orange and decorated with an intricate design of green, white, and black flowers and flourishes. “This one’s from Hallingdal.”
Chloe carefully took the bowl from her mother. She shouldn’t handle the piece without wearing cotton gloves, but she hadn’t brought a pair with her. “Are the pieces signed?”
“It’s very rare to find a signed piece, but the best artists developed unique characteristics.”
“Were all these pieces painted in Norway?” Chloe eased the bowl back onto the shelf.
Her mother nodded. “Almost certainly. Immigrants brought painted pieces with them. Lots of painted trunks, but also smaller pieces. Rose painting was starting to decline in Norway by the time of peak immigration to North America, though.”
“Didn’t any of the painters immigrate?”
“Some did. But most weren’t able to support themselves with rose painting here. A few might have done some painting for family and friends, I suppose. But the real renaissance didn’t begin until the twentieth century.”
“So … a nineteenth-century piece actually painted in Wisconsin might be more valuable than a piece painted in Norway, since they’re more rare.”
Her mother considered. “I suppose so. A few men may have kept the tradition alive, but in general, the immigrants soon took pride in American styles. You’ve seen those Andreas Dahl photographs, haven’t you?”
“Um … I don’t think so.”
“Dahl was a Norwegian-American who took dozens of photographs in Dane County during the 1870s. Lots of them show immigrant families posed in front of their homes, with sewing machines and farm equipment and whatever else they were most proud of. Modern American things, factory-made. I’ve got copies of a few of Dahl’s photos somewhere. We used them in a Daughters of Norway display.”
Chloe stared at the bowls and tankards and plates on the cabinet shelves. What did the missing ale bowllooklike? Was it from Telemark, Hallingdal, somewhere else? Was it one of those rare pieces made in America, or did it show the delicate brushstrokes of a sought-after Norwegian master? Without more to go on, how could she ever know?
I should quit this nonsense, Chloe thought that afternoon, as she drove east from Stoughton. Ethan was right; Mrs. Lundquist’s missing ale bowl is none of my business. I have plenty of things to worry about instead. I have no way ofeverfinding out what Mrs. Lundquist was so upset about, not with the shreds of information I have. For all I know she was a senile old bat.
Immediately, the image of the widow’s face swam accusingly into her memory. Beseeching Chloe for help in life. Still and staring in death.
“I’m sorry,” Chloe whispered. “Truly. And I’m trying hard to keep my promise.”
In Whitewater, Chloe made a last-minute decision to turn north on Highway 59 instead of continuing east to her farmhouse. She might as well go to work. She had yet to so much as visit the museum’s German, Finnish, and Danish farms. Byron had scheduled her to help provide training to the college students and teachers who’d be augmenting the interpretive ranks for the summer. Ralph Petty had scheduled a meeting to discuss a plan for permanent collections storage. And God knew she’d have to keep on her toes to stay one step ahead of Nika.
The restoration area was quiet. Chloe parked her car under a pine tree. Maybe she should spend the afternoon on site, mingling with visitors, getting to know the place. She hadn’t checked out that wallpaper problem at Tobler, either. She’d just pick up her clipboard and—
She stopped halfway up the trailer steps. The door was closed. But its heavy padlock glittered from the ground beside the steps.
Dammit!Chloe yanked the door open and plunged inside. “Hey!” she yelled. The trailer was empty. The intruder was gone. She stared helplessly at the crowded storage shelves. She didn’t have an inventory, so she had no way of knowing if something had been taken.
She picked up the phone receiver, but the site phone list she’d left beside it was gone. She put the receiver back down, and took a hard look at her workspace. Her papers had been moved. So had the black ledgers.
Who had messed with her stuff? And why?
She finally found her phone list, and dialed the security office number. A woman answered on the seventh ring. “Hello.” She sounded out of breath.
“Is this a security guard?”
“No, it’s the gift shop. Hank got called out to German. A visitor twisted her ankle and needed a ride. I can leave a message for him.”
Lovely. “Well, this is Chloe Ellefson. The new curator. I’m at the collections trailers in the restoration area. Could you tell him I think there’s been a break-in? I’ll wait here.”
“Sure.” The receiver slammed down.
Chloe retreated to the picnic table outside to wait, wishing she’d asked for more information. Hank was giving an injured visitor a ride—to where? The parking lot? The hospital in Waukesha, forty minutes away? She nibbled her lower lip for a moment, then headed back inside to the phone.
Roelke realized that itwas too late to chase the driver who’d just blitzed past the speed trap. Second one, too. His bad mood was distracting him.
He should have been in a good mood. He’d spent the previous night in Milwaukee with some of his old buddies, drinking beer and playing poker. Roelke didn’t care about poker. Spending time with other cops, though—that was good. He had a standing reservation on Rick Almirez’s sofa in Wauwatosa. Rick and Roelke had gone through the academy together.
“Next time bring more salsa,” Rick had said that morning, as they lingered over store-bought cherry kringle and bad coffee in Rick’s cramped apartment kitchen.
“Yeah, I will,” Roelke had agreed. He wasn’t much of a cook, but he made kick-butt salsa.
Rick Almirez was smart, a fast thinker, and even faster on his feet. He also smoked like a stovepipe. “You coming back out for practice?” he asked, reaching for a pack of cigarettes.
Rick, Roelke, and two of their friends from the force played in a bad garage band called The Blue Tones. “If I can get somebody to switch shifts with me,” Roelke said. “I’ll stop at the PD and check the schedule.”
“For Chrissake, do not go in this afternoon just to check the schedule.” Rick glanced at the ceiling as if searching for divine counseling:Lord, what am I to do with this guy?“You got to get out of that two-bit town. When are you going to transfer back out here?”
“You said when you left MPD that it was temporary. Helping out your cousin. How long can you drive in circles around that village before you go nuts?” Rick blew a plume of smoke over one shoulder. “You’re not even full-time.”
“The only full-time guy is out on medical with a bad back. He’ll probably take early retirement. I might be in line for that.” Or Skeet might. One or the other.
“You’re gonna lose your edge, man.” Rick got up to get a carton of milk from the refrigerator. “When I went on shift on Friday night there were seventy-nine calls waiting. God, what a night! The only way I could grab a bite was to swing through George Webb’s before calling back in service.”
“Small towns do have crime too,” Roelke said irritably. Although it would probably take the EPD several weeks to rack up seventy-nine calls.
Rick had eaten another piece of kringle, and licked his fingers. Then he’d said, “You’re screwing your career out there, Roelke. But I guess we’ll let you hang out with us anyway. The band needs you.”
Now, Rick’s observations echoed in Roelke’s ears. He shifted grumpily in the seat. All right, that was it. Next speeder he clocked was getting pulled over, and no amenities given.
Then dispatch came on the radio. “Possible break-in and entry at Old World Wisconsin restoration area, off County S.”
Roelke grabbed the radio. “George 220. I’ve got this one.”
He drove a bit faster than usual as he headed out of Eagle. The historic site’s security vehicle pulled out of the main entrance and turned onto Highway 67 in front of him. Roelke followed it to the restoration area.
Chloe was sitting on a picnic table near the trailers. “I guess the cavalry is here,” she said, getting up to greet the two men.
Hank DiCapo cast a sidelong glance at Roelke. “Hello, McKenna. Didn’t realize you’d gotten a call too. I could’ve saved you a trip.”
Roelke made ano big dealgesture. Old World’s three security guards worked for a private security company—all conscientious men, as far as he could tell. But DiCapo was possessive about his turf.
“What’s this about a break-in?” Hank asked Chloe.
She held up a padlock. “I found this on the ground, there by the step. Someone broke in.”
“You sure you didn’t drop it when you left last time?” Hank asked.
Her face tightened. “Quite sure. And when I looked inside, I could tell that someone had been going through my things.”
She looked? Roelke felt the muscles in his jaw tense. Before he could respond to that, another car pulled into the lot. He turned to see County Deputy Marge Bandacek climb from her car. “What we got?”
Great. Roelke swallowed more irritation as he introduced Chloe and brought Marge up to speed.
Marge hitched her pants up. “Is something missing?”
Chloe spread her hands. “I don’t have an inventory of the artifacts stored here. All I can say is that some things were messed up in the kitchen.” She led the way inside.
The galley was so small that the three officers had to proceed one at a time. Roelke went first. The space didn’t look any better than it had on Tuesday—dark, cluttered, worn. Depressing. “What’s different?” he asked.
“These ledgers were shoved farther over on the counter than I left them.” Chloe pointed. “And some of my papers were shuffled.”
They convened back outside. “So basically, you aren’t aware of anything that got stolen,” Hank said.
Chloe gave him a level look. “No. But finding a padlock on the ground is cause for concern, I’d say.”
Marge shifted her weight from one foot to the other. “When were you last inside there yourself?”
“Yesterday afternoon. I locked it up about five, before going home.”
“Are you sure you didn’t forget to hook the lock?” Marge asked. “Maybe you justthoughtyou did. Maybe it didn’t quite catch.”
“I locked it,” Chloe snapped. “And even if it hadn’t caught—which it did—it would still be hanging here, wouldn’t it? Not on the ground?”
“Maybe your hands were full, or you were in a hurry, and you dropped that lock yourself,” Hank said.
“Hold on a minute,” Roelke told Hank and Marge firmly. He had no real authority here, but he wanted to intervene before Chloe started throwing punches. “Who else has a key to these trailers?” he asked her.
She looked startled. “Well … the head of maintenance. Stanley Colontuono.”
Stanley? Roelke took a mental note and filed it away.
“And Ralph Petty, the site director,” Hank added. “He’s got a master for everything. Have you called them?”
“No. But—they wouldn’t have cause to be here without letting me know,” Chloe pointed out. “And that wouldn’t explain why the lock was on the ground, anyway. I can’t believe any employee would be so careless.”
For a moment no one spoke. Then the radio clipped to Hank’s big belt crackled. “VC to Security.”
He pulled it free. “Security here.”
“We’ve got a family in the parking lot, locked out of their car. Can you give them a hand?”
“I’m on my way.”
“It’s a Jeep Cherokee, Illinois plates, third bay. VC out.”
Hank replaced his radio with an air of authority. “What we’ve got here is, not a whole lot.” He nodded at Roelke and Marge. “Sorry you got called in for nothing.”
