Avalanche (A Stone Mountain Mystery Book 3) (5 page)

Kalin opened the door without knocking.

By the tears on her cheeks, the news was bad. Hope that Roy had been found alive crashed to the ground like a tree felled by a chainsaw, and the sharp branches stabbed tiny holes in Jessica’s heart.

 

* * *

 

Kalin entered her new home, surprised Chica wasn’t at the door to greet her. Talking to Jessica about Roy had exhausted her. She didn’t know how to support the woman when she wasn’t that fond of her. She tossed her jacket on the bench in the front hall.

“Chica?”

The thump of her tail came from Roy’s room. Kalin found her on his bed, chewing one of his socks.

“Bad girl.” Kalin rushed to the bed and shoved Chica to the floor. She tugged the ripped sock from Chica’s jaws, and her breath caught in her throat.

Chica scrunched into the corner and wagged her tail. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d yelled at her. She never yelled at her dog. Only, she was chewing something of Roy’s. Kalin crouched and rested her palm on Chica’s head. “I’m sorry.”

Chica licked Kalin’s nose. Unable to control herself, Kalin sobbed. She stroked Chica’s back, and Chica nuzzled her neck. Even after Kalin had been a jerk, the dog loved her.

How many times had she wished Roy wasn’t living with them, intruding on her new home with Ben? She’d taken him for granted. Kalin couldn’t stand being in Roy’s room. “Come on, let’s go upstairs.”

Her beloved dog followed, somehow knowing Kalin needed her. The hollowness of the house pressed in on her, and she crashed on the couch to wait for Ben.

A shout came from downstairs. “Kalin, it’s Nora.”

Nora, all of five-feet tall and carrying her son, burst into the room. Having a mind of its own, her short black hair stuck out at odd angles. And even after delivering a baby, she still weighed less than one hundred pounds. “I just heard. Why didn’t you call me? I would’ve come sooner.”

“I’m not thinking straight. So much happened today.” Kalin reached for eight-month-old Ethan and hugged him. Born while trapped in the forest by a fire with a Grizzly bear pacing nearby, Ethan had been given the middle name of Forest.

Nora draped her jacket over the back of the couch. One leg of her cargo pants stuck inside a sock. She put her arms around Kalin and Ethan in a group hug. “Any news?”

Kalin felt like a giraffe standing so close to Nora. At five-foot-ten, she could rest her chin on the top of Nora’s head. “Nothing. Did you hear about the theft, too?”

“The rumors are spreading. How could I not hear?”

Nora scampered to the kitchen and uncorked a bottle of white wine. “We need this.”

Kalin accepted a glass and took a long sip. The cold liquid iced her throat. “What a mess.”

“I hate to leave you right now, but Ian’s got a World Cup race at Lake Placid. I’m heading there tomorrow.”

Don’t go.
“What about Ethan?”

“Pete’s taking him. And Susan will help out if he needs it.”

Kalin smiled at Nora for calling her dad Pete. Nora had only known since last spring that he was her father and hadn’t changed from calling him Pete to calling him Dad. Since she was already in her early twenties, maybe she’d always refer to him by his name. Ethan would be fine with his grandfather. Kalin just didn’t want Nora to leave. She needed her best friend right now. “I’m sort of surprised he’s still dating Susan.”

“I’m glad actually. I didn’t like her much at first, but she’s Ian’s mom, and Pete seems happy with her.”

“How long will you be gone?” Kalin asked.

“I’m not sure. I’m going to Toronto on my way back. We should know about Janet’s acquittal by then, and I want to be there for her. Either way.”

Janet was Nora’s birth mother and had spent eighteen years in prison for killing her own son. As it turned out, she might be innocent. Kalin hoped for Nora’s sake she was and the acquittal came through.

The front door opened and closed. Chica bolted from the room. Ben’s slow steps up the stairs didn’t bode well. He turned the corner to their living room and faced Kalin and Nora.

He didn’t need to say anything for Kalin to know he hadn’t found Roy.

“I gotta go,” Nora said. “I’ll call you from Lake Placid.” Nora lifted Ethan from Kalin’s arms, squeezed Ben’s shoulder as she passed him and trotted out of sight.

Kalin ran to Ben and buried herself against his chest.

CHAPTER SEVEN

 

On Tuesday morning, twenty-six hours after the avalanche, Kalin finished her video interview with the board of directors at White Peaks. She couldn’t believe she’d remained composed.

She’d asked them not to do a reference check until she had time to talk with her boss. When they asked her if she’d told Turner, she avoided a direct answer. She said only that she wanted to follow process and formally ask him for a reference.

Would Turner be good enough to give her a recommendation? He wasn’t known to support employees he perceived were going against him.

What was wrong with her? Her brother might be dead, and she was thinking about her career. She had faith Roy would be found. This was not the time to miss work. Her security manager was off the radar somewhere in Hawaii, so there was no getting him to come back early.

