Avalanche (A Stone Mountain Mystery Book 3) (22 page)

CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

 

Jessica returned to her living room with Chica prancing beside her. “You were at the bar. What happened?”

“I didn’t see much,” Simon said.

Chica ran to his side and thrust her head on his lap. He pushed her away. “You know I’m allergic to dogs. She can’t stay here.”

“I already told Kalin I’d take care of her until she got back from Calgary.”

“Why would you do that?”

“Because she’s Roy’s sister, and she needs help.” Jessica grabbed a few mixed nuts from the bowl on the coffee table and munched on them. “Want some?”

“You should be fat with the amount of nuts you eat.” Simon pushed Chica’s head off his lap. “I can’t live with this mutt.”

Chica trotted to Jessica and sat on her foot as if making a statement she’d claimed her human for the moment. Jessica wasn’t fond of dogs, but Roy had liked Chica, so she could tolerate her being around for a while. “Too bad. You can stay or not. Up to you, but I promised.”

“What’s with you? Ever since Roy died, you’re Miss Nice.”

“Are you saying I wasn’t nice before?”

“Bad word choice. But you weren’t a softy.”

Simon rubbed his eyes. They were already turning red and getting puffy. Having no allergies of her own, she didn’t stock allergy medicine.

As if to punctuate her thought, he sneezed. He pointed at the keys in Jessica’s hand. “Do you want me to get Chica’s food and stuff?”

Jessica put Kalin’s keys on the mantel. She hadn’t asked Kalin, but she assumed because of the late hour, the dog had already been fed. She could wait until morning to go to Ben and Kalin’s to get food. “I’ll go tomorrow.”

Feigning a yawn, she left Simon to the pullout couch, dragged Chica with her and locked herself in her bedroom. She entered the en suite and shut the door. Behind two doors, Simon couldn’t overhear her call Aiden.

 

* * *

 

Jessica overslept and woke to the sound of Chica scratching at her bedroom door. She glanced at the clock on her wall. Nine-thirty. Shit. She hadn’t let Chica out to pee or fed her. She shoved herself out of bed. Chica could run around outside for a minute while she got dressed.

As soon as Jessica shuffled in her slippers from the bedroom into the hallway, Chica bolted to the front door. After letting the dog out, she plodded back through the living room. The pullout was closed, and the sheets were folded in a neat pile on top of the cushions.

Jessica found her cell and turned it on. Simon had sent her a text.

Can’t live w dog. Up sick all night.

Jessica’s eyes roamed the room. Simon’s suitcase was gone. The place was hers again.

She dressed in jeans and a sweater she pulled from her laundry basket. No one cared what she looked like, and there wasn’t a person she needed to impress.

Chica barked, and Jessica opened the door to find her wagging her tail. Better get to Kalin’s. Jessica reached for the keys on top of the mantel. Her hand stopped midway. She was sure she’d left the keys on the right end. Now they rested in the middle. The empty couch where Simon had slept mocked her for leaving the keys where he could use them. Then she shook her head. She was getting paranoid. What use could Simon have for the keys?

A knock on her front door preceded cold air entering her small suite. Who the hell just walks in?

“Hello?”

She recognized Aiden’s voice.

“Where’ve you been? I’ve been calling since eight,” he said.

“I slept in.”

“You ready to go?”

Jessica grabbed Kalin’s keys and followed Aiden to his car. Chica ran along beside her.

“She’s not getting in my car,” Aiden said.

“The whole point is to feed her. If anyone notices us going into Kalin’s then we have an excuse.”

“She sheds,” Aiden whined.

“Let’s walk. It’s only five minutes.”

Neither said a word until they were inside Ben and Kalin’s new home.

“Where’d they get the money to afford this?” Aiden asked.

Chica ran upstairs and straight to the mudroom. By the time Jessica reached her, Chica was staring intently at the cupboard. Jessica read the label on the bag of dog food and put two scoops of kibble into Chica’s bowl. Chica wagged her tail in time to gobbling her food.

Aiden meandered through the living room. “So what are we looking for?”

“Any hint that Kalin thinks Roy took the money or where Roy might have hidden it.”

“Like she’s going to keep that kind of thing around.”

Jessica filled Chica’s water bowl. “You have a better idea?”

“Do you know what room Roy slept in?”

“The ground floor guest room.”

“I’ll start there, and you check Kalin and Ben’s bedroom.”

