Avalanche (A Stone Mountain Mystery Book 3) (16 page)

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

 

Jessica plunked her butt on a stool beside Simon at the bar of the Dragon’s Bowl Hut. The hut overlooked the entry point into the Bowl, and she avoided glancing in that direction. Roy’s last moments, his last time on his skis, the last time air caressed his face happened somewhere on that terrain, and she had no intention of ever skiing there again.

The bartender placed a hot chocolate in front of her on the wooden bar. The stone fireplace, the weathered log walls, and the chill that entered every time the door opened reminded her of Roy and made her wish he sat beside her instead of Simon.

“What the fuck am I supposed to tell my family?” Simon asked.

The flames in the hearth licked and snapped around the logs, and she drew her eyes away from the fire and back to Simon. “Huh?”

“My uncle asked why I was fired. Says he has a plan.”

“I guess you can’t go with the truth.”

“Very funny. This job was supposed to prove I could support myself. That I’m not the loser in the family looking for handouts. Now I’ll have to do whatever my uncle wants.”

“Make something up that sounds legit, like you lost a key and didn’t have the lock changed.”

Simon sneered. “There’s a slight problem. If my uncle thinks he can fight this, he’ll sue Stone Mountain. Then he’ll find out why I was really fired. I’m supposed to see him tonight. What am I going to say to get him to back off?”

“Tell him you have another job. That you hated this one. Whatever.”

“If you got your job back, then you could hire me again.”

“That’s not going to happen.”

“Take the polygraph, and Turner might relent. I can’t imagine Helen’s doing a stellar job.”

“I can’t. Turner’s not going to hire me back if he finds out I stole from a previous employer.”

“I’d forgotten about that little incident.” Simon laughed. “I can see how the test would go. Have you ever stolen money? You say no. The buzzer goes off, and they know you lied.”

“It was only a little petty cash, and I would’ve put it back.” Jessica inhaled the heavenly smell of cocoa and took a deep sip. “How’s Natalie taking the firing?”

“Are you trying to dim my sunlight? She’s barely speaking to me, but she won’t tell anyone why I got fired. It’s too embarrassing for her. Any news on the theft?”

“Not really. Roy’s still the main suspect.”

“So they haven’t found the money?”

“Why would you think there’s money to be found? Everyone’s saying Roy took it up the mountain.” Could Simon know she was searching for the missing duffle bag and some of the money? Had Aiden blabbed? He was such an idiot.

Cold air shot through the room, and Jessica turned to see who’d entered. Speaking of the idiot. Aiden’s jacket displayed his lift manager badge. What’s to be so proud of? You’d think he was the president, the way he strutted around in his uniform.

Aiden sat beside Simon, tossed his gloves and toque into the metal basket underneath the bar stool, and said, “It’s the two fired ones. Commiserating, are you?”

 

* * *

 

After Aiden left, Kalin sat alone. The quietness of the administration building settled around her. She worked until darkness fell. Ben would already be at fire practice, so she might as well get some work done instead of going home. Clicking on the security software icon, she settled in to read. Engrossed in reports, she was annoyed when some time later a noise distracted her. She shifted her gaze away from the computer, and the hair on the back of her neck stood on end.

Justin Bradley blocked the entrance to her office, placing his hands on either side of the doorframe. “When can I start working again?”

Something about his stillness and his deadened eyes caused her skin to prickle. “It’s too soon. Call Aiden tomorrow, and he can give you an update…if he has one.” Kalin stood and faced him.

“You can’t prove anything. It’s the kid’s word against mine. I treated him like I would any other skier. Here, let me show you. Pretend you’re getting on the rope tow.” Justin reached around her, placed his palms on her back and pushed her forward. “There, you see. It’s impossible to help someone without touching them.”

Kalin stepped back, leaning into her desk. She slid her hand across the surface, searching for her cell.

