Authors: Kristina Stanley
“She thinks it’s my fault Simon’s wife left him.”
“Yeah, and the sun rose in the west this morning,” Ben said.
Chica snatched one of Kalin’s mitts and ran up the stairs and into the living room. Kalin chased her, but Chica kept out of reach.
Chica lay on her stomach, swishing her tail across the hardwood floor, looking at Kalin with mischievous eyes and clamping the mitt between her jaws. Kalin laughed at Chica’s furry face. Chica lifted her ears and tilted her head to one side. Each held their place in the stand-off game.
“Come on. I’ll show you what I found.” Ben strode back down the stairs and toward the spare bedroom with Kalin and Chica trailing behind. Chica brought the mitt, carefully keeping her distance from Kalin.
As soon as Kalin saw Roy’s clothes, she paled.
Ben gently touched her wrist. “I shouldn’t have surprised you with this.”
“I gave him that blue sweater one Christmas. I didn’t know he still had it. He never wore it in front of me.” She hugged the sweater to her chest. The wool matched the navy turtleneck sweater she wore.
“I was thinking about you and Roy this morning, and I remembered his suitcase stored in the garage. Out of curiosity, I opened it, not really thinking I’d find anything useful since the RCMP searched our place, but look what I found.” He held up the key. “Tucked inside a pocket.”
“Do you know what it’s for?”
Ben nodded. “I think a storage locker. You know the self-storage place on the highway about a kilometer south of Holden. I used to have a locker before I met you, and my place was too small for my stuff.”
Kalin absently picked up an avalanche training schedule and ran her finger across Roy’s name.
“You look a bit pale. Let’s go upstairs,” Ben said.
Kalin sat at the pine table that served as both a kitchen and a dining room table. “Did Roy leave anything else here that we might have forgotten about?”
Ben poured her a glass of cold water. “Not that I can think of.”
She swallowed a sip and set her glass on the table. “It wasn’t your fault, you know. If you’d been with him, you might have died, too. You have to stop beating yourself up.”
Sometimes Kalin’s ability to know what he was thinking was eerie. “I wish I’d gotten out of bed that morning. Talked to him. If he’d left a few minutes later, maybe the avalanche would have missed him. It’s weird how timing changes everything. I feel like I let him down.”
Chica’s nails clicked on the hardwood floor as she approached and dropped the mitt at Kalin’s feet.
“Bad things happen all the time for no reason.” She eyed Chica to see if she’d leave the mitt alone, then picked it up and wiped the slobber on her jeans.
Ben grabbed Chica by her ears and rubbed them. “Good girl.” He looked at Kalin for a moment, and her face tightened.
“I just had a thought I’m not proud of,” she said. “Do you think Roy dated Jessica because she ran the finance center?”
“I’ve been wondering about that, too,” Ben said.
“I don’t want to believe Roy was that calculating.”
Chica bolted to the kitchen window, put both paws on the windowsill and barked.
Ben rose and looked outside. “Did you hear anything?”
Kalin remained at the table. “You don’t think there’s a cougar outside, do you?”
Chica growled. A deep in-the-throat rumble that exploded into a bark. The hair on her back bristled, creating a ridge from the base of her neck to the top of her tail.
Ben laid his hand on Chica’s head to settle her. “I don’t know.”
“Maybe it’s the same cougar that hid behind our woodpile the other day.”
“It’s weird, but right before Chica barked, I had the feeling we were being watched.”
Ten after two in the morning.
Kalin rolled over and answered the phone before the ringing woke Ben. She stretched her right leg and rubbed her foot on Chica’s silky fur. The dog’s sides rose and fell with deep and steady breathing. She sat up in bed, trying not to disturb her sleeping husband or her sleeping dog.
“We’ve an inebriated guest who’s refusing to go to his room,” Fred, the security manager, said. “We found him sleeping in a stairwell in the Evergreen hotel. I’d like to call the RCMP and have him put in jail for the night.”
The Evergreen was a premier property at the resort and not a place a guest should be passed out in a stairwell. Still groggy, she pushed herself up on her elbows, tugged the blanket from underneath Chica and wrapped it around her bare shoulders, leaving Ben with only the sheet.
Kalin tiptoed across the bedroom, eased the door shut and headed from their loft toward the kitchen. “Okay. Although, I’m not sure why you’re calling me.”
“I called front desk and asked for his room number. Turns out the guy’s a director from head office. He’s here to evaluate the new finance center procedures. The problem is he hit another guest. We’ve been trying to get him to his room, but every time we try, he takes a swing at one of us. I guess he couldn’t find his key, and he broke the door to the Evergreen. Normally, the RCMP would arrest a guest for that behavior, but since he’s a senior employee I want authorization from you.”
“Do you want me to talk to him?” Kalin hadn’t been told head office was sending an auditor to review procedures. Was Fred using this as a way of sharing information with her? Or maybe the auditor was there for something else.
“Sure. His name’s Brian Sobey.”
Kalin waited while muffled voices discussed something at Fred’s end. Then a man said, “Hello.”
“Mr. Sobey, my name is Kalin Thompson. I’m the on-duty manager tonight.”
“What d’ya want?” Sobey’s words slurred together into one long sound.
“I want you to go to your hotel room, but I hear you don’t want to cooperate. So here’s the deal. I’ll give you a choice. You can let security escort you to your room, and you can stay there for the rest of the night,” Kalin paused to give him a chance to understand, “or security will call the RCMP, you’ll spend the night in the drunk tank, and I’ll call head office in the morning and explain the situation.” Kalin heard the cell phone hit something with a clunk.
“I guess I’ll call the RCMP. It’s not likely he’ll cooperate now,” Fred said.
Holding her phone to her ear, she meandered to the edge of the dark kitchen. She peeked outside. The weather had cleared, and moonlight reflected off the snow. “Go ahead. I’ll talk to head office in the morning.”
Chica bolted down the stairs and to her side.
A man stared at her through the sliding glass door. He had a hood pulled over his head, covering most of his features. His