Avalanche (A Stone Mountain Mystery Book 3) (20 page)

When she reached the living room, Aiden gazed at her for a moment. “Are you okay?”

Kalin slid her hands into the pockets of her sweat pants and leaned against the wall beside the fireplace. “I’m just tired.”

Aiden unzipped his ski jacket but didn’t remove it. “I’m not the bad guy, you know. The scene with my ex-wife is complicated.”

“You don’t need to explain.”

“Can we sit?”

“Okay.” Kalin perched on the arm of a chair. Aiden brought a chill to the room, and she couldn’t get settled.

He sat on the couch with his head lowered and his hands clasped between his knees. He stared at the ski socks covering his feet. “Samantha is not my daughter.”

Kalin waited.

“Adrienne cheated on me. Samantha’s not mine.”

“How do you know for sure?”

“This is something I don’t usually tell people, so please don’t repeat it. I can’t have kids. I should have told Adrienne before we got married, but I wasn’t sure she’d marry me.” He shrugged. “She thought she could get away with pretending Samantha was mine, and when she told me she was pregnant, I knew I couldn’t be the father.”

“That’s a big secret to keep from your wife.”

“I know. I was engaged. Before Adrienne. The woman dumped me because she wanted kids. I thought the second time, I’d tell Adrienne after we were married, and she wouldn’t leave me. I never got around to it. The night she told me she was pregnant, she had this fancy dinner ready with candles and music. Like I’d be thrilled with the news. So I left her. What was I supposed to do?”

“Why are you telling me this?”

Aiden bit his bottom lip. “We have to work together, and I don’t want you to hold this against me.”

Kalin ignored the implication she would be influenced at work by a person’s private life and decided she wasn’t going to let him off easy. “If Samantha’s not your child, what’s Adrienne doing here?”

“She wants money. My parents don’t know about Sam, and Adrienne is threatening to tell them she’s mine. My parents are religious, and if they believe I had a child and left her, it would kill them. They’re not happy we split. It’s hard for them to understand it’s better for some people to be apart.”

Kalin fixed her gaze on Aiden. Was he telling the truth? How long had Adrienne been blackmailing him for? If he needed money badly enough, maybe he was Roy’s buddy in crime. But then why would he tell her he had a motive? “Your parents really don’t know about Samantha?”

“Adrienne hasn’t seen my parents since I left her. I told them she cheated on me, so they wouldn’t try to contact her. Right now, they think she’s at fault. I want her out of my life.”

“Why don’t you tell your parents?”

“You don’t understand what they’re like. I can’t.”

“I’m supposed to meet Ben soon. I’ve got to go,” Kalin said. She escorted Aiden downstairs to the front hall.

Aiden glanced through the open door to the guest bedroom where the contents of Roy’s wallet were spread across her bed. “What’s that?”

“Nothing. Just looking at Roy’s things.”

He entered the front hall. “You don’t want to lose this.” He picked up Roy’s bank card off the windowsill and handed it to Kalin.

 
* * *
 

“What are you doing here?” Jessica glanced back into her house, then at Aiden. He stood on her front steps, looking down his nose at her. In typical ski resort fashion, he wore a ski jacket, a toque pulled over his ears and jeans. No liftie uniform in sight to boost his status. Who did he think cared if he was the lift manager?

“I have an idea about finding the money,” Aiden said.

“Are you crazy coming here to talk about that? Simon’s inside.” Jessica slipped her bare feet into her winter boots, stepped outside and pulled the door closed. “What if he overhears us?”

“He’s not going to, so stop worrying. Kalin has Roy’s bank card.”

Jessica shivered. She wore a long-sleeved T-shirt and jeans, and denim never kept the cold at bay. “That’s quite the news flash.”

“I think she’s trying to find the money.”

“You idiot. With Roy’s bank card? You think Roy put stolen money into an account? The police would’ve checked his bank already. Besides, he didn’t have time between the theft and the avalanche.”

Using his teeth, Aiden ripped a thread of skin off the side of his thumbnail and spit. “Who says Roy died in the avalanche? Maybe he put the money in the bank later, and maybe the cops don’t know about this account.”

“That’s a dumb idea. How would he deposit money if Kalin has the card? You can’t really believe Roy staged the avalanche. There’s no way he would just disappear.” Why did her friends always think the worst? Roy would never hurt her in such a cruel manner. Would he? They’d had their problems. Maybe she’d completely misjudged him.

“If you don’t believe that, how about Kalin thinks Roy stole the money and that’s why she was going through his wallet tonight?”

“What a bunch of bullshit. Maybe she just misses Roy.”
I miss him.

