Avalanche (A Stone Mountain Mystery Book 3) (14 page)

Ben surveyed the area and shook his head. “I can’t answer that. There are too many possibilities.”

“I don’t understand. There’s no overhanging ledge, no snow piled high above here, so what would trigger this spot to let go?”

 

* * *

 

Later that afternoon, Kalin entered the real estate office located in the center of Stone Mountain’s upper village just as Simon Crane was leaving. He scowled at her but didn’t say anything. Would the night auditor hold a grudge for being fired or would he realize she’d had no other move?
The former.

Books and contracts littered the desktop. Downhill and touring skis leaned against the wall, and two pairs of ski boots rested askew on the floor.

“What do you want?” Jessica asked.

Jessica seemed upset, but Kalin didn’t think it was because she was there. She turned and glanced back in the direction of Simon. “Do you have time for coffee? I thought we could talk about Roy.”

Jessica’s collarbones protruded above the neckline on her low-cut sweater. A slight blush shone through her translucent skin, and like most people working at the mountain in winter, she had a case of hat head. Kalin had the urge to find her a brush. Despite the hair, Jessica could be a runway model with her chiseled bone structure and long features. She was exactly Roy’s type, and for the first time, Kalin noticed Jessica’s resemblance to Roy’s ex-fiancée, Patricia.

Kalin and Jessica strolled to the Mountainside Café and ordered a mochaccino for Kalin and a chai tea for Jessica. They grabbed a table for two tucked in the corner. The rustic café, with its hardwood floor, maple chairs and tables, and mustard walls exuded a welcoming atmosphere. The aroma of coffee reminded Kalin of Roy’s addiction to the brew.

“I don’t know if you heard about yesterday’s search, but SAR didn’t find Roy.”

“I know. Ben called me.”

“I wish…”

“Me, too,” Jessica said.

“I’m glad you got a job so quickly,” Kalin said instead of asking about Simon and why he’d been in Jessica’s office. She couldn’t break HR confidentiality and talk about him or why he’d been fired.

A slow smile crossed Jessica’s face. “It would’ve been better if you’d helped me keep my job. Turner was way out of line.”

Kalin stirred her mochaccino, clinking the spoon on the inside edges of the cup and avoiding eye contact with Jessica. Turner had been right to fire her. “I don’t have a lot of influence with him yet. He’s not as easy to work with as Reed was. Did the cops give you a hard time about the theft?”

“What a bunch of jerks. They treated me like I was the thief. Talk about disrespect. I worked hard at that job.”

“I’m sorry you were badly treated. How are you doing? I mean about Roy.”

“Not great. I miss him.”

“I do, too.”

“We had a fight, and he wasn’t talking to me. That makes it worse,” Jessica said.

Roy hadn’t said anything to Kalin about fighting with Jessica, but she guessed that’s why he’d moved in with her and Ben instead of Jessica. Jessica wasn’t the only one who’d fought with Roy. Kalin had kicked Roy out the night before the avalanche. His fighting with Jessica made her feel even worse. “What about?”

“Nothing. It was stupid.”

“Can you tell me? It might help.”

“I thought he was cheating on me with Helen.”

“Helen?”

“I know. I never should have fought with him about her. If he was going to stray, he wouldn’t cheat with a loser like her.”

Jessica, Simon, Helen and Roy all linked together in this mess. What did the connections mean? Kalin sipped her mochaccino and waited for Jessica to say more.

“The worst part of the whole thing is that everyone in admin got focused on the theft and didn’t care about what Roy’s accident meant to me.”

“Why do you think he went up the mountain?” Kalin could see the question upset Jessica, and maybe she shouldn’t have asked her about the avalanche so abruptly, but she couldn’t help herself.

“How can I possibly know? All I do know is it made the cops think he took the money with my help.”

Not intimidated by Jessica’s raised voice, Kalin pressured for more. “He really didn’t say anything about going skiing early?”

Jessica stiffened and pushed her cup toward the center of the table. “No. Is there any reason you’re asking about this?”

“I’m trying to understand what happened.”

“Don’t tell me you think I stole the money.”

