Icy Clutchesby Aaron Elkins
Gideon Oliver expects to be amicably bored when he takes on the role of “accompanying spouse” at a lodge in the magnificent wild country of Glacier Bay, Alaska, where his forest ranger wife, Julie, is attending a conference. But it turns out to be exactly his cup of tea. There is another group at the lodge: six scientists on a memorial journey to
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Gideon Oliver expects to be amicably bored when he takes on the role of “accompanying spouse” at a lodge in the magnificent wild country of Glacier Bay, Alaska, where his forest ranger wife, Julie, is attending a conference. But it turns out to be exactly his cup of tea. There is another group at the lodge: six scientists on a memorial journey to the site of a thirty‑year‑old glacial avalanche that killed three of their colleagues. Their leader is TV’s most popular science personality, the unctuous M. Audley Tremaine, who is the sole survivor of the fatal avalanche. But he does not survive long and is soon found hanged in his room. If that is not upsetting enough, shocked hikers discover human bones emerging from the foot of the glacier—are they the shattered remains of the three who died, finally seeing daylight after their two‑mile, three‑decade journey within the glacial flow?When the FBI seeks expert help, everyone agrees how fortunate it is that Dr. Oliver, the famed Skeleton Detective, is on the scene. Everybody, that is, but the person who wants ancient history to stay that way—and who believes that murder is the surest way to keep the past buried.
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The Gideon Oliver Series: Book 6
By Aaron Elkins
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1990 Aaron Elkins
All rights reserved.
Glacier Bay Lodge, September 10, 1989
"I think it only fitting," Professor Tremaine said, rising with a feline grace not often seen in a man of sixty-nine, "I think it only fitting that we conclude our first dinner together with a toast."
He inclined his handsome, scarred face downward while the waiter glided noiselessly around the table with a towel-wrapped magnum of Piper Heidsieck, the third of the evening. When each of the six fluted glasses had received its portion of champagne, Professor Tremaine lifted his head. With a tanned and graceful hand he casually brushed back the lock of thick, strikingly white hair that fell so often and so artlessly over his brow. His lean shoulders under the cashmere jacket were squared, his back straight. He raised his glass.
"To the memory of three young people," he said, "three brave young people who gave their lives—so full of promise—in the pursuit of the advancement of human knowledge. To Jocelyn Yount, to Steven Fisk, to James Pratt. We who remain behind ... remain and grow old ... we salute you."
He made as if to speak further, then stopped with a small shake of his head and raised his glass.
Five glasses besides his own were raised. Five throats besides his own gurgled with champagne. Here and there an eye glistened. It was a poignant moment, a moment satisfactorily replete with memories and emotions. It would, Professor Tremaine thought serenely, make a moving opening to his book, far better than the one he'd been planning.
In mid-September of 1989, in a warm and pleasant dining room, I looked out—make that gazed out. Make that gazed pensively out—across a chill, gray Bartlett Cove toward the ice-choked inlet where it had all happened so many years ago. I raised my glass. "To the memory of three young people," I said, "three brave young people who—"
His train of thought interrupted, Professor Tremaine scowled. "What?"
No one responded, but he knew what he'd heard. "What a crock of shit," somebody had said.
And unless he was very much mistaken, it had been uttered in the distinctly Teutonic tones of the eminent Dr. Anna M. Henckel.
* * *
The subsequent angry thump with which Professor Tremaine set his glass on the table was not quite loud enough to carry to the far end of the Glacier Bay Lodge dining room. There, at the only other occupied table—actually four tables pushed together—sat twelve men and two women in the gray and green uniforms of the National Park Service. And one tall, quiet man in cotton slacks and a much-laundered, pale blue sweatshirt. Most of those in uniform were engaged in a vigorous after-dinner argument on the merits of the conventional prusik sliding-friction knot versus those of the Kleimheist. The lone civilian, by contrast, was gazing (abstractedly rather than pensively) out the window at the placid, darkening waters of Bartlett Cove and the sunset-reddened glaciers of the Fairweathers beyond. Occasionally he lifted his coffee cup to his lips, or sighed, or crossed his restless legs, or uncrossed them.
Gideon Oliver was beginning to wonder if coming along with Julie to her training session had been such a good idea. It had made sense when they'd planned it. His fall classes at the University of Washington—Port Angeles would not start for another week, and his notes were fully prepared. He had finally finished the proto-hominid evolution monograph on which he'd been working for most of the summer and sent it in to the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. The one case he was handling for the FBI (two skeletons buried under the parking lot of a membership discount department store in Tacoma) was on hold; he'd finished his analysis and wouldn't be called as an expert witness until the case came to trial in November, if then.
