Authors: R. E. Donald
Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Crime, #Crime Fiction
What readers are saying about
the Hunter Rayne highway mysteries:
“A great take to bed read for anyone who loves crime fiction in a traditional fashion.”
“Those were the best mysteries I've read in a long time!! As soon as I finished the first one I bought the second and felt empty when I finished it! The characters were awesome and so there that I somehow think they are in my life …”
“The dialogue is well written and smooth and … there are well thought out and believable twists. The pacing is good and the lead characters are likable, flaws and all.”
“… this book caught my attention from the very first pages and it only got better. I recommend this book to anyone who has a love for a good mystery.”
“ … Hunter Rayne would make a great TV detective, driving around the country in his rig visiting different states and helping to solve crimes. He is that interesting of a character.”
Also by R.E. Donald
SLOW CURVE ON THE COQUIHALLA
ICE ON THE GRAPEVINE
SUNDOWN ON TOP OF THE WORLD
SEA TO SKY
a Hunter Rayne highway mystery
Copyright 2012 by R.E. Donald
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
License Notes: This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
Cover © 2012 Hunter Johnsen
Proud Horse Publishing, British Columbia, Canada
Kindle edition, February 2015
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental. This story is set in the year 1997.
For the Hunter brothers from Teulon, Manitoba.
We’ll never forget you.
Being apart and lonely is like rain.
It climbs toward evening from the ocean plains;
from flat places, rolling and remote, it climbs
to heaven, which is its old abode.
Rainer Maria Rilke
The DC-10 started its descent. Just as the captain had predicted, it was caught in a layer of turbulence and began to lurch from one rung of cloud to the next, rocking in between like a deranged teeter-totter some fifteen thousand feet above the ground.
Mike Irwin clenched his teeth as his wife clutched at his forearm, resisting the urge to shake her fingers loose. “Calm down, Kelly,” he said, not for the first time, trying not to sound as irritated as he felt. “We’re all buckled in for Chris’sake. Look at the stewardess. Doesn’t even bat an eye.” He nodded in the direction of the flight attendant making her way up the aisle toward their row of seats with a black trash bag, collecting plastic cups and napkins. He threw back the last of his scotch and soda, wishing there was time for one more.
Mike was on the right aisle, with two-year-old Corenna between him and her mother. The little girl was picking her nose. “Let go,” he said to his wife, pulling his arm out of her grasp. He leaned toward the little girl and gently pulled her hand from her face, held it up to his lips and made smacking sounds against her fingers. They were cool and sticky and smelled of the cookie she’d just eaten. Corenna giggled. “You’re not scared, are you, monkey?” She shook her head, smiling, proud of his approval.
The plane dropped again, and Mike’s stomach lurched. Corenna squealed, then burst into giggles again. “That’s my girl,” he said. “Just like the ‘throw me’ game, isn’t it, monkey?” He smiled and stroked her hair. He loved the feel of her, soft and smooth, and the way she looked at him with those large liquid eyes. Her tiny teeth were white and even. “That’s my girl,” he repeated.
Mike looked up and his smile vanished. From the seat to Kelly’s left, his five-year-old son Jordan searched his mother’s face with worried eyes, his mouth open like some kind of moron. Mike wanted to reach over and shake the kid, tell him to buck up, not be such a wuss. His first-born son was nothing but a momma’s boy. As if reading his mind, Kelly shot him a reproachful look and gave Jordan’s skinny shoulders an awkward hug.
“Lighten up,” Mike said, and looked beyond them, out the window. He saw a wall of mist, tumbling from grey to white and back to grey again. The plane was dropping through the cloud cover on the descent to Sea-Tac Airport. He shouldn’t have let Kelly make the arrangements but he’d been so busy at work getting ready for the conference, he hadn’t had time to see to it himself. “We should have flown directly to Vancouver and rented a car,” he said. “What the hell were you thinking?” He shook his head. “If I’d known you were going to make such a big production out of it, I would’ve gone alone.”
Kelly bowed her head and her face went slack. It was her hurt look. She looked that way a lot and he was getting pretty tired of it. He married her because she was young and sexy and he enjoyed being with her, but always acting hurt was affecting her looks. He should have known. If she was attracted to him because he was an older man and she thought he would protect her, that meant she was weak. He had thought that would be a good thing, to have a submissive woman, but it wasn’t. It turned him off.