She arrived at the administration building just before ten a.m. and hustled to the finance center. Constable Miller and Paul Turner waited for her.

“Search and rescue will find Roy soon,” Miller said.

Not trusting her voice, Kalin nodded her thanks. She had a good relationship with Miller, and kindness right now would only make her cry. She cleared her throat. “Where’s your new partner?”

Miller glanced at Turner before answering Kalin. “Attending to other things.”

“Still a man of mystery, I see. So, where are we?”

“An officer checked if the combination could be read through the windows. The safe’s keypad can’t be seen from any angle, with or without binoculars.” Miller thumbed the latch on the window closest to the computer. “You might want to install higher quality locks.”

Disgusted with herself for not instructing her team to secure the room properly, Kalin entered a reminder into her phone to talk with Fred as soon as he returned from Hawaii. She relied on him for day-to-day security operations, but his strength didn’t lie in planning or improving existing processes. He needed direction, and his lack of strategic planning was one of the reasons she’d been promoted to director of security instead of him.

At least Turner hadn’t been at the resort last winter when keys had been a serious issue. She didn’t think he knew she’d been reprimanded by the previous president for not securing keys. She’d taken the blame for Fred and scored a few points with him.

“Did the thief enter through a window?” Kalin asked.

Miller turned away from the frosted pane and faced her. “We don’t believe so. There aren’t any marks in the snow, and without a ladder, a person couldn’t climb to the window.”

Even though on the same floor, the offices on the ski hill side of the building were at ground level, whereas the offices on the parking lot side were one level up. The shape of the building with the higher altitude wall built into the mountain meant employees often used the hallway as a shortcut from the parking lot to the mountain ops building, especially after a big dump of snow.

“Could the safe combination be read from the hallway?” Turner motioned to the door that reached halfway up the doorframe. Both halves were locked after office hours. The top half was designed to stay open during the day, allowing employees access to the cashier without needing to enter the room.

More than once, Kalin had seen staff chatting with Helen as she prepared daily floats. Roy often stopped to talk with her before his shift started. She seemed to make him happy. Kalin could hear his laugh echo off the walls and see him wink at Helen before he strutted along the hallway full of confidence. Why had Roy dated Jessica and not Helen?

She was hit with the awkward moment of realizing Miller and Turner were staring at her. “What?”

Turner curled his lip. “You moaned.”

“Oh. Sorry. What were you saying?”

“I asked if the safe combination could be read from the doorway,” Turner said.

Miller mimicked punching a keypad. “It’s possible. Even if they couldn’t see the entire pad, a person watching the cashier’s fingers could memorize the order the keys were tapped. I’d like to interview everyone again to find out if anyone noticed someone hanging around the finance center in the mornings while Helen opens the safe. And speaking of Helen, is she around today?”

Turner circled Miller. “She won’t be in until Friday. She asked for some personal time off. Why?”

Miller jutted his chin and slowly twisted, keeping his face toward Turner. “We haven’t taken her fingerprints yet. Do you have her home contact information?”

“Kalin can give that to you.” Turner cracked his knuckles. “Did you speak with the bank manager?”

“I did. No one from the bank called the resort on Saturday. The drop box wasn’t broken,” Miller said.

Kalin interrupted the male dance for power and asked, “So the call was just to get Helen to leave more money in the safe?”

“Looks that way.”

“So it’s irrelevant,” Turner said. “Let’s get back to the real point. Even if someone had the combination, they still needed a key. That limits the suspects to a small group.”

“Not necessarily. In November, Jessica Scott requested a replacement key. Your locksmith’s records show she lost hers and had a duplicate made.”

Kalin stared at the useless deadbolt. What else had Miller found out about the inner workings of Stone Mountain? “Let me guess, she broke protocol and didn’t have the locks changed.”

Miller nodded.

Turner ignored him and spoke to Kalin. “How is it possible Jessica could have a new key made without you knowing?”

The resort’s locksmith, Ted Brightman, was technically strong, but his thought process didn’t include sharing. If she didn’t ask him a specific question, he wouldn’t provide additional information. “I only review the key list quarterly.”

“Not the answer I was looking for.”

 

* * *

 

Jessica pressed her back into the corner of her office as if that would keep her standing. Roy had spent the night on the mountain, and with the fierce cold and wind, her hope diminished.

“I have a few more questions,” Constable Miller said.

Without moving from the wall, she kicked her office guest chair toward him and motioned for him to sit. She should’ve expected him to question her again. “Sure.”

“How long have you been the finance center manager?”

Jessica raised her chin and looked down her nose at him. She knew the gesture accentuated her slim facial features. She’d chosen a red tailored sweater, with its low V-neck, and black jeans for the day. She’d even taken extra time to straighten her long hair. She needed a power look. Something that made her feel confident. “Since your girlfriend quit and moved to town.”

