Avalanche (A Stone Mountain Mystery Book 3) (17 page)

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

 

Before dawn on Friday morning, Kalin woke from a deep sleep with an ache in her jaw, telling her she’d spent at least part of the night grinding her teeth. She’d dreamt about Jack again, only this time Roy had been in the dream, too. Probably because she was flying home later in the day for Roy’s memorial.

She rolled over, caressed Ben’s pillow and instead found Chica’s furry head. Ben had gone to work at five to assist with avalanche forecasting for the day. He’d resisted leaving her after the scene with Justin the night before, but since Roy’s death, Ben had been diligent about making sure his team was on top of forecasting. She admired his desire to keep everyone safe. She eased Chica to the side, pressed her nose into Ben’s pillow and inhaled his scent.

If Roy stole the money, did he trigger the avalanche? What if he had a partner and things went bad on the mountain? Jessica spent time on touring skis with him. She could have gone with him, but would she have left him to die?

The effort Aiden made to spend time with her, always asking about the theft, and being late for work that day made him a good suspect. She couldn’t imagine Helen trekking up the mountain. As far as she knew Helen didn’t even ski.

Kalin rolled out of bed and walked to the picture window framing the forest behind her house. She hauled on the string, and the heavy wooden blinds clacked to the top.

In the shadows at the edge of the forest, Kalin spotted movement. Something leaped behind the firewood stacked at the edge of the forest. In a flash, a cougar raced from behind the wood to the neighboring trees and vanished.

Kalin phoned security. “There’s a cougar in my backyard.”

“Hang on. I have to pull over. I can’t hear you.”

Background music switched off.

“What’s up?” Fred asked.

“There was a cougar behind the firewood in my backyard.”

“I’ll be right over. Don’t go outside. It’s weird it’s so close to your house. The animal could be sick.”

Kalin shifted away from the window, hiding behind the wall. She peeked occasionally but didn’t see the large feline again. She changed from flannel pajamas into a T-shirt, an aqua Stone Mountain hoodie and black slim-fitting jeans. Underneath she wore high-tech thermal underwear.

“You okay?” Fred asked when he arrived.

“Yup. The question is…are you?”

Fred looked sheepish. “I wasn’t quick enough last night and took a hit.” He touched the purple bruise that surrounded his eye and seeped onto his cheek. “I didn’t see it coming, and I should have.”

“Someone hit you?”

“During a bar fight. It’s nothing, just embarrassing.”

Kalin smiled at his humility. “It’ll fade quickly. I don’t remember seeing you.”

“What do you mean?”

Kalin took Fred’s jacket and hung it on the hook by the door. She avoided looking at the bench Roy carved. “When security evicted Justin Bradley from the bar.”

“I wasn’t there. I got hit later, at closing time.”

“He came here last night.”

“Who?”

“Justin.”

“Why would he come here?”

“We suspended him indefinitely this week, and he asked what the status was.”

“He came here at night? I’ll speak to him.”

“I wish you wouldn’t. That’ll only make my life more difficult. I can’t appear afraid of the employees. I’ll let you know if he bothers me again.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah. Come on, I’ll show you where I saw the cougar.”

They entered Kalin and Ben’s bedroom, and she pointed. “I saw it run to the neighbor’s yard.” She told Fred about the cougar being near the hot tub a couple of weeks ago and killing a rabbit.

Fred nodded. “We’ll look, but to be honest, if we can’t find it, there’s not much we can do.” He noted the time, date and location of the cougar in his black spiral notebook. He stuffed it in his shirt pocket and headed for the bedroom door.

“So how’s the investigation going?”

Fred cleared his throat. “You know I can’t talk about it.”

“Can you at least tell me if the RCMP suspect someone other than Roy?”

“You know Miller. He casts a wide net.”

“That’s hardly an answer. Are they searching for the second person who went up the mountain?”

Fred lifted one eyebrow. “What second person?”

Kalin bit the inside of her cheek. She’d assumed Fred would have read the security reports and talked with Ben about the avalanche.

“Do you know something?”

“Please don’t tell Turner, but I read the security reports.” She explained what she’d found, along with what she’d seen when skiing in the Dragon’s Bowl with Ben. “I think the RCMP should be following that up.”

“You know you’re supposed to stay out of this.”

“I do, but he was my brother.”

“I’ll talk with Miller.” Fred spotted her packed suitcase. “You going somewhere?”