“I’ll come with you. One of us might see something the other misses.”

They tromped downstairs and into the guest room. The room had been tidied. Jessica stared at the bed. Roy would never have pulled the covers up or tucked in the sheets. Kalin must have done that.

Aiden opened the wall-length closet.

Jessica sat on the edge of the bed, startled at her overwhelming desire to curl up on Roy’s comforter.

Aiden placed four books about white-water kayaking on the floor and checked behind the small bookshelf. “There’s nothing here, except we know Roy liked reading about kayaking.”

“Like that’s big news.”

“What’s with you?” Aiden asked.

“Nothing.”

“Let’s check the rest of the house. Maybe we’ll find something in their bedroom.”

Jessica followed Aiden to the top floor. She stopped at the edge of the room.

He went straight to the en suite, opened the medicine cabinet and read the labels.

“That’s a bit personal. Do you have to snoop there?” Being in the bedroom was wrong. She’d crossed a line.

“The more we know about them the better. Did you know Kalin takes sleeping pills?”

“No. And I don’t see how that’s relevant.”

Jessica waited in the bedroom doorway, unable to intrude further. Her cell rang, and she glanced at the display. Kalin was on the other end of the call. Jessica’s cheeks heated, and she answered the phone.

CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE

 

Kalin slipped into Ben’s hospital room, tiptoed to the side of his bed and squeezed his hand. He looked small buried beneath the blankets. The egg-sized lump on his left cheek was the color and texture of a rotten apple. An intravenous drip protruded from the back of his hand.

She sniffed at hospital odors she didn’t want to identify. Three elderly men, each wearing a powder-blue hospital gown, occupied the other three beds. She ignored them and slid the white curtain around the metal track on the ceiling, creating a tiny bit of privacy.

Ben had come out of the coma the evening before, and she’d spent a restless night in a no-name motel worrying about a full recovery.

She wrapped her fingers around Ben’s and waited for him to wake. She’d been in Calgary three days. Two weeks ago, she’d said she would give White Peaks an answer. The only problem was she didn’t know her answer yet. She promised herself she’d call by the end of the week.

Ben’s eyelids fluttered, and he looked at her through dull eyes. “Kalin?”

“I’m here. How are you feeling?”

“Okay,” Ben said in a hoarse voice.

Kalin lowered her head and placed her cheek against his shoulder. Her throat compressed, and her tears ran down his arm.

Ben tried to lift her head, but she only pressed deeper. When she stopped crying he said, “I’m glad you’re here.”

She raised her head and gently kissed his lips.

He depressed a button on the hospital bed and raised himself to a half-seated position, causing his gown to tighten around his neck and pinch his skin.

She reached forward and released the pressure on his neck, pulling the gown loose, and left her hand resting on his chest. “How badly are you hurt?”

“I guess the doctors were concerned about brain swelling, but I’m fine now. They said they forced a coma to let the swelling go down. My cheek is broken, but nothing else.”

“Do you think someone pushed you on purpose?”

“Not a clue. I can’t remember much. I remember arriving at the bar but that’s all.”

“You don’t think this has anything to do with the theft?”

“I can’t see how.”

“I got a crank phone call right before Fred called about you. It was only deep breathing but pretty creepy since I was home alone.”

“You think it’s related?”

Kalin shrugged. “Who knows? Any idea when you can come home?”

“This weekend sometime. Did you answer about the job?”

“Let’s talk about us when you get home.”

“I can’t wait. Since I woke up, all I’ve been thinking about is us. I need to know if we’re okay. I don’t want you to move even if it’s only during the weekdays.” Sweat seeped from Ben’s pores, and his face turned pasty white.

“Should I call a nurse?”

Ben took a few deep breaths. “No, I’m fine. It’ll stop in a second.”

Kalin held his hand and waited. He fell asleep, and she settled herself in the plastic chair beside his bed.

 

* * *

 

Ben’s moan turned into a smile when he woke and his eyes rested on Kalin. “Sorry. I keep drifting in and out. Probably the pain meds.”

Kalin leaned forward in her chair and reached for his hand. “I don’t mind.”

“The stitches on your chin are gone.”

“Yeah. Now our scars match.”

“Where’s Chica?” Ben asked.

“She’s with Jessica. I just called her, and everything is fine.”

“Why’s she with her?”