“What’s the diff from me telling everyone you harassed me? I could say anything about being alone here with you at night, and everyone would suspect you. Then you’d see how it feels to be accused of something you didn’t do.”

“Do you think it’s smart to be threatening me right now? You should leave before you say or do anything to make your situation worse,” Kalin said in a loud voice. “If you go now, I’ll forget that you were here.”

“Now you know how it feels. Don’t make a big deal about it.”

“Fine.”

Justin gave a tight nod and plucked his toque off the chair. “Fine.”

Tension drained from her neck when the outer door of the administration building slammed shut. Blood pulsed to her forehead. A headache worked its way up the base of her neck, nudging her to swallow two ibuprofen.

Ben worried too much when he thought she was in danger, so she snatched the phone, and instead of calling him, she called security and asked for a ride home.

 

* * *

 

Jessica grabbed a couple of beers from her fridge and returned to the living room. She glanced at her bedroom. Compassion kept her from curling underneath her blanket, from trying to drop into oblivion. Simon looked forlorn, and she wasn’t callous enough to send him away.

She handed Simon a beer and sat in the chair closest to the fireplace. Since Roy’s death, she couldn’t seem to sleep in her own bed, and she was starting to hate the couch.

Simon gulped his beer, wiped his mouth on the back of his hand and sagged into the chair opposite Jessica. “What a shitty week.”

“I thought you were meeting your uncle tonight.”

“I told him I’m sick. I can’t deal with him right now.”

Jessica had listened to Simon’s problems for years, and this was the first time he seemed deeply upset by them. He was the type of guy who liked to look as if things were hard on him, made him seem tougher somehow, and he bragged about difficulties. She never believed he was genuinely upset when he complained, but something looked different now. Shadows filled the space underneath his eyes as if he hadn’t slept well, and his usually perfect hair shined with grease.

“Are you hungry?” Jessica asked.

“No, the beer’s fine.”

“So what happened? You seemed okay when we were skiing.”

Simon stood and walked to the hearth. He picked up the fireplace poker and examined the charred end.

Jessica waited for him to speak.

“Natalie left me.”

“No way. Because of why you were fired?”

“That and a bunch of other reasons. I always thought I’d be the one to leave her, not the other way around.”

His comment made Jessica question whether Simon was upset that they split or that Natalie gave the final blow. “I’m sorry. I thought you two were a good match.”

Simon released the poker, and it clanged against the stones surrounding the fireplace. “Don’t bullshit me. You always wondered why I married her.”

“I did not. I thought you married her because you loved her. Why else—”

“Why else what?” Simon flopped into the couch, spilling beer on his shirt. He didn’t wipe the spot.

Simon ignoring a stain on his clothes worried Jessica. She suspected he was more upset by Natalie leaving than he was admitting. “Nothing.”

“You were going to say why else would I marry someone so ugly.”

“I was not.” But she was. She didn’t like the thought and hated to think of herself as shallow.

“So what’s the latest on the theft?”

The theft always came up in conversation. Couldn’t she have one friend who didn’t talk about the stupid finance center? To postpone answering, she grabbed the fireplace poker and moved a log, causing sparks to disperse and land on the tile in front of the hearth. To avoid burning her socks, she took a step back. “I don’t know. It’s not like I’m in the loop.”

“What does Aiden think?”

“I haven’t talked to him.”

“Really. I’ve seen you two hanging around a lot.”

“I need friends right now.”

Simon swigged what remained of his beer and plunked the bottle on the table. Without asking, he walked to the kitchen and helped himself to another. “Tell me about it. Have you seen Kalin much?”

“I try not to. She reminds me of Roy.”

“Doesn’t she tell you what’s happening in the investigation?”

“I think she’s doing her best to prove Roy’s innocence, and I kind of hope she succeeds.”

“Why would you care?” Simon asked.

“Other than the obvious reason that I want Roy’s name cleared? If it’s hanging out there he might be guilty, people will always suspect I helped him.”

“Did he call you on the morning of the avalanche?”