“What if we steal the card from Kalin and try to get the money?”

“You really are an idiot.” Jessica backed across the threshold. “I have to go.”

“We still need to find Roy’s duffle bag. There’s a good chance some of the money’s in it,” Aiden yelled through the gap in the doorway.

Jessica clicked the deadbolt in place, muting his voice.

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

 

The sky, leaden with black clouds, promised another storm. Kalin tucked her hands into the sleeves of her ski jacket. “How many times have you done staff checks?” she asked Tessa.

Everyone in the HR department took a turn checking the employee housing units, and without a doubt, no one liked the role. Kalin and Tessa were searching for stolen housekeeping supplies, and the checks could get ugly. Instead of abandoning Tessa to deal with the difficult situation by herself, Kalin used the opportunity to spend time with her recruiting specialist.

“Only a few, and Monica always came along.” Tessa knocked on the door and waited a couple of seconds before punching the code to the combination lock. She opened the door and yelled, “Staff checks.”

Kalin and Tessa clomped single file up a narrow set of creaking stairs from the entryway to the common area. Three employees sat on the couches, each of them too lazy or uninterested to answer the door. The acrid stench of beer and stale cigarettes mixed with air freshener accosted her. Tessa dropped her hood and pulled her hair over her cochlear implant.

One woman leaned into the shoulder of another and whispered something.

“Is anyone upstairs?” Tessa asked in a harsh tone.

“Nope,” a young woman said from her place huddled into the twenty-year-old couch that was permanently imprinted by hundreds of bodies.

Tessa and Kalin ascended the second flight of stairs leading to the bedrooms. “What’s with the attitude?” Kalin asked.

“Didn’t you hear what that woman said?”

“She was whispering.”

“Sometimes I forget not everyone can read lips. She said, ‘That’s the bitch who has it in for Justin.’”

They entered the first bedroom without knocking.

Kalin wrinkled her nose at the odor emanating from the pile of sweaty ski clothing crumpled on the floor of the first bedroom they entered. The stale smell of human sweat was worse than the stink of beer and cigarettes. She slipped between the bunk beds and lifted one of the blankets.

“Hey,” a shout came from underneath.

Kalin dropped the blanket and jumped backward, stepping on Tessa’s foot.

Tessa’s eyes widened in surprise. “Ouch. What are you doing?”

Kalin laughed. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know anyone was in here,” she said to the woman in the bed. “Let’s check the other rooms first.” Kalin backed into the hallway, dragging Tessa with her. “They said no one was up here.”

“They probably didn’t know. Did you see the look on her face? I’ve never seen anyone sit up so fast.”

“Stop laughing,” Kalin said.

Tessa pulled Kalin by the arm. “You stop laughing. Come on. Let’s check the other room. We can come back to this one.”

This time, Kalin knocked before entering. She lifted the blanket on the nearest bed, checked the sheets and found a housekeeping code printed on the edge. “These are stolen.” She stripped the bed and handed the sheets and pillowcases to Tessa.

She checked the bed on the left, and sure enough, the sheets were stolen, too. She passed them to Tessa and pulled off a pillowcase.

While Tessa rolled the sheets into a bundle, Kalin lowered to her knees and searched underneath the bed. “This is disgusting. A rotten apple core is under here, and gross, a used condom.”

“What’s that?” Tessa pointed to the end of the bed.

Kalin picked up an empty baggie and sniffed the contents. She handed the baggie to Tessa. “Pot?”

“Maybe,” Tessa said. “I’m not an expert.”

“Whose bed is this?”

Tessa checked the staff-housing list. “Three guys share this room. Eric Wilson, Paul Atkins and Justin Bradley.”

 

* * *

 

Kalin entered the staff gym and found Ben doing bench presses. The head office decision makers had allocated space for the gym in the basement of the resort’s oldest hotel. And old, not meaning cozy or quaint, but old meaning run down and in need of repair. The room was chosen because the gym was for employees, not guests, and expensive real estate would not be wasted on housing employee equipment.

She hovered at the edge of the gym, watching Ben. Droplets of sweat covered his forehead, and he grunted as he lifted the bar ninety degrees from his shoulders. Volunteer Fire Department, written in white letters on his midnight-blue T-shirt, stretched across his chest, showing off his muscles. When he noticed Kalin, he let the bar clang into the slots and grinned.

Fitness-conscious employees occupied the stationary bikes, treadmills, elliptical machines and free weights. Kalin weaved through the machines, nodding at various staff members. Years of water stains from the spring melt decorated the carpet. The hotel was at the lowest altitude in the resort, and the water found the path of least resistance through the basement.