“My mom’s having a memorial for Roy in Ottawa. I’ll be back the day after tomorrow.”

When they reached the front hall, Fred sat on the bench carved by Roy and put on his winter boots.

Kalin took Fred’s security jacket off a hook and passed it to him. “What happens if you find the cougar?”

“I’ll call the conservation officer. He’ll trap it and let it go on the next mountain ridge, far enough away that it shouldn’t come back.”

 

* * *

 

Kalin had spent the afternoon at Roy’s memorial service in Ottawa. Being back in her mom and stepdad’s home swamped her with memories.

She dragged her feet along the shag carpet toward Roy’s bedroom. She placed her hand on the knob and rested her forehead on the door. How could she be this tired? She nodded to herself once and entered his bedroom, the one their mom still kept for Roy even though he hadn’t lived at home for years.

She picked up a trophy he’d gotten when he was twelve for some bike race he’d won. She carried it to his bed and sat with her knees curled into her chest and her arms wrapped around her shins.

Her mom put her hand on Kalin’s knee. “You okay?”

“I am. Just sad.”

“What did you think of the memorial?”

“It was lovely. I’m glad so many of his friends came.” Who probably wouldn’t have if they’d known Roy was a criminal.

“And your friends, too.”

“Can you believe the Ottawa bike club attended, even the people who hadn’t ridden with Roy?” Kalin asked.

“That was nice.”

“Do you remember the last time Roy rode with them?”

Her mom joined her, sitting on the other side of Roy’s bed. “Not really. It’s been too long.”

“I remember. Jack and I went to watch. Jack died two days later and everything changed.”

Her mom reached over and caressed Kalin’s cheek. “You need to let him go.”

“Speaking of that. Let’s clear out this room. You could use the space for an office.”

“I’m not ready.”

“Yes, you are. Roy hasn’t slept here for a few years. Let’s do this together. It’ll be good for us. We both need to move forward.”

Her mom shook her head and played with the top button of her sweater. After a moment, she said, “Okay. I’ll get some bins from the garage.”

Kalin started with the dresser drawers and smiled at the amount of clothes stored there. Clothes that would no longer fit Roy. What was her mom thinking, keeping these? She’d use one bin for donations.

Her mom returned with two plastic bins and a garbage bag. She also carried a small cardboard box. “This is what Stone Mountain sent.”

Kalin reached for the box and placed it on the bed. She lifted the lid. So little. Roy’s kayak helmet. She ran her fingers along the stickers, stickers representing various places he’d gone white-water kayaking. Where was his kayak?

Underneath the helmet, she found a watch engraved with Roy’s name and the date of Kalin and Jack’s wedding. The watch was a present to Roy for being Jack’s best man.

“Can I keep this?”

Her mom fingered the gold band. “Of course.”

Kalin emptied three drawers while she tried not to notice her mom wince every time Kalin placed an article in a bin. “They’ll go to a good cause.”

Her mom held a sweater tight to her chest. “I know.”

Kalin moved to the wooden trunk pressed against the far wall. She lifted the lid and stared at Roy’s bike gear. His helmet, his riding gloves, his jerseys and a repair kit. “When did Roy put this stuff here?”

“I don’t remember.”

Amongst his jerseys, Kalin found a bag that had belonged to her. Jack’s personal effects had been returned to her after he died, and she’d asked Roy to dispose of the bag. So why had Roy kept this?

Her fingers trembled, and she slid the zipper. A piece of cloth stuck between the teeth. She picked it free with her fingernail, glanced over her shoulder at her mom and undid the zipper. She ran her hand over the crack in Jack’s helmet, pictured his blond hair curling underneath the lip and closed her eyes tight.

His wallet, watch and phone rested below on the bottom of the bag. Hiding her find from her mom, she placed the helmet and empty wallet in the garbage bag. Did Roy forget to deal with this for Kalin, or had he been too angry about Patricia to care about helping her?

She turned to the closet. Stuffed animals from her childhood were lined up and facing her. Clothes that she hadn’t taken to Stone Mountain hung from the rack. Her beautiful suits with matching pumps. Should she take them with her or donate them along with Roy’s things?

Her mom handed Kalin a photo album. “This we’ll keep.”