As Hank drove away, Marge pulled at her belt again. “It seems to me if someone wasreallytrying to break in, he would have taken a carload or two of those antiques.”
Chloe folded her arms over her chest.
The deputy caught Roelke’s glance and jerked her head toward her car. “Nothing here to follow up on,” Marge said as they walked away from Chloe. “I think the security guard is probably right.”
“I’ll do some extra drive-bys.” Marge opened her car door. “Isn’t that the woman from the car wreck? She seems high-strung.”
“I think she’s just trying to do her job.”
“Aren’t we all.” Marge shrugged. “Catch you later, McKenna.”
Roelke walked back to Chloe, who watched the deputy drive away with her lips pressed into a tight line. “It seems the mounties think I overreacted,” she said.
“You did the right thing to call. What youdidn’tdo right was charge inside an isolated trailer when you saw the missing lock.”
“I thought someone might still be inside!”
“Exactly. You should have called for help, let one of us do the looking.”
“These trailers and the artifacts inside are my responsibility,” she snapped.
A tiny bird serenaded them from a pine branch overhead,chickadee-dee-dee. Roelke waited.
“Oh, shit.” The tension left Chloe’s posture and she sat down on the trailer steps abruptly. “All I could think when I saw that door unlocked was that someone came here searching for that blasted ale bowl.”
“Do you have a reason to think that someone might break in with that in mind?”
“Nothing concrete. But I locked that door properly yesterday,” Chloe said stubbornly. “Idid.”
Roelke leaned against his squad.
She sighed. “Look, I know you can’t help me. I don’t have any evidence of a crime.”
“No. But I do agree that finding the lock on the ground is cause for concern. If something like that ever happens again, though, don’t touch anything.”
“You mean … so you could look for fingerprints?” She looked even more chagrined. “I didn’t even think of that. Sorry.”
“I’ll write up what happened, and let the other guys know. We can keep an eye out for a while.”
“I’m pretty sure someone messed through the records in the kitchen, but …” She rested her cheek on one palm. “Hank was right. I can’t be positive, because I’ve spent more time in the last week looking for that ale bowl than doing my job and starting a proper inventory.” She gave a mirthless laugh. “And I’m a state employee. That’s your tax dollars at work.”
“Would you like to come to a cookout tomorrow afternoon?” Roelke asked.
He had no idea where that invitation had come from. “I’m going to my cousin’s house to eat with her and her two kids. You’re welcome to come with me.”
She looked bewildered. “Um … OK.”
“I’ll pick you up,” he said, feeling stupid. “Does three o’clock work for you?”
He got in his car and drove away before she could change her mind.
“What was I thinking?”Chloe muttered. She stood in front of the bathroom mirror, braiding her hair. Why had she agreed to go to a cookout with Roelke McKenna?
She heard his knock as she was tying a ribbon around the bottom of her braid. Squaring her shoulders, she went to greet him. “Come on in. I just need to put on shoes.”
He waited politely, looking only slightly less cop-like than usual in jeans and a plain blue T-shirt. The man definitely lifted weights. He did wear scuffed hiking boots, though, which was oddly comforting. They reminded Chloe of hours spent lounging in the lobby of WVU’s Percival Hall with college buddies, waiting for the next forestry class to begin.
“Still have a bit of unpacking to do, I see,” he said, gazing about at the untouched boxes.
“I’ve been busy.” She laced up quickly. “OK. I’m ready to go.”
It felt strange to climb into the cab of this man’s pickup truck. She gave him a quick glance as he pulled out of her driveway. Was this a date? Surely not. He barely knew her. She’d turned thirty-two in March; he was maybe twenty-eight, tops. He probably thought she was a nutcase, obsessing about a problem that had nothing to do with her. And he kept a photograph of a pretty redhead in his locker.
OK, enough of that. “I’m a vegetarian,” she said into the silence.
“That’s all right.”
“I should have mentioned it earlier.”
“It’ll be OK. Libby always overdoes on food.”
Chloe searched for another pleasantry. “Um, what does Libby do?”
“She used to work for the DNR, but she quit so she could be at home for the kids. She freelances now. Articles for magazines, press releases for local businesses. That sort of thing.”
“Yikes.” Chloe tried to imagine taking care of two kids as a freelance writer, never sure where the next paycheck was coming from. “That can’t be easy.”
“She seems to do OK with it. She’s always liked to write.” He glanced in her direction. “What do you like to do?”
What did she like to do? Chloe’s brain froze. She wanted to say, I write too. I enjoy folk dancing. I play the dulcimer and the recorder. But she hadn’t done any of those things in a long time.
“All I can think about at the moment is getting settled,” she managed. “I lived in Switzerland for five years, then moved to North Dakota last fall. Then on to here.”
“What were you doing in Switzerland?” he asked.
Getting my heart broken into glittering shards, she thought. “I worked at a huge historic site there. How about you? Have you always worked in Eagle?”
“I worked for the Milwaukee PD for six years. I decided urban crime wasn’t my thing, so I moved back out. My mom grew up on a farm not too far from there.”
More silence. Chloe looked out the window. “I wanted to ask you about something,” Roelke said finally. “You mentioned the maintenance chief yesterday. Stanley something.”
“Can you spell that?”
“All right. Thanks.” He flicked on his blinker, checked his mirror, and passed the car ahead of them.
“So … why did you want to know?”
“I ran across a Stanley in an Eagle bar the other night. He wasn’t doing anything wrong. I was just curious. What does your Stanley look like?”
“He’s notmyStanley.” The thought gave her the willies. “Howdy Doody with a beer gut.”
“What?” He shot her a perplexed glance.
Oh, Lord. Was this guy so young he’d never watched Howdy Doody? “Mid-thirties. Curly red hair. Cowboy boots.”
“Hunh.” He nodded thoughtfully. “Sounds like the same guy.”
They rode a few more miles in silence. “I have to ask,” Chloe said finally. “Why did you invite me to come with you today?”
He kept his gaze on the road. “You’re new in the area. You had a rough week. I think you’ll like Libby. She’s good people.”
Fair enough. Chloe settled a little more comfortably into the seat.
Roelke drove north through the Kettle Moraine to Palmyra, a village wrapped around Lower Spring Lake about six miles west of Eagle. His cousin lived in a brick ranch-style home on a quiet side street. The grass needed cutting, but baskets of pansies gave the place a welcoming air.
As Roelke pulled into the driveway a boy of perhaps six barreled around the corner of the house. “Roelke! Roelke!”
“Hey, Justin!” Roelke greeted the boy with a warmth Chloe wouldn’t have guessed possible. Justin wore glasses and an earnest, eager air. He launched a breathless flow of words that circled from finding a turtle to maybe going to a Brewers game with his dad to hoping he could have frozen custard that afternoon.
His mother joined them with a smaller girl in tow. “Catch your breath, buddy,” she told Justin. She flashed Roelke a grateful look before turning to Chloe with hand outstretched. “Hi. I’m Libby.”
Libby had frank eyes and an open smile. Short chestnut hair, prematurely shot with gray, framed a thin face. Cutoffs and a purple tank top displayed a runner’s physique, and her feet were bare. Chloe sensed a woman at home in her own skin.
“Come ’round the back.” Libby led the way to a fenced backyard. A flagstone patio spilled from the back wall, furnished with planters and deck chairs, and the biggest grill Chloe had ever seen, something akin to a metal drum tipped on its side. From the patio, Libby could keep an eye on a sandbox, a plastic wading pool, and one of those colorful slide-swing-jungle gym-fort things. Perennial beds provided the yard with a riotous border of reds and blues and yellows. Several birdfeeders hung from a river birch near the back fence.
“This is lovely,” Chloe said.
“I live out here in the warm weather,” Libby admitted. “Can I get you something to drink? Beer, wine, soda?”
Chloe accepted ginger ale served in a “Phone Home E. T.” glass, and settled into a chaise lounge. It felt surprisingly good to sit in the sunshine, watching mourning doves pick at the safflower seed in one of the feeders, letting conversation flow around her. Justin grabbed a handful of taco chips and retreated to a game that involved tossing small beanbags at a target. Dierdre, Libby’s three-year-old, settled placidly into the sandbox with a plastic shovel and stack of Tupperware.
“I think I’ll start the charcoal,” Libby said finally. “We tend to eat early around here because of the kids, Chloe. Hope you don’t mind.”
“Not at all.” All Chloe had eaten that day were two granola bars and a piece of rhubarb cobbler her mother had given her. It belatedly occurred to her that polite people brought hostess gifts when visiting. Flowers or candy or something. Shit.
Libby tore open a bag of charcoal and poured some briquettes into the grill. “So, Chloe. Roelke said you’re a curator at Old World. What exactly do you do?”
“Well, I’m responsible for all the collections,” Chloe said. “I try to support the interpreters by providing what they need in their buildings.”
“Interpreters? Do you have to speak a second language to work there?”
Chloe shook her head. “No. We call the guides ‘interpreters’ because they interpret the past for visitors. It’s really a very demanding job.”
“Are the interpreters all pure German or Norwegian or something?” Roelke asked. “People trying to learn about their own background?”
“No! You don’t have to be ‘pure’ anything to work there. Besides, cultural identity is more than racial and ethnic genetics. People can choose what aspects of their background they want to explore and celebrate.” Chloe reached for her drink. And that’s enough, she told herself. Don’t preach.
“I always thought Old World must be a fun place to work,” Libby said. Then she turned to her cousin. “What’s new on the beat?”
He sipped his beer. “Same old. Speeders. A domestic. A few DUIs. I hate DUIs.” His voice tightened and his face took on that granite edge that probably, Chloe thought, scared drunks sober. “Then there’s that gambling deal I was telling you about—”
Libby interrupted him with a low, inaudible curse. “There he goes.”
“I’ll get him.” Roelke jumped to his feet as Justin nailed his sister with a hurled bean bag. Libby scooped up Dierdre as she began to wail.
“Justin!” Roelke barked. He reached Justin before the boy could let loose again, and grabbed his wrists. Justin’s voice rose in a petulant whine as he stamped his feet, trying to break free. Roelke crouched in front of him, unmoving. As both children’s cries subsided, Chloe heard Roelke’s low, patient tone.