“That’s an odd question. Why would he?”

“I thought he might have told you he was heading up the mountain.”

“All I know is Kalin and Ben kicked him out. My best guess is he was going to crash at mountain ops.”

Simon chuckled. “You wouldn’t have him over since he stayed the night at Helen’s.”

“Don’t be mean. Are you going to stay in your condo?”

“I was hoping I could sleep on your pullout for a while.”

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

 

Kalin entered the women’s washroom and checked all three stalls. All empty. She’d been trying without success to finish reading the security reports during the day. Someone always interrupted her right when she opened the database. So there she was, sneaking into the can, hiding on the toilet.

She sat on the lid, pulled earbuds from her pocket, stuffed one into her ear and plugged the cable into her phone.

The mountain ops team recorded all radio traffic at the resort. The recordings were overwritten monthly unless something major happened, then security would transcribe the traffic for use in case of a lawsuit.

Kalin played the recordings from the day of the avalanche. Some of the chatter was difficult to listen to. The panic in the voices, the fear, the frustration all tore at her.

A series of words rose through her earbuds.

There are tracks directly above where the slide started
.

She hit pause. The words floated in front of Kalin. They supported what she’d seen with Ben in the Dragon’s Bowl. The kaleidoscope of images mixed together, but one thought came through.

She restarted the recording. Ben’s voice filled her head.
How close?

A female voice.
Close enough that the avalanche could have been started by a person.

Ben’s voice again.
Roy?

The female voice.
We’ve no way of knowing.

Why wasn’t anyone looking for a second person who’d been up the mountain? Ben said the guest who’d heard the avalanche thought he saw two people climbing the slope.

A shadow crossed the crack between the door and the stall. She tapped her phone, flushed the toilet and opened the door, half expecting Justin Bradley, but instead found Helen leaning on the counter, watching her.

“You look like you’re about to go skiing,” Helen said. “Do you have a minute?”

Kalin had forgotten she wore her ski attire, but getting dressed was a good excuse for taking so long. “Sure. I’m going for a few runs, but I have time.”

Helen shuffled her feet on the chipped tile. “Have the RCMP talked to you about me?”

Kalin moved to the sink and washed her hands. “No. Why would they?”

“I did something stupid. I told them about it when I had to redo the polygraph test. I asked them not to tell Turner, and I don’t know if they did or not.”

So that’s who took the test twice.
Kalin reached behind Helen and pulled a paper towel from the dispenser. “What did you tell them?”

“You know Roy and I were friends, right?”

“Sure. What does this have to do with the theft?”

“It was a chance to spend time with him. I was so happy when he came over that I wasn’t paying attention. I hadn’t expected him to stay the night.”

Kalin stopped wiping her hands on the paper towel, giving Helen her full attention. “You and Roy?”

“It’s not what you think. He was drunk and needed a place to crash. I think I might have shown Roy the combination to the safe by accident.”

A crack formed in Kalin’s heart. Every time the evidence steered elsewhere, it turned around and came right back at Roy. “Are you saying Roy took the money?”

“I think so. I can’t stand not knowing if I’m going to lose my job over this. Can you discreetly find out if Turner knows?”

Focus on Helen. Don’t think about Roy.
“From what I know of Turner, I think he would have talked with you by now if he knew.”

“You’re saying I have to wait and see. I don’t know if I can stand the pressure.”

“You could tell Turner yourself. It won’t sound as bad if he hears it from you.”

“What should I do?”

“I bet the police only inform Turner if it ends up meaning something.”

“I guess,” Helen said. “Simon called me this morning.”

Kalin tried to stay with the change in conversation, but all she could think was Roy stole the money. Her brother was a thief. Who really cared about Simon? “What’d he want?”

“He asked if there was any way he could have his job back. He said he’s desperate for money. His wife kicked him out, and he can’t afford another place until he has enough for a damage deposit. I felt bad telling him he couldn’t come back until I remembered the porn.”