She flipped the pages. The photos of her and Roy started from when they were tots and went to their early teens. When Roy still idolized his big sister. Kalin’s anger at Roy for stealing the money grew. She needed something to remind her of better times. She’d held her breath through most of the memorial, hoping a call wouldn’t come through to her mom telling her Roy was the thief. How could he do this to them? “Can I keep this, too?”

“You can take anything you want.”

“Dinner’s ready,” Kalin’s stepdad shouted from the kitchen.

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

 

Kalin returned to Stone Mountain from Ottawa and didn’t waste time getting to her office. After perusing the album she’d taken on the plane ride home, she was greedy for more.

She opened the HR Facebook page and scrolled through the posts, searching for pictures of Roy and was soon rewarded. One photo showed Ben and Roy ascending the Alpine Tracks chair lift. Seeing Roy smile lightened her heart.

For a while after Jack died, Roy stopped smiling, but Kalin didn’t believe his death would cause Roy to be unhappy for so long. Something else must have been going on in Roy’s life, and she wished she’d paid more attention instead of leaving Ottawa and ignoring the issue. Jack and Roy had been close. They’d spent hours cycling together, and Roy had been shaken to the core by Jack’s death. But still, the length of time Roy grieved seemed out of perspective.

Jack’s funeral had been the hardest part for Kalin to endure during the week following the hit-and-run.

His mahogany coffin had dropped slowly into the freshly dug hole. The smell of earth would forever be a sad memory for Kalin. The gears whined, and she glared at the crane operator. She was astounded he hadn’t had the hoist working perfectly for lowering the coffin, her husband’s coffin.

She held a tissue to her mouth and suppressed a sob. How could this be the end? She leaned into Roy and grabbed his hand, needing to hold on or she would collapse. Her hand slipped along the sweat on Roy’s palm. She could feel him shaking and checked if he was crying. He wasn’t. His whole body shook with…what? She stared at him.

“What?” Roy whispered.

“Why are you shaking?”

“I don’t know.” He shook his head. “Are you okay?”

“No.”

Kalin roused herself back to the present. After the funeral, the pain changed into a persistent dull ache and nightly dreams. Not all the dreams were nightmares. Sometimes she dreamt Jack was still alive. She could smell him, feel his skin, but then she woke, and the instant she realized he was gone was worse than any nightmare.

Tragedy had shattered Kalin’s life before Roy died. It was up to her to choose how to deal with Roy’s death now. She would not start feeling sorry for herself again.

Assuming the post dates were close to the date the photos had actually been shot, she found several pictures of Roy and Aiden taken in December.

In one, the men were sitting in the resort bar, grinning, arms draped across each other’s shoulders, lifting their beers in salute to the photographer. Aiden wore his ever-present lift manager uniform. Roy was skinnier than when she’d left Ottawa, and despite the grin, he looked worn out. She hadn’t noticed in person, but she should have.

Jessica told her Aiden sometimes went out on touring skis with her and Roy. Aiden could have been in on the theft with Roy. Kalin refused to believe Roy came up with the idea on his own. Someone talked him into stealing the money.

She found photos of Jessica and Simon, Eric Wilson and Simon, Helen and Jessica and many other combinations of the people in Jessica’s department. She studied the photos, looking for a pattern.

When she didn’t find the magic clue, she went back to the photo of Roy and Ben and hit full screen. Something about the photo caught her attention, demanding she examine it more carefully. Roy’s ski boots were visible, and the buckles were yellow. The buckle she’d found when on the mountain with Ben had also been yellow. She’d have to tell Ben the buckle was definitely a starting point for the next search.

Aiden stepped into her office. “What’s that?”

“Just looking at photos of Roy.” Kalin pointed to her computer screen. “There seem to be a lot of the two of you together. I didn’t know you were close friends with him.”

“We weren’t really. Monica snaps pictures of people anywhere at anytime. That’s all.”

“You two seemed chummy.”

“They’re just photos.”

“But were you friends?”

Aiden sighed. “He’s your brother. I don’t want to say anything bad. We started out being friends. We just didn’t stay friends. Turns out we didn’t have much in common.”

Kalin couldn’t say why, but she thought Aiden had lied.

“Have you seen all the cards on Roy’s locker?” Aiden asked.

“A few.”

“There’s a lot. I could collect them for you at the end of the season.”

“Sure. That would be nice.” Roy’s locker. Maybe he’d left a clue inside. She’d check that out later.

“I came by to see if you were free for lunch. It’s warm and sunny, and I thought we could take advantage of the weather and eat at the barbecue on the deck.”

