Authors: Kristina Stanley
“Let’s snowshoe to work this morning,” Ben said.
Kalin pressed her head into her pillow and debated whether to pretend she was sleeping or not. Why couldn’t Ben just give her time to heal? The avalanche happened on Monday, and it was only Friday. Two days since Ben called off the search. Two days of anger filling her heart and clawing at her insides.
“I know you’re awake. I can tell from your breathing.” Ben massaged her back between her shoulder blades. “Come on. You have to talk to me sometime.”
She curled into a ball, pulling her knees to her chest. Her flannel pajamas, the ones Ben made fun of, provided a soft barrier, a way to distance herself from him. “Sure.”
“That was enthusiastic.”
Kalin tossed the quilt to the side and stepped onto the plush carpet. She loved the texture on her bare feet. Without turning on the light or opening her eyes, she stumbled to the shower.
She got dressed in thermal underwear, ski pants and a sweater she could wear at work, and met Ben in the kitchen. He’d fried bacon and eggs, her favorite, and set orange juice on the table. She gave him points for trying.
Half an hour later, Kalin strode beside Ben, her snowshoes sinking in the deep snow. The blades on the bottom, meant to grip icy ground, wouldn’t be needed. With each step, snow flew up the back of her legs and bounced off her ski pants.
Chica trotted behind them, smart enough to travel on the path flattened by their snowshoes, stopping occasionally to sniff at something.
Two beams of light from their headlamps bounced along in front of them, lighting the way.
“Kalin, we have to get past this.”
“I know. I’m just so angry.”
“No. At Roy, but I don’t want to blame him.”
“So you’re not mad at me. Just not speaking to me.”
Kalin stomped along without answering. Why was it so hard to articulate her feelings? She trusted Ben. He loved her, and yet, she couldn’t express herself well.
“Your silence is kinda what I mean by not speaking to me.”
In the darkness, she smiled, knowing Ben couldn’t see her face. “This is hard for me.”
“I can tell.”
“Don’t tease me right now. I can’t take it.”
“I understand why you called off the search. I really do. I know it was the right thing to do. Roy being left alone to die is too horrible to think about, even though I know that’s what happened.”
“Maybe he was hit so fast, he didn’t know he would die.”
“I hope that’s how it happened. The alternative is unbearable.”
“We’ll check the terrain today. If it’s still not stable, it should be within the next couple of days. As soon as it’s safe, I’ll get the team out there.”
Ben reached for Kalin’s hand and pulled her to a stop. He drew her to him and hugged her. “I love you,” he whispered.
She rested her head on his shoulder and let herself relax. Enough was enough. Time to forgive and let go. “I love you right back.”
They cut to the path that ran along the bottom of a black diamond ski run. The steep terrain was one of Kalin’s favorite runs. “Where’s Chica?”
“She’s back there somewhere. She’ll—” The rumble of snow cascading down the slope drowned out Ben’s words.
“Run,” he shouted.
Without hesitating, she pumped her legs hard. She sensed Ben at her side, matching her stride for stride. Snow dragged over the back of her snowshoes, and she tripped.
Ben grabbed her jacket and yanked her upright.
They kept running and reached the safety of the thick forest. The mounds of snow descending pounded across the path where they’d hiked only seconds before.
Kalin scanned the area with the lamp but found nothing in the darkness. “Where’s Chica? I can’t see her.”
“Chica, come,” Ben shouted.
“Oh, Ben. Not Chica.”
The slide stopped, and an evil silence fell around them.
Kalin’s pulse throbbed in her throat and an ache pressed behind her eyes. “Chica!”
The soft padding of her paws on snow reached their ears before the sight of their dog.
“She must have run backward and waited on the other side. Smart dog,” Ben said.
Chica ran to Kalin just as Kalin sank to her knees. Her wet tongue froze her cheeks, but she didn’t care. She wrapped her arms around Chica’s back and held her until her breathing returned to an acceptable speed.
“The groomers were supposed to groom that run last night,” Ben said. “It shouldn’t have been left with so much loose snow.”
“Did you tell anyone we were hiking to work this morning?”
“Oliver. We’re going to snowshoe across some of the higher terrain later today. We’re taking Aiden with us.”
“You don’t think—”
“Man, you’re suspicious. That was an accident.”
“I guess this means you won’t be starting search and rescue again today.”
* * *
With Chica clipped to her leash, Kalin hustled toward the security office. Five days after the avalanche and the theft, Fred Morgan, the security manager, had arrived back at the resort from his brother’s wedding in Hawaii. Turner would talk to him soon, and she’d better beat her boss to him, otherwise Fred might not keep her informed.
Her cell rang. A Calgary number she didn’t recognize. “Kalin Thompson.”
“Gavin Reed here.”
She hadn’t spoken to Reed since he’d left the resort in shame last spring. He’d been her previous boss and the president of Stone Mountain. After reporting to Turner for the last six months, she realized Reed had been the better boss. He’d been tough but fair.
“I thought you were a Timlin now.”
“I kept my surname, but yes, I did marry Ben. Thanks for the reference.”
“I’m glad I got your voicemail, or I might have called Turner to talk with him. Did you get an offer?”
“I did. I haven’t decided yet what I’m going to do. They gave me a couple of weeks to decide because of the avalanche and theft. They understand I can’t really commit yet.”
“How’s Turner taking the news?”
“I haven’t told him. He doesn’t need to know unless I accept the job.”
“Hmm. I remember you like to keep secrets.”
Reed laughed. “I’m kidding. But you might tell him before he finds out from someone else. If you go, what’s Ben going to do there?”
“Ski patrol. Although the timing’s bad. He was promoted to manager here.”
“Good for Ben. Let me know if he needs a reference.”
