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

CHAPTER FOUR

 

Kalin and Jessica waited in the reception area outside the president’s office. Jessica’s phone rang, and she ignored it. Seconds later Kalin’s rang, and she switched off the ringer without checking the display. Turner had a strict policy about no cell phone use in his office, and she didn’t want to worsen his mood with a minor transgression.

While they waited, Kalin took deep breaths to settle herself. Maybe she should have called the RCMP before coming to Turner’s office, and maybe she should have waited until they knew exactly how much money had been stolen. Maybe.

Her boss didn’t accept mistakes, and she wouldn’t be the first person to lose her job for making one. At the least, this would affect her reference check. Talk about terrible timing.

Turner had been the president of Stone Mountain Resort for six months. He’d been hired to replace the previous president, Gavin Reed, after a fire destroyed most of the lower village. Turner had taken a resort in financial trouble and created profits in record speed. A weak person couldn’t have implemented the required changes. Kalin suspected he dreamt of managing a larger, more prestigious resort and needed to prove himself. Hearing about a theft this large would really set him off.

Turner walked straight past them and motioned for them to follow. He entered his office beyond the desk of his administrator.

“I need to report a theft,” Kalin cleared her throat. “Sometime between closing yesterday and opening this morning, someone broke into the finance center. This morning Helen discovered the empty safe.”

Turner pulled at his shirt collar, exposing the edge of a tattoo. Kalin knew two things. One, the gesture meant he was angry, and two, he’d be even angrier if he realized she’d spotted the tattoo. He kept his past private, so she averted her eyes.

“Is she telling me you lost an entire day’s receipts?” Turner asked Jessica.

Jessica bit the inside of her cheek. “It’s worse. We also lost Saturday’s cash in addition to the money we keep stocked to make up the daily floats.”

“How much?”

“Helen thinks around one hundred thousand.”

“Thinks? Why doesn’t she know exactly?”

“We don’t have night audit’s receipts yet,” Jessica said.

“Well, get them.”

A bead of sweat formed on Turner’s forehead, surprising Kalin. She’d never seen him sweat. He snapped his gum and let out a long breath. She smelled mint mixed with a medicinal aroma.

“How the hell could something like this happen?”

Jessica flinched at Turner’s raised voice. “Helen said someone from the bank called on Saturday afternoon. They told her the cash drop was broken and not to bring the money to town until they called to say they’d fixed the unit. They said most likely it would be Monday since they’re closed on Sundays. So last night, the money from both Saturday and Sunday was in the safe.”

“Did Helen verify the call was from the bank?”

Jessica looked to Kalin before answering, then straightened her back and faced Turner. “I don’t know. I’ll ask—”

“Ask? Are you kidding me? This is our biggest weekend of the year. You should have procedures in place instructing her to call the bank back. You should have told her not to leave more than one night’s receipts in the safe. You’re the manager. You can’t leave that kind of decision to the clerks. You should know better.”

Even though Jessica had been hard on Helen, Kalin couldn’t stand by and let Turner yell at her. “Maybe we could find out what happened before we blame anyone?”

Jessica eased a step away from Turner. “The majority of the cash is for the floats, not from daily receipts. We probably didn’t make that much in cash on Saturday. Most people pay with debit or credit.”

“Are you making excuses for Helen and yourself?”

“No. I—”

“You what?” Turner swallowed and clenched his jaw.

“I don’t think Saturday’s take made up a significant portion of the money stolen.”

Kalin could see from the way Turner’s lips pressed into a white line that Jessica had made him even angrier. To take his focus off Jessica, she asked, “Should I call the bank?”

Turner shook his head. “Call the RCMP and let them deal with it.”

“Should I fire Helen?” Jessica asked.

Wow. Not nice.
Planting the seed of blame in Turner’s mind. As Helen’s boss, Jessica should be protecting her, not throwing her at Turner like a camper throwing meat to a bear, trying to change the beast’s focus.

