A Taste of Death (Maggie Olenski Series) (5 page)

John let out some of his breath, nodding. "Murder investigation is a serious thing." He looked over at Dyna. "And sometimes a dangerous thing. Best leave it to the people who know what they're doing."

"But..
." Dyna started objecting.

"John's right," Maggie said, although the implication that she wouldn't know what she was doing rankled just a bit. "I have every faith in John's competence. Don't you?"

Dyna could hardly say she didn't trust her old friend's ability, so she was effectively silenced, reduced to a somewhat reluctant nod. Maggie quickly changed the subject, inviting John to join them for lunch.

"No, thank you," he said, draining his mug and setting it down. "Best I get a move on. Time to start proving my competence."

Maggie saw the same smile in his eyes as he rose that she had noticed earlier. She walked him to the door where he thanked them both for their time. "If you think of anything we should know, please call," he said, then tramped down the snowy stairs.

"I still think we could help," Dyna complained, when Maggie closed the door. "Don't you? Aren't you curious?"

"It's not my business, and besides, I don't have time. I have a deadline to meet. And I thought you were going back soon to take that health food job."

"I'll go back, but not this instant. Unless you want me to, of course. I just thought, you know, I'd be up here for at least a couple more days. To, you know, show you around. We haven't even gone skiing yet!"

Dyna looked at her with such a sad puppy look, Maggie had to laugh. "I don't want you to go this instant. And I'd love to ski. But really, nothing else. Dyna, I've got to..."

"Write the book. I know, and I won't keep you from it, I promise. Except today. You're still settling in. And look at that sun shining out there. We can't waste that. It's a perfect day to hit the slopes. Right?"

Maggie didn't have to look to agree. It was a beautiful day, and she did want to go out with Dyna while she was here. Since Dyna had gone to so much trouble just to help Maggie get situated here, she really felt she owed her at least an afternoon together. But as she loaded Mrs. Hall's skis onto the Ford's ski rack after their quick lunch, dressed now in her
own
ski pants, jacket, and a couple layers of shirts and sweaters, she wondered guiltily, and a little worriedly, if she were becoming a procrastinating writer already. Before she had even begun.

CHAPTER 4

 

"
W
ell, this is it. What do you think?" Dyna asked as she steered her car into a parking space.

Maggie looked up at the slopes of Big Bear. Skiers, looking like butterflies in their neon-colored clothing, zigzagged through the snow high above. Bright sun sparkled off the chair lifts which glided up the mountain, picking up and dropping off ticket-holders at each end like a lazy assembly line.

She climbed out of the car and took a deep breath of the cold, clear air.
"Wonderful! I can't wait to get up there!"

First, however, came the job of lugging their equipment to the lodge, the part of skiing Maggie liked the least. She often wished ski resorts, like hotels, would provide bellhops to run up to your car and manage all your bulky, heavy things for you. Or at least luggage carts. She assumed it was a kind of test. If you couldn't carry your equipment, then you weren't worthy of being a skier and shouldn't be there in the first place. Now she had to once more prove her worth.

Maggie joined Dyna in pulling boots out of the trunk, and skis and poles off the rack on the car roof. They snapped everything into the proper carriers and trudged off toward the lodge, Maggie trying to stop thinking of herself as a pack mule in Thinsulate. When they came to the entrance they paused, catching their breath, and Maggie looked up at a huge grizzly bear posed in the standing attack position, its teeth bared high above her head.

"Wow!"

"He's the Big Bear mascot," Dyna explained. "And don't worry - he was never real. Plastic and acrylic, and stuff like that. I heard Regina was getting all geared up to protest animal cruelty when he was first set up - designing posters, organizing a demonstration, - until someone finally clued her in."

Maggie smiled. "She seems to have a protesting personality."

"You got that right," Dyna said. "Although, if it had been a real bear, I would have been right with her. If I'd been here
in the first place
, of course.
" She pointed to the left. "Over there
's where we get our tickets."