So why not use the unaccustomed free time to accompany Julie on a trip to the pristine far north, to Glacier Bay, Alaska, which neither of them had seen before? Wouldn't it be better than being separated for a week? Her days would be taken up, of course: She would be attending the five-day Glacier Search and Rescue training course. But he could spend his days in long, cool, solitary walks, and look at icebergs floating in the bay, and maybe take one of the excursion boats up Tarr Inlet to see the glaciers calving. Or read a novel. Or just relax and do nothing for a change. And the evenings and nights would be all theirs. This would be a great vacation, a tonic for both of them.
Only it wasn't going to work out. There were only two trails in the thickly wooded vicinity of the lodge, totaling three and a quarter miles; he had already been around them twice. They had forgotten to bring any novels and none were available at the lodge, the newsstand having closed when the tourist season ended a week earlier. And there wasn't an iceberg to be seen; the nearest ones floated out of sight, thirty miles beyond the Beardslees, in the bay's northern reaches. And the excursion boats to the glaciers had, of course, closed down along with the newsstand.
The one good thing was that the nights were all theirs, and that would make up for a lot. Just being wherever Julie was made up for a lot. Still, it was going to be a long week. Here it was, not quite the end of the first day, and already he was bored stiff. He turned an ear to the discussion around him in hopes that the subject had changed to something more amenable.
"... feel that way about it, what's wrong with a mechanical prusiker?" someone was spiritedly demanding. "The Heibler clamp, for example?"
This was met with incredulous laughter. "The Heibler? You gotta be kidding! The minute you put any lateral load-bearing stress—"
Gideon tuned out again. He looked out over the quiet water. He looked for a while at the other party across the room. The silver-haired man at the head of the table, wasn't he familiar? No, he decided; he simply looked like the generic Hollywood version of the Great Novelist, as seen on movie screens a hundred times: long, wavy white hair, craggy features, cashmere jacket, even an ascot tucked into an open-throated shirt. Gideon's interest wandered, and he looked out the window again. He uncrossed his legs. He toyed with the dessert menu card. He sighed.
Julie turned toward him. "Gideon? Anything wrong?"
"No, just a little restless. Too much coffee, I suppose."
"I don't think that's what it is. I don't think you enjoy being my spouse."
"I love being your spouse. It's my all-time favorite occupation."
"That's not what I mean."
He nodded. "I know."
What she meant was that he didn't like tagging along to someone else's meeting with no role of his own to play. And she was right.
"I think it was the 'and spouse' that did it," she said.
"I think you're right."
A list of attendees had been waiting for them in their room when they'd arrived. "Julene Oliver," the sixth entry had read, "Supervising Park Ranger (GS-13), Olympic National Park, Washington. And spouse."
When he'd seen that, he'd had terrifying visions of the "spouses' programs" awaiting him. "My God," he'd said, "I can see it now. 'Morning bus tour to Kumquat Village, where you will be greeted by lifelike Indians and served a traditional Indian lunch of mud-broiled salmon cakes, to be followed by a program of authentic Indian war dances. In the afternoon, a leisurely visit to nearby Totem Shopping Mall.'"
"I wouldn't worry about it," she'd said. The closest mall's in Juneau."
"I'm glad to hear it. I must be lucky. Come to think of it, I guess there won't be any bus tours either."
There wouldn't be any bus tours because there weren't any roads; none besides the dirt strip between the lodge and the little airport at Gustavus ten miles away. The only way in or out of Glacier Bay was by boat from the coast, or by airplane—one scheduled flight a day in, one out; a tree-skimming, thirty-minute hop between Juneau and Gustavus.
That had all been this morning. By the end of the week, he now feared, he'd be more than ready for a visit to Kumquat Village. Maybe by tomorrow.
The harried-looking man on Julie's other side detached himself from the general conversation and leaned across to them.
"You're talking about spousal activities?" he asked Gideon. "You're not finding enough to do?" The possibility seemed to cause him real concern. "It's a shame you're the only spouse here. If we had a few more I'd have arranged something interesting. Maybe," he said, his eyes brightening, "I could—"
"That's okay," Gideon said quickly. "That's all right. No problem at all, Arthur."
In the absence of the superintendent of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve (on vacation in Hawaii) Assistant Superintendent Arthur Tibbett was the ranking park official and the host at the welcoming dinner for the class. A soft, compact man with a vaguely beleaguered air, he seemed a fish out of water at this table of fit, outdoorsy men and women; a paper-pusher among the nature children. Already he bore the mark of his kind, the bureaucrat's habitual little pucker of anxiety between his sandy eyebrows. His interest in—and probably his knowledge of—prusiks and Kleimheists had run out early. For the last twenty minutes he had been going through the motions: here a minuscule nod, there a preoccupied murmur of agreement, here a vacant smile while his fingers tapped restlessly on the table.
