Authors: Cheryl Bradshaw
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective
Charlotte’s crash took place near the bottom of a steep ski run. We took the lift most of the way down and then trudged through the snow on foot to the area where the accident occurred. A new batch of fresh powder concealed any indication that skiers had been there before us.
“Here we are,” he said.
“Impossible to tell anything happened here.”
“Snow groomers came around last night and flattened it all out,” he said.
I turned my attention to the tree. The exact spot where Charlotte hit appeared unharmed. I found it odd that she ran into it at all. From the center of the run, it stood twenty plus yards away. There were a few other trees in the immediate vicinity, but it was sparse at best.
“What about possible problems with her equipment?”
“None that I know of,” he said.
“And no one was around to see it happen?”
“Not a soul,” he said.
I threw my hands up in the air.
“I guess I’m done here then.”
We returned to the main entrance and Marty retrieved the key to Charlotte’s locker.
“It’s through those doors,” he said. “133.”
“Did she rent this for the day only?”
He shook his head.
“Charlotte came in about two or three times a week, sometimes more. I gave it to her for the season, but told her she could have it longer than that if she wanted,” he said.
Locker 133 was separated into two compartments. The top shelf contained a pair of jeans. I checked the pockets and found nothing and then pulled out a black studded belt, a red sweater, white socks, and a pair of black boots which proved just as exciting. The second shelf contained one item, an oversized handbag. Inside was a real estate book of some kind. I flipped it open. On the left was a pocket that included a small monthly planner with the names and numbers of all her appointments. I flipped to the back of the book and checked the other pocket. It was empty. The rest of the bag had all the usual items: a brush, hand mirror, lipstick, and her cell phone. I took it out and slid it open. There were three phone messages and two text messages. Two of the calls were from her missed appointment that day. A husband and wife with the last name of Duchene called to find out why she was late and then tried back a second time thirty minutes later. The third call was from her assistant Bridget who said the Duchene’s got in touch with the office when she failed to show up and Vicki went to meet with them and not to worry. I checked the text messages. Both were sent by Parker Stanton. The first came at 9:15 AM that morning and contained three simple words,
I miss you
. The second message arrived ten minutes later and said,
why are you ignoring me—return my call! You’ll regret it if you don’t
. I shoved the cell phone inside my jacket and closed the locker and took the key back to Marty.
“Any luck?” he said.
“I don’t think so.”
Marty was like a father to me, and I didn’t want to worry him if I didn’t need to.
“I almost forgot,” he said. “I wanted to give you something.”
He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out two tickets for the Jazz vs. Lakers game.
“I planned on taking the Mrs., but she’s tied up for another two days in Houston,” he said. “And there’s never a dull moment around this place. Besides, I know if there was a team you wanted to see….”
I woke the next day to the sound of my cell phone. It was Nick.
“Chief wants to see you,” he said.
“I don’t know, he didn’t say. He wants you here right away though.”
I recalled a time as a child when my mom forced me to sit at the table for hours after I refused to eat the last few pieces of mushrooms on my plate. I didn’t care how long I sat there or how cold the mushrooms became. The hours ticked by and I didn’t budge. I wasn’t going to eat them no matter how much she coaxed me. Driving to the station I had a similar feeling of disdain. Except this time I felt like it was my duty to go whether I liked it or not.
A year earlier when Wade Sheppard became the new police chief he suggested I learn the ropes and become a cop. I declined. After working for myself for so long I couldn’t imagine going through all the training just to be put on beat for several years before someone deemed me worthy enough to make detective. I preferred life on my own terms without all the red tape. Sure, I stepped on a toe or two now and then, but I only answered to one person—myself. And freedom like that wasn’t worth giving up, at any price.
Coop was perched by the entrance when I walked in with his body hunched over the coffee machine.
“Well, well, Miss Monroe.”
“Coop,” I said.
“Hear you got yourself a new case.”
“Do yourself a favor.”