“It’s not that. I want to clear Roy’s name.” Kalin had never been friends with Jessica, but she’d made an effort for Roy’s sake. Jessica had always been polite with her. Now the underlying hostility in Jessica’s demeanor was probably because Kalin hadn’t stopped Turner from firing her. Unless Jessica took the money and hoped to blame Roy.

“Did you ever go out on touring skis with Roy?”

Jessica smiled as if she were remembering a happier time. “Early in the season, before the lifts were open, Roy and I went every chance we got. If I couldn’t go, he sometimes went with Aiden. Roy loved being up on the mountain at night. I guess he liked the adrenaline rush.”

“Did he go with Aiden often?”

“Not as much as he would’ve liked. Aiden had to get to work by seven thirty and didn’t like being tired. Roy never cared.”

“Roy’s downhill skis are still at my place. Only his touring skis are missing, so he must have used them. Any idea how long it would’ve taken him to get to the Dragon’s Bowl?”

“We never skied that high together. We mostly stayed on the lower mountain. What are you getting at?”

“I’m just trying to figure out the timing of the theft and the avalanche.”

“So you do suspect Roy?”

“I’m trying to prove he’s innocent.” Kalin placed her cup on the table hard enough to slosh the liquid over the edge.

 

* * *

 

Turner didn’t know how his life could get much worse. Someone stole one hundred thousand dollars, and the amount would come right off the company’s bottom line. The insurance policy had a deductible of two hundred thousand. The cheaper policy that saved money when they purchased the bloody thing was now going to cost them.

An avalanche killed an employee, search and rescue hadn’t found his body and the director of security couldn’t investigate the theft because the guy in the avalanche was her brother. The resort couldn’t afford another scandal. Not after what happened last year.

Gertrude hovered in his doorway, and her perfume wafted toward him. Someone should tell the woman the scent was overdone.

“You’re scheduled to meet Oliver at eleven thirty for an update.”

“Fine. Until then, I don’t want to be interrupted.” He shut the door quietly this time, leaned back and drummed his head several times against the wall.

Fifteen minutes later, Gertrude entered without knocking.

“I told you not to interrupt me.”

Hovering at the entrance to his office, Gertrude fussed with the buttons on her flower print dress. “I’m sorry, but Constable Miller is here to see you. I thought you’d want to speak with him.”

Miller moved around Gertrude’s heavy frame and into Turner’s office. “Is this a bad time?”

“No, it’s as good as any. What have you found out?”

“I thought you’d like to know we finished the polygraph tests.”

“And?”

“None of the tests implicated anyone.” Miller shrugged. “One employee had to take the polygraph twice but was cleared.”

“Who?”

“I can’t divulge that.”

Turner grunted. “I don’t understand. Why two tests?”

“The first was inconclusive. We thought the person was trying to trick the test.”

“Trick the test?”

“Anyone can read about polygraphs on the Internet. They learn if they pinch in their butt cheeks or bite the inside of their lip when they’re answering truthfully, the monitor will show a spike on the graph. If they lie, a similar spike occurs, making the results difficult to analyze.”

“How can you be sure the second results are correct?”

“We’re sure.”

Turner clenched his jaw and said nothing.

Miller stood with his hands hanging at his sides, his equipment belt forcing his left arm farther away from his body than his right. “I’m not going to justify our methods, Mr. Turner.”

The formality of Miller’s answer made Turner change tactics. “Did Jessica Scott take the test?”

“She refused. She said since you fired her, she was under no obligation.”

“So you have no idea who did this?”

“I didn’t say that. I said the polygraphs didn’t implicate anyone.”

Gertrude interrupted again.

“What?” Turner asked.

“Your wife’s on the phone. She says it’s urgent.”

Behind his back, his left hand gripped his right wrist, pinching the skin. He needed a drink, and he needed it now. “Tell her I’m busy. I’ll call her later.”

Gertrude shut the door, and Turner circled back to Miller. “What is it with you? It doesn’t seem like you’re trying very hard to solve this crime.”

Miller straightened. “I’m here out of courtesy. Technically, I don’t have to share any information with you. I thought it would be helpful for us to talk about the investigation. I’m sorry to have bothered you.” Miller started toward the door.

“No. Wait. You’re right. It’s frustrating not knowing who did this.”

“I understand,” Miller said on his way out the door.

Turner cursed.

“Your wife,” Gertrude said.