Maggie tramped over with Dyna to the ticket window and leaned her skis against one of several high wooden racks next to it. She bought her ticket, attached it to a D-ring on her jacket, then picked up her ski boots and followed Dyna into the lodge.

"The food and stuff is up here. The lockers are downstairs," Dyna explained. "We can leave our snow boots there, and I think I'm going to take off one of these sweaters and stow it. It's so sunny and calm today I was getting too warm just walking from the car."

"So was I," Maggie said. She had unzipped her jacket the moment she stepped inside. The aroma of grilled hamburgers and coffee drew her attention as she walked past the dining area on her right. Her gaze swept
appreciatively
over a large ro
om with an open-beamed ceiling and
a cafeteria set up at the far end. A small fire glowed in a centrally-placed circular fireplace with benches surrounding it. A few people lounged with their feet propped up close to it, looking lazily contented, sipping from glass mugs. Large windows gave spectacular views of the slopes.

Maggie's pace had slowed, taking all this in, and she would have stopped altogether if she hadn't glimpsed Dyna disappearing around a corner marked STAIRS. Maggie hurried to catch up and tramped on down after her. The lower level had vending machines, benches, and the lockers Dyna had promised.

They chose an empty bench and sat down to change from their snow boots to the shin-high ski boots, adding a second layer of thick socks. Other skiers milled around, some heading for the rest rooms, others dropping coins into the vending machines, most moving clumsily and noisily in the heavy boots which were designed for safety and maneuverability on the slopes, but not for easy walking.

As Maggie was stowing her unneeded gear in a small locker, she heard Jack Warwick's nam
e mentioned. She glanced around
and saw two young men wearing matching red jackets with white crosses on the sleeves - ski patrollers. They sat a few benches away, holding Styrofoam cups of coffee and apparently discussing the incident of last night. But Maggie couldn't say for sure with half their words disappearing in the din. Without a second thought she closed up her locker and moved to the bench opposite them, sitting down at the end. She began fiddling with her boots, bent nearly double, her ears perked in their direction.

"I'm sorry the old guy popped off and all," the dark-haired one said, "but at least that'll stop the sale of Big Bear."

His blond companion nodded.

"Paul was so mad about the whole thing, though, I mean the sale idea," the darker one added, half grinning, "that I almost wonder if he did it, you know, slipped something into the old guy's drink. A lot of his problems sure got solved."

"Keep your mouth shut," the blond ski patroller said, flushing. He glanced around the room with a scowl and Maggie, who had chanced a peek in their direction, immediately looked down. "C'mon," he said, standing up and dumping his cup into a trash can. "Let's get out of here." They stomped off, and as they disappeared around the corner Maggie straightened up, realizing that Dyna was now nearby and had likely heard them too. Dyna raised an eyebrow at Maggie but said nothing, only handing Maggie the gloves and hat she had left near the locker. They both headed for the stairs.

I was just curious
, Maggie insisted to herself, mentally arguing her non-involvement in the town's mystery as she climbed upwards. Suddenly she got a faceful of Dyna's jacket as Dyna abruptly stopped near the top. Paul Dekens had rounded the corner in a hurry and nearly collided with her.

"Whoops, excuse me" he said, stepping back out of the way. He was dressed in s
tretch ski pants and turtleneck but held
a thick file of papers. "Back in town, huh?" he said to Dyna. "Are your folks here too?"

"No, I'm just here for a couple days getting my friend  Maggie, here, settled. She'll be staying at our place for a while."

"Great," he said, turning to Maggie. "I saw you at the meeting last night. You picked a heck of a time to come, I'm afraid."

"It wasn't exactly what I expected."

Paul nodded. Magg
ie thought he looked distracted
but much less tense than he had the night before.