“I’m sorry he’s bothering you.”

Helen left Kalin alone. Alone to think about Roy. She soaked a paper towel with cold water and pressed it against her face. Her eyes stung.
How could he?

 

* * *

 

Kalin walked from the cafeteria to her office, warming her hands on a take-out coffee. Nine p.m. was fast approaching, but after skiing for part of the afternoon, she thought she should catch up on a few things.

Ben was on a backcountry night hike with his buddies, and she couldn’t sit at home thinking about Roy being the thief. How could she keep working here after that knowledge spread? Would Turner think she helped Roy? How was she going to tell her mom?

Ben seemed to be avoiding her, and she let him because she couldn’t face talking yet. They needed to discuss White Peaks and come to an agreement that made them both happy. Maybe Roy’s guilt made the decision for her. And with Turner hiding financial information about the resort, would she be pushed out anyway?

Aiden exited the mountain ops building, jogged down the steps and headed in her direction.

She stopped at the path leading to the administration building entrance and waited for him to catch up.

“I saw you heading to your office. Maybe, if you’re not busy, do you want to go for a beer?”

Kalin held up the coffee she’d bought. “Now?”

“If you’re not busy.”

Had Aiden been waiting for her? The lifts closed hours ago, so what other reason did he have to be in the mountain ops building so late in the evening? She tilted her head to one side and said, “Sure. Why not?”

She drank the last of the coffee and tossed the cup into the bear-proof garbage can. They strolled to the bar, and she told him about her encounter with Justin the previous night. The list of people who disliked her grew every day. It might be because of her job and the way she disciplined employees, or possibly that small-town living made it hard not to get involved in other people’s messes. Would she ever get used to living in an environment where every move she made was judged by someone?

Since the lineup into the bar wouldn’t start until eleven, they were able to find a table near the fireplace. Antique skis and boots mixed among sepia photographs of skiers decorated the walls. They ordered two pints of Kokanee and waited for the beer.

“What are you thinking about?” Aiden asked. “You seem a bit distracted.”

“Oh, I was wondering if Justin’s guilty.”

“I think so, but without proof, there’s not much we can do. We can’t suspend him forever.”

“I think if you let him come back to work, and we’re still not sure, you could assign him to a chairlift instead of having him work the rope tow in the beginner area.”

“Any news on the theft?” Aiden asked.

“Not really. Since Roy’s a suspect, and I’m his sister, I don’t get a lot of info from Turner.”

“It must be hard that Roy was living with you when it happened.”

“It’s hard no matter where he was living.”

“What are you going to do with his stuff?”

“I don’t know.”

“You could make some money selling his ski gear. He had high-end equipment.”

“I can’t believe you said that. I don’t need to make money from him. Besides, I don’t know where all of his things are. He tended to keep his belongings scattered.”

“Sorry. That was insensitive.”

Kalin’s gaze shifted to the other side of the room. “Look behind you.”

Justin staggered away from the bar, sloshing his beer over the top of his glass and onto a nearby patron. He swore and tried to swallow his beer in one go, spilling most of the liquid down his chest.

The bartender hustled over and asked Justin to leave. Apparently, he wanted to stay. The bartender grabbed his arm and angled him toward the door. He swung his fist at the bartender, missed and fell. Two security guards arrived, wearing black jackets, black gloves and black expressions.

Justin refused to move. The guards each grabbed one of his arms, but he lashed out, broke free and lunged at the bartender, biting his arm. The bartender slapped Justin’s face with his free hand. One guard twisted Justin’s arm behind his back. The other lifted him by his shirt collar and belt, leaving his feet dangling in the air. Justin had no choice but to relax his clenched jaw and let go of the bartender’s arm. Security escorted him through the bar and tossed him outside.

Kalin took a sip of beer and studied the group as they left. Simon Crane held the door open for them, and once they were outside, he entered the bar and headed toward Kalin. “Wow, that was weird.”