Miller actually laughed. “Fair enough. What was your relationship with Roy McCann?”

Jessica’s heart buzzed. If she’d been wearing her heart rate monitor she used while running, she bet the display would read one-hundred-forty beats per minute. She needed to sit and flopped into her chair. “He’s my boyfriend. You’re speaking in past tense. Has he been found?”

Miller shook his head. “I didn’t mean anything by it. Search and rescue are still looking for him. How long have you been dating?”

Jessica forced herself to breathe slowly. Deep breath in. Count to four. Deep breath out. Roy was okay. He had to be. “Since the summer. Why are you asking about Roy?”

Miller rested his elbows on his knees and clasped his hands together. “Was Roy in any trouble that you know of?”

Nice try with the soft and personal voice
. Miller had no right to ask about her private life, no matter how politely he spoke. Jessica flung her straightened hair away from her face, but she could tell the gesture was wasted on Miller. She pushed her chair backward, but the wheel caught on a piece of torn carpet and stopped her before she’d moved a foot from him. “I don’t think so. I don’t understand what you’re getting at.”

“Did you, at any time, give Roy the combination to the safe?”

When Aiden had come from running the lifts to tell her Roy was missing, he’d hinted he thought Roy stole the money, and now Miller was almost saying it outright. “I would never do that.”

“What about by accident? Could you have written it down somewhere he might have seen it, or could he have overheard you talking to anyone?”

Outside, a group of ski patrol clomped in ski boots toward the lift. They were probably replacing some of the search and rescue team who’d already been on the mountain too long. The lack of urgency in their movements frightened her.

“Jessica?” Miller prompted.

“I’m careful with that information. Look, as the manager, I have to set a good example. My computer is the only place the combination is recorded, and Roy had no access. You should be talking to Helen.”

“Why is that?”

“Ask her yourself. She might have something to say.”

Miller sighed. “Did you give Roy a key to the finance center?”

“No.”

“Why didn’t you have the locks changed when you lost your key in November?”

“How do you know about that?”

Miller’s gaze remained flat. No more soft eyes for her. “So I lost my key. That’s not a crime.”

“Maybe not, but according to Kalin, you ignored company policy regarding keys. Once a key is lost, the locks are supposed to be changed. I’m curious why you didn’t do that. You said yourself, as the manager you have to set a good example.”

“Turner has a reputation for firing people who make mistakes. He’s been cutting costs since the fire in the lower village last spring. I didn’t want to lose my job.”

“Does the public have access to the finance center’s direct number?”

Miller’s change in direction threw her off balance. What did public mean? “The number is not on the Internet, but it is listed in the internal directory. Does that count as public?”

“How many people have access to that?”

“Including both seasonal and year-round employees, I’d guess somewhere around five hundred.”

“Does anyone else report to you who might have access to the finance center?”

“No. Simon Crane is the night auditor, but I don’t see him much at work. He’s off duty by the time I get in.”

“Where’s his office?”

“In the lower village behind the front desk. He covers late night check-ins or guest issues until the front desk staff arrives for the morning shift. He uses a computer there to process the night audit.”

“Are you friends outside of work?”

“We ski together once in a while. He’s an awesome skier.” A helicopter thundered past Jessica’s window and flew toward the Dragon’s Bowl. “Can I call and find out?”

Miller nodded.

“Ben, it’s Jessica. I saw the helicopter. Did you find him?”

When she heard Ben’s answer, she looked at the ceiling and blinked several times.

“Bad news?” Miller asked.

“No news. They’re widening the search. I thought, maybe…” Jessica cleared her throat. “What were you asking?”

“What about Simon’s wife? Does she ski with you?”

Right back on track. No sympathy for her. She reminded herself he was a cop and would investigate everyone even remotely close to the finance center. “No. Natalie’s not athletic.”

“That doesn’t present a problem for him?”

“This is a ski resort. There’s always someone around to ski with.”

Miller wrote in his black notebook, flipped back a page and read something. “How long has Eric Wilson worked here as a finance clerk?”

“Since December first.”

“Did you do a criminal record check on him?”

Shit. One more thing for Turner to reprimand her for. Maybe she could blame Kalin if this ended up being a problem. “Normally I would have, but he’s Australian. He brought his own paperwork with him.”

“Even though he’s a junior clerk, I’m surprised you’d bring him on without doing your own check. Do you think he could be the thief?”

“I guess it’s possible. I mean, it could be anybody, right?”

“Is he friends with Roy?”

Jessica had seen Eric talking to Roy on occasion, but she’d never seen them hang out. If only she could do something to help Roy now, instead of talking about whom he was friends with. “No.”

“With you?”

“No.” The back of Jessica’s neck tightened, and if she didn’t relax, another migraine would attack her. Miller’s questions were heading in one direction. He was looking at more than one suspect. He was looking at her.

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