Avalanche (A Stone Mountain Mystery Book 3) (6 page)

CHAPTER EIGHT

 

Thirty hours after the avalanche, Kalin kneeled on her office floor and stroked Chica’s back. She rested the side of her face on Chica’s silky belly and closed her eyes. The smell of Labrador combined with the dog’s rhythmic breathing gave her some comfort.

When Jack died, he’d died instantly, making her a widow at twenty-seven. He was already lost to her when she buried his body. Thinking of Roy buried beneath mounds of frozen snow…Had he known he might die?

Ben and the search and rescue team were doing everything they could to find Roy. She tried not to think the worst but couldn’t help herself. With the temperature so far below zero double digits registered on the display by her window, how could he possibly survive? Time to call her mom again with an update, even though she had nothing new to report.

The phone was in her hand when Constable Miller entered her office. Chica’s tail thumped in welcome, but she stayed with Kalin. Miller shut the door, sat in the guest chair and seemed at a loss for words.

The crack between the window and the frame let in a wisp of cold air, and the space heater fought to counter the frigid temperature.

Miller rubbed his hands together as if he was cold. He cleared his throat, then said, “This is a bit awkward.”

Kalin’s office door opened, and Constable Wagner joined them. She remained standing and leaned back against the door.

If they’d found Roy, Ben would have told her. Kalin shoved herself off the floor, turned up the heater until the humming indicated the little machine couldn’t fight much harder and took a seat in front of her desk. Her legs bounced, and she put her hands on her knees to stop the tremors. The motion made her appear nervous, but she couldn’t seem to keep her legs still lately. Chica lumbered off the floor and placed her jowls on Kalin’s lap. Kalin caressed her head in a silent thank you for the support.

“The timing of the theft and Roy’s disappearance is a big coincidence,” Miller said.

“And I know, you don’t like coincidences.”

“Don’t joke. I’m serious.”

Heat rose in Kalin’s face as her anger arrived. “You think Roy took the money?”

“You have to admit, it looks suspicious. He hasn’t been found. He could have triggered the avalanche to make us think he died.”

Kalin closed her eyes and rubbed her palm on her forehead. “You can’t be serious. He wouldn’t do that to me or my mom.”

“I am serious. We need to talk about the possibility.”

“This is bull. Search and rescue are still looking for him. I have to believe he’ll be found alive.” But after Miller sowed the seed of doubt, the idea blossomed into a possibility. Would one hundred thousand be enough to tempt Roy to disappear?

“Is there anything you can think of that might be important?”

“As in, did Roy do or say anything to indicate he was going to steal from the resort? I can’t talk about this.” Kalin stood.

“I know this is hard, but I have to do my job.”

Kalin knew Miller well. He looked at all possible suspects before narrowing the list. He couldn’t ignore Roy to avoid hurting her feelings, so she settled back in her seat. Besides, Constable Wagner blocked the exit with her bulky frame.

If her choices were to believe Roy stole the money and took off, Roy stole the money and died trying to escape, or Roy was caught in an avalanche by accident, she’d choose the option of innocence. “Roy didn’t take the money. I’ll prove it to you.”

Miller groaned. “Not again. You have to stay out of our investigations. Especially this one. You’re too close.”

“I’m also the director of security, and I’m not going to let my brother be blamed for something he didn’t do.”

“Where were you on the morning of the theft?”

“I was at home with Ben.”

“Roy is living with you? Is that correct?”

At least Miller used the present tense. She wasn’t ready to talk about Roy in the past tense. “He is.”

Kalin’s thoughts drifted to the day Roy moved in.

 

* * *

 

Twelve days before Roy disappeared, Kalin opened the front door of her new home and found him standing on her porch with a please-don’t-be-mad-at-me grin. His backpack, a suitcase and a duffle bag rested on top of the snowbank beside the walkway.

“Hey.”

“Hey.” Kalin returned his grin with her I-know-you-want-something smile. They’d played the smile game since they were children. Without speaking, the shape of the lips told the other what was going on in the mind.

Roy tilted his head down and lifted his eyes. His one brown eye, one green eye mirrored Kalin’s. “Can I come in?”

He really did want something if he was flashing his eyes at her.

“Sure.” Kalin opened the door wider, and her brother stepped into the foyer. The heating underneath the slate tiles kept her sock-covered feet warm, and she was glad they’d spent the extra money on the upgrade. She didn’t miss his one-dimple smile, the one he used when he wanted to manipulate her, the one that matched hers. People often asked if they were twins, but Roy was her baby brother by two years. Sometimes she had a hard time thinking of him as a six-foot tall, independent man.

