Avalanche (A Stone Mountain Mystery Book 3) (23 page)



Helen sat in Kalin’s office, blinking repeatedly, keeping tears from flowing over her bottom lids. After the phone call from Jessica, she’d left her own office and waited for Kalin to return from skiing. Kalin’s winter boots rested askew beside her desk, meaning she would come back to her office before heading home.

Jessica said she blamed Helen for what had happened. Helen didn’t want to believe the horrible incident was her fault, but she’d fired Simon. She wasn’t blameless.

Carrying her skis and poles, Kalin entered her office and peered at Helen with raised eyebrows. “What’s up?”

Helen trusted Kalin and wanted to talk with her. She needed help coping with this, and Kalin was always level headed. She’d know what to do. “Jessica called me.”

“What’s wrong?”

Helen grabbed a tissue from Kalin’s desktop. “Simon Crane tried to commit suicide last night.”

Kalin closed both eyes. “No.”

“Jessica said it’s my fault. Because I fired him.” Helen shredded the tissue and let the pieces fall.

Kalin leaned her skis against the wall and passed Helen the box of tissues. “Don’t think that. Jessica’s lashing out. It’s not because you fired him. We fired him together, and we did the right thing.”

“But if we hadn’t fired him, he wouldn’t have attempted…”

“You don’t know that. He had other problems. His wife left him.”

Helen couldn’t imagine facing Natalie after she’d fired her husband for viewing pornography. She guessed Natalie had believed them after all. Natalie was her friend, and she didn’t know how to reach out to her. “Which she wouldn’t have done if I hadn’t fired him.”

“You don’t know that either. We fired him for justifiable reasons. We have to follow policy. This isn’t our fault.”

Helen blinked back more tears. “Do you really believe that?”

Kalin reached forward and held Helen’s hands. “I do.”

“We didn’t offer him counseling. We should have.”

“That’s something we do for people who get laid off. Not something we offer to people we fire with cause. I feel terrible, too, but we didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Couldn’t you change the policy?”

“I can look at it. Simon came to see me the other day.”

“What did he want?”

“I don’t know. He wouldn’t tell Tessa what he wanted. Without knowing, I refused to make an appointment.”

“He called me again to ask for his job back. He said there’s no way he could work for his uncle in the Laundromat again.”

“None of this is our fault. Do you know how he tried to kill himself?”

Helen hadn’t asked Jessica. Wasn’t there a rule about not asking a question you didn’t want the answer to? “No.”

“I’ll call Constable Miller and ask if he knows.”

While Kalin left a voicemail, Helen picked at the folders lying on the surface of Kalin’s desk. She read the labels. Helen Armstrong, Simon Crane, Eric Wilson and Jessica Scott. “Why do you have the files for the finance center staff?”

“I took them right after the theft happened and forgot to put them back.”

“You suspected all of us?”

Kalin didn’t say anything.

Helen handed the folders back to Kalin. “Don’t worry about it. I would’ve, too.”

Kalin fingered Simon’s file. “I guess I don’t need to put this back in the active cabinet now.”

“I don’t know if his termination papers are in there. They might still be in my office.”

Kalin opened the folder and read the first piece of paper. “Did you know Jessica wrote him up for not bringing the finance center receipts to you on the morning of the theft?”

“No, but she was angry at him.”

“Do you know why he didn’t bring them in?”

“Not really. But it wasn’t the first time. Sometimes he went home to bed right after a shift and would bring them to me later. We just never told Jessica.”


* * *


Jessica looked around Natalie’s condo and noticed all traces of Simon had already been removed. That was quick.

“Thanks for coming,” Natalie said. “I think it’s best if I handle selling the condo. Simon will be happy you’re the agent.”

“I don’t think he’s happy about anything right now.” The condo should be easy to broker, and Jessica needed a sale. The two-bedroom unit hosted a small balcony facing the ski hill. Natalie had the patio door open a crack, letting in cold air as if she were removing any scent of Simon. “Have you talked to him since…?”

“I don’t know what I’d say to him,” Natalie said.