Kalin crouched beside Ben and spoke quietly. “I did a staff housing check today, and just by chance, I ended up checking Justin Bradley and Eric Wilson’s room. Justin’s the liftie you had a fight with, and Eric’s a seasonal finance center clerk.”

Straddling the bench, Ben leaned close to Kalin. “And?”

“Don’t you think it’s odd that the finance center clerk is roommates with the employee I’m having issues with?” Kalin told Ben what the employee on the couch said about her.

“Not nice, but I imagine Justin’s telling everyone his version of the story. It can’t be flattering to you. What happens about the sheets?”

“Nothing. Too many staff steal them. If we fired everyone who’d stolen sheets, we wouldn’t have very many employees left.”

Ben wiped sweat off his forehead with the bottom edge of his T-shirt. “Have you found any connection between Eric and Roy?”

Kalin admired Ben’s abs and imagined running her fingers across the ripples.
Get a grip
. After he dropped his T-shirt, she focused her eyes on his. “Other than his name on the list with dollar values we found in Roy’s locker, no.” She ignored the sexual electricity humming between them and asked, “What do you think we should do?”

“I’m not sure. Let’s talk on the way home.”

Kalin returned to her office and shut the door. She sat staring at the view and contemplated phoning White Peaks. Ben had given her space. No pressure for an answer. Smart on his part. She could be stubborn, and if he worked too hard at getting her to turn down the job, she might just accept the position. But since he’d been generous, she had to think about what was best for him and for them as a couple.

She worked in her office until Ben arrived at five thirty. “You ready?”

They walked along the trodden path between the golf course and the ski hill, and Kalin leaned into Ben, letting their arms touch.

“I don’t like that Justin is talking badly about you,” Ben said.

“It’s just chatter.”

“What if he’s angry enough to hurt you for real?”

“He’s never threatened me. It’s his manner that bothers me. Even on the night you fought him, I fell by accident. I don’t think his goal is to hurt me.”

“We should let Fred know Justin and Eric are roomies. Maybe it means something. When Justin’s other housemates tell him about the staff check, he’s going to be more pissed than he already is.”

“I hate looking like I need help, especially in front of my security team, but I’ll call Fred when we get home.”

Kalin and Ben’s fingers intertwined, and they walked in silence to their place.

“Oh, crap. Look,” Ben said. Painted in red, ‘BITCH’ filled the top half of the front door. He ran his fingers through the paint, smudging the letters.

 

* * *

 

Fred photographed Kalin’s door. Wearing jeans and a flannel shirt instead of his security jacket, he looked like a lumberjack.

“You did the right thing calling me, but I don’t understand why you don’t want to call the RCMP. Painting your door is a gutsy thing to do during the day, especially when it’s well known I live next door,” Fred said.

“It’s probably a prank,” Kalin said.

“You should file a report.”

“I think she should, too,” Ben said from behind them. He’d just returned from walking Chica, and she strained against her collar to reach Kalin.

“Why did you leave before I got here?” Fred asked.

“Chica’s been inside all day. I took her for a quick walk.”

“Kalin said you smudged the paint. It was wet when you left. What if whoever did this was still around?”

Ben winced. “I’m sorry,” he said to Kalin. “I didn’t think of that.”

Fred pet Chica. “Would she bark if someone was at the door she didn’t know?”

“Usually,” Kalin said.

“I didn’t hear any barking.”

Kalin shivered. “You think she’s met the person who did this?”

“Maybe.” Fred looked at the snow-covered ground around the entryway. “It’s too bad the footprints are such a mess, or we could follow the tracks.”

Kalin crouched and buried her head in Chica’s neck. How could this be happening? She didn’t know what frightened her more, if the painter was or wasn’t Justin. Without looking up, she said, “I guess we should tell Miller.”

“Did you tell Fred about the staff checks today?” Ben asked Kalin.

“I hadn’t gotten to that yet.” Kalin summarized the checks she’d done with Tessa.

“You probably can’t prove Justin or Eric wrote on your door just because you did a staff check.”

“You don’t believe her?” Ben asked. “One of Justin’s housemates referred to Kalin as a bitch.”

“I believe her, but she doesn’t have proof. Justin or Eric could say he had no idea she checked their room and took the sheets.”

“Then why should I report it?”

“Because then the police can talk to the guys, and whichever one did this will know he can’t get away with much.”

Miller had disappointed her. After all they’d been through together, first with the investigation into a skier dying on the race course, then with the fire at the resort, Miller actually thought she stole the money. “Can’t you talk to Eric and Justin?”

“I will. I’ll instruct the security team to monitor them for a while, but you need to be careful.”

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