“I didn’t know how long I’d be here, and as I drove past Jessica’s, I stopped. I didn’t know what else to do with her.”

“You did right. Jessica will take care of her.”

Ben shifted in his bed. Had someone hammered his cheek? His eyes felt as if they were bulging out of their sockets. They weren’t, but that didn’t stop his eyelids from searing his eyeballs when he blinked. “We need to talk.”

Kalin let go of his hand and positioned herself at the window. “Those are never good words to start a sentence with.”

“Seriously, we’ve been avoiding the White Peaks issue for long enough.” If only Kalin would say she’d turned down the job, that they would stay in Stone Mountain and she’d do anything for him and their marriage.

“I haven’t responded to the offer yet.”

“They must be pressuring you to make a decision.”

“They are.”

“Have you told Turner?”

“No.”

A wave of pain seared through Ben’s cheek, and he pushed the magic button on the side of his bed. The medication didn’t take long to ease the pain. “Why not? I thought you were going to ask him for a reference.”

“I used Gavin Reed instead.”

“Turner’s going to be pissed if he finds out from someone else.”

“I know, but what if we don’t go? Then Turner will always think I’m not committed here.”

“Are you committed?”

Kalin returned to the side of his bed. “To you. You know that. But we have to look at opportunities that are good for us. We can’t just rest on what we already have.”

“We could. What’s wrong with Stone Mountain?”

“Nothing. I love it. It’s just I never dreamed I’d be able to run a ski resort. When I took the HR manager job, I was so excited to be working in a resort, I couldn’t believe my luck.”

“So what’s changed?”

“It never crossed my mind to move until White Peaks approached me. There’s something else I haven’t told you.”

“Why doesn’t that surprise me?” Ben smiled to take the sting out of his words.

“I think Stone Mountain might be for sale.” Kalin told Ben about the information she found on Simon Crane’s hard drive. “If someone else buys the resort, I might lose my job anyway. It’s not unheard of for new owners to bring their own senior staff.

Ben swallowed hard. Maybe the medication was making him dopey, but he loved Kalin, and he’d do anything to make her happy. To hell with his own wishes. “Accept the offer.”

Obviously the expression on Kalin’s face was happiness, and Ben felt like a shit that he’d waited so long to give in. She was everything to him. Their marriage was more important than where they lived.

CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

 

“Are you laughing at me?” Kalin’s mom asked.

“I’m laughing with you, not at you.” Kalin hit the speaker icon and placed her cell on her desk. The image on her computer monitor showed several skiers about to launch into the Dragon’s Bowl.

“You know I’m no good with computers,” her mom said.

“I do, but this is easy.”

“How is it possible to see people skiing?”

“I told you. It’s called a webcam. The camera is at the top lift station and sends pictures to the Internet every few seconds. It’s beautiful here, and this gives you a way to see it.” Kalin hadn’t told her mom about the issues she’d been having or about moving to White Peaks, and the webcam gave her a way to share Stone Mountain without discussing her problems.

“What do I type again?”

Kalin repeated the Internet address. Four o’clock approached, and the lifts were about to close. Darkness would descend soon, and if her mom didn’t hurry up, she’d only see a black screen.

Tessa popped her head in Kalin’s doorway. In a habitual gesture, she pulled her hair over the battery pack for her cochlear implant. “Simon Crane came to see you yesterday afternoon.”

“What did he want?”

“He didn’t say. Only that he needed to speak to you personally.”

“Can you call him and find out what he wants?”

“I asked him yesterday, but he said he’d only talk to you.”

“If he comes back, tell him without knowing what he wants, I won’t have a meeting with him.”

Tessa nodded and left Kalin to her call.

“Who’s Simon Crane?” her mom asked.

“Just someone who used to work here.” The view from the webcam showed the area directly behind the summit chairlift and included a portion of the Dragon’s Bowl. “Can you see the mountain yet?”

“I can see someone skiing. Is this anywhere near where Roy disappeared?”

Her mom’s tone of voice had changed. “It’s in the direction of where the avalanche happened, but Roy was farther from the resort. Don’t worry. I don’t ski in that area.” Kalin didn’t like to lie to her mom, but she couldn’t tell her she’d been in the Bowl with Ben.

“How is Ben?” her mom asked.

“Much better. He’ll be home by the weekend.” She’d been spending most of her time at work until the doctor discharged him from the hospital. Who wanted to be at home alone?