“It’s only been a day. Are you sure you want to deal with the condo right now?”

“I need to get this over with.”

The appliances had been upgraded from standard to high-end units. The carpet, still luxurious, wasn’t worn like condos in the rental pool. Jessica mentally made a list of the attributes she could put in the ad. “I know you’re mad at him about the Internet thing, but he made a mistake.”

“What is it with you and him?”

Jessica plopped onto the leather couch. She’d been Simon’s lifelong friend, but Natalie was his wife. Why wasn’t she more upset about this? Selling the condo so quickly seemed cold. “What do you mean?”

“Why didn’t you marry him? You two were perfect for each other with your Barbie doll looks.”

“Where’s this coming from? We’ve been friends forever. We never dated.”

“Simon’s been in love with you for years. Didn’t you know that?”

Jessica’s chest tightened. Was Natalie losing her marbles? “That’s not true. He married you, not me.”

“He married me for my family money. I guess he thought one day it would be his.”

Needing to put some distance between herself and Natalie, she stood and went to the gas fireplace. “You can’t be serious.”

“I am. You know he hated Roy. He was so jealous when you got together with him. For some reason, he thought you actually cared about Roy. You seemed so uninterested in all your other boyfriends. He talked about your relationship constantly.”

“That can’t be true.”

“It got worse after Roy died. That’s when Simon realized you loved Roy, otherwise why would you be so upset by his death.”

“I didn’t know. I’m sorry.” How could she not know this about Simon? And how had Simon known she loved Roy before she knew?

“There’s nothing for you to be sorry about. It helped me figure out Simon would never love me the way I needed. I still had hope, but when the porn thing happened, I knew our marriage was over.”

If a person could look sadder, Jessica had no idea how. She couldn’t look at Natalie, so she picked up a romance novel from the mantel and fluttered the pages. On the inside back cover, she read a number. A number she would never forget. She looked at Natalie through new eyes. Natalie had the combination to the finance center safe.

Hiding her panic, she kept the conversation on topic, so Natalie wouldn’t notice what she’d discovered. “But then why did you marry Simon?”

“I loved him. He was so good looking, and I was blinded by his attention. I thought he liked me enough that we could make it work, but now I know better. The porn issue was a way for me to let Simon out of our marriage.”

“Without any money.”

“It’s not like he earned any himself. You know his history. I supported us through our marriage. I don’t think I owe him more.”

“But you loved him?”

“I did. But now, no. I want him to be okay but not part of my life.”

“He made one mistake.”

“It’s more than that. Last fall he found a copy of my dad’s will. He was looking after my parents’ fish, and I guess he snooped. I never told him my inheritance would go into a trust fund that only I could access. He wanted to know if the money would be shared once I got it. That’s when I understood he never loved me.”

“Are you going to visit him?” Jessica asked.

“I can’t. He doesn’t need to see me. I can’t believe his attempt at suicide was anything more than a grasp for attention. He’s too egocentric. If he’d been serious, he would have died.”

“That’s harsh.”

“I know, but he’s manipulated me for so long. I can’t help him anymore.”



Kalin met Ben in the parking lot near his truck and leaned into him for a hug.

“Hey, what’s wrong?” he asked.

She tucked her hands underneath his ski jacket and warmed her palms on his skin. Without letting go of him, she told him about Simon.

“You’re not at fault,” he whispered in her ear.

She rested her forehead on his shoulder for a moment, then pushed away from him. “I know. I talked to Miller. He said Simon tried to overdose. I feel awful, but I don’t know what I could have done differently.”

“Who knows how long he’s been unstable. He could have been thinking about it for a long time,” Ben said.

“Being fired could have pushed him over the edge.”

“It could have. But so many things contribute to a suicide. Maybe he did it so his wife would come back. You can’t blame yourself.”

“He asked to see me. I should’ve met with him.”

“When did he ask for a meeting?”

“The other day.”

“He didn’t work for the company anymore. You can’t meet with everyone who asks to see you.”

Clouds full of moisture gathered over the peaks, bringing gloom to the area, matching Kalin’s mood. “You’re probably right.”

