Avalanche (A Stone Mountain Mystery Book 3) (21 page)

CHAPTER THIRTY

 

Skiers and snowboarders were loading at the Alpine Tracks lift station, oblivious to Kalin watching them, when Constable Miller walked to her side. “Have something on your mind?” he asked.

Kalin sucked her lips between her teeth and shrugged. She was still angry with Miller for accusing her of the theft.

“Tessa told me where to find you. I finished taking a report from Fred and want to speak with you before I interview Justin Bradley and Eric Wilson.”

Kalin nodded in the direction of the lift station. “That’s Justin. The liftie to the left of the chair.”

“Has he noticed you watching him?”

Kalin licked her cracked lips. She put her hand in her pocket, searching for lip balm, but came up empty. “I don’t know, and I don’t really care.”

“It’s not a good idea to antagonize him.”

“I want him to know I’m not afraid of him.”

“Maybe you should be.” Miller exhaled a heavy breath. “So tell me what happened.”

Kalin faced the lift station, avoiding his eyes. “Didn’t Fred already tell you?”

“He told me you didn’t want to report the door paint to us.”

“Fred convinced me you couldn’t do anything.”

“I’m not buying that. He told me you said you didn’t want to make a report before he said you had no proof Justin or Eric painted your door.”

“Okay, you’ve probably figured it out anyway.”

Miller tensed beside her.

“It’s not what you think,” Kalin said. “I’m not confessing. The last time we talked, you practically accused me of stealing the money. I didn’t want to give you any reason to be more suspicious of me. If you already think I’m a thief, why would you believe anything I say?”

“You know I have a job to do. Try not to take it personally. I know you’ve been avoiding me since we last talked. Can you at least summarize your version of events connected to Justin? You know I’ll help you if I can.”

“Fine.” Kalin told her side of the story, right from the first time she’d met Justin.

When she finished, Miller said, “I’ll talk with him, but we can’t do much unless he admits he painted your door. And Kalin, if you have any new information about Roy, it’s in your best interest to tell me. You can’t hurt him.”

Justin glared at Kalin from his station at the lift. Without taking his eyes off her, he shoveled snow off the ramp before the next set of skiers slid into position, waiting for the following chair.

 

* * *

 

“I’ll be there in a few minutes,” Aiden said. He stuffed his phone into his jacket pocket and left the mountain ops building. He tried to be a good lift manager and give the lifties and ticket checkers a break when they needed one. But did Meare really need a break?

Eighteen-year-old Meare Jensen arrived from New Zealand two weeks ago. She was a late-season hire and had finished her training as a ticket checker yesterday. Today was her first day working at a lift station.

As far as Aiden knew, Meare had never been away from home before, and crossing the ocean was a big deal. She already had a reputation as being a party girl. She called Aiden and asked for a bathroom break probably because she was hung over.

Aiden approached the lift shack. Meare stomped her feet and pulled her jacket collar higher over her chin.

Justin stood with his back to Aiden and his phone tucked against his ear. He wasn’t supposed to be using his phone while on duty. After the way he’d treated Kalin, was the guy asking to be fired?

“Wilson,” Justin said, then mumbled a bunch of words, like he had some big secret.

The chair swung underneath the Alpine Tracks lift station, and two kids stood at the red line, waiting for the detachable chair to reach them.

Meare stood only feet from him, holding her scanning gun in front of her, waiting to check the next set of skiers for passes.

Justin spoke to Wilson. “We need to move the duffle bag.”

Aiden walked to the edge of the maze and headed toward the lift shack. He trudged close enough to make eye contact with Justin.

“Gotta go.” Justin tucked the phone into his jacket pocket.

The second Aiden took the scanner from Meare and replaced her at the front of the lift line, she ran toward the crowded foyer and the downstairs bathroom. “Don’t talk on the phone while you’re on duty,” Aiden said to Justin.

 

* * *

 

Kalin stood in front of the ticket office. Guests signed up for ski lessons, bought afternoon lift tickets or were heading to the restaurant for lunch. The business of the resort distracted her from her worries.

A teenage girl rushed up the stairs from the public washrooms and skidded to a stop near Kalin.

“Do you need help?” Kalin asked.

“A woman collapsed in the washroom,” the girl said.

Kalin jogged down the stairs, pulled her cell from her pocket and called security. Every member of the security team had their level-three occupational first aid, and most of them worked for the volunteer fire department, giving them additional first aid training and experience.

She found a young woman squatting against the open door of one of the stalls. The woman’s hands were twisted into tight fists, turning inward into her wrists. She breathed in short rapid bursts and shivered. Kalin knelt behind her, and the woman fell onto Kalin’s thighs and leaned against her chest.

“I can’t feel my arms or legs,” a little girl voice cried at Kalin.

Kalin reached around the woman and held her hand. “What’s your name?”

“Meare Jensen.”

“Okay, Meare. Help is coming. We’re going to take care of you. Can you feel my hand?”