“Don’t do anything yet. Call the RCMP. Let me know when they get here.”

 

* * *

 

“The worst has happened,” Ben said. “The avalanche—”

“Hang on.” Kalin stopped in the hallway and turned to Jessica. “I’ll meet you in the finance center. I have to take this.”

Kalin exploded through the administration building’s outer doors and faced the ragged mountain peaks. She heard wind buffeting Ben’s phone. He was somewhere on the hill. “What’s happened?”

“The avalanche was in the Dragon’s Bowl.”

“Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, but—”

“But what?” Kalin’s chest rose and fell in rhythm with her quickened breathing.

“We don’t know for sure yet, but…Oh, crap, Kalin. I don’t even know how to say this. Roy might have been caught in it.”

Kalin’s heart pounded. Why had they chosen last night of all nights to ask Roy to move out? She’d heard him leave well before dawn and hadn’t tried to stop him. “How is that possible?”

Ben filled her in on what he knew. “Have you talked to him today?”

“Not since last night.” Kalin’s mind was on fire, being hit by lightning strikes in rapid succession, processing what Ben said. She couldn’t move. Her brain refused to send instructions to her muscles, so she stood on the path, staring at the snow on the ground. “Roy’s safe. He has to be.”

“You have to prepare yourself. The avalanche happened at seven thirty.”

She resented the softness in Ben’s voice. Who cared about the time? Ben shouldn’t be bothering her with trivial matters. He should be searching for Roy. “That doesn’t mean anything.”

“It’s been too long.”

“You don’t know that, so stop talking and keep looking for him.” Kalin understood he was only telling her what he knew, but she needed to direct her anger somewhere. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that. I’m just frightened for Roy.”

“We’ll find him.”

“Please be careful.” If anything happened to Ben, Kalin wasn’t sure she’d survive. They’d only been married for seven months. That wasn’t enough time together. “Are the conditions safe for you to be up there?”

“For now.”

“I want you to do everything you can to find him, but…”

“I know. I’ll be careful. I love you.”

“I love you more.”

She turned and ran back inside. She’d direct her anger at her boss. Why hadn’t Turner told her about Roy earlier?

 

* * *

 

Kalin dashed into Turner’s corner office only to find the spacious room empty. She had every intention of making sure he put all resources on the search for Roy. She pivoted and banged into Turner’s chest as he entered his office.

“What are you doing back here?” Turner asked.

“There’s been an avalanche.”

“I’m aware.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

Turner closed his office door, letting the latch click gently into place. “Considering what’s going on, I thought you had enough to worry about.”

“Are you crazy? You had no right to hide this from me just so I’d focus on the theft and not Roy.”

“Since Roy’s your brother, I’ll ignore your outburst.”

Another mistake. She should have gone to mountain operations. Why was she wasting time with her boss? “Sorry. You’re right. I’m going to mountain ops to see if I can help.”

Turner sat at the round table centered on the plush navy carpet, stared at Kalin for a moment, then pointed to his guest chair. “Before you go, call Fred. I need someone from security in here now.”

She overcame the physical pain of sitting, of not doing something for Roy, and lowered herself into the chair. Fred was the security manager and reported to her. “He’s on vacation until Friday.”

“You let him go on our busiest week?”

Kalin’s legs bounced, and she pressed her palms on her kneecaps to control the motion. “His brother’s getting married in Hawaii. The rest of the team is here.”

“But no one senior?”

Who cared? Kalin should be at mountain ops, not sitting here discussing vacation plans. Instead of bolting for the door, she forced herself to ask, “Why do you need Fred?”

“To liaise with the RCMP. Without him here, you’ll have to. Have you called them yet?”

“No, I…” She should do as Turner asked, but she couldn’t focus. The view of the Purcell Mountains’ cragged peaks normally dominated the room with its beauty. Today, all Kalin could imagine was Roy buried beneath the snow. She hoped for a large air pocket. Anything to keep him alive long enough to be found. “Couldn’t you take care of it until I check in with search and rescue?”