As if he didn’t have enough to worry about without Gertrude nagging him. He kicked the door shut with a thud and tapped on his wife’s name.

Before he had a chance to speak, Crystal said, “Warren’s sick.”

“I don’t mean to be cold, but you know I have a lot going on right now. Is he more than his usual sick?” Turner listened to her cry. “I’m sorry. What can I do?”

“His doctor says he needs to go to Calgary. I need you to come home.”

“You know I can’t. You’ll have to take him.”

The sigh through the phone had the same impact as a slap on his face.

“What am I going to pay the hotel and gas bills with?”

Turner slowed his speech and said, “Use the Visa.”

“It’s maxed out. All the cards are at their limit, and we only have fifty in cash in the account.”

“Can the trip wait till Friday?”

“No. It can’t.”

Now was not a good time to talk about their expenses that weren’t related to Warren, but the time was never right, so Turner said, “We should put the house on the market. It’s too big for us anyway.”

“I don’t want—”

“I know, but we need to be realistic. Our mortgage payments are killing us.”
And soon, I won’t have a job.
Turner waited while Crystal sobbed. Finally he said, “Okay, I’ll put some money in the account. Use cash.”

“Where are you going to get money from?”

“I’ll figure it out.” Turner opened his desk drawer, slid his hand behind the file and pulled out his silver flask.

CHAPTER TWENTY

 

Wednesday morning, Kalin cross-country skied along a path with Chica running by her side. She’d downhill skied the day before with Ben, and today she found sitting at home doing nothing was not a solution to grief, so she’d geared up and hit the Nordic trails behind her house.

Muffled from within her pocket, Kalin’s cell rang. She snowplowed to a stop, pulled off her glove with her teeth and answered.

“I was just thinking about you,” Kalin said to her mom.

“What are you doing? Your breathing sounds funny.”

“I’m cross-country skiing with Chica.”

“Alone?”

Kalin surveyed the endless terrain around her. No matter how long she ended up working there, she didn’t think she’d ever get over the beauty of Stone Mountain. “No. I’m with Chica.”

To stop her mom from lecturing her about being in the backcountry by herself, she said, “I met with Roy’s girlfriend yesterday. I think she’s pretty sad.”

“I wish I’d had a chance to meet her. Have you heard anything more about the theft?”

“Jessica’s a suspect, too.”

“You mean along with Roy?”

“Yes.” Kalin transferred her cell to her left hand and tucked her right hand into her pocket. “Did the RCMP call you again?”

“Constable Miller called. He asked if I’d received the package the resort sent me with Roy’s things.”

Kalin skied forward a few feet to a sunny spot on the trail. She tilted her head toward the sky and let the sun warm her cheeks. “Have you?”

“No. He wants me to call him when it arrives and let him know what’s in it.”

“Can you let me know, too?”

“Of course, but this means they think Roy stole the money.”

“Not necessarily. There’re other suspects, too. Things are a bit tense, but I’m going to prove Roy’s innocent. I don’t want this hanging over him. Or me for that matter.”

Chica jumped over a mound of snow at the edge of the groomed trail and ran through the trees, barking at something. What was she chasing? It had better be a squirrel or a rabbit and not a larger animal.

“Hang on a sec.” Kalin moved the phone away from her face. “Chica, come.”

Chica obeyed and trotted back to Kalin. “Sorry about that. Chica likes to stray once in a while.”

“Maybe you should let this go. You made yourself miserable after Jack died, looking for answers when none existed. Don’t do that with Roy.”

“It’s not the same thing. And why are you changing your mind again? Last time we talked, you wanted me to prove Roy’s innocence.”

“This whole thing is making me crazy, and I’m worried about you. You spent all that time trying to find out who killed Jack and discovered nothing. Don’t put yourself through that again. We have to accept Roy’s gone. The RCMP will find out who stole the money.”

“I won’t obsess.” Chica meandered away from Kalin but not far enough for her to be concerned. “My boss is letting me in on what’s happening with the investigation. Don’t worry. I won’t get into any trouble.” She hated lying to her mom, but she couldn’t explain that her boss had told her not to investigate, and she was going against his direct order.

“The reason I called is we’re having a small memorial for Roy this Saturday. Can you fly home?”