“No.” Meare sobbed. “Am I going to die?”

“You’ll be fine,” Kalin answered, not having a clue what was wrong with her. “Can you slow your breathing?”

Meare made a visible attempt and took a deep, ragged breath.

Kalin held Meare’s wrist, searching for a pulse, but couldn’t detect one. “Are you in pain anywhere?”

Before Meare answered, she convulsed. Kalin held her tight and waited for the shaking to pass.

Fred arrived, and Kalin glanced at him from her place on the floor. “Call it out.”

He lowered his chin to his chest and used his thumb to hit the transmit button on the radio attached to his jacket and spoke to dispatch. “Call nine-one-one. We need an ambulance. Also call ski patrol and tell them we need an oxygen tank in the women’s washroom, ground floor of the ski lodge.” He turned to Kalin. “What happened?”

Kalin relayed what she knew.

Ben arrived carrying a portable oxygen tank. He put on blue latex gloves, ripped the plastic covering off the mask, pulled the elastic strap free and turned on the oxygen.

Kalin looked at her bare hands and a chill ran through her. Did Meare have anything contagious?

Fred lifted one leg, then the next over Kalin’s shoulder and positioned himself inside the stall. He sat on the edge of the toilet, facing Meare. “Try not to move her. Until we know if she’s injured, you’ll have to keep her still.”

Ben put the oxygen mask over Meare’s mouth and nose and pulled the elastic band behind her head. Kalin used her hands to stabilize Meare’s neck.

“Feel any better?” Ben asked Meare after she’d taken a few breaths.

Meare nodded.

“I couldn’t get a pulse on her wrist,” Kalin whispered.

Ben reached around Kalin, leaning on her back for support, and put two fingers on Meare’s neck. “One hundred and thirty,” he said to Fred.

Kalin stretched her head over Meare’s shoulder to ensure her eyes were open. Wearing her winter ski jacket, ski pants and wool hat pulled down over her ears, and with four people contained in the small space, Kalin was sweating. She couldn’t take her hat off without tipping Meare sideways.

Two paramedics arrived carrying a spine board, and Kalin watched as they packed and loaded Meare, relieved to have someone else responsible for the young woman.

Meare’s roommate arrived. “Aiden called me and asked me to bring Meare’s backpack from the lift shack.” She left with the ambulance and instructions to call Kalin with an update on Meare’s condition.

Kalin stood alone with Ben. Approaching the sink, she turned on the water, letting it get as hot as she could stand against her bare skin. In the middle of washing her hands for the second time, she asked, “What do you think is wrong with her?”

“I don’t know.”

 

* * *

 

When they reached home, Ben’s wet hair stuck to his forehead, and beads of water ran down his cheeks. Kalin’s toque had kept her dry. A storm settled, depositing heavy flakes that were on the verge of becoming rain drops. Higher on the mountain, a couple of degrees colder, snow would be accumulating on the ski runs.

Chica met them in the hallway, furiously wagging her tail.

Kalin turned to the washing machine housed on the ground floor near the garage entranceway. Without caring about the snow dropping on the floor, she stripped to her underwear and threw everything including her ski jacket, ski pants and toque into the washer.

She walked past Ben, stopped long enough to throw him a towel and jumped straight into the shower beside the guest room. Roy’s soap and shampoo rested on the side of the tub. The suds bubbled, and shards of glass stabbed her heart, the smell of Roy invading her soul. After a scalding wash, she found Ben sitting at the kitchen table with Chica sleeping at his feet.

She called Meare’s roommate but only got her voicemail.

“How about I make us a snack?” Ben asked.

“I’m not hungry. I can’t eat until I know Meare’s going to be okay. She was so sick and really scared. What am I going to tell her parents if I have to call them?”

Two hours disappeared before Kalin’s cell rang.

“The doctor said Meare has a severe kidney infection,” Meare’s roommate said.

“I don’t understand why she was paralyzed.”

“He said she was in shock and her body was shutting down. He also said she was lucky she was found so quickly, or it could have been much worse.”

“Is she okay now?”

“She’ll be fine. She’s on an antibiotic drip but can go home tomorrow.”

Kalin folded herself into Ben’s arms, closed her eyes and told him what she’d learned.

“You okay?” he asked.

“I thought I might not have handled this right. What if I’d done something wrong?”

“You did great. You took good care of her.”

“I’m not trained for this.”

“This, you are trained for. What you’re not trained for is investigating a serious crime. Between the theft and Justin Bradley, something’s got to give.”

“You know I have to find out if anyone else was involved. What if someone triggered the avalanche? I can’t let them get away with that.”

“You’re talking about murder.”

“I am.”

Ben took a step away from Kalin and tensed. “You can’t investigate a murder. The last time you did that you were almost killed.”

“This is different. I need closure. What happened to ‘you’re here for me’?”

“If you’re thinking of taking the job at White Peaks, why worry about what happens here?”