By the scowl on Turner’s face, she guessed he wasn’t pleased with her question. She understood the extreme pressure he was under with both the avalanche and theft happening at the same time. But she was, too. He’d have RCMP, media, and staff to deal with, along with the demands of head office. To do her job well she needed to help him with the theft investigation. “Okay, I’ll make sure Helen and Jessica are set, and then I’ll head to mountain ops.”

“I want you back by the time the RCMP get here. I need you to work with them on the investigation. Make sure there are no media leaks. And check if you can get Fred to come back early.”

She nodded and bolted for the door.

“And Kalin, don’t talk to the RCMP without me.”

CHAPTER FIVE

 

Kalin needed a moment and stopped in the administration hallway. She leaned into the wall, pressing her cheek against chipped paint.
Get under control.

“What are you doing?” Tessa Weber asked. “Standing side-pushups?”

Her recruiting specialist was trying to be funny, so Kalin held back the snap in her voice. “I need you to clear my calendar today and take care of anything urgent.”

“You want me to what?”

The cochlear implant for Tessa’s right ear helped her out with hearing, but she still had trouble when someone spoke too fast. She’d had the implant for less than a year, and was still figuring out how to hear things properly. Like a child, she’d had to learn what sounds were. Even something as common as a footstep or a raindrop was new to her.

In Kalin’s agitated state, she’d forgotten to slow her speech a bit. “Can you clear my schedule and take care of anything urgent today?”

“Sure. What’s going on?”

“I don’t have time to explain. Just help me out, okay?”

In a gesture familiar to Kalin, Tessa pulled her hair over her implant. “Okay. Where do I find your schedule?”

“Monica has access to it. She can help you.” Kalin relied on her HR manager for support and knew between her and Tessa they’d handle the day. Kalin had hired Tessa during last year’s arson investigation after Tessa approached her with the story of her newly implanted gadget. Prior to the implant, Tessa hadn’t been able to do a job that required phone interactions. The technology opened up a new career for her, and Kalin had liked her spunk and taken a chance with her lack of HR experience.

“Got it.” Tessa skipped away toward Monica’s office.

Kalin strode along the threadbare carpet and stopped just short of the finance center door. She heard raised voices. Not nice, but she remained in the hallway and didn’t let the women know she was there.

“Did you get in touch with Simon?” Jessica asked.

“He hasn’t answered his phone.”

“Where are you with the reconciliation?”

“I’m trying, but without night audit’s receipts, it’s difficult,” Helen said.

“Give me some of what you have. I’ll help.”

“What did Turner say?”

“That you never should have left Saturday’s money in the safe. That’s what he’s most upset about. Because of you, the company lost two days of cash instead of only one.”

Harsh.
Kalin was tempted to interfere and defend Helen but not yet.

“When the bank called, I didn’t know what else to do,” Helen said.

“I wouldn’t say that to Turner if I were you. Anyway, you should have called the on-duty manager. You should have verified with the bank they had a problem.”

“But the bank called me.”

“Someone called you. You don’t know for sure it was the bank, and you better believe I’m going to find out what the problem was on their end.”

“You’re going to blame me for this,” Helen said.

“Who else would I blame? Did you give the combination to anyone?”

“No, I wouldn’t.”

Constable Miller, together with a female cop Kalin hadn’t met before, walked along the hallway toward Kalin and interrupted her eavesdropping.

Miller wore his hair cropped within millimeters of his scalp, his RCMP uniform was pressed and clean, and his arms hung wide around the weapons hooked to his belt. The strength with which he carried himself reminded her of Ben. He put his hand on her shoulder and squeezed. “You okay?”

“Not really.”

“Ben will find Roy. Hang in there.”