“I have too much to do, but thanks for asking.” Kalin was surprised by the sour look on Aiden’s face when she said no. What was with his current effort to be friends with her?

 

* * *

 

A few minutes after seven p.m., Kalin stood alone in front of the mountain ops building. The unpredictable mountain weather had reared over the peaks in a sudden storm. Wind whipped against her cheeks with an intensity that stung her skin. The swirling snow could have been a family of ghosts dancing around her.
Don’t think. Just go inside
.

She let her flashlight guide her to the mountain ops assistant’s desk. She’d seen the assistant give out locker combinations to staff and knew the list was in his top drawer. She slid the drawer open and ran her finger down the names until she found Roy’s.

After unlocking the basement door, she crept down the unlit stairs using her hands to guide her toward Roy’s locker. She couldn’t let Turner or Ben know what she was up to, but she needed to see for herself what was in Roy’s locker. She planned to meet Ben in fifteen minutes, so she had to be quick.

Deep in the basement, wearing black on black, she was invisible. A few more steps and the flashlight beam couldn’t be seen from the top of the stairs or from the outer door. She scanned the beam across the wall in search of a light switch. Finding it, she flicked it twice, hearing a distinctive click each time, but the room remained dark.

She inched her way to Roy’s locker. Condolence cards Aiden had mentioned filled the surface. The ski patrol team decided to keep Roy’s locker untouched until the end of the season as a tribute to Roy. She gently pressed her fingers against one of the cards. She flipped the top and read the sentiment. She hadn’t realized people liked him so much. Most of the cards were from the ski patrol team. There was a lovely note from Helen but none from Jessica.

Kalin pulled a scrap of paper from her front pocket and entered his combination. She dropped the lock, and the sharp crack of metal hitting the concrete floor reverberated across the room. She froze, checking for any signs someone was coming to investigate. Hearing nothing, she steadied herself and swung open the metal door.

She didn’t know what she expected but hoped she’d find anything to link someone else to Roy. The RCMP might have missed something if they didn’t know about the second person.

Only Roy’s ski patrol jacket hung on a silver hook. Kalin rummaged through the pockets, found a set of keys and tucked them in her own pocket. She took out safety manuals and books, putting them aside to check later. He’d taped a safety guide for white-water kayaking on the inside of the locker.

Somewhere above her, a door creaked. She snapped off the flashlight and crouched in the deepest corner of the locker bay.

“Who’s in here?”

Kalin’s pulse quickened. She knew Justin Bradley’s voice well enough to recognize it. A seasonal liftie on suspension couldn’t possibly have a legitimate reason for being there after working hours.

“I know someone’s in here. I saw a light.”

She remained motionless. To her ears, her breathing sounded as loud as the storm outside. The light from his flashlight approached, and she closed her eyes, placing her head on her knees. Her face was the only part of her not covered in black. He had guts coming in here at night. If caught, he would only get into more trouble.

Justin stopped at Roy’s open locker. “Huh.”

Without looking away from her knees, she couldn’t see what he was doing. Only by the sound of his feet shuffling, did she know he was still near. After an agonizing minute, his footsteps faded.

The seconds ticked by on her phone display, and when she clocked five minutes, she rose. She shut the locker door, and fumbling in the dark, managed to put on the lock. She gathered the books and tiptoed toward the exit, stopping every few steps to listen for Justin.

She eased the outer door ajar, peeked outside, and when she didn’t see anyone, slipped through the narrow opening. Thick storm clouds blocked out all but a sliver of moonlight. Snow swept across the parking lot, blurring everything more than a few meters away, and even though she couldn’t see them, she could feel the looming mountains pressing down, giving her a sense of irrelevance.

Justin stepped out from behind the corner of the building. “I knew someone was in there. I’m not surprised it’s you sneaking around in the dark. What are you up to?”

“None of your business.” Before Kalin could rush past him, he grabbed her arm, and she dropped the books from Roy’s locker. An envelope slid from between the pages and landed at her feet.

“What’s this? Stealing things?”

“Let go of me. These are for work.” Kalin wrenched her arm free and picked up the books, slipping the envelope back between the pages.

“You liar. You took those from McCann’s locker. I saw the open door.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Get out of my way.”

“Why are you looking in a dead guy’s locker?” Justin clutched Kalin’s shoulder and shoved her backward.

She stumbled and fell, dropping the books a second time.

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