Roy plunked his suitcase, duffle bag and backpack on the floor, and snow melted into puddles. Kalin fought her desire to get a mop. The water wouldn’t stain the new tiles.

She heard the thump of Chica jumping off the king bed in the loft two stories up and her paws plodding down the stairs. The yellow Labrador liked her sleep, but as soon as she saw Roy, excitement got the better of her, and she jumped on him. Her paws rested on his chest, and she licked his face. Roy laughed and didn’t discourage her behavior. With muscled arms, he rubbed Chica’s back.

“Chica, down.”

“She’s not bothering me.” Roy removed his toque, and his dark-brown hair curled at the base of his neck. Kalin had the same hair color, but she wore hers shoulder length and curled under instead of outward. His always seemed to be a mess.

Before sitting, Roy ran his hands over the mountain peaks carved into the top of the wooden bench that filled the foyer.

“You did beautiful work,” Kalin said. “Why did you stop?”

Roy avoided her gaze by leaning forward and untying his boots. “Lost interest.”

She shook off the irritation his short answer caused and reminded herself how long she’d been trying to make amends with him. “Come on up. Want some coffee?”

“Sure. What should I do with my things?”

“You can leave them there.” Kalin nudged Chica to the staircase leading to the main floor but stopped when her foot landed on the first step. Roy slung his duffle bag over his shoulder and trod along the hallway away from her. “Where are you going?”

He canted his head in the direction of the guest room on the ground floor. “I’ll just put my bags in the spare room.”

Here it comes. “Why?”

“My landlord says he needs his place for the winter. So I’ve got nowhere to go.”

“Did you get evicted?”

“Nice.”

“I need to talk to Ben first.”

“So call him.”

“I can’t. He’s in the backcountry.”

“Don’t worry so much. He won’t mind. Anyway, it’s just until I find a place.”

“At this time of year, you’re going to have a hard time.” Kalin’s human resources team managed staff housing, and locating a room right when the ski hill opened to the public was harder than Roy imagined. The seasonal staff who didn’t get a room in staff housing had already filled most of the privately rented units. She loved her brother, but he was difficult. “Did you try to find somewhere?”

Roy ignored her question and continued walking along the hallway. “Really, Ben won’t mind. He’s cool.”

“It’s still polite to ask. This is his home, too.” Why didn’t Roy move in with Jessica? He’d been dating her almost since the day he arrived at Stone Mountain, but the last time Kalin interfered with one of his relationships hadn’t worked out well, so she’d keep her question to herself.

Before Roy moved west, she hadn’t spoken to him in two years. Roy showing up at her wedding last June gave them a chance to repair their relationship. His decision to stay must have meant he’d forgiven Kalin.

 

* * *

 

“What time did Roy leave the house?” Miller asked, interrupting Kalin’s memory of him.

Kalin stood and faced her office window. She placed her fingertips on the pane and held them there, letting the cold burn her skin. “I’m not sure. He was gone when I got up.”

“Are any of his things missing?”

“Like what?”

“Like his wallet, or clothes or anything that might indicate he wasn’t coming back.”

Kalin rested her forehead on the window, letting the cold numb the pain in her eyes. “I haven’t gone through his stuff.”

Miller asked a few more meaningless questions, then departed with his silent partner. Had the woman joined the interrogation because Miller and Kalin were tight? Maybe he wasn’t trusted with Kalin.

Her cell rang. Charlotte Summers from
The Holden Press
.

They’d met when Charlotte interviewed her about being the new human resources manager for Stone Mountain. Kalin had relocated from Ottawa, and Charlotte had been writing a series of articles about professional women moving to the area to work. Charlotte had also helped her investigate some locals Kalin had suspected were involved in the arson case at Stone Mountain the previous spring.

She hit the speaker phone icon. “Hi.”

“You sound miserable,” Charlotte said.

“You can tell that from one word? I guess you heard.”

“I did.”

“Is this an official call?”

“No. Of course not. Is there anything I can do?”

“Find out who stole the money.”

“Is the theft public knowledge?”

“It’s not.” Kalin leaned forward and rested her head in her hands. She’d let her guard down and leaked to the media, but at least she’d leaked to Charlotte instead of a reporter she wasn’t friends with. “I assumed that’s why you were calling.”

“No, I was calling to see how you are. I heard about Roy and the avalanche. Any news?”

“Not yet, but a day and a half is too long for him to be missing.” Kalin took a deep breath. More bad weather loomed over one of the peaks to the west, straining to reach Stone Mountain as if determined to dump more snow on Roy. “Ben’s doing his best, but SAR hasn’t found any trace of him. They only found some of his gear.”