“You can’t take responsibility for everyone who works or lives here.”

“On that subject, I’m a bit worried about Helen. She thinks it’s her fault. It’s harder for her because of her friendship with Natalie.”

“Have you suggested counseling to her?”

Kalin smiled. “No, but I will. That’s a good idea. And speaking of ideas, there’s something I want to do.”

“Now that sounds like trouble.”

She explained about finding Roy’s bank card in his wallet. “Let’s access Roy’s account. If he has any money, my mom has a right to it.”

“Are you sure that’s all there’s to it?”


“Well, let’s go.” Ben grabbed Kalin by the hand and headed toward the single ATM at the resort.


* * *


Ben and Kalin hesitated at the same time, then laughed.

“We’re brave,” Kalin said. “Let’s get this over with. We’ll see if he still had the habit of using Mom’s birthday for his passwords and PINs.” Kalin inserted the card into the slot and entered the four-digit code. “How much do you think I should withdraw?”

“Nothing. Just check the balance.”

Kalin pressed the icons on the touch-sensitive screen and a receipt landed in her palm. “Just over three hundred.”

“Are you relieved?”

She’d been thinking some of the stolen money might be in the account and didn’t want to admit it. She nudged him with her elbow, letting the contact linger. “Kinda. I knew he didn’t have the money, but I needed to be sure.”

“You’re not convinced Justin and Eric stole the money?”

“I am. But no one’s found the cash.”

“You still think Roy was involved?”

“I hope not. What should we do now?”

“Do you want to check his storage locker?”

“I left the key at home. Anyway, I don’t want to think about that now. Let’s do it tomorrow.”

They settled into the truck. Ben turned the key in the ignition and put the heater on high. He faced Kalin and held both of her hands. “I know how hard this is for you.”

“Without finding Roy’s body, I need…If I can get all his things together in one place…” Kalin buried her face in her hands. How could this hurt so much? “Everything that’s happened to Roy is my fault.” She’d finally said the words out loud. All this time, she’d desperately needed to tell Ben. Her eyes pleaded with him to persuade her otherwise, but she knew in her heart she was to blame.

“How can it be your fault?”

“Roy wouldn’t have come to Stone Mountain if I hadn’t pressured him.”

“I don’t think Roy ever did anything he didn’t want to do.”

“I shouldn’t have interfered with him and Patricia.”

“You can’t blame yourself.”

“Yes, I can. I didn’t like Patricia. I didn’t want Roy to marry her. I tried to find something wrong with her. I told him she’d cheated on him, and I think I was mistaken. Roy never forgave me for that. We never even talked about it. I should have brought it up when he moved here.”

Kalin’s cell rang.

“Don’t answer. Give yourself a break and take tonight off.”

She checked the display. “It’s Miller.” She cleared her throat and slid the answer icon sideways. “Hey.”

“I’ve got some news.”

She hit the speakerphone icon, so Ben could hear what Miller said.

“We followed up on your tip that Justin Bradley and Eric Wilson were talking about a duffle bag.”

“You found the money?”

“Not exactly. Based on the information you gave us, Turner allowed us access to Wilson and Bradley’s lockers. We found a duffle bag in Wilson’s. Looks like he was a dealer at the resort. He denied any link to Justin. We’ve started the deportation process.”

“And Justin?”

“We couldn’t connect him to Wilson.”

“So you’re sharing this with me because?”

“I thought I’d let you know Justin’s pissed we tried to connect him to the theft. He thinks you put us onto him. I want you to be careful.”

“I will. So we’re back to Roy doing this on his own.”

Other books

DragonLight by Donita K. Paul
Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Buffy Season4 02 by The Lost Slayer 02 Dark Times # Christopher Golden
Little Mercies by Heather Gudenkauf
The Winemaker's Dinner: Entrée by Dr. Ivan Rusilko, Everly Drummond
Wanton by Jezebel Jorge
One-Man Band by Barbara Park
The Theban Mysteries by Amanda Cross
Bocetos californianos by Bret Harte