Once Dierdre was settled back with her toys, Libby rejoined Chloe. “Sorry for that bit of drama. Justin has some issues with misplaced anger.”
“That must be difficult for everyone.”
“It is.” Libby squirted lighter fluid on the coals. “Hardest on him, though.” She struck a match, lit the coals, and sank into a lawn chair. “Thank God for Roelke. He moved back out from Milwaukee just as things with my ex-husband were getting really bad. He’s been a rock.”
“I can see that.” It was a revelation.
Libby smiled. “You don’t know Roelke very well, do you?”
“I barely know him at all.” Chloe sipped her soda. “I, um, happened upon a car crash last Monday. My first day on the job. The driver had just left my office. I found her. Dead. Roelke was the next person to get there.”
“So you’ve experienced his tough cop routine?”
“Is it a routine?”
Libby stretched tanned legs out in front of her. “Yes and no. Do you watchHill Street Blues?”
“Um … what?”
“That cop show? No?” Libby shrugged. “OK, you know the old cliché about the ‘good cop, bad cop’ thing? Sometimes I think Roelke’s both. His dad was a tough old guy—” her face hardened briefly—“but his mom was really sweet. She died before Roelke graduated from high school, though. It was really hard on him.”
Chloe looked at Roelke. The discussion concluded, he was pitching balls for Justin, who swung valiantly with a huge red plastic bat. She wasn’t sure she wanted to learn these things, personal things, about Roelke McKenna.
OK, time to change the topic. “Roelke said you’re a freelance writer?”
“I am. I did it on the side for quite a while, then finally felt ready to jump off the cliff and try it full-time.” Libby pulled a Corona from the nearby cooler and poked a wedge of lime into the bottle. “Always something new. And it lets me stay home with the kids.”
Chloe watched as Libby put her thumb over the opening and tipped the bottle until the lime floated to the bottom. “I like to write,” Chloe said, “but I’ve wondered if it would stop being fun if I had to actually earn a living at it.”
“Hey, Lib?” They were interrupted by a brunette woman opening the gate. She was very young and very pregnant. “Oh—sorry, I didn’t realize you had company.”
Libby gave her a calculating look. “Lordy, Therese, haven’t you had that baby yet?”
“Any day now. Just like Princess Di. Wouldn’t it be cool to have a baby the same day the royal prince or princess is born?” Therese smiled, then held out several envelopes. “Here. I got some of your mail in my box by mistake.”
“Thanks.” Libby inspected the mail, then tossed it on a chair. “Nothing but junk and bills. Want to join us for dinner? You know Roelke, and Chloe here is a friend of his.”
“Not tonight, thanks. Jim’ll be home soon and we’re going over to his parents’. Nice to meet you, Chloe.” Therese waved and waddled away.
Chloe picked up her glass, put it down. Wine. That’s what she should have brought, a nice bottle of wine. Yes. Wine would have been good. Scotch would have been better.
“Back in a sec.” Libby disappeared into the house, then returned with platters of skewered shrimp and veggies. She arranged them carefully over the coals. “So,” she said, adjusting the grill lid. “Did you lose a baby?”
For a moment, Chloe forgot to breathe. She realized her fingers were clenching the arms of the chaise lounge, and she carefully softened her grip, watching each finger flush pink as blood began circulating again. Justin connected bat to ball with a resoundingthwack.“Nice job!” Roelke called.
“Sorry,” Libby said. “None of my business. I have a bad habit of saying whatever comes to mind.”
“How did you know?”
Libby shrugged. “The way you put your hand over your stomach when Therese was here. The look in your eyes. My best friend lost a baby at eleven weeks. She still gets that same look.”
“I had a miscarriage last July. The baby was nine weeks.”
“I’m really sorry. My friend miscarried over a year ago, and she’s still grieving.”
“I’m not grieving.” Chloe felt her cheeks flush. “I mean—I didn’t even know I was pregnant until I had the miscarriage. You can’t mourn a baby you didn’t know you had.”
Justin and Roelke trooped onto the patio. Chloe was grateful for the interruption. Ethan was the only person in North America who knew about her miscarriage. It was over and done.
“Hey, mom! Is supper ready?”
“Just about.” Libby got up to check the kabobs.
Roelke nudged the boy with his knee. Justin looked annoyed, but rattled what was obviously expected: “Mom-I’m-sorry-I-made-a-bad-choice-this-afternoon.”
“Thanks, buddy.” Libby ruffled his hair. “Go wash up.”
Libby had marinated the kabobs in an apricot-curry sauce, and she pulled the skewers of portabella mushrooms and peppers from the glowing coals at exactly the right moment. A course of grilled pineapple and pound cake topped off the meal.
Justin behaved well as they ate, and Libby rewarded him by suggesting a walk to the local frozen custard stand. Chloe treated everyone to a cone, and felt at least somewhat absolved for arriving empty-handed.
Then Roelke and Chloe said their goodbyes.
“Thank you,” she told Libby. “I can’t remember the last time I ate so well.”
“Come back any time, with or without this guy. And listen, I get together once a month with a couple of other writers. We pretend to critique each others’ work, but mostly we just drink wine and bitch about the industry. You’d be welcome to join us.”
Chloe blinked, absurdly touched. She had missed being in a critique group; had even looked for one when she moved to North Dakota. But being in a crit group meant writing, which seemed as impossible as tap-dancing on the moon, just now. “Thanks,” she said again. “I’ll let you know.”
Roelke didn’t speak as they drove south toward La Grange. “I like your cousin,” Chloe said.
“Me too,” he said simply. “And she’s had a hard time of it. Her ex is an ass of the first order.”
“That must make it tough, with the kids so young.”
His hands tightened on the steering wheel. “Yeah.”
“You’re obviously a big help with Justin.” Was that an OK comment to make? Or too personal? Chloe looked out the window.
“I’d be happy if Justin never saw his dad again, but Dan has custody every other weekend.” Roelke slowed to pass two bikers, then accelerated again. Then he asked, “Did you ever talk with an expert about that ale bowl?”
“I talked to my mother.” Chloe flushed again. “She knows a lot about rosemaling, past and present.”
“Anything interesting come of that?”
Chloe shrugged. “Not really.”
Roelke slowed the truck as he approached her driveway. “And you still don’t know who might have known about that antique.”
She shook her head. “Nope.”
“So, is that the end of it?” He parked the truck and turned to look at her.
“Well, I asked my mother to do a little genealogical research on Mrs. Lundquist’s family. I only know her married name, so she’ll have to track back to the wedding records. But who knows? Maybe when she gets far enough in she’ll turn up some tidbit that will suggest something.” Chloe spread her hands. “I’m going to keep looking for that piece, and for whatever it was that made that poor old lady so desperate to get it back.”
“Why?” His tone was quiet, but his gaze was piercing.
Chloe stared at her landlord, cutting hay in the field across the road. “Because I owe Mrs. Lundquist that much.”
Roelke pulled his wallet from a pocket, extracted a business card, and scribbled something on it. “Here. Call me if you find anything new. This one has my home phone.”
Chloe accepted the card. “Well … thanks again. I really enjoyed meeting Libby and the kids.” She put her hand on the door handle.
“My schedule is irregular, but would you like to go out again sometime? Maybe listen to some music?”
Chloe felt a spasm of panic. Then a flicker of hope. It would be good, really good, to go hear live music. “I know a great bluegrass place near Fort Atkinson.”
“Bluegrass?” Roelke’s expression implied she had suggested listening to a fingernails-on-chalkboard band. “How about jazz?”
They stared at each other. Chloe didn’t know whether their standoff was funny or sad. “Thank you,” she said finally, “but I don’t think this is going to work.”
Well hell, Roelke thought, as he drove away from Chloe’s house. Maybe he should have given the bluegrass place a try. But what would be the point? He hated twangy music. Always had.
So. Maybe he should just forget all about Chloe Ellefson.
If only there wasn’t that—thatsomethingabout her. Something that made his stomach muscles tighten. Something that made him see her behind his eyelids when he went to bed at night. Something that made him want to stand between her and all the trouble in the world. Something that made him yearn to make her laugh, to say something to bring that rarely-seen spark of heartfelt enthusiasm in her blue eyes. Something that made him want to twine his fingers in that incredible yellow hair, and to trace the hollows in her cheeks ….
The truck lurched as the right wheels fell from the road to the gravel shoulder. “Jesus!” Roelke yelped, jerking the vehicle back into the lane. He gave the mirror a quick glance, relieved to see empty road behind him. No witnesses to his erratic driving. That kind of thing could bite a cop in the butt.
When he got back to Palmyra he swerved onto a side road instead of heading to his own apartment. Two minutes later he parked beside the town’s tiny municipal airport. He got out of his truck and leaned against the hood, feeling the sun and breeze on his face, feeling his nerves settle. He’d flown in and out of Palmyra a couple of times when he’d been working on his pilot’s license, practicing take-offs and landings as he hopped between airstrips within a quick flight’s distance of Milwaukee’s Timmerman. The runway here was turf. There was something elemental and immensely satisfying about landing on a grass strip.
The field was quiet at the moment, but a couple of planes were tied down near the hangar. One was a bright yellow Piper Cub. A sweet little canvas-topped tail-dragger.
Roelke wanted it, bad.
He’d been saving money to buy a plane for a long time. He’d gotten some after his parents died; the rest he’d tucked away himself. He didn’t earn a lot of money as a cop—especially in Eagle, when he couldn’t even count on forty hours a week. But he lived simply, didn’t spend a lot, and picked up extra shifts whenever he could. It added up. For a while he’d lusted after a Cessna Cardinal, one of the prettiest planes ever built. They were much more expensive, though, unless he wanted to buy a share. But a Piper … he probably had enough money in the bank to start looking around for one.
Roelke couldn’t remember when he hadn’t wanted a plane. The dream may have been born when, as a very young boy, he’d watched old World War II movies of pilots soaring, shooting, almost single-handedly winning the war. Or it may have been born one particular September day when he was a few years older, and his father’s temper had driven Roelke outside. He remembered sitting against the side of the house, watching an airplane cross the sky and thinking,That’swhat I want. That had probably happened not long before his mother took him to her parents’ farm for good… .
As the image of the tired old family farm popped into his head Roelke folded his arms and sighed. He wanted a plane. But inexplicably, stupidly, he wanted the farm, too.