“I’m so sorry. I wish I could help you.”

The wind preceding the storm rattled the windowpane. “You can. Please forget I said anything about money.”

CHAPTER NINE

 

“Man, I hope that was the right thing to do,” Ben said. The end of the second day searching and no luck. He’d stopped the search at dusk, debriefed the team and sent them home for food and rest. Nobody could survive thirty-six hours under the snow.

“The team won’t find Roy in the dark,” Oliver said.

Still hot from exertion, Ben reached around Oliver and opened the window. The cloud cover ensured no moonlight penetrated to the mountain, but he heard the trees bending to the wind’s will. The incoming storm terrified him.

Ben trusted Oliver’s knowledge of the mountain, the weather and the snow conditions. He’d been an avalanche forecaster at White Peaks before working at Stone Mountain, and Ben almost asked him if he’d liked living in White Peaks but remained silent. Gossip spread like a virus in the small resort.

The radar weather map showed the incoming weather. Oliver leaned back in his chair, and the smooth material of his ski pants slid on the plastic surface. He removed his toque, and sweat plastered his curly hair to his scalp. Taller than Ben by six inches, he gave the impression he looked down his nose at Ben when he spoke. “What a mess.”

Ben compensated for his stature by spending hours in the gym, and his bulk countered Oliver’s height. He had no issues being short, but that didn’t mean he had to be small. He leaned forward and pointed at the screen. “That doesn’t look good.”

“Nope.”

Ben studied the weather.

“How’s Kalin doing?”

“The timing couldn’t be worse. She should be focusing on the theft, but she’s having a hard time concentrating. And I don’t think it helps I’m in charge of the recovery mission.”

“So you don’t think it’s search and rescue anymore?” Oliver asked.

“It can’t be. I haven’t told Kalin yet, but I want her to at least have some kind of closure. If we don’t find his body, she won’t even have that.”

“You know every inch of snow we get makes this harder.”

Ben examined the screen, looking for any hint the weather wouldn’t get out of control. Roy had shown up for their wedding in June and decided to stay. Kalin worked hard at rebuilding her relationship with him, but Roy resisted her efforts. He said he came to Stone Mountain to repair his relationship with her, and he tried at first, but then spent more time drinking with his buddies than hanging with Kalin. He’d bring her in close, then push her away. Ben suspected Roy had some hidden motive for moving to Stone Mountain but had never figured out what it was.

“I’ve been thinking about the second person seen trekking up the hill,” Ben said.

“The guy must have been mistaken. No one’s been reported missing.”

“What if it’s someone we didn’t know was around?”

“You’d think if anyone went up there and didn’t come back, there’d be a person who’d come asking. And don’t you think two unrelated people going up the mountain is unlikely?”

“I guess for now we can assume Roy was the only person up there.”

Oliver twisted his chair away from the computer and toward Ben. “If the weather gets too rough, we have to think of safety first.”

How could Ben go home and look Kalin in her eyes? Tell her the bad news? “I hear you.”

“It’s your call.”

Of all the decisions to make, why was this one his? “We’ll wait until morning. Maybe the weather forecast is wrong.”

 

* * *

 

Fifty hours after the avalanche, Ben slowed his steps as he neared Kalin’s office. Wednesday morning hadn’t brought better weather. The storm had pounded Stone Mountain overnight and continued through dawn, giving no indication of waning.

The night before, he’d talked with Kalin for hours, debating whether or not to continue the search. She’d tucked in their bed and slid as far to the opposite side as she could without falling off. Ben suspected she’d faked sleeping just to stop talking about the weather and Roy.

Making Kalin understand his rationale topped his priority list. Knowing her the way he did, she might use the failed search as an excuse to take the new job. She’d already suggested living part time in White Peaks and part time in Stone Mountain. What if she actually made the move?

He could see her convincing herself that working there five days a week and spending two days at Stone Mountain would be okay. Five days would extend to six, then seven as she got busy. She’d take her job seriously. She couldn’t stay out of the office here, so what made her think she could there?

Now he was about to motivate her to take the job at White Peaks. He reached her closed office door. Maybe she was in a meeting with someone, and he could postpone seeing her.

Ben put his hand on the doorknob but didn’t turn it. Once that happened, their relationship would change forever. The poster taped to the outside of her door contained a message for employees to choose their attitude. Stuff about being present and enjoying the workday. Smiling faces of people working in a ski resort stared at him. He needed to choose his attitude and face the situation.

“You don’t want to go in there?” Turner asked.