Holding a memorial meant her mom had accepted that Roy was dead. “I wish I could, but there’s too much going on here.”

“Please. Just for one day. I’ll pay for the flight.”

“I’ll try. Let me call you back later.”

Kalin disconnected, knowing she would spend more time searching for answers than her mom would approve of. Every time she thought about Roy, she believed she owed him.

Pain and sorrow were unique to each person. No matter how connected Kalin was to other people, the depth of her loss was her own. How could she be lonely when she was married to Ben, and she had friends, good friends, and her mom was on the other end of the phone?

She couldn’t talk to Ben or her mom about Jack. The burden wasn’t something a second husband should have to carry, and her mom would just worry about her. Now she couldn’t talk to Roy either. He’d been close with Jack, too. Since moving to Stone Mountain, she’d been able to wake up without a grinding headache. She slept a full eight hours most nights. Most days the flashback to the police at her door remained at bay.

Now with Roy and the avalanche, Jack had returned with a vengeance. Like he was trying to tell her something. She laughed at herself.
Really. Listening to ghosts now.

Maybe if the Ottawa police had found out who’d killed Jack, she wouldn’t be obsessed with him now. Kalin figured a drunk driver had hit him and been too cowardly to stop. The police said he’d died instantly, but what if they were wrong?

She called Chica back to her side and pushed forward with her ski poles.

 

* * *

 

Kalin skate-skied across the flats, reached a steep descent and tucked her elbows to her sides. While she sailed down the hill, her phone rang again. At the bottom, she stopped abruptly, and Chica bumped into the back of her legs. Kalin fell face forward, landed in soft snow with a thump and rolled onto her back. Chica bounded on her chest and licked her cheek.

“Get off me, you silly mutt.”

With her rump in the air, Chica wagged her tail and continued to lick. Kalin had already missed the call, so she played with Chica for a moment.

“Alright, enough. Get your dog breath away from my face.” She nudged Chica aside, sat and pulled her cell from her pocket.

“I know it’s your day off, but can you come in?” Helen asked Kalin. After Helen explained the problem, Kalin called Fred and requested he join her in Helen’s office. Violence at work was always a worry, especially when emotions ran high.

She rubbed Chica’s head. “Too bad I didn’t answer the call at the top of the hill.”

Chica ran around her in circles.

“You don’t care, do you?” Not wanting to make Helen wait too long, she ascended as quickly as her muscles would let her.

Kalin and Fred arrived at Helen’s office at the same time.

“You out skiing?” Fred asked.

She wore her cross-country ski pants and jacket. She’d left her toque on, thinking her hair would be matted to her head with sweat. Not a good look for the office. At least Fred looked professional in his security uniform. “I didn’t have time to change. Give me a sec to drop Chica in my office. Then let’s get in there. I’m sure Helen’s had enough by now.”

They found Helen face to face with a thirty-something woman. The woman stopped yelling mid-sentence and swung around toward Kalin.

“This is Natalie Crane,” Helen said.

“You.” Natalie pointed at Kalin. “This is all your fault.”

Fred positioned himself in front of Kalin. “You need to step back and settle down.”

Natalie flared her nostrils at Fred but relented. Her hair was pulled back into an elegant roll behind her head. Her makeup, expertly applied, accentuated her blue eyes, but she couldn’t compete with Simon in the looks department.

“Have we met before?” Kalin asked.

“I know who you are. You fired Simon. I want to know what you have against my husband. What did he ever do to you?” Spittle sprayed from her mouth and landed in a glob on her chin, marring her flawless complexion.

Kalin watched the spittle drip. Instead of passing Natalie a tissue, she ignored the drop. “He’s done nothing to me. He lost his job because he broke company policy.”

“He told me you hated him and fired him for no reason.”

“Does that seem likely? The night auditor position is difficult to fill. Along with her regular job, Helen has to cover some of his shifts personally until we find a replacement. It could take months.”

“Simon told me you’re a fast talker. We’re going to sue you if you don’t give him his job back.”

Without taking her eyes off Natalie, Kalin asked Helen, “Do you still have the Internet reports?”

“Yes.”

“Natalie, if you sit calmly, I’ll show you why we fired Simon,” Kalin said.

Before she sat in the nearest chair, Natalie looked from Kalin to Helen. She balled her camel hair coat on top of her knees and clutched the material in her fists.