He pressed one knuckle against his forehead, willing away the memories of his ancestors working those acres. He hated farming. He loved flying. Farms were dead weight. Planes were freedom. It should be simple.
What would Chloe think? Despite its current decrepit condition, she’d surely like the farm. That’s what she did, right? Look at old stuff and see its value? An ale bowl, a farmhouse, it was likely much the same. But did she like to fly? He didn’t know. And whether he ever owned a plane or not, the sheer joy offlightwas part of who he was.
Roelke shook his head in disgust. As if it mattered. He and Chloe Ellefson seemed incapable of easy conversation, much less anything more.
He gave the Cub one last look. Then he got back into his truck and drove home.
Chloe spent much ofMonday sitting at the picnic table in the restoration area, reading about the site buildings so she had at least a vague clue about how she could help the interpreters do their jobs. Chloe would be making presentations to the summer interpreters in each of Old World Wisconsin’s areas—the Crossroads Village, German, Norwegian, and Finn-Dane.
She was reading about a Finnish family that afternoon when a shadow fell across the page. Chloe looked up to see Stanley Colontuono standing by the table. The maintenance chief wore snakeskin cowboy boots today with his tan pants and work shirt.
Chloe closed the research report. “Hey, Stan. You need the table?”
“Naw.” He waved a generous hand:You may stay. “I just saw you sitting here all day and figured you must be getting lonely.”
“Well … not really. I’m catching up on the research reports for each exhibit.”
“You want to go out sometime?”
“I—what?” she stammered inelegantly. She got to her feet.
“You and me.” Stan gave her a grin that might have been wicked if she didn’t keep flashing on the image of a marionette dangling in Buffalo Bob’s capable hands. “We could stop for a drink at Sasso’s one night after work.”
“I don’t think so, Stan,” Chloe said, as pleasantly as possible. “Thanks anyway.”
For a split second, the confident leer on Stan’s face wavered. Then he gave an exaggerated shrug. “Sure thing, doll,” he said, with a smile that made Chloe’s knee long to make contact with his nether regions. “Oops. I mean,ma’am. I guess some women like being lonely. My mistake.” He walked away, climbed into his truck, and roared off.
Chloe leaned her butt against the table. How would her refusal to visit Doodyville impact any help she might need from the maintenance department?
Then Nika’s Chevette rattled through the gate and parked near the trailers. Nika emerged and walked toward Chloe with lithe grace, looking especially trim in snug jeans and a tailored black blouse. Nika had pulled her cornrow braids back and secured them behind her neck with a vibrant green ribbon. They’d made a date to move the textile collection from the storage trailers to the church basement as soon as the site closed that day.
“What’s up?” Nika asked.
Chloe gave herself a mental shake. “Just waiting for you.”
“Look at that.” Nika scowled at one of the maintenance vehicles, evidently parked for the night on the far side of the lot. “I asked Stanley if we could borrow a truck, and he said nothing was available.”
“Stanley is a jackass,” Chloe said. “Never mind. We can get it done. It’ll just take a lot of trips.” Neither her old Pinto nor Nika’s old Chevette had much cargo capacity.
Nika waved that away. “No, my fiancé is meeting us here to give us a hand. His car’s got a big trunk. It just pisses me off that Stanley wouldn’t help.”
Chloe and Nika were hauling boxes of textiles outside when a gleaming silver Eldorado pulled into the parking lot. A genuine smile softened Nika’s face as she went to greet the young white man who got out. He was thin, almost gangly, and stood a head taller than Nika. He framed her face with both hands, his face glowing, before leaning down for a long kiss. Chloe turned away and fumbled with a bag of quilts.
Then Nika led the young man forward. “This is my fiancé, Joel Carlisle.”
Joel wore horn-rimmed glasses and a Chicago Bears cap. Chloe wondered what punched the most hot buttons in rural Wisconsin: dating a black woman, driving a Cadillac, or rooting for the Bears. “You’re a life saver,” Chloe told him.
“No problem.” Joel shrugged. “I know Nika’s eager to make progress with the textiles.” The pride in his smile twisted Chloe’s heart.
It took several trips, but the three of them got all of the textiles transported to the new storage area before dusk. “Well, it’s a start,” Chloe observed, wiping grubby palms on the seat of her pants. Boxes and bags of quilts and bonnets, blouses and tablecloths, were piled on Nika’s table.
Joel looked at his fiancé. “You’ve got your work cut out for you.”
“Yes I do,” Nika agreed placidly.
At leastsomeonewas doing serious collections work that summer. “You guys up for dinner at Sasso’s?” Chloe asked. “I’m buying.”
The tavern was busier than she’d expected for a Monday night. After washing up, she and Nika and Joel settled at the bar to wait for a table. Chloe ordered a Pabst for Joel, and glasses of Zinfandel for her and Nika. Chloe could see why the Old World staff loved Sasso’s. The crowded tavern had a friendly vibe that reminded Chloe of her favorite pubin Brienz. That one served the beströsti,raclette,andäelplermagronenin the canton, though. Vegetarian heaven. But no surprise; Markus had delighted in finding restaurants that served food she could actually enjoy.
Well, noraclettetonight. Chloe was glad when their drinks arrived. She lifted her glass. “Here’s to a good start.” She had to shout to be heard above the din of chatter and laughter and the TV over the bar. “Thanks again, Joel. Nika and I would be lugging textiles by flashlight if you hadn’t helped out.”
“My pleasure.” He grinned, leaning one elbow on the bar. “From what glimpses I got, we hauled a lot of white stuff. Linen, cotton. Those pieces should clean up pretty well, right?” He looked to Nika.
“Right,” she said. “A good soak, a little sunshine—they’ll perk right up.”
Chloe smiled at Joel. “You’ve obviously absorbed some tricks of the trade.”
“Hard not to, living with this lady. She tends to bring work home, figuratively if not literally.” He bumped his shoulder into Nika’s affectionately. “I don’t mind. I’ve always been a history buff.”
Chloe really wished these two didn’t quite so clearly adore each other. You’re being petty, she told herself, but there it was. She and Markus had once been like that, playful and openly affectionate. Hadn’t they? “I understand you’re studying to be a pharmacist?” she asked, trying to focus.
“That’s right. Not sexy, but necessary nonetheless.”
Nika put her glass down. “Excuse me. I see the German lead over there. Jenny asked me a question about the tealeaf china in Schottler, and I looked it up for her.”
Chloe sighed as she watched her intern slide through the crowd to a warm welcome. “I don’t even recognize the woman she’s talking to,” Chloe said, “much less know her name. I’ve told everyone their questions will have to wait until I get my feet on the ground. I don’t know how Nika keeps it all straight.”
“She’s something,” Joel agreed, that proud shine in his eyes again.
“So, how did you two meet?”
“In the Marquette library. I was doing some genealogical research and she was researching nineteenth-century black quiltmakers for a class paper. The focus knob on her microfilm reader wasn’t working right. I gallantly offered her the use of my machine.” He grinned at the memory. “She was all fired up. Her professor didn’t think she’d find enough information to satisfy his requirements.”
Chloe swiveled back and forth on her barstool. “And did she?”
“Oh, yeah. After working through the standard archival materials and collections, she contacted all the black churches in the city. Conducted a bunch of interviews. She ended up with over a dozen documented examples. Got an A on the paperandcurated an exhibit at the county historical society.”
Chloe watched Nika across the room, chatting with Jenny. “That young woman is going to go far.”
“I keep trying to remember if I ever had that much energy.” Chloe sipped her wine, feeling old and tired.
“She is driven.” Joel’s gaze was on Nika too. “There’s a lot she wants to accomplish, and a lot she wants to leave behind.” He turned back to Chloe with a lopsided smile. “I’m so glad you gave her the chance to take on the textile project. She can handle it, and maybe she’ll find a piece or two worthy of further study.”
“Well, I don’t know what she’ll discover among the textiles. But she’s doing important work for the site. We’re lucky it worked out for you to live nearby.”
“My parents invited us to stay with them this summer, but we decided to rent a little place in Eagle. I thought it would be easier for Nika. My hours at the lab are flexible, and I don’t mind the drive.”
“Did you grow up in Milwaukee too?”
Chloe worked hard to keep her eyebrows, which itched to shoot skyward, in neutral position. She didn’t know Milwaukee well, but she’d heard of the exclusive suburb.
“Nika works long hours as it is,” Joel was saying. “If she’s not here, she’s at some library or another. If we had to add a long commute to that, I’d never see her.”
“Oh, it’s not so bad as all that.” Nika had returned in time to hear his last comment. “If I didn’t work evenings I’d be twiddling my thumbs while you fall asleep over an organic chemistry textbook.”
Ah, young love, Chloe thought. Fortunately, pharmacists were needed everywhere. If Nika pursued her museum career as doggedly as she seemed to do everything else, Joel would be moving—often.
“Hey, hi!” Delores Timberlake, the Norwegian lead, stopped beside them. She still wore her period clothing, with the unconscious ease of someone who spent as much time in costume as she did in modern dress. After being introduced to Joel, she looked from Chloe to Nika. “You’re coming out to Norwegian to do training tomorrow, right? Is there anything you want me to do to get ready?”
Chloe shook her head. “I don’t think so, thanks. Byron only gave us an hour. It’ll go by pretty quickly.”
Delores caught the bartender’s eye and ordered a soda, then turned back to Chloe. “Any luck finding that missing Norwegian bowl?”
The image of Mrs. Lundquist’s eyes—first pleading, then sightless—flashed through Chloe’s brain. “No.”
“Are we missing an ethnic piece?” Nika asked. Her cat-like eyes narrowed like a tom’s on scenting a mouse. “What do you know about it?”
Chloe tried not to cringe, wishing the topic hadn’t been raised inside this crowded bar. “Very little, so far. It’s the piece that donor came to talk with me about. The woman who died in that car wreck. I’m taking care of it.” Chloe spotted a group getting up from a table across the room. She put her empty glass on the bar and stood. “Let’s see if we can grab that table.”
Sasso’s was noisy and hazed with cigarette smoke, and by the time they finished their meal—chicken for Joel and Nika, grilled cheese for Chloe—her head ached. Joel took care of the check, and Chloe decided not to be bothered by that. “It was great to meet you, Joel,” she said, as the three of them made their way outside. “Thanks again for your help.”