“What’s that?” I said.
“Quit while you’re still ahead.”
Before I had the chance to respond, Chief Sheppard took one step out his door and lined me up in his sights.
“Sloane, my office, now.”
Coop sounded off in the background.
“Good luck, you’ll need it.”
The chief’s office was in its usual disheveled state. The drawers to the file cabinet were open to various degrees and files were strewn across his desk. In the center on top of a heap of paperwork rested the day’s paper. He paced back and forth and then grabbed the paper and hurled it in my direction.
“What in the hell is this!”
Plastered in the middle of the front page was a picture of Charlotte and the headline, LOCAL GIRL DIES IN TRAGIC ACCIDENT.
“Well?” he said.
I tossed the paper back on the desk.
“I’m not sure what you want me to say.”
He took the paper and placed it in my hands and stabbed at the article with his index finger.
“Read it, all of it.”
The article offered the usual information. It cited the date of Charlotte’s death and where it took place followed by a brief mention of her career and her stint as a professional skier. It sounded like the usual hum drum until I reached the end.
The cause of death, while accidental, has not yet been determined. Audrey Halliwell, sister of the deceased, had this to say. “I don’t believe my sister’s death was an accident. She was an experienced skier. I tried explaining this to the local police, but they didn’t take me seriously, and in my opinion there’s some kind of cover up going on. The cops had a good laugh at my sister’s expense which left me with no choice but to take it on myself to see that justice is served
I folded the paper and placed it back on the desk.
“Tell me you’re not involved with this unbalanced woman,” he said.
“I assume you know I took her case since you called me here. She believes there’s more to it than just an accident.”
Beads of sweat formed on his forehead and I braced for impact.
“More to what? How does a damned accident make the front page as a possible homicide?”
“She hired me to do a job and I intend to see it through, whatever the outcome.”
“I want you to drop it.”
In all the time I knew him, he had never interfered with my work.
“May I ask why?” I said.
“My phone hasn’t stopped ringing all day. I’ve got reporters crawling all over me for an interview about what happened to this woman.”
“I didn’t speak to the media.”
“But your client did,” he said. “She’s a loose cannon who can’t deal with the fact that her sister is dead. Talking to the press won’t change that.”
“I’ll talk to her,” I said.
His expression relaxed a little.
“So you’ll tell her you can’t proceed?”
“It was an accident Sloane, nothing more.”
“Then you shouldn’t have a problem if I check it out,” I said.
He clenched his fists in a ball and slammed them down on the desk. The coffee in his cup splashed into the air and dispersed liquid in every direction.
“Damn you Sloane, and damn your client too! I’m giving you an order.”
“With all due respect Chief Sheppard,” I said, “I don’t work for you.”
He pressed both hands into his face with so much force I thought it would pierce his skin and then he grabbed a file from his desk and waved me out of his office.
“We’re done here, you can go.”
On my way out I glimpsed Coop in the corner with his fellow officers. They were all in hysterics. He broke from the huddle and looked over at me.
“Shall I call the tree in for questioning,” he said.
The two officers next to him erupted in laughter which added fuel to his fire.
“Yes, uh, Mr. Tree, where were you between the hours of say 10 am and 12 pm? And you didn’t move all day, you say?”
The chief wasn’t the only laughing stock.
I walked past Coop without saying a word. I wanted to slap the smug look off his face, but more than that, I wanted to get the hell out of there.
The real estate office of Ellis & Marshall sat smack dab in the middle of Old Town right next to one of the transit bus stops. Skiers gussied up like big poof balls with their skis in tow waited in anticipation for the bus to make its rounds. Next stop for them, the slopes. And for me, a chat with Charlotte’s real estate partner.
I entered the office and was greeted by a flat screen television with an on-screen display of homes in the current flavors of the month. Located behind it was an entire wall full of photos, most in the I-could-never-possibly-afford-you-in-a-million-years range. Still, one in particular I couldn’t help but take a closer look at.