“I’m not sure this is a good idea,” Helen said. “Natalie doesn’t need to hear this from us.”

“I know you’re friends and don’t want to hurt her, but I don’t see what choice we have. Simon’s not going to tell her the truth.”

“I agree.” Fred nodded at Kalin, giving his approval.

Natalie stood. “Simon doesn’t lie.”

“Please sit again,” Kalin said. “Let me show you what we discovered.” She handed Natalie the list. “These are sites Simon accessed during his night shift. He left the pages open on the computer, and the employee working the next morning found photos. As you can imagine, the sites disturbed her, and she made a formal complaint.”

Natalie read the list, grimacing a couple of times before she finished. “This is so unlike Simon. He’s not the type to look at porn, and this doesn’t prove anything. Anyone could have looked at the sites.”

“I’m afraid not,” Kalin said. “The computer was logged on with Simon’s password, and he worked the shift alone. No one else had access.”

Natalie scratched the side of her neck until the skin turned red. “You could have had IT fake the list.”

Thinking how upset Natalie must be, Kalin softened. “You don’t really believe that.”

“Can I have a copy of the list?”

Kalin shook her head. “These are our private documents.”

Natalie held the pages toward Kalin, which fluttered in her shaking hands. “I have a right to take them.”

“You don’t,” Kalin said. “They’re company property.”

Natalie placed a hand on Helen’s wrist. “You don’t understand. Simon’s been depressed lately, since before you fired him, and this could push him over the edge. He can’t take the loss. Surely you have some compassion for him.”

“I wish I could help,” Helen said.

“But how will Simon get another job?” Natalie tightened her grip on Helen, and Fred stepped closer to her. “Helen, we’re friends. How can you do this to me?”

“I know this is hard, but there’s nothing Helen or Kalin can do to change the situation,” Fred said.

Kalin was impressed by the softness in his voice and the respectful way in which he spoke.

Natalie’s back stiffened. “We’re still going to sue you.” She slapped the papers on the desk in front of Helen and rushed from the room.

“What do you think?” Helen asked Kalin.

“If I were her, I wouldn’t believe us either.”

 

* * *

 

Meeting with Natalie Crane reminded Kalin of what Simon said when she’d fired him. He’d mentioned she should check the radio reports from the day of the avalanche. Why hadn’t she thought of that earlier?

The security reports might contain a link to the radio reports. Mostly she left the database for Fred, her security manager, to manage, and she didn’t spend much time accessing the data. Maybe the time had arrived for her to become more involved with the information. Still wearing her cross-country ski clothing, she scooted her office chair close to her desk and turned on her computer.

Chica flopped and rested her chin on Kalin’s foot.

Before she had a chance to open the software and start a search, the squeak of ski boots walking in the direction of her office announced a visitor.

Aiden Price interrupted her. “Got a minute?” He edged the door until it was ajar, keeping his hand on the doorknob. “I have a problem with a liftie. I think he’s been smoking dope on his breaks and coming back to work stoned. I wanted to check with you before I fire him.”

Chica thumped her tail but didn’t get up from underneath Kalin’s desk.

Kalin took in his bulky frame. Aiden wore his orange and yellow lift operator uniform. He kept his auburn hair in a Caesar-style cut, brushed forward to his temples, hiding a receding hairline. His nose was anything but a Caesar nose. It was flat and squished, more like a boxer’s. She didn’t want to be involved in a second firing in one day, but asked, “Do you have proof?”

Aiden sat, and his ski pants rustled against the worn fabric of the chair. Snow melted off his boots, leaving water stains on top of the many water stains that had soaked through the carpet over the years. “He smells like dope when he comes back to work.”

“Could he be hanging around with people who are smoking up, and the smell clings to him?”

“I thought that, too, except last night on the staff bus to Holden, he told one of our crew chiefs he smoked a joint at lunch, then worked the rest of the afternoon. He laughed about it. The crew chief wrote a statement.” Aiden passed a signed, handwritten note to Kalin.

She smirked and took the paper. She stopped smirking when she read the name of the employee. Greg Parker. “Not smart. How long has he worked here?”

“This is his second winter.”

“I gather since he was on the bus to town, he lives in Holden and not in employee housing.”

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