Kalin clicked the refresh icon, and an image of Aiden popped up on her screen. Every few seconds she refreshed the image, and each time, Aiden was closer to the Dragon’s Bowl. She stopped refreshing when he’d gone over the edge and out of sight.

Twenty minutes later, she stood at the bottom of the hill, staring at the darkened runs. Small puddles littered the surface of the snow around the lift station. The warm temperatures were depleting the snow base unseasonably early.

“Kalin?” a young woman asked. “I want to thank you.”

“Thank me for what?”

“For helping me last week when I was sick.”

Kalin recognized her from the bathroom. “Meare. How are you?”

“Better. The doctor put me on antibiotics for like ten days when I left the hospital. You were so nice to me, and I didn’t get the chance to say thanks. It meant a lot that you were there. My mom says thanks, too.”

Kalin smiled at her. “It’s not a problem. I’m glad you’re okay.”

Meare chewed at the inside of her lip and scanned the area. “Since you were there for me, I think I owe it to you to tell you something.”

“I’m listening.”

“Like everyone’s talking about the theft, right?”

“Yes.”

“There’s a rumor that the money was placed in a duffle bag.”

Kalin didn’t want to add credence to any rumor, so she said, “That’s interesting.”

“I don’t want to get anyone into trouble or anything.”

“Meare, if you know something, please tell me.”

“Just before I got sick, I heard Justin Bradley on the phone to someone named Wilson. Justin’s a liftie. I think Wilson’s his roommate. He said they had to move the duffle bag. I didn’t think anything of it until I overheard people talking about the money.”

Kalin could barely resist dialing Miller’s number, but she waited until Meare was out of sight.

 

* * *

 

Late Friday evening, Kalin chopped broccoli to add to a beef and vegetable stir-fry. Ever since telling Miller about Justin, Eric and the duffle bag, she’d been worried. Would they come after her? With Ben still in Calgary, she’d asked security to drive her home after work. Once inside, she’d checked that the doors and windows were locked.

Kalin tried to think of something less frightening. When she lived in Ottawa, Kalin and her mom would meet every Tuesday evening, drink a glass of wine, chop vegetables, heat up the wok and stir-fry their dinner, following a ritual where each had her own tasks. She missed those evenings.

Chica sat close to Kalin’s legs. Kalin hadn’t taken her for a hike before dinner. Going out alone in the dark seemed like a bad move, so she’d let her out to pee, making sure the outside lights were on, and secured the deadbolt once Chica was back inside.

Kalin focused on chopping. The quick bang of the knife against the cutting board satisfied her urge to hit something. Just as the last of the broccoli hit the wok with a sizzle, the front door opened. She turned the gas to low and placed a lid over the wok.

Gripping the chopping knife tight, she walked to the door. Chica was already there, running in circles, barking and wagging her tail. Ben’s smiling face lit up beneath the amber porch light.

“What are you doing here? I would’ve picked you up.”

Ben squatted and greeted Chica. “I took the bus. It smells like you’re cooking. By the way, if you’re mad at me, I need to know, because you look like you’re about to stab me with that knife.”

“Sorry, I was chopping veggies. How are you feeling?”

“Pretty good.”

“The bruise on your face has expanded. Does it hurt much?”

“It looks worse than it feels.” Ben touched his cheek. “Do I have time to light a fire?”

“Sure.” Kalin left him to stoke the wood stove and returned to the wok. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

He crinkled newspaper, added a few logs and lit the fire. “I am. My cheek will heal.”

Kalin rested her fists on the counter and stared at him. “You could have died. I’ve been sick about it all week.”

Ben left the woodstove door open an inch to let in a draft. Bright orange flames swirled around the logs and the larch cracked and popped. He returned to Kalin and put his hands on her shoulders. “You came. That meant everything.”

She buried her face in his neck. “I know you were trying to help. There’s nothing to be sorry for. I only want to explain how I feel. I can’t go through it again. I lost Jack and Roy. It’s too hard.”

“Shh. I’m fine.” Ben tightened his grip.

She released herself from Ben’s hug, pulled two bowls from the cupboard and set them on the counter beside the stove. “I can’t take any more loss. It’s too much.”

Ben filled Chica’s bowl with kibble and placed the dish on the floor. He did this without saying a word. He must have sensed Kalin was building up to something. Chica gobbling her food and wood crackling filled the lull in the conversation.

“I turned down the offer from White Peaks.”