Ben hadn’t heard his footsteps cross the carpet and tried not to react. His hand stayed on the doorknob. “Not really.”

“I understand. Do you want me to talk to her?”

Turner’s offer surprised Ben. He could be harsh, and Ben hadn’t expected compassion from him. “Thanks, but no. I have to do this.”

“I’ll call Kalin’s mother. Kalin shouldn’t have to inform her.”

“I appreciate that.”

Turner nodded and left Ben to talk to Kalin.

His phone rang. He could’ve ignored the call, but answering would delay telling Kalin. “Timlin.”

“Have you told her yet?” Oliver asked.

Ben picked at the tape holding the bottom corner of the poster to the particleboard door. “No. I’m outside her office now.”

“Turner was just here.”

“And?”

Oliver hesitated. “So you haven’t talked to Kalin?”

Ben figured Oliver had something to say about her, but she was an odd subject for him to talk about. Kalin collected drama like other women collected shoes. Even when she tried to stay away from issues, they found her. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing. Speak to Kalin, then come see me. We should talk in person.”

Ben opened Kalin’s office door and didn’t find her. The smell of wet dog reached him, and Chica thumped her tail against the carpet. She lay hidden underneath Kalin’s desk. He crouched and rubbed her belly.

Pinned to the undersurface of one of the shelves lining the wall above the desk, a picture of Jack smiled at him. He hadn’t known she still kept her first husband’s photo. He’d been hurt when Kalin hadn’t changed her last name to Timlin but understood she needed a link to Jack. How could he be jealous of a dead man? If he could’ve kicked himself, he would’ve.

He needed to find Kalin, then Jessica.

 

* * *

 

Jessica stepped out of the women’s washroom and found Turner blocking her exit. She had the urge to check her fly but stopped herself in time by wiping her hands on her jeans. Had he followed her? What kind of man corners a woman outside the bathroom?

The sleeves of Turner’s white dress shirt were rolled above his elbows, and his muscular forearms bulged under the pressure of his clenched fists. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

Her snide answer was, “Peeing,” but she refrained. “I’m headed to my office.”

“That’s not what I meant, and you know it. The polygraph is an important part of the investigation. Why did you persuade your team not to take it? You’re the manager. I need you to lead by example.”

The toilet in the men’s room flushed.

Her direct boss hadn’t gotten involved or even spoken to her since the theft. A finance guy who liked to deal with numbers more than people. His mild manner often drew him away from conflict, and she suspected he was distancing himself from her. She’d do the same in his place. She wasn’t going to let Turner intimidate her, so she spoke politely but with authority. “I’m sorry. It’s been a tough week. I haven’t been thinking clearly.”

“Right. Then you’ll take the test. Talk to your team, and they’ll follow your lead. I’ll call the RCMP and get times set up.”

Jessica glanced at the door to the men’s room, waiting to see who would come out, but when no one did, she said, “I’m not doing a polygraph test, and I’m not asking the others to do one either. It’s an invasion of our privacy.”

How could Turner hassle her instead of asking her if she was okay? He knew she dated Roy, and yet he only cared about the money. He should be offering to give her time off and asking if she needed counseling. He shouldn’t be pressuring her about a stupid polygraph test.

Turner stepped toward Jessica.

She backed up until her shoulder blades were pressed against the door. Her eyes were level with his Adam’s apple, and she arched her back to look him in the face. Maybe she should invite him inside the ladies’ room, or maybe she should just step back through the door. She didn’t think he’d follow. Even though she’d just come out of there, her bladder demanded another visit.

“It’s not an invasion of privacy. It’s a criminal investigation. They’re not going to ask you about your private life. They’ll only ask questions relevant to the theft.”

Jessica glanced along the narrow hallway. At one end sat the offices of the administration staff, at the other the stairs to the ground floor. “That’s not true. They’ve already asked me about my relationship with Roy.” Jessica waited, and when he didn’t answer, she shook her head. “I can’t help you with this.”

“Then you should know you’re making a career-limiting decision.”

Turner’s breath caressed her cheek in an intimate way. The odor of mint, of gum used to hide a drink, filled her nasal cavities. She shivered.

Kalin approached from the end of the hallway.

Jessica almost smiled at Kalin’s curled lip. Whatever emotion she felt accentuated the color difference in her eyes, and the green one pulsed emerald. Turner hadn’t been whispering, and Kalin probably overheard his threat.

“Interesting place to have a meeting,” Kalin said to Turner.

In his mid-forties, Turner had maintained the physique of a long-distance runner, and he looked like a runner ready to bolt. He growled and stomped toward his office.

One point to human resources, Jessica thought.

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