“Thanks.” She still had to let Ben know she’d been offered the job. It was too soon to think about a reference for him. “How’s Melanie? Do you know what’s happening yet?”
“She’s fine, considering. She was sentenced to two years less a day. I guess we couldn’t expect any less for an arson charge. Ian’s racing this weekend in Lake Placid.”
Kalin guessed Reed wasn’t comfortable talking about his daughter and what happened, so he’d changed the subject to his son. Kalin had done her best to help Melanie by being a character reference, and Reed had been grateful. “I know. Nora told me she was heading there to watch him.”
“Have you seen Ethan lately?”
Ethan was Reed’s grandson, born only eight months previously to Nora and Ian. “I have. He’s as cute as can be. I hope Ian does well in the World Cup race.”
When she hung up she found herself wishing Reed was still at Stone Mountain. She also wished Nora wasn’t traveling and was here to help her get through this mess.
After the previous security office had burnt to rubble in the big fire, Fred and his team used an office in the upper village during the rebuild process, but now they were back in the lower village, enjoying new office space.
Kalin entered the room filled with new-carpet smell. The all-familiar BOLO list hung on one wall. Turner probably wanted Kalin and Ben’s name on that list now.
Fred entered from his private office located in the corner of the room, shut the door, said hello to Kalin and pet Chica on her head.
“How was the wedding?” she asked.
Fred ushered Kalin into the small conference room, offering her a place to sit. “Great. I’m really sorry about Roy.”
Kalin’s throat tightened. More time needed to pass before she could talk about Roy without choking up. “Thanks.”
“How’s Ben doing?”
“Being in charge of search and rescue has been tough on him. I know he had to call off the search when he did, but he’s second-guessing himself. I don’t think he’d do that if Roy wasn’t my brother.”
“I can imagine. Any news on a second search?”
“Not today. Ben will evaluate the conditions again tomorrow.”
“What happened to your chin?”
“I hit it on a snowmobile windshield. It’s fine.” As soon as her stitches were removed and people couldn’t see the injury, the topic would be dead. Explaining she’d been an idiot wasn’t a conversation welcome in her world. She hung her jacket behind the door and sat in the offered chair. Chica curled up on the floor and rested her jaw on Kalin’s foot. “We need to talk about the theft investigation.”
Keeping his eyes lowered, Fred doodled in his notebook, his pen scratching across the paper. The notebook usually kept important investigation information, but today’s squiggles told her it was a prop to avoid looking at her. She said, “Don’t tell me.”
“I met with Turner this morning.”
“And he asked you to keep me out of things?”
“He did. I’m sorry, Kalin. This is awkward, but I understand where he’s coming from.”
They both turned their heads toward the door when a knock interrupted them. Constable Miller entered. “We’ve one polygraph to repeat and then we’re done.”
Kalin stood and glanced between Fred and Miller. Chica wagged her tail and approached Miller for the required pet on her head.
“I didn’t see you,” Miller said to Kalin.
“I feel like the proverbial third wheel,” Kalin said. “Any chance I can know the results and who has to repeat the test?”
“Sorry.” Miller tucked his RCMP cap underneath his arm. “Don’t take it personally.”
“No, it’s not personal. Not at all. Just because my boss has convinced everyone I’m a thief or my brother’s a thief, and I can’t be trusted to work on this. No, that’s not personal.”
Fred blushed and stared at his feet. Kalin had never seen him look so awkward, and she almost smiled at him.
“I’d like permission to search your home,” Miller said.
Kalin took a deep breath. She couldn’t see any reason to forbid the RCMP from going through her house, except the invasion of privacy, but looking guiltier wouldn’t prove Roy’s innocence, so she said, “Fine, do what you need.”
“Thanks. I’ll send some officers over this afternoon.” Miller moved out of Kalin’s way, giving her space to reach the door. “I need to bring Fred up to speed and then get back to Holden.”
At least Miller had the grace to look apologetic as he ushered her out the door.
* * *
Minutes after Constable Wagner and the rest of the RCMP officers left his home, Ben put on his work jacket, gloves and boots. He flicked on the outdoor lights and stepped off the back porch. He grabbed the splitting axe, placed a log flat on the ground and swung. Hard. The wood split, and he picked up another log.
Chica ran to the edge of the stone wall and peed. She seemed content as long as she had someone, anyone really, to hang with. Earlier, she’d followed the RCMP officers from room to room while they searched the house. Constable Wagner had shown up without Miller. She was far less talkative and less friendly than him. All business, but polite. Maybe Miller knew Kalin too well to be allowed to search their home.
Both Turner and the cops spent more time searching for the missing money than for Roy’s body. If the next attempt at finding Roy failed, Ben planned to search the mountain in the spring and find him, no matter how gruesome his remains might be. He owed Kalin that much.
He’d talked with the grooming manager about the small avalanche that crossed the snowshoe trail. The man had said he missed the instructions to groom the run. Ben remembered Oliver updating the whiteboard, but somehow the instructions were erased. He hadn’t told Kalin that tidbit of information. She’d get all excited that someone had set them up. But there’s no way they could have timed an avalanche for the exact moment Ben and Kalin were on the path. Unless—
Chica barked, ran to the front deck and wagged her tail. Ben followed to find out what she’d barked at.
Aiden Price smiled up at Ben from the driveway and dangled a six-pack in front of him.
Jessica stood beside him, just inside the dome of lights, and tucked her hands in her armpits. “We saw Kalin at work and thought you might need some company tonight. We heard the cops were here.”
Juicy news spread like the common cold in the close quarters of the isolated resort. Ben waved for Aiden and Jessica to come up the side steps. He knew Jessica better than the lift manager. The question was why were they there together?