“Why? I thought we decided to go.”

“I love you. Our life is here.”

“What changed?”

“On the drive back from Calgary, I thought about everything that’s happened at Stone Mountain. I don’t want to start over. I’ve been having nightmares. I think it’s because I’m risking our marriage by forcing a move away.”

“That’s not true. I’d go with you anywhere.”

“I know. And that’s why we need to stay here.”

“What happens if the resort is sold?”

“I’ve been thinking about that. Maybe the buyers will want to hire a new president. If White Peaks would hire me as the GM there, I don’t see why I couldn’t be the president here.”

Ben’s grin told Kalin all she needed. She heaped the bowls with the stir-fry, put the wok back on the stove and sat across from Ben. “Chopsticks?”

“Sure.”

Kalin rested her chopsticks on the ceramic chopstick rest. “I know who helped Roy steal the money.”

Ben raised his eyes to hers.

“Justin Bradley and Eric Wilson.”

“How do you figure that?”

Kalin told Ben about her conversation with Meare. “I called Miller right after. He’ll deal with them.”

“You’re letting this go?”

“Not quite. I saw something weird yesterday. I was talking to my mom, showing her how to view the webcam photos. I had the images open on my computer and saw Aiden skiing into the Dragon’s Bowl.”

“So?”

“The lift was about to close, and it was getting dark. Why would he ski in that direction by himself after the patrol sweep?”

“You think he was looking for Roy?” Ben asked.

“Not exactly. What if Aiden thinks Roy stole the money, and he went to look for it? He must know Roy’s pack was never found.”

Ben fumbled with his chopsticks, managed to get a slice of beef into his mouth and winced when he chewed.

“Does it hurt to eat?”

“A little.”

Chica licked her bowl clean and positioned herself underneath the table equidistant from Ben and Kalin.

“I think maybe Jessica and Aiden are up to something. I just can’t figure out what.” Kalin reached across the table. “I can’t believe you still don’t know how to use these things. Here, hold the chopsticks like this and relax your grip.”

Ben did as instructed.

“You’re about to say something,” Kalin said.

“How do you know that?”

“Hello? I kinda know you.”

“I’m starting to remember the fall.”

Kalin held her breath.

“I think I felt someone’s hands on my back. Like I was being shoved.”

 

* * *

 

Kalin loved Saturdays at work. Her job included being visible to all employees. Accounting, IT and marketing shared the administration offices and worked Monday to Friday. The administration building was mostly empty on weekends, making it a good day to be out on the mountain.

She spent the morning in her office. Early afternoon, she got dressed for skiing. Normally the lights on the floor being on energy-save mode on the weekends didn’t bother her. Normally she wasn’t worried about her safety. She still didn’t know who had been looking in her window at night or who had painted her door, and she hadn’t heard from Miller about Justin and Eric. She listened for anyone else who might be on the floor. Feeling uneasy, she quickly hauled her gear along the darkened hallway and left for the lift.

The afternoon touring the mountain and visiting lifties at each lift shack sped by. She skied to a stop at the base of the hill, poked her pole into the back of her binding and released her boot with a snap. She’d skied the mountain top to bottom, rode all seven lifts and was fatigued, but her fear of skiing had disappeared like melting snow.

Aiden exited the lift shack at the bottom of the Alpine Tracks ski run. He spoke to a liftie, nodded and removed the first pole in the maze. The liftie stopped the lift for the day, and the wind through the trees filled the space where the hum of the lift used to be.

With her ski boots clomping on the hard-packed snow in the maze, Kalin walked toward Aiden. “Can I talk to you for a minute?”

Aiden lifted one of the maze posts and carried it to the next. “Sure.”

“I don’t know how to put this without offending you, but I saw you ski into the Dragon’s Bowl last night. I know you’re searching for the money.”

“What are you talking about?” Aiden continued to remove maze posts, and she ran around in front of him.

“I always ski in the bowl,” he said

“Not after dark. Stop walking away for a second.” Kalin checked the area around her. The sun dipped below the mountain, and darkness would soon follow. There was no one to overhear her. “I want to know what you were up to.”

“Don’t you want to find Roy’s body?”

“Of course, I do.”

“I was checking the terrain, looking for signs of him.”

Clearly Aiden wasn’t going to open up to her, but at least he knew she was on to him. “If you find the money, you have to turn it over to the RCMP.”

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