He flashed that endearing grin. “No problem. Holler if there’s anything else I can do to get the collections program up and rolling.”
They crossed the railroad tracks to the parking lot. “I’ll meet you at the church at three to go over the plan for training,” Nika told Chloe.
“Right,” Chloe said. “Oh—Nika? I need to check on a wallpaper problem in Tobler. If I come by at 2:30 instead, do you want to go with me?”
Nika shrugged. “Sure, if you want.”
Nika’s no-nonsense demeanor was exactly what Chloe wanted. You are pathetic, she told herself, as she turned toward her car. Your intern is already climbing over you on her way to the top, and you ask her to come with you to check wallpaper.Wallpaper.Well, so be it. Tobler freaked her out, and she wanted company—
A wordless cry from Nika pulled her back. Nika and Joel stood staring at Nika’s Chevette. Nika’s expression was quickly changing from shock to fury. Joel, looking stunned, put a protective arm around her shoulders.
“What’s wrong?” Chloe asked sharply.
Nika put her hands on her hips, her face tight. “Some fucking bastard slashed my tires!”
Chloe was exhausted by the time she started driving home. She’d waited with Joel and Nika for the police to arrive. The responding officer—not Roelke McKenna—had been unable to guess why someone would slash the tires on Nika’s rust-bucket Chevette while ignoring Joel’s luxury vehicle. “Probably just random vandalism,” the cop had said.
Had it been random? Or … had someone done it because Nika was black? Chloe felt sick. Lights glowed from the houses she passed, warm and welcoming. She wished she’d thought to leave a light on at her place.
Then another light caught her eye—this one tiny, and red, and blinking a furious warning from the control panel of her car.
“Oh, no,” Chloe groaned. She pulled over and parked beneath a streetlight. She got out, raised the hood, and stared at the motor. No smoke, no flames. No obviously dangling parts.
Back in the car, she flicked on the interior light and retrieved her owner’s manual from the glove compartment. Her particular light translated to “See your dealer.” Right. She had no idea where the nearest Ford dealership was.
Headlights flashed in her mirror as a familiar blue Mustang stopped beside her. Rupert, the maintenance worker who’d provoked Stan to fury by coming in late, rolled down his window. “You all right? I recognized your car.”
“A warning light came on. I’m trying to figure out if I can drive to a garage.”
He got out and shoved his hair away from his eyes long enough to fiddle with a couple of caps, check a couple of dipsticks. “Fluids are OK. She making any noise?”
“Nope. Just the warning light.”
“You should be all right. I’d take it down to Elkhorn. George’s Garage. He’s pretty good. First Avenue, near the Fairgrounds.”
Chloe decided to believe that Rupert knew what he was talking about. “Thanks for the advice. I really appreciate you stopping.”
Rupert headed back to his Mustang, then stopped. “Hey, you gonna be OK? You need a ride from Elkhorn? I could follow you, if you want.”
“No, but thanks,” she told him. “My parents don’t live too far away. I’ll call them.”
Chloe drove off with her spirits lifted. There were still good people in the world.
She found the garage, parked her car, slid a note under the door for George to find in the morning, and considered. It was almost ten o’clock. George had thoughtfully installed a pay phone on his lot, but she didn’t want to bother her parents at this hour. She called a cab instead.
The cab arrived twenty minutes later, and twenty minutes after that, deposited her at her back door. “Thanks again for accepting the check,” Chloe told the driver as she got out, hoping it wouldn’t bounce. Cab fares were not in the budget.
Then she unlocked the door to her dark, empty house, and went to bed.
Chloe stared into the darkness, wondering what had awakened her. As usual, she’d raised every ground-floor window. Occasionally she heard snorts from the Holsteins pastured just beyond the driveway, but something unfamiliar had disturbed her sleep. She waited. Then she heard the noise again—a hushedscritchof sound.
She kicked aside her sleeping bag and got up. She listened. Nothing. She padded silently to her bedroom door and stopped, straining to hear the noise again. The front door to the house was just ahead of her, to her right. Beyond the door was a window which opened onto the porch.
The noise came from that window beyond the door. Chloe heard another tiny sound, a hushedthump. Someone had pulled the screen from the window, and set it quietly on the porch.
Her hand found the light switch by the front door.“Hey!”she yelled, flicking it on. In the sudden glare she glimpsed a foot and leg extending through the window. In an instant it was gone. Something thumped again on the porch, much louder this time. Scrambling footsteps pounded over the boards. Then silence.
Chloe flipped the porch light on and jerked at the front door knob. The old door stuck, and she had to wrestle with it before wrenching it open. No one in sight. As she ran across the porch and into the yard, a car with no headlights on roared away.
A sickle moon shed little light. Chloe stood, waiting, feeling the grass cool and damp beneath her feet. Finally she blew out a long breath and turned back toward the house. The window screen lay on the porch. It was inexpensive, the type intended to slide easily in and out, held in place only by the weight of the open window.
Chloe stared at the screen. “Son of a bitch,” she whispered.
Roelke jerked awake whenthe telephone rang. His feet hit the floor, his hand reached for the bedside lamp, and his brain switched into gear. One-fifteen A.M. He snatched the phone. “McKenna here.”
“Roelke? It’s Chloe. Someone just tried to break into my house.”
His throat tightened. “Did you call the cops?”
“OK. Unless you have reason to believe that someone is in the house, stay inside and sit tight. Call your neighbors so you’re not alone. I’ll be right down.” He pulled on jeans and extracted his service revolver from the lockbox under his bed, grabbed his truck keys, and ran down his flat’s exterior staircase.
He hit Highway 59 at an illegal speed and kept at it as he wound through the state forest toward La Grange. When Roelke pulled into Chloe’s driveway, anger pulled his muscles even tighter. Chloe sat on the front porch steps, faintly illuminated by the light spilling from the farmhouse interior. No one else was in sight—no cop cars flashing red and blue, no hovering landlords defending their property.
He jumped from the truck and strode toward the porch. “What are youdoing?I told you to wait inside!”
“I didn’t want to wait inside. I needed air.” She stood to meet him. A baggy green T-shirt proclaiming “WVU Foresters Do It In The Woods” almost covered her denim shorts. She was barefoot.
“Did you call your neighbors?”
“I don’t want to wake them. They’re dairy farmers, for God’s sake. The guy is gone. There’s nothing here that can’t wait until morning.”
He glared at her, angry and incredulous and painfully aware of her long blonde hair. He’d never seen it completely loose before, flowing past her waist. “What about the cops?” he demanded. “Youtoldme you’d already called the cops!”
Roelke quivered with the effort of keeping his hands from those thin shoulders. He wanted to shake some sense into her. He finally turned and walked away. One deep breath. Another. OK, a few more. Finally he felt ready to try again.
She stood waiting on the steps, arms folded, jaw set.
“Let’s start over.” Roelke managed the calm, pleasant tone he’d perfected on the beat. “First of all, your home is out of my jurisdiction. I’m employed by the Village of Eagle. You don’t live in Eagle. You don’t even live in Waukesha County.”
She considered that. “Oh. Yeah.”
“And second, you didn’t call the station. If you had, you’d have been routed to Walworth County.”
“You called my home number,” Roelke added, feeling a need to make his position crystal-clear.
“OK, I get it.” She sighed. “I guess I screwed up. Sorry.”
“A local car could have been here in half the time it took me. If you’d been threatened, that might have made all the difference.” Roelke ran a hand over his hair, not liking the images flashing through his head. “All right. Tell me what happened.”
“Can we go inside? I really don’t want to wake up my neighbors.”
Roelke ground his teeth together, and followed her into the house.
She gestured to her bedroom door. “I was asleep, and a noise woke me up. I got up to listen. I was standing here in the doorway when I realized that someone was pulling the screen out of that window.” She pointed.
Roelke’s chest tightened as he looked from her bedroom to the open window. She’d only been a few feet from the intruder. “What happened next?”
“I heard the screen hit the porch. Then I flipped the light switch and yelled ‘Hey!’ The guy had one leg in the window, but he jumped backwards when I yelled. It sounded like he fell. I tried to get the front door open but it’s been humid, and it sticks. You know how old houses can be—”
“Could you please finish the story?” Roelke managed, through gritted teeth.
“So, I finally got the door open.” Chloe tucked a strand of that incredible hair behind her ear. “By then he was gone. I ran out into the yard, but I couldn’t see anyone—”
“You ran into the yard?” Roelke exploded. “Jesus! Are you incredibly brave, or just stupid?”
“Two days ago you went into that trailer without knowing if an intruder was inside. Itoldyou not to do anything like that again—”
“I don’t take orders from you!”
“And now—what possessed you to open your front door, knowing an intruder was on your front porch?”
“I—I wanted to run him off, I guess. Or maybe get a look at him. I don’t know! It all happened really fast.”
Roelke began to pace. “And then you ran out into the yard! What thehellwere you thinking?”
“I said I don’t know! It was just instinct! Stop bellowing!” She clasped her elbows, arms across her chest.
He paced a moment longer, struggling to rein in feelings that didn’t want to be corralled. “You could have been beaten. Or stabbed. Or raped. Or killed.”
Chloe rubbed her forehead. “Look, I’m sorry if I didn’t follow your rulebook, but I’ve never had someone break into my house before.” She walked into the living room and dropped into one of the armchairs.
Roelke followed and perched on the sofa, leaning forward, elbows on knees. “Let’s get back to what happened. You ran into the yard, but didn’t see anyone?”
“A door slammed. Then a car drove away without any lights on. I think the guy had left it parked out by the road.”
Roelke had talked to many women who’d been victims of one type of assault or another. Too many. He’d never seen a woman so calm. “Chloe.” He tasted the word, realizing it was the first time he’d called her by name. “Chloe, do you have any idea who this intruder was?”
“Of course not!”
“Is there any particular reason why a man would want to break into your house? An old boyfriend? An angry spouse?”
“No. Nothing like that.”
“Current boyfriend? Anyone you’re seeing socially?”
Was that good news or bad? Roelke wasn’t sure. “How about people you work with? Any weird vibes there?”