No wonder he still thought about his ex-wife as much as he did. Alora was more of a match for him; a woman with strong spirit, she got mad instead of hurt. Funny, though, that imagining his ex-wife submitting to him was what turned him on. Although she’d only ever shown him anger and not fear, he knew that his ex-wife was afraid of him — why else would she keep moving and changing her phone number? — but still he fantasized about actually seeing that fear in her, touching it and smelling it, feeling it quiver in his hands and beneath his weight.
“We haven’t seen your parents since last Christmas,” said Kelly, tucking her hair behind her ear. It was blonder than the last time she’d had it done. Very SoCal and Mike liked it. He couldn’t remember if he’d told her so. “Your mom’s really excited about seeing the kids,” she said.
There were a few seconds of turbulence, which shut his wife up and made her grip the armrests until her knuckles turned white. Jordan grabbed her right arm with both of his dainty hands. Mike looked away, leaned back against the headrest and nodded to the flight attendant as she passed their row of seats, sure that she’d say no if he asked for another drink.
“If I wanted to see more of my parents, I wouldn’t live two states away from them,” he said, still looking up the aisle.
The turbulence subsided into small jiggles and Kelly relaxed a little. “You’ll be busy with your conference, Mike. The kids and I can spend time with your mom and dad. You said yourself we should take advantage of the free hotel.” She patted Jordan’s arm as he settled back into his seat.
Mike grunted. “Why the hell are we driving up from Seattle with them? They could’ve just met us there.”
“They have a van. We can visit on the drive up. It’ll be fun.”
“You said we wouldn’t need a car once we get to Whistler. The hotel’s right in the little village and you can walk to the ski hill, right?”
“Don’t whine. That’s where Jordan gets it from.” He pointed at his son. “Don’t you talk like your mom does. Ever. Understand?” The kid had a picture book on his lap. He wouldn’t look at Mike, just lowered his eyes and pretended to read. Mike snorted. Was there any point trying to change the kid? Defective. Too many genes from Kelly’s side. At least, from Kelly’s mother’s side. Kelly’s father had been a Marine, had served with Mike’s father and proven himself in Vietnam, fought in close combat and survived to talk about it. Kelly’s mother had OD’d on sleeping pills and left her twelve year old daughter to be raised by her father. He’d heard his own parents whisper about the woman and knew that she’d been too weak psychologically to cope with a soldier husband.
Mike thought about the time his parents had come down to LA and stayed at the house when Corenna was a newborn. He had thought it would be a good idea, having his mom there to look after Jordan while Kelly recovered from the delivery and got into a routine with the new baby. Mike spent one day at home visiting, then escaped to the office for as many hours a day as he could until they left. There had been tension, more than he’d expected. It pissed him off. It was none of his mother’s business, or his father’s, what happened in his house between himself and his wife, between himself and his son. He didn’t need anyone reproaching him, however diplomatically, for how he managed his own family. Next time they came, he’d booked them into a nearby hotel. Kelly had suggested renting a chalet at Whistler so all of them could stay together, but Mike nixed that idea in a hurry. Separate rooms. Separate floors.
And there was only one way he’d be able to stand the 230 mile trip from Sea-Tac to Whistler in his father’s Dodge van.
“Remember”, he said, reaching across Corenna and squeezing his wife’s upper arm to get her full attention. “I’ll have to drive.”
There was something about the woman at the corner table.
What attracted Hunter Rayne’s attention was that the woman didn’t attract attention. Here in a five star hotel at a top-rated ski resort, an adult playground where men and women sporting year round tans and wearing Ralph Lauren sweaters came to show themselves off, she was obviously not playing the game. She couldn’t hide that she was attractive, although her nose, her chin, her cheeks were a little too full to be called beautiful, but she downplayed her looks by using almost no makeup. Her hair was unremarkable: medium length, medium brown, not styled but not unruly. She wore a bulky patterned sweater the color of cedar bark that hid the shape of her body, so she seemed part of the heavy wooden furniture and textured walls. She didn’t appear shy or awkward; on the contrary, her face showed intelligence and self-assurance. She appeared to be reading a paperback novel, but her eyes skimmed the room without changing the tilt of her head. He had seen the server top up her Irish coffee mug with decaf, and she sipped from her mug every now and then, sometimes checked her wristwatch.
Hunter had done enough undercover work himself during his twenty-odd years as a member of the RCMP to recognize the signs. She was waiting for someone, but he knew she didn’t want whoever she was waiting for to notice her. It amused him to watch her watching the room. More than that, it helped take his mind off the reason why he was here, kept him from being aware that he was totally out of place, and kept him from wishing he hadn’t decided to come. He looked down at his faded jeans and cowboy boots, not good in snow but the only boots he had without steel toes.