Kalin’s throat constricted, and instead of answering, she nodded. She would not cry. “Hey, congratulations. I heard about your engagement to Becky.”

“Thanks. This is Constable Wagner.”

Wagner’s RCMP cap hid her hair but not her heart-shaped face. The Kevlar vest gave her a square shape and emphasized her muscled arms. Kalin nodded at her, and the woman nodded back. What was there to say?

“Shall we go in?” Miller asked.

Kalin followed Miller and Wagner into the finance center and introduced them to Jessica and Helen.

Had anyone told Jessica about the avalanche? Informing her in front of the others seemed cruel. Jessica had only been dating Roy for five months, but the length of time might not reflect how deeply she cared for him. Kalin would wait till after the meeting when she could talk with Jessica privately.

Miller sat between Jessica and Helen. Wagner stood in the doorway with her legs wide and arms crossed over her chest, blocking the entrance.

“Now, who discovered the empty safe?” Miller asked.

With attention focused on her, Helen’s cheeks flushed in an uneven tone. She pressed her palms on her denim skirt and gave Miller a timid smile. “I did. The safe was locked this morning. I think the thief had the combination.”

No doubt Helen needed some support, but Kalin was unsure of how to give it to her, so she waited for Miller’s next question.

Miller smiled gently at Helen as if he understood a harsh approach wouldn’t work with her. “Is there a way to find out who accessed the safe?”

Jessica frowned. She pulled her long blonde hair from behind her back to the front of her chest and twisted the tresses with her fingers. “The out-of-date safe technology allows for only one combination. Newer models have a unique number for each person, but we weren’t allocated the budget to upgrade. With the existing model, it’s impossible to determine who opened the safe last.”

 

* * *

 

Turner edged Constable Wagner out of his way and entered the finance center. “I told you to let me know when the RCMP arrived,” he snapped at Kalin.

Everyone in the room stood.

Miller stepped between Turner and Kalin. She’d worked with him previously on an arson and a murder case, and he’d earned her respect. She didn’t mind his alpha male instinct to protect her, especially now when she hovered on the edge of control.

Without making an issue of Turner’s raised voice, Kalin introduced him to Miller and Wagner.

“Did one of our employees do this?” Turner asked.

Miller straightened, giving Turner the full force of his presence. Kalin could almost smell the testosterone.

“I can’t say yet, but it does look like someone who knew the combination opened the safe.” Miller’s eyes darted to Helen, and had Kalin not been watching him, she would have missed the gesture.

Turner stepped toward Helen and loomed inches from her. “Unless the safe wasn’t locked last night.”

“I locked it.” Helen stepped backward and bumped into her desk. “I never leave without making sure it’s properly secured. I remember flipping the handle closed and entering the combination last night.”

“So you say.”

An uneaten doughnut and a cup of coffee occupied the corner of the desk. Helen must have noticed Turner staring because she threw the doughnut into the garbage and placed the coffee out of sight on the bookshelf.

Turner’s cell buzzed against his hip, but he ignored the interruption.

Answer it
. What if it was about Roy?

Helen intertwined her fingers in front of her skirt and turned to Jessica. “Won’t you tell them I’m careful?”

Jessica looked at Turner with her eyes half closed as if she didn’t care and shrugged.

“What’s the next step?” Turner asked.

Kalin opened the window a crack, thinking the air would dissipate the distinctive odor of stress.

Helen lowered her head and glanced at Kalin while biting her fingernails. Helen wasn’t built for this kind of pressure. If Kalin were alone with her, she might have reached over and hugged her.

Miller moved beside Turner and glanced out the window. “No access this way without a ladder. I’ll have an officer check for marks in the snow.”

Turner nodded.

“The doors haven’t been damaged, and there’s no sign of a break-in. Who has both the combination to the safe and a key to the office?” Miller asked.

“Four of us. Duncan Bosey. He’s the director of accounting. Myself, Helen, and Eric Wilson. He’s a junior clerk,” Jessica said.