“Weird vibes? Well …” She considered. “Hank DiCapo, the security guard—I ticked him off the first day. Byron Cooke, curator of interpretation—I ticked him off my first day too. Stanley, the maintenance guy—I ticked him off this afternoon—”
Roelke sat back. “How long have you been working there again?”
She shot him an irritated glance. “Well, you asked. And if you want a full list, I should add Ralph Petty, the director.” She spread her hands, palms up. “But … so what? None of them have any reason to break into my house.”
“Let’s go back to the moment you turned on the light. Close your eyes and tell me exactly what you saw.”
She hesitated, then obeyed. “My eyes squinched up when I turned the light on. But I have this impression of a foot in a white running shoe. White with red styling on the side. And blue jeans above it, just about to the knee. That’s all.” She opened her eyes again.
“Man’s foot? Woman’s?”
“Um … I don’t know.”
“Not a lot to go on.” He didn’t like this. Didn’t like it at all.
Chloe nibbled her bottom lip. “I’ll tell you what I think. First of all, I left my car at a garage in Elkhorn tonight, so whoever broke in probably thought no one was at home. Second …”
“Well, maybe someone was looking for that ale bowl. Whoever was pressuring Mrs. Lundquist to get it back. Whoever went out to Kvaale, and broke into the storage trailer, looking for it. Maybe they thought I’d found it.”
“Why go so nuts over a particular antique that no one had seen in years?”
“If not that, then what?” she demanded. “Why pick this particular old farmhouse to break into? I don’t have anything worth stealing. There’s nothing in here but second-hand furniture from my parents’ attic and a bunch of cardboard cartons.”
But criminals aren’t always rational, he wanted to tell her. Sometimes bad things happen to pretty women—things I don’t want you to even know about.
He stood up. “I’m going to look around outside.”
After grabbing the heavy-duty flashlight from his truck, he searched the yard before going back inside. “Nothing,” he reported. “Do you mind if I look at your other ground-floor windows?”
“Go ahead.” She managed a tiny smile. “I do appreciate your help, really. It was very kind of you to come.”
Roelke worked his way around, living room to kitchen to dining room to bathroom, closing and locking each window. And fighting a new layer of unease. He was used to poking through other people’s houses. He’d been called to the homes of the rich and the poor. The slovenly and the tidy. The well-furnished and the cheaply cobbled-together. He’d been in homes that emanated warmth, homes crackling with tension, homes that made the hairs on the back of his neck quiver. He’d never been in a house like this one that exuded … nothing.
He checked Chloe’s bedroom last. No clutter on the dresser. Shelves empty of books. Nothing but an unzipped sleeping bag on a mattress.
The only memento in the room—in the whole house—was a photograph. He studied the snapshot of a younger Chloe on some mountaintop. She stood bent slightly forward to accommodate a backpack, hands tucked under the shoulder straps as if to relieve some of its weight. Her companion, a bearded man, stood erect beneath his pack. Both, sweat-stained, grinned deliriously at the camera.
Roelke clenched his jaw. I don’t know who you are, buddy, he thought. But if Chloe cares enough about you to keep this photograph out, you damn sure should be here making sure she’s OK.
Finally he rejoined her in the living room. “I locked all the windows,” he told her. “The screens are too flimsy. Talk to your landlord tomorrow about replacing them.”
“What about the screen the burglar pulled out? It’s still lying on the porch.”
“We’ll leave it for the Walworth County boys.” He doubted they would make much of it, but that was their call.
“OK. Listen, Roelke?” She tipped her head to one side. “I’m really,trulygrateful to you for coming down. Now … I need to get some sleep.”
“Me, too. Mind if I crash on your sofa for the rest of the night? I’m pretty fried.”
That was a lie. He knew it, and he was pretty sure she knew it too. He waited.
“Um … sure,” she said. “That would be fine.”
Chloe lay awake, staring at the ceiling, wondering if Roelke was awake, too. She was clearly weirding him out.
Well, so be it. She needed to find out who wanted Mrs. Lundquist’s ale bowl so badly. And why. This was no longer some well-intentioned but impersonal diversion. Itwaspersonal, now.
Mrs. Lundquist may have been afraid of you, she told the unknown culprit silently. ButI’mnot afraid of you. I have nothing to lose, and one way or another, I’m going to figure this mess out.
Chloe heard Roelke stirring a little after six. Groggy, she got up and pulled on a pair of jeans and her favorite dark green shirt. She found him in her kitchen, staring dubiously into her refrigerator.
“I’m not big on breakfast,” she said. “The fridge is dead, anyway.”
“So I see.” He shut the refrigerator door. “I hope I didn’t wake you.”
“No,” she mumbled, stifling a yawn. He startled her by smiling. It made him look even younger than usual. Chloe felt herself smile too.
Roelke glanced at his watch. “If you can be ready to go in, say, twenty minutes, I can run you down to Elkhorn.”
She shoved some hair back from her face. “Well … OK. Thanks. That’ll save me another cab fare. Just let me call work and say I’m going to be late.”
Roelke’s good humor slipped back behind his cop face on the drive. He didn’t speak until he pulled up in front of a nondescript diner called the Cloverleaf. “This place serves good food.”
Chloe climbed out of the truck and turned back to him before shutting the door. “Thanks again. I’m grateful.”
“Get some eggs, and some juice,” he ordered. “A nutritious breakfast will do you good. After you get your car, don’t forget to stop at the sheriff’s station.”
“I don’t need you to tell me …” Chloe stared at her double reflection in his sunglasses and swallowed what she’d been about to say. “I won’t forget.”
The diner was noisy and smelled of fried eggs and baking bread. Most of the customers were farmers and truckers, by the looks of them. Always a good sign. Chloe bought a newspaper and an enormous apple fritter, and settled down at a corner table. Three cups of coffee later, she felt more ready to face the day.
A large check freed her car from George, the mechanic. Car repairs were not in the budget. Chloe was starting to think she’d have to hit her parents up for a loan. Depressing thought.
An incident report freed her from further responsibility at the sheriff’s office. A polite young deputy declined Chloe’s offer to produce the window screen in question. “Call us if you see any further suspicious activity,” he said.
My suspicions are spread over three counties, Chloe thought, as she drove toward Old World Wisconsin. The historic site … her own farmhouse … Mrs. Lundquist’s home. Maybe she should have searched the dead woman’s home more thoroughly when she had the chance. But forwhat?
Roelke sat at the station that afternoon, trying to tune out the music from Marie’s radio. Her favorite station played groups like Air Supply and The Little River Band. The bland sugar-pop made his teeth ache.
All right. Focus. He opened his file box of index cards, and spread out his big Eagle street map in front of him. Whenever he answered a call, Roelke either created an index card for the address or added to an existing card. Then he made a tiny corresponding X on the map. Red for domestics, green for drugs, blue for everything else. A line of red Xs marked a house on Hawthorne Drive. The woman who lived there called 911 whenever her husband hit her, but then always refused to press charges. A line of blue Xs marked an elderly widow’s house. She lived behind the school, and called whenever she heard kids on the grounds after dark.
Now he penciled a circle around an empty rectangle that represented Stanley Colontuono’s house, a nondescript ranch at the end of a quiet residential street. Roelke had checked his record. Two traffic violations in the past three years, nothing more. Nothing more in the county files, either.
Roelke frowned. He didn’t have a damn thing to pin on Stanley Colontuono. But the man had been hidingsomething, that night at the bar.
“Watcha looking at?” Skeet Deardorff suddenly loomed over his shoulder. He was a round-faced, ginger-haired man in his mid-twenties who was already married and the father of two.
“That’s the blue house at the end of Marigold Court?” Skeet leaned close and tapped the spot Roelke had circled. “Did you get another disturbance call?”
Another? Roelke turned his chair to look at Skeet. “What was the first one?”
“I responded to a call … I think it was two Friday nights ago. A neighbor complained about loud music.” Skeet stepped to his locker, opened it, and began unbuttoning his uniform shirt.
Roelke frowned. “Did you write it up?”
“No,” Skeet admitted, with a sheepish shrug.
“I was about to go off shift, and I was dog-tired.” Skeet said defensively. “It was no big deal. I knocked on the door, the guy answered, I told him to turn the tunes down, he did. He even apologized.”
On the radio, Olivia Newton John was begging someone to get physical. Skeet pulled a polo shirt over his head. “Say, do you know if that uniform allowance got approved?”
“It did,” Marie said over her shoulder. She didn’t stop typing. “It’ll show up two checks from now.”
Roelke reminded himself that there was no such thing as a private conversation when Marie was in the building.
“See you tomorrow,” Skeet said, slamming his locker. “I’ve got class.”
Skeet was taking criminal justice classes at Waukesha Tech, one at a time, somehow squeezing them in between work and family life. He’d probably get the full-time spot, sloppy reports or not, Roelke thought sourly. He folded his map away. Time to head out.
“Roelke.” Marie actually stopped, swiveled in her chair. “You got a problem with that house at the end of Marigold?”
“Not really,” Roelke said carefully. “Why?”
“Because my mother lives on Marigold. When I was giving her a perm the other day, she was complaining about all the traffic in and out of that house. She said it had suddenly gotten bad in the past couple of weeks.”
“Yeah?” This was getting more interesting.
“Yeah. A lot of kids, mom said.” Marie snorted. “Teens, she meant. There’s mostly older folks on that street, so it stands out.”
“Any pattern? Particular days, or times of day, that she sees people coming and going?”
Marie shrugged. “I didn’t ask. Just told her to call it in if she saw anybody breaking any law. Last I knew, it wasn’t illegal to have a lot of company. Mom’s bored, and she always has to have something to fuss about. I don’t pay much attention. You and Skeet just reminded me, that’s all.” She swiveled her chair back to the typewriter. Conversation over.
That was OK. Marie had given Roelke something new to mull over as he headed out on patrol.
“So, what’s the problemhere?” Nika asked, as she and Chloe approached the Tobler house.
“The wallpaper is already peeling away from the plaster. And the village lead wants some interpretive context for the artifacts in here.” Chloe took a long slow breath, and unlocked the door.
The remembered sensations slapped Chloe as soon as she stepped inside. A corporeal sense of unhappiness quivered in the small room.
Nika crouched by one of the wallpaper seams, fingering a puckering edge. “I ran into this problem in grad school. Do you use modern paste, knowing it will be more durable? Or period formulas?”