“It’s a beauty, isn’t it?”
An older woman around fifty in a fitted dress stood next to me. Her shoulder-length hair was styled in a bob and looked like she had stuck her finger in a light socket for a few seconds. It was an ashy blond color, but her roots were grey, and plastered across her lips was the brightest cherry-colored lipstick I had ever seen.
“I’m just looking,” I said.
Cherry lipstick lady grabbed the photo I admired and took it off the wall.
“This one’s a real charmer, and just reduced too.”
Reduced to a mere million and a half, no thank you
, I thought to myself.
“You know, Deer Valley is one of the nicest areas in Park City, and this little beauty, well—between you and me, it won’t stay on the market for long.”
The more she talked the more she reminded me of a starving piranha.
“I’m looking for Vicki Novak,” I said.
“You found her,” she said, and extended her hand. “It’s nice to meet you. And you are?”
She gestured to the stairs on the right.
“Why don’t we talk in my office?”
Vicki’s office was furnished with two desks. One of the desks surfaces displayed a picture of Charlotte and Audrey with their arms around one another. They looked happy. Vicki sat at the other desk, which was devoid of any personal items and polished to a buffed shine.
“What can I do for you today?”
“I wanted to ask you a few questions about your real estate partner,” I said.
The gleam in her eye dissipated. I couldn’t decide whether it was over the fact that someone she cared for had passed away or because she realized that today she wouldn’t make a sale.
“Do you work for the paper?”
“I’m not a reporter,” I said. “Were you and Charlotte partners long?”
“Well let’s see, about five years give or take. What difference does it make?”
She crossed her legs and fidgeted with the phone cord that dangled off her desk.
“It’s terrible, you know, the accident,” she said.
She smoothed her hand across the bottom of her wet eyelid.
“I can’t stop thinking about it. I’ve hardly eaten a thing since it happened.”
“How was your relationship with Charlotte before she died?” I said.
“Forgive my rudeness, but Charlotte never mentioned you. “And you sure ask a lot of questions for someone who isn’t a reporter.”
“I’m a friend of Audrey’s,” I said.
“That still doesn’t explain why you came to see me.”
“Audrey hired me to look into Charlotte’s death.”
“I don’t understand.”
“She believes there’s a possibility that what happened wasn’t an accident,” I said.
Vicki had a stupefied look on her face like I’d just administered 50,000 volts into her system.
“How can that be?”
“I can’t answer that yet,” I said. “But, in the meantime, I’d like your help.”
Tears slid down the corner of her eyes and left black smudge marks on both sides of her cheeks.
“I don’t know how much help I can be, but I’ll try.”
“Is it true the two of you planned a transfer to another agency?” I said.
“We discussed it, but that was about it. No decision was made.”
“Why make the switch?” I said.
“Charlotte felt the time was right. A new agency opened in town and they offered a better commission split. She said we should move before the other real estate agents swooped in and snatched up all the offices.”
“And you?” I said. “How did you feel about leaving?”
“I was the one who convinced her to stay.”
“We made a name for ourselves at this office and between the two of us, we made plenty of money. I didn’t see the point, and after I reasoned with her, she agreed.”
“Can you think of anyone who wanted to harm her?” I said.
She bit down on the corner of her lip.
“Mmmph, no, not really. Everyone loved Charlotte.”
“What about Parker Stanton?” I said. “What do you think of him?”
“He’s a perfect gentleman, most of the time.”
“What do you mean by that?” I said.
“He’s a guy. You know how guy’s are, sometimes sweet, sometimes ahh, what’s a good word for Parker…aggressive, yes, that suits him.”
“Are you saying he’s violent?” I said.
“There have been little flare ups here and there. One time Charlotte and I made plans to meet with a high profile client who flew in to tour some homes with us. Parker called and said he needed her or wanted to talk to her, I don’t recall all the specifics. Anyway, Charlotte said she was tied up and Parker wasn’t too happy about that.”