“Not you?” Miller asked Turner.

“I don’t need either the combination or the keys. I don’t do clerical work.”

“Is the combination written down anywhere?” Miller asked Jessica.

“I keep it in a spreadsheet on my computer. Usually I change it weekly, so I need to record it somewhere.”

“Who has access to the spreadsheet?”

“Only me,” Jessica said. “It’s password protected as is access to my computer. The clerks have to ask me if they forget the number.”

“You said usually you change the combination weekly. When did you last change it?”

Kalin had missed the significance of Jessica’s earlier statement and smiled at Miller’s attention to detail.

“Answer the man,” Turner said.

Jessica sighed. “Early December.”

“What are you talking about?” Turner closed his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose between his thumb and index finger. “You’re supposed to change it every week.”

“I know,” Jessica said. “We were so busy over Christmas, it got overlooked.”

“Let’s worry about that later. Are you sure no one else has access to your computer?” Miller asked.

“I don’t think so.”

Turner slid his hand through his hair and made a fist. “The IT department has access to every computer on the resort. They could easily get the combination if they knew where to look.”

“Did anyone other than Helen work in the finance center on Saturday or Sunday?” Miller asked.

Helen shook her head, while at the same time Jessica said, “I covered her lunch break.” Jessica frowned at Helen. “She went snowboarding.”

“Is it procedure to have only one person working?” Miller asked.

Jessica looked directly at Turner, not Miller, when she answered. “I asked for the budget to be increased to pay for two people to work each shift, but you denied my request.”

“You know we cut back because of the fire,” Turner said.

“Okay, I’d like to interview the finance center and IT staff. Is there a conference room I can use?” Miller asked.

“I’ll get my assistant to set one up for you,” Turner said, “but if you already know who had the combination and keys, shouldn’t you be checking their bank accounts, searching their cars and homes?”

“It’s too early in the investigation for that,” Miller said.

“Why?” Turner said in a raised voice.

Miller clenched his jaw.

In a quieter tone, Turner asked, “Can you tell me why?”

“Because we need a warrant, and that requires evidence.”

“We know one of them is the thief.”

“I don’t know that. I know a person, or persons, had the combination to the safe. Either the thief had a key to the finance center or the door was left unlocked. The thief may have stolen the combination, one of the staff may have written it down or been threatened to disclose it. Until I investigate further, I do not have enough evidence to get a warrant.”

“So what do we do?”


We
don’t do anything. I’ll interview everyone involved. The finance center will remain closed while my team checks for fingerprints. I’ll get prints of everyone who has legitimate access. Then I’ll find out who is agreeable to a polygraph test. You
will
let us investigate.”

“What’s a polygraph going to do for us? I thought they weren’t reliable,” Turner said.

“The test might not be admissible in court, but if it shows a person is lying then it could be enough to get a search warrant. Anything the person says is admissible in court, so we might get something that way.”

“Can we force people to take the test?”

“No. Unless we have a warrant, it’s voluntary. If someone refuses, we can’t really do anything.”

“I can do something. Anyone who refuses will be fired.”

Time to stop worrying about Roy and participate in the conversation. “We can’t do that,” Kalin said.

“I can do whatever I want.”

“But employment standards—”

“I don’t care about employment standards. I want the money found.” Turner strode to the door and without looking backward, he said, “Kalin, come with me. We have things to do.”

“I’ll catch up with you later.” Kalin rested her hand on Jessica’s arm. She’d have to tell her about Roy soon.

 

* * *

 

After spending an agonizingly long fifteen minutes with Turner, Kalin waited for Ben on the steps outside the mountain ops building. Cold seeped into her dress boots, and she stomped from foot to foot. On the other side of the glass door, the ski patrol meeting space, normally a busy hub, sat abandoned. She sent the SAR team a silent thank you for searching for Roy even though arctic cold surrounded them.

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