Chloe’s skin began to prickle. She sensed frustration.
“My professor said …”
Enough. Chloe pivoted and stepped back into the sunshine.
Geez Louise. This was going to be a problem.
Chloe couldn’t remember the first time she’d felt a presence in an old building. Her memories of family vacations were a blur of long car rides and visits to historic sites. Sometimes these creaking places gave her distinct impressions of emotions: contentment, sadness, loneliness. “This is a happy house, Mommy,” she remembered whispering loudly in the middle of a guided tour. Her parents had smiled, the guide had been charmed, and Chloe hadn’t realized that she was being indulged, not affirmed. It was only on another trip, when she’d burst into tears at the front door of a homesteader’s cabin, that she’d learned that everyone else didn’t react to old buildings the way she sometimes did. “Don’t go in!” she’d sobbed. “It’s a bad house!” Her father had eventually carried her to the gift shop while her mother and older sister Kari took the tour.
Eventually Chloe got used to tuning the sensations out—just as she tuned out background chatter when reading or studying in a crowded coffee shop. She also learned not to speak of her impressions. By the time she’d decided to enter museum work, it took an unexpected whammy to rattle her.
The Tobler house rattled her.
Nika followed her outside, looking cool, collected, and distinctly unrattled. “Hey, you OK?”
“Just a little tired. I was listening, though.”
Nika looked dubious, but she shrugged. “Well, as I was saying, I prefer periodeverything—materials and techniques. That way the whole fabric of a building becomes a research tool. Instead of the interpreters being embarrassed by peeling wallpaper, they can explain that we’re experimenting. Visitors love behind-the-scenes stuff.”
“Yeah.” Chloe locked the door, and they headed back down the walk. “But you know, I don’t even know if wallpaper falls into my purview. It might be more of a structural issue. I think I need to talk to the curator of research—what’s her name?”
Of course Nika would know that. “Come on,” Chloe said, glancing at her watch. “We’re due in the Norwegian area.”
An hour later, Chloe stood on the porch of the Kvaale House, facing a dozen interpreters—some new, some veteran. “How many of you have visited some historic site and found that the entire tour consisted of a docent pointing out one artifact after another?” she asked. “‘This settee was made in England … this teapot dates to 1743 … that portrait is of Sir Roger himself’ … et cetera. That’s what I call a furniture tour. If you take just one thought away from our time together today, I hope it’s this: artifacts are most important because of what they reveal about the people who made, owned, or used them.”
She let that thought sink in before continuing. “Let me show you an example.” Chloe nodded to Nika, who held up an 8x10 black and white photograph.
“What do you see?” Chloe asked.
“Some people and a bunch of stuff,” one of the college students said.
An older man took the photo from Nika and squinted at it thoughtfully. “Mid-nineteenth-century people sitting in front of a big frame house, with a sewing machine and croquet set and nice furniture. It looks like that one woman has an unusual collar on … maybe ethnic?”
Chloe nodded. “The shape of that woman’s collar suggests a Norwegian style. Why do you suppose this family dragged furniture outside for the photograph?”
“Well … they wanted to make a record of it.”
“This photograph was taken by a Norwegian-American photographer named Andreas Dahl,” Chloe told them. “I think this family wanted to show how far they’d come since moving to Wisconsin. When they moved from their first cabin into a new frame house, they posed with some of the possessions they were most proud of.”
“We show that transition here in the Norwegian Area,” Delores Timberlake pointed out. “Visitors can learn about a newly arrived immigrant family at Fossebrekke, and a more established family here at Kvaale.”
“Exactly!” Chloe nodded at Byron, who had walked up the drive to join the group. “Here at Kvaale, the ethnic pieces have been largely relegated to display status. They’re no longer being used; the family has new American-made items instead. Your job isn’t to talk about the artifacts themselves, but to tell the broader story.”
Cindy, the frustrated spinner Chloe had met on her first visit to the Kvaale farm, raised her hand. “But sometimes visitors ask about specific artifacts,” she said. “Are you saying we can’t answer their questions?”
“Not at all!” Chloe felt a welcome stir of her old passion for museum education. “Use that piece to help address a bigger interpretive theme. If a visitor asks about the spinning wheel, you can tell them when it was made and how it works. But then go on to tell them about the role of sheep in the Kvaale family’s economy, or the agricultural shift from subsistence farming to diversification, or about gender work patterns in Norwegian families. See what I mean?”
Some of the trainees nodded, some looked thoughtful. “If you use the collections to illustrate compelling human stories,” Chloe concluded, “what you say will resonate with visitors long after they return home.”
Byron stepped forward into the reflective lull. “Excuse me,” he said. “I’ve got copies of the July schedule.” He handed them to the nearest interpreter to pass out. “Chloe, may I have a word?”
“Sure. Nika, why don’t you tell everyone about your textile project?”
Chloe jumped down from the porch and followed Byron a short distance down the lane. “What’s up?” she asked, noticing belatedly that his face was rigid with anger. Shit. What had she done now?
“What was that?” he demanded.
“Um … what was what?”
“Who told you to tell the trainees how to interpret their buildings?”
“You asked me to help with summer training—”
“I asked you to talk about collections! Not interpretation!”
“The two are obviously intertwined,” Chloe said carefully. “What did you think I was going to say?”
“I expected you to talk aboutartifacts. I expected you to tell the interpreters what kind of cleaning and care you want them to provide. I expected you to tell them what objects they could use in daily programming, and what objects they shouldn’t touch. I expected you—”
“You expected quite a lot,” Chloe snapped. “Unfortunately, you failed to letmeknow about those expectations. You told me to show up in Norwegian at four o’clock and talk to the interpreters. That’s it. For God’s sake, Byron, there are fifty buildings on this site, and I’ve only been here for a week! I’m not in a position to give specific instructions to the interpreters yet!”
“Well, let me tell you something.” Byron jabbed the air with one forefinger. “You’re not in a position to provide training about educational techniques, either. That’smyjob. Do me a favor and stick to collections.” He turned and stalked back down the lane.
“What was that all about?” Nika asked, when the interpreters had trudged back toward the main parking lot.
Chloe tugged on the lock on Kvaale’s front door, making sure it was secure. “You noticed, hunh? Did everyone?”
Nika shrugged. “I don’t think many of the interpreters caught on.”
“Many,” not “any.” Everyone on the payroll would soon know that the curator of interpretation and the curator of collections had interrupted training to have a major row.
Chloe sighed. “I seem to have stepped on Byron’s toes. He evidently expected me to talk about the importance of turning tin cups upside-down to dry, not using collections as a springboard for interpretation.”
They were walking toward the small Norwegian area parking lot. The sky was overcast, the air sticky and humid. After a moment Nika said, “That stuff about collections care is important. But the way I see it, an interpreter’s most critical job is to engage visitors in a meaningful way. If that happens, visitors will go home and tell their friends to visit the site. They’ll sign up as volunteers, and join historical societies, and take their kids to other sites. There isn’t a museum in this country that has adequate funding. This one sure doesn’t. And nothing here will improve unless we can spark visitors to provide more support themselves, and to demand better support from the state.”
God bless the young and idealistic. “Thanks, Nika.”
“I thought your use of the photographs was effective, too,” Nika added. “Where’d you come up with them?”
“My mom. They’re copies from what’s evidently a large collection at HQ in Madison.”
“I love old photographs, especially of women. So many women left no written record of their life at all.”
“You know what they say,” Chloe said. “Anonymous was a woman.”
“Amen to that.” Nika waved one elegant hand. “Listen, don’t worry about Byron. He probably didn’t get enough sleep last night. His baby’s been sick. Once he gets over his snit I’m sure he’ll be glad to hear your ideas.”
Chloe blinked. Byron had a baby? How did Nikaknowthat? Nika had only been on site a week longer than she had, but the intern seemed to already be on friendly terms with everyone, permanent staff and seasonal.
They reached their cars. “Maybe you’re right,” Chloe said. “But I don’t think I’ll be making suggestions about interpretation to Byron any time soon.”
The farmhouse was stuffy when Chloe got home. She carried her bottle of rum and a warm, flat soda out to the front porch and sank gratefully into one of the old folding lawn chairs her father had left her. After a few sips she tried to focus on her latest problem: Byron. Oddly enough, she liked him. Sure, he was young and sensitive and quick to take offense. He also seemed to care passionately about his job, the site, and the interpretive staff.
She had been like that, once.
She needed to have a strong working relationship with Byron. And, she hadn’t had a chance to ask him to identify any interpreters left on staff who had worked there in 1977. Why hadn’t she foreseen his possible objections to her training talk?
Well, she didn’t have a very good record of understanding men, now did she? Or of spotting trouble before it smacked her upside the head?
She certainly hadn’t with Markus. Three days after her miscarriage, Chloe had been curled on the sofa when Markus came home from work. He’d sat down on the floor beside her. “We need to talk,” he’d begun. Chloe remembered staring at a shaft of sunlight coming through the window, and noticing that the ivy plant needed watering. “We’ve had a good run, right?” he’d said in his accented but flawless English. “We never made assumptions, right? Maybe we should look at this as a sign.”
Chloe barely remembered packing, saying good-bye to friends at the museum, arranging transport back to the States. With nowhere else to go she landed at her childhood home. Chloe’s parents evidently had no idea what to say about her abrupt departure from Switzerland.
“You left Ballenberg without having another job lined up?” Mom had asked. “Well, my goodness.”
Her father hadn’t done much better. “You’ve got a lot to offer, kitten,” he’d said with fake heartiness. “You’ll land theperfectjob soon.”
Neither of Chloe’s parents had even asked why she’d left Markus and Ballenberg so suddenly.
Chloe had applied for every museum job available. The first call came from a small historic site in Solomon, North Dakota …
Stop thinking about that time!she ordered herself. You’re letting things overwhelm you because you’re tired. And you’re tired because you got about three hours of sleep last night. It’s OK to be down …
But it was no good. She simply wasn’t cutting it at Old World Wisconsin. She wasn’t making progress with the collections. She’d alienated several colleagues. She hadn’t even learned anything new about Mrs. Lundquist and her ale bowl. Chloe’s new life, her new start, was an utter failure.
Libby closed the spiralnotebook she’d been scribbling in as Roelke walked into her backyard. “Hey! What are you doing here?”