“So that’s what this is about. You’re angry I haven’t decided what to do yet.”

“I’m angry…I’m angry because…I’m going to the fire hall. We can talk later.”

“You always go there when you want to avoid something. Last year you went half way to Manitoba. Maybe we could just talk about this.”

“I need to think.” Ben turned on her and stomped down the stairs toward the front door.

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

 

“Damn it.” Kalin slammed the
Maclean’s
magazine she’d been pretending to read onto the coffee table and startled Chica. What was she going to do about White Peaks? She was getting nowhere talking to Ben, and she had to decide soon.

The home telephone rang, and she glanced at the clock. Eleven thirty. Only security would be calling her at this hour. Her heart accelerated as she picked up the receiver. “Hello?” She cleared her throat and said a little louder, “Hello?”

She listened to long, deep breaths and quietly placed the receiver back in its cradle. As she checked the locks on her doors and windows, Chica watched her, her brown eyes following Kalin’s movement, her body resting motionless.

Kalin was becoming obsessed with locks. She hadn’t worried about her safety in the city where she was anonymous, just one of many going about her life. In Ottawa, none of her colleagues or employees had known where she lived.

She wished Ben were home. Lately, he’d been spending more time with his buddies than her. He seemed to find one reason or another to hang at his precious fire hall. And going there in the middle of an argument instead of talking to her was not good. Really, not good.

The phone rang again, but this time, she left the handset in place.

The ringing switched from her home phone to her cell. The display told her security was on the other end and not the heavy breather. Security would call her for an emergency involving an employee, and she answered their calls even if she wasn’t the on-duty manager. She could add Caller ID to her home phone package or maybe get rid of the home phone altogether.

“There’s been an accident at the bar,” Fred said.

Kalin mentally braced herself.

“It’s Ben. He fell down the stairs and hit his head.”

Sweat dampened her pajama top, and her hands shook. If someone had punched her in the gut, her stomach couldn’t hurt more. “How bad is he?”

“We called an ambulance and sent him to the local hospital. He looked stable when he left, but a paramedic called a minute ago and told us he had a seizure. He’s been put in a chemically-induced coma and intubated.”

Kalin slumped into the back of the couch. “That can’t be.”

“Are you okay?” Fred asked.

“I’m on my way.”

“There’s nothing for you to do here.”

“How did he fall?” Kalin ran up to their bedroom in the loft and began the dance of getting dressed while holding her cell. She squished the phone between her ear and her shoulder and pulled on a pair of jeans. She was going to follow Ben to Calgary.

“Security was escorting a guy out of the bar, and they were having difficulty. Ben tried to assist, and he fell down the stairs.”

“Is he going to be okay?”

“I don’t know.”

Kalin rubbed one hand over her face, snagged her stitches and inhaled deeply. “Anything else?”

“No.”

“Call me if you hear something.”

Kalin threw on a crimson sweater, the one Ben liked. Without bothering to wipe her tears, she grabbed her ski jacket and ran to her Jeep. Memories of the night Jack died flew around in her head as if a snowstorm exploded in her mind. A police officer standing on her doorstep. Words about a hit-and-run. Not again. Not Ben. Not now.

As she backed out, her headlamps swept over the window beside the front door. Chica peered through the glass. Kalin pulled back into the driveway and got Chica, not knowing what she was going to do with her.

She drove along Black Bear Drive and past Jessica’s home. The lights were on. Kalin did a U-turn and pulled into her driveway. She wasn’t Kalin’s first choice, but where else could she leave Chica. Who knew when she’d get home again?

Jessica opened the door, looking surprised to see Kalin and Chica. Kalin explained what happened and asked Jessica to take care of Chica.

“Of course.”

Kalin handed Jessica a key to their house. “Her dog food is in the mudroom in the lower cupboard. She gets two cups a day. Her leash is there, too. I didn’t think to bring any of it.”

“How long will you be gone?”

Kalin hesitated with her hand on Chica’s head. “I have no idea.”

“Leave the dog. She’ll be fine.”

As Kalin backed out of the driveway, a curtain in Jessica’s living room slid to the right, and Simon Crane peeked through the window. She lifted her hand to wave, but the curtain dropped back into place. She almost ran back in to get Chica, but she shifted her Jeep into drive. Just because she’d fired Simon didn’t mean he would take his anger out on her dog. Surely he wasn’t that cruel.

Kalin drove down the mountain, through Holden and got on the highway toward Banff. She didn’t bother to pull over when she called Fred. “Any news about Ben?”

“Nothing yet. Where are you?”

“On the highway. I’m going to Calgary.”

“The roads are slippery, so drive carefully. There’ll be a lot of ice tonight. Call me when you reach Banff. I should know by then where they’re taking him.”

“You must have some idea which hospital.” She pressed her foot on the gas pedal and drove faster. Ice or no ice, she’d get to Calgary in record time.

“He’s being airlifted with STARS. I’d guess the Foothills. The life-threatening cases usually go there.”

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