He asked Dyna, "Did you see Elizabeth today? This might be hard on her, the police talking to her and all. Her mother died j
ust a few months ago, you know – her heart, finally –
and Elizabeth's still getting over it. She doesn't need any more stress."

"No, we haven't seen her since last night. But we could stop in at the bookstore on the way back home and see how she's doing."

Paul smiled, and Maggie was struck with how much more attractive he was without the grim look he had worn last night. She guessed his age at early thirties - young for someone in his posi
tion. "That'd be great. Maybe –
" He was interrupted by a call from a Big Bear employee at the bottom of the stairs.

"Paul, could you come take a look at this?"

"Sure thing." He said a quick, "Nice meeting you," to Maggie and trotted on down.

As they retrieved their skis outside and headed for the nearest lift, Dyna said, "Paul's a great guy, really. Don't pay attention to that remark we heard downstairs."

"Remark?" Maggie asked vaguely, then looked ahead past Dyna. "Is that a good slope to start on? The lift line is nice and short right now. I need to limber up first on an easy one and get my balance." She chattered on while stepping into her skis and moving over to the line, not sure if she was trying to convince Dyna or herself, that, despite appearances downstairs at the lodge, she was not getting interested in the mystery of Jack Warwick's murder.

 

<><><>

 

The chair lift on the beginner's slope moved slowly, and Maggie enjoyed the ride, soaking up the view, feeling the combination of cold air and warm sun on her face. But on her exit from the chair at the top she wobbled uncertainly, while Dyna slid smoothly over to the edge of the hill.

"Your Mom's skis are a little longer than mine," Maggie said, cat
ching up to Dyna. "But that's okay
. I've been putting off getting this size, but now I'll get used to them and won't want to go back to my own. Maybe I should say if I get used to them."

"You will. You're just a little shaky 'cause it's your first time out. I've skied a couple weekends in Pennsylvania already this year. The snow's much better here, though. See you at the bottom."

Maggie watched Dyna push off and whoosh her way down like a pro, impressed. She, however, began her descent more cautiously and was happy to stay upright all the way down, making her turns careful and wide.

Th
ey rode the lift again, and Maggie’s
second run was better. She felt her confidence return along with her balance. Her turns became tighter, and she let her speed pick up.

"You're doing great," Dyna said. "Ready for an intermediate slope yet?"

"Almost. Do you mind one more run here?"

"Fine with me." Dyna skated over to the short line at the lift, Maggie close behind, and soon they were scooped up by the double chair, pulling the safety bar down as they began their ascent. As they rode up on the gently swinging chair, Maggie watched the skiers below, mostly beginners and children, all somewhat anonymous-looking with the camouflage of ski hats and goggles.

Maggie's attention was caught by a young mother with her child as she skied down the hill with him, his small skis inside the "V" of her own, she lightly holding his shoulders, guiding him in long, wide, slow turns. He looked almost ready to be on his own.

"Hey, I think that's Karin Dekens," Dyna cried. "You know, Alexander's wife. I recognize that green and white outfit. My gosh, that must be Ethan. I can't believe it! He's gotten so big!"

Maggie looked at them, taking in Karin's tender solicitousness and motherly pride. They watched until the lift took them out of view.

"Ethan must be about four now," Dyna said. "He's named after his great-grandfather by the way, Alexander and Paul's grandfather, who started up this resort back in the thirties or forties. I heard he began with just one rope tow that pulled skiers up the hill. Can you imagine? He must have had a lot of guts and determination."

"Mmm. From what I've seen so far, he might have passed on some of that determination to Paul, but not very much to Alexander. By the way, I thought I noticed a certain coolness between Karin and Alexander last night," said Maggie.

"Yeah, I wouldn't be surprised. From what I hear Alexander's gambling's been getting worse. Annette told me last night that she thinks he's got into a lot of debt because of it, which is why he's so anxious to sell the resort - to raise cash. He never cared about the resort that much. She says it all must be rough on Karin, who loves it here, for herself and for Ethan.

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