What’s a guy like me doing here at a fancy hotel in the mountains?
Why was he here at the Coast Peaks Hotel waiting to meet a woman he hardly knew? He guessed that he was here because he felt it was the right thing to do. He needed a break from months on the road, driving a big blue Freightliner tractor pulling a loaded trailer up and down the west coast of North America. He hadn’t ‘dated’ — if that was the right word for it — in the years since his divorce. At first it was because he thought Christine would change her mind, then it was because he still hoped she would, and finally it was because … he wasn’t sure. Maybe just because it was easier not to. He was healthy, red-blooded, unattached, and he was often lonely, sometimes bored with himself. He seemed to be searching up and down the highways for something he couldn’t name or describe. He often thought back to the early days of his marriage to Christine, the mother of his two teenage daughters. It seemed to him that the man he was then was a stranger to the man he was now, twenty years, several thousand challenging days, and countless misunderstandings ago. Possibly Alora Magee was part of that unidentified something he was searching for, but if he had a good excuse to leave Whistler right now, he would.
The watching woman had noticed him watching her. She looked again at her wristwatch, then at the pub’s entrance, as if to say, ‘See, I’m waiting for someone.’ He followed her gaze to the doorway and there was Alora Magee, lawyer from Los Angeles, an acquaintance from last summer who seemed to be attracted to him and wanted to get to know him better. He’d liked her, but would probably never have seen her again if she hadn’t made the first move. It started with ‘Do you ski?’ Then ‘I’m coming to Whistler in February. How would you like to show me around?
She looked good. Her hair was short and glossy, a brown so dark it seemed black beside the cinnamon colored suede of her jacket. She wore dark jeans that showed off her slender hips, and a soft ivory sweater, against which hung an asymmetrical rock of amber on a leather thong. Hunter stood up and cleared his throat, then remembered his mother’s lessons on manners and made his way past a few crowded tables to greet her. “Hi, you made it,” he said, offered her his arm and escorted her back to his table. “How do you like Whistler so far?”
She stood on tiptoe and brushed her lips across his cheek. Her lips were soft as a baby’s breath and a rich vanilla scent lingered beside his nose. “Hey, handsome,” she said. “Good thing you’re here to support me. After two days on the slopes I can hardly walk.” She leaned against him, warm and soft and not heavy at all.
He remembered how refreshing her cheerful, confident manner had been when he met her in Los Angeles. She acted as if they were friends already, and he went along with it. “Glad to be of service,” he said with a smile, waiting as she slid into the booth before sitting down across from her. So this is how it’s done, he said to himself. Just pretend you know each other better than you really do.
They talked about skiing at first. He hadn’t skied for several years, he told her. Not since he broke up with his wife. He used to take his girls skiing on the North Shore mountains, the ones you could see across the inlet from Vancouver. He thought, but didn’t say, that they used to have family skiing days more often when the girls were younger. What happened in those later years? Could he have spent so much time away from home, even as a detective with the RCMP, that he had no time for skiing with his family? He knew the answer. He spent a lot of what used to be family time with Ken, trying to keep his best friend sane, trying to keep him from drinking, trying to keep him from doing what he eventually did do. By the time Ken was gone, it seemed too late to recapture the family life they’d had.
She ordered a martini. “Dirty,” she told the waiter.
“What’s that?” Hunter asked her. “Beer for me. Labatt’s Blue in the bottle, if you have it,” he said to the waiter.
“A little olive juice in it,” she told him. “I don’t know why I order it that way. Maybe just for a conversation piece.”
“It worked, didn’t it?”
“I guess…” Her voice died abruptly. Her face had flash-frozen into a fixed mask, mouth slightly open, eyes wide, with a glint of panic in the pupils. Hunter followed her gaze to a large round table across the room where a man was pulling out a chair facing the entrance for himself, and motioning his female companion to one on the opposite side of the large empty table. He was a fit, well built man but the way his turtleneck sweater bulged softly above his belt showed he was past his athletic prime. He wore a light leather jacket and slacks. His companion was an attractive young woman, tall and slender but lacking the healthy glow of the skiers around her, as if she were recovering from an illness. She wore no coat. Hunter assumed they were guests at this hotel, same as Alora. The woman settled into her seat and smiled, but the smile seemed forced, almost pained, and she half turned to watch the entrance, as if expecting someone else to arrive. The man pulled a menu across the table and opened it, ignoring his companion.