“I want to look at your kitchen faucet.” Roelke dropped into one of the lawn chairs on his cousin’s patio. “I noticed on Sunday that it’s leaking.”
Libby took a sip of iced tea. “I’ll take care of it.”
“I was driving by anyway. I’ve got my toolbox in the truck—”
“Roelke! Thanks, but I can do it.”
“I was just trying to help.” A dog down the street began barking. Roelke tried to figure out where he’d gone wrong. No telling. “Where are the kids?”
“Went out for pizza with Dan and his parents.”
“You OK with that?”
“No. But there’s not much I can do about it.”
“Maybe I should be here when he comes to pick the kids up next time.” Roelke wanted that, wanted to stare into Dan Raymo’s eyes with a clear message:You step over the line, you so much as put one toe over the line, you deal with me.
“If Dan gives me any more trouble, you’ll be the first to know. But I don’t want to turn into a woman who can’t do anything for herself. OK?”
“Sure, I understand,” Roelke said, although he didn’t.
Libby traced one finger around the lip of her glass. “I need to talk to you about something.”
Roelke was beginning to wish he hadn’t stopped. “What?”
“When are you going back to Milwaukee?”
“You mean to work?” Roelke asked, although this time he knew what she meant.
“Yeah. To work.” Libby gave him a level look, eyebrows lifted. “Look, you got the heck out of Dodge as soon as you had your high school diploma. You had a career thing going on in Milwaukee. Then stuff got ugly between Dan and me, and suddenly you quit your job and move back here.”
“I was tired of the city.”
“Bullshit. Listen, you big idiot, I know why you moved. And as much as I hate to say it, I needed you. But things have settled down.”
Roelke felt a growl rising in his chest. “Dan is still a—”
“I know.” Libby held up one palm. “But the divorce is final, and I got the best custody deal I could.”
“I like seeing the kids. Justin needs guy-time.”
“Milwaukee’s not that far. It’s time to go back, Roelke.”
Roelke poured himself a glass of iced tea from the pitcher on the table. “You know what? I’m getting tired of everyone telling me how much I want to move back to Milwaukee.”
“I don’t want to keep you from doing what you wanted,” Libby said soberly.
“Just think about what I said, OK?”
He put his tea down untasted. “Did it ever occur to you that I just like being near you and the kids?”
“So drive out on your days off—”
“Dammit, Libby!” Roelke scrubbed his face with his palms. “What don’t you get? Everyone else is gone. My folks. Your folks. It’s just you and me.”
“That not quite true,” she said quietly. “Patrick—”
“Patrick doesn’t count.”
“He’s your brother, Roelke.”
Roelke leaned over, elbows on knees, and stared at the ground. A headache was starting to pinch the back of his skull.
“You need to deal with Patrick,” Libby said. “I’ve heard you talk about kids you meet on the job. You always say that a person’s first encounter with a cop can determine their future, and how that goes is up to the cop. If you can give strangers a second chance, why not Patrick?”
“Because it wouldn’t make any difference.”
“Maybe Patrickishis father’s son. But you’re Uncle Joe’s son, too.”
“Yeah,” Roelke said, watching an ant hauling a crumb three times its size. “And sometimes that scares the crap out of me.”
“You need to work on that.”
Right, Roelke thought. Just like that. He hated this know-it-all streak of Libby’s. She’d perfected it by age six.
Libby got up and disappeared into the house. A moment later she emerged with a small plate holding several brownies. “I need chocolate,” she said, holding out the plate. “Here.”
He didn’t need chocolate, but he took one anyway. “Thanks.”
They ate in a silence. Roelke wished Libby had kept her mouth shut about his job, and about Patrick. Especially about Patrick.
“So.” Libby propped her bare feet on the iron patio table. “You said you were headed somewhere?”
Hallelujah, a new topic. “La Grange. Someone broke into Chloe’s house last night—”
“She ran the guy off. But she’s pretty shook up.” That was a lie, but a believable one. “I thought I’d run down and make sure she’s OK.”
“A burglar, you think?”
“I’m not sure.” Roelke began beating a rhythm on the arm of his chair with one thumb. “Possibly just some punk kid, looking for a stereo or something. Possibly not. Remember that old lady who had a heart attack and crashed her car? She’d been visiting Chloe to see about some old Norwegian bowl-thing, which evidently went missing at Old World before Chloe started. You know how some people get around antiques. There’s a chance someone might think Chloe found it.” The rhythm increased. “I just want to make sure she’s OK,” he repeated.
Libby looked at him pensively.
“What?” he demanded. “What now?”
“We-ell,” she said slowly, “are you sure you want to get mixed up in this?”
“Mixed up in what? I’m just doing my job.”
“No you’re not. You’ve met a pretty lady who’s been threatened. That always does a number on you.”
“Shut up, Libby.” Roelke glared at her. Now he definitely regretted stopping by.
“I worry about you. That goes two ways, eh? You worry about me, I worry about you.” Libby pressed her hand over his, stilling his thumb. “Stop doing that. You’re making me nuts.”
A lawnmower roared to life two or three yards away. “I thought you liked Chloe,” he said.
“I do like her. But I think she’s got a lot of stuff going on right now. Stuff that has nothing to do with prowlers and missing antiques.” Libby squeezed his hand gently. “Just be careful. That’s all I’m saying.”
Roelke considered that admonition as he backed the truck out of her driveway a few minutes later. Be careful. What did that mean? He was always careful. He was trained to be careful.
At the stop sign, he turned left toward La Grange.
Before Roelke turned into the driveway, he spotted Chloe sitting on her front porch, evidently watching alfalfa grow in the field across the street. She didn’t move when he cut the engine, or when he got out of the truck and slammed the door. His senses prickled to full alert.
“Chloe?” he called, and began jogging across the grass. “Chloe!”
He was almost at the steps before she heard him. She jumped to her feet and a glass fell to the porch with a noisy shattering and splash. “What? Oh, God!” She stared from him to the broken glass at her feet.
“Didn’t you hear me?”
She looked at his truck. “Oh, God. How long have you been here?”
“I just got here. Sit down. Do you have a dustpan?”
“Sit down and don’t move!” he barked. She was barefoot; he didn’t want to add a trip to the hospital for stitches to their list of shared experiences. He went inside and looked in the cupboard under the kitchen sink—empty, of course. Finally he tore a piece of paper from a legal pad he found on the table, and used the pad’s cardboard backing to carefully brush the shards of glass on the porch into the paper. He deposited the entire mess into the small trash bag he kept in his truck.
Then he brought her sandals outside and handed them to her. “Here. I might have missed a sliver or two.”
“Thanks.” She slipped them on. Her cheeks were flushed, now. “I’m really sorry about—that. I didn’t hear you drive up. Please … sit down.” She gestured at the second chair.
Roelke opted for the top step instead. He leaned against the porch rail and stared across the road to the distant mass of the Kettle Moraine State Forest. Shadows were stretching across the landscape. A couple of swallows darted about overhead. Roelke waited.
“Shit,” she said finally. “That hasn’t happened for a long time.”
“What hasn’t happened?”
“Have you ever thought about checking out?”
Roelke’s heart made a determined attempt to exit via his windpipe. “No.”
“Well, I have. Last winter.”
He swallowed hard. All right. All right, think. “Are you thinking about that now?” He used his most measured, calming, cop-on-the-job tone.
“Not really. No.” She stood up abruptly. “I’m going to get another glass so I can make myself another drink, since I wasted most of the last one. Want one?”
“No. But bring some food out, too, if you’re going to drink. And a glass of water so you don’t get dehydrated.”
She disappeared into the house, and returned a moment later with a box of crackers, a small bottle of water, and a new glass. “Don’t worry, I’m not a closet alcoholic.” She shook her head. “And listen, forget what I said before. I don’t know why I dumped that on you.”
“I’m just tired. I’m fine. Really.”
Roelke rubbed his palms on his jeans, choosing his words. “You’ve been here for over a week, and haven’t even started to unpack. You showed no signs of fear when confronted with an intruder—not once, but twice, if you count the missing lock incident at the trailers—”
“Maybe that’s depression’s silver lining. You don’t go through life afraid all the time, because you’ve already been at the bottom of the well.”
“Youneedto be afraid sometimes. The world can be an ugly place.” And I’ve seen things that wake me up at night.
“Why are you here?” Chloe asked quietly.
“Oh. I was visiting Libby, and since I’d come that far—” he’d gotten very good at sliding around the truth—“I thought I’d just stop by and make sure everything went all right with the Walworth County sheriff. You did file a report, right?”
“Do I need to call somebody?”
“No. They just told me to contact them if anything else happened.”
“And you talked with your landlord?”
Chloe took a delicate sip. “Well, actually … that slipped my mind.”
“It slipped your mind? Jesus Christ, Chloe! What is thematterwith you?”
“I just told you,” she observed mildly.
Roelke felt his face flame. He rubbed it with his palms. While he tried to think of something to say, three bicyclists pedaled past. One of the Holsteins near the side fence coughed and flicked her tail.
Finally Chloe gave a tired, rueful smile. “Don’t worry about it.”
Roelke stood. “Come on. We’re going next door.”
Chloe’s landlord was a stocky salt-of-the-earth farmer in his forties who left the milking to his sons while she told him what had happened. Roelke offered recommendations for upgrading security at the farmhouse. Standing there in the straw-flecked aisle, with the smell of manure in the air and several kittens tumbling around their feet, Roelke felt a tiny measure of reassurance.
He and Chloe walked back to her house in silence. “I really don’t—” Chloe began as she stepped onto the porch, but stopped when her phone began to ring. “I better get that. Come on in.”
He followed her into the house, waiting while she grabbed the phone. “Hello?Ethan!Are you home safe?” Her thin face lit with true pleasure.
Great, Roelke thought. He’d somehow zoomed from protector to intruder.
Chloe glanced up and said, “Ethan, can I call you back in a little bit?”
“No need,” Roelke said. “I’ve got to get going. Don’t forget to lock up tight tonight.”
“So,” Chloe said to her caller, as Roelke let himself out, “tell me all about …”
He slammed the truck door, and drove away.
“Who was that?” Ethan asked.
“How was the fire? You didn’t get hurt or anything, did you?”