Spousal programs seemed to be more in his line. "Last year," he told Gideon with his first show of enthusiasm, "we flew them to Haines to see Lust for Dust, which is really a great show. And did you know they have the world's tallest totem pole there? But I just can't justify the cost for one person. My budgetary allocation for—"
"Really, I'm fine, Arthur." Spousal activities. Was the term itself repellent, lascivious even, or was it just his mood? "I'm having a great time. Don't give me a thought. Really." He tipped his head toward the table at the other end of the room. "The white-haired man over there ... he looks awfully familiar. You wouldn't happen to know who—"
"Oh," Tibbett said lukewarmly, "you mean Professor Tremaine."
Gideon snapped his fingers. "Tremaine! That's M. Audley Tremaine, isn't it?"
"It is?" Julie said, impressed.
The three of them looked across the room at the suave and celebrated host of "Voyages," television's preeminent science program and king of the Sunday-afternoon ratings, if you didn't count football season.
"He looks exactly the way he does on television," Julie said. "Will you just look at that tan?"
"He didn't get it around here," the pallid Tibbett said, managing to make it sound like an accusation.
"What's he doing here?" Gideon asked. "The lodge is closed for the season, isn't it?"
"Technically, yes, but it's kept open for Park Service training at this time of year, and he just horned in, to put it candidly. The man doesn't have a scruple about bypassing regulations. A friendly telephone call to his good friend the deputy secretary of the interior, and here he is with his entourage, working on his great opus."
That would explain Tibbett's animosity. The assistant superintendent was not a man to look with favor on the bypassing of regulations.
"Opus? Is he writing a book?" Julie asked.
"Yes. You've probably heard about his being involved in an avalanche here at Glacier Bay years ago?"
Julie nodded. "He was the only survivor."
It had happened almost three decades before, but it was everyday knowledge. Tremaine, who had been heading a botanical research team, had been trapped in a crevasse on Tirku Glacier for a day and a night. Later, he had used this ordeal as the cornerstone of his career. It was a rare episode of "Voyages" that didn't have some reference to it, however oblique. The pitted facial scars from a barrage of two-hundred-mile-an-hour ice spicules and the limp caused by the loss of three toes to frostbite had added to his allure, visible reminders of a life filled with danger and exotic adventure. His eaglelike profile and elegant, nasal baritone hadn't hurt either. He had begun appearing on talk shows in the seventies, had introduced "Voyages" with immediate success in the mid-eighties, and had been America's best-known science popularizer ever since. Somewhere along the way he had left his academic pursuits—some said his academic integrity—behind him, although guests on his show were still instructed by the producer to address him as "professor."
"Well," Tibbett explained, "now it seems he's writing a tell-all book about it. Tragedy on Ice."
"Sounds like something starring Peggy Fleming," Julie said under her breath. Tibbett guffawed immoderately, then turned it into a discreet cough.
"Who are the others?" Gideon asked. "Why would he need an entourage?" Anything was better than Heibler clamps and lateral load-bearing stress.
Tibbett peered at them again. "The gray-haired woman is Dr. Anna Henckel. She was Tremaine's assistant on the original survey. And the, ah, portly gentleman next to her is Dr. Walter Judd; he was on it too. The others—well, I don't have their names straight, but I understand they're relatives of the three people who were killed. Tremaine is using them all as resources, I gather."
"M. Audley Tremaine," Gideon mused after a moment. "I'd sure like to meet him."
Julie stared at him. "Are you serious? The only time I remember you watching 'Voyages' was when it covered human evolution. You ranted and fidgeted through the whole thing. You were yelling at the television set. You called him a pompous charlatan, as I recall."
Tibbett blinked and eyed Gideon with transparent respect.
"That's because the man got everything so completely screwed up," Gideon said. "In one hour he single-handedly managed to set popular understanding of evolution back ten years. Remember how he 'traveled back in time' and talked to those 'Neanderthalers'? Those actors with fur pasted on them, grunting and squatting and hopping—hopping, for God's sake—all over the place, like big, hairy fleas?"
"I remember," Julie said. "You made your point very clearly at the time. Or at least very loudly. So then why do you want to meet him?"
"Because of the work he did back in the fifties, before my time. Before he was M. Audley Tremaine, for that matter."
"He used to go by his first name; Milton, or Morton ..."
"Melvin," put in Tibbett. "Melvin A. Tremaine. I suppose it isn't dashing enough for him nowadays."
"Right, Melvin A. Tremaine. He was a pioneer in the study of postglacial plant succession; very important stuff for physical anthropology. Some of the definitive work on late Pleistocene human skeletal dating was based on his research on vertical pollen distribution analysis."
Julie nodded. Tibbett's eyes glazed slightly.
"He and I are colleagues in a way," Gideon said. "He was at U-Dub twenty or thirty years before I was."
"U-Dub?" Tibbett echoed.