“I’m surprised he’d do that when he’s suspended. I’ll talk to him tomorrow.”

Simon scooted around Aiden and slammed his palms on the table. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Kalin scraped her chair backward and stood. “This is not the place.”

“I want you to clear my reputation.”

Silence lowered over the room, and Kalin didn’t have to look around to know all eyes were on her. “I understand, but really, we’ve been through everything with you. We had cause.”

Simon’s chest heaved, and he leaned forward, placing his face inches from Kalin’s. “You’re ruining my life. What did I ever do to you?”

Aiden stood and squeezed himself between Simon and Kalin, forcing Simon to step backward. “Simon, dude. Don’t do this here.”

Simon held Aiden’s gaze and after a tension-filled moment, picked up peanuts from a bowl on the neighboring table and threw a handful at Kalin. He swiveled and left without saying more.

 

* * *

 

After stopping at the resort’s only convenience store, Kalin carried two bags of groceries. Her arms ached, and she was relieved she was almost home. As she walked in front of her neighbor’s driveway, she spotted a moose standing in the shadows.

The immense creature studied her, then stepped behind a tree as if it could hide. Positioned with its head behind the tree trunk, its nose protruded from one side, and its body from the neck back protruded from the other. The moose stood still. Kalin smiled to herself. Was the creature actually hiding?

When she turned up her driveway, the motion sensor should have detected her and switched on the light at the front of her house as it had the night before. Without the light, her night vision was clear, and she could see the moose in her neighbor’s front yard.

Clutching her bags tighter to her chest, she continued toward the house. She stepped on broken glass, hearing the pieces crunch as her foot hit the ground.

The moose stood rigid and alert, staring at Kalin. After a moment, it turned and moseyed away.

Kalin struggled to get her keys out of her pocket, took a step toward her front porch and froze.

Justin Bradley stepped out from the shadows at the side of her house.

She kept her distance. “What are you doing here?”

“I want to talk to you.”

“I was in the bar when you got kicked out. I don’t think you want any more trouble tonight.”

“I just want to talk,” Justin said in slurred speech.

“Aiden is working on it. I told you to get updates from him, not me. He’s your boss.”

“Why can’t you just tell him what to do?”

Kalin fumbled with her keys, trying to place one between her middle and index finger, but the keys slipped from her hand and plopped into the snow.

Justin stumbled forward. “Let me help.”

“No, I’m fine.” Kalin stooped, reaching for the keys, but the grocery bags blocked her way, and even in his drunken state, Justin snagged them first.

“We’d better get your food inside,” he said.

“Really, I’m fine. I’ve got it.”

He lurched toward her, his alcohol-filled breath assaulted her nostrils, and he wrestled a bag from her arm. Before she could stop him, he walked to her door with her keys and a grocery bag.

Kalin removed her cell from her pocket.

“You don’t need to call anyone.” Justin opened the door, leaving the key in the lock, and motioned for her to go inside. “I only want to set the record straight. We’ll put the groceries away. By the time we’re done, I’ll have said what I came to say, and I’ll go. I promise.” Justin reached inside and turned on the hall light.

“I want you to go now. Speak to Aiden tomorrow, and you can say whatever it is you need to say.”

Kalin tapped her phone and called security.

“I should have known you’d be too stuck up to talk to someone like me.”

“I want you to leave.”

“Fine. Have it your way.” Justin weaved toward her, shoved the grocery bag into her free arm and stumbled down the driveway.

Other books

With a Little Luck by Janet Dailey
Trusting a Stranger by Kimberley Brown
In The Cage by Sandy Kline
Gray (Awakening Book 1) by Shannon Reber
The Pilgrim Song by Gilbert Morris
Notes From a Liar and Her Dog by Gennifer Choldenko
Toy's Story by Lee, Brenda Stokes
Dormir al sol by Adolfo Bioy Casares
Swerve: Boosted Hearts (Volume 1) by Sherilee Gray, Rba Designs