"He's speaking native dialect," explained Julie. "It means University of Washington."
"I see," said Tibbett, who obviously didn't.
"U-Dub," Julie said. "It's short for U.W."
"Oh." Tibbett searched visibly for something to talk about. He didn't want to go back to Heiblers either. "You know, next year is the thirtieth anniversary of the Tirku project, and the department is going to put up a memorial near the site of the avalanche." His lips twitched their disapproval. "No possible connection to the publication of his book, of course," he said tartly. "Well, tomorrow I have to accompany him and his party out to the site—as if I didn't have anything more important to do—where they'll choose the location for the plaque."
He snorted. "Probably an idea dreamed up by his press agent. I know no one consulted me about it. The whole thing's ridiculous. It's not as if anyone ever goes in there, in any case, so who's going to see it? He's simply exploiting the majesty of the United States government to promote his book, that's what he's doing."
Tibbett grumbled on in this vein for a while, not without Gideon's sympathy. Still, Tremaine's contribution to post-glacial plant succession was a real one, and Gideon's respect for the man as a scientist was high.
He drained his coffee. "Do you think he'd mind if I went over and said hello?"
But as Gideon put the cup down, Tremaine and his party began getting up. Tremaine nodded curtly to the others and headed for the exit, his limp quite marked. He was smaller than he appeared to be on television, perhaps five-nine. His path brought him within a few feet, and Gideon stood as he approached.
"Dr. Tremaine? My name is Gideon Oliver. I'm a great admirer of your work—"
Excerpted from Icy Clutches by Aaron Elkins. Copyright © 1990 Aaron Elkins. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Meet the Author
Aaron Elkins is a former anthropologist and professor who has been writing mysteries and thrillers since 1982. His major continuing series features forensic anthropologist‑detective Gideon Oliver, “the Skeleton Detective.” There are fifteen published titles to date in the series. The Gideon Oliver books have been (roughly) translated into a major ABC‑TV series and have been selections of the Book‑of‑the‑Month Club, the Literary Guild, and the Readers Digest Condensed Mystery Series. His work has been published in a dozen languages.
Mr. Elkins won the 1988 Edgar Award for best mystery of the year for Old Bones, the fourth book in the Gideon Oliver Series. He and his cowriter and wife, Charlotte, also won an Agatha Award, and he has also won a Nero Wolfe Award. Mr. Elkins lives on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula with Charlotte.
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Babe u here?
I could sit for days with a pile of Aaron Elkin's books. Gideon Oliver never disappoints. How could he? He's 'The Skeleton Detective'. Although I could live without his oh so cute wife Julie, aside from this, Elkins books are wonderful forensic mysteries, full of fascinating physical anthropology. And the locations are wonderful, just wonderful locations. I can't wait to read the next one.
Yes *kissing you*
Aww Liana.. :( I will talk t him.
Well I did not do ANY of those...
Megsy......im going through a really hard time right now. On the way home, i thought about everything. Demi tells me he loves me....but honestly, he should stop. It makes me feel special. Really special. The three words might just be words but together, they are beyond. They have so much beauty in them. I think too many people mis use the words and tell them to the wrong people. Demi is telling it to the wrong person. He might really feel something for him and I know I defenantly do but.....I dont want to say those three words to the wrong person. I know hes the wrong person...unless some miracle happens but I highly doubt it will. Hes probably a strong Cathlic....because im a strong Baptist. I would never give up in what I believe in for love. Its the way I was taught. Its better to stay with God then leave him for love. And what Baptists think is that catholics arent true Christians. Its what I believe in too. (Im being flat out honest......dont get mad...). I dont know why i met him, why I had that dream. My friend told me it couldve been from God or it couldve been from the devil....to knock me off my path. Ive been praying so hard about this. He needs to stop telling me he loves me. We will mever be more then friends...because life is so unfair. I know I will mever be able to say 'i love you' back to him...no matter how I feel. Megsy...its hurts so bad when I know what has to happen. But its what has to happen. Its part of life....all this hurt. No one lives a painless life. I dont have the guts to tell him this....i really dont. Could you....could you talk to him please? Just say something. I really wish there was a way out of this....and there is one way but.....i dont know how well it will work. The only way.....is for him to become baptist....but.....i highly doubt he would. My parents would still be jittery about him...if this friendship got anywhere. Because there is ways that possibility of him going back. I know he wont ever become Baptist.....ever. Megs...just tell him that.....that he should stop telling me he loves me. I wont be able to tell him the same back...no matter how badly I want to. Tell him......tell him......tell him to stay strong. Ill always be there as a friend, no matter what happens...no matter if I meet some guy whos just as sweet as him(demi). Demi will always be my first...but not my last. (First one who ever told me.....(sorry i dont wanna say it right now.....) but he wont be the last one to say it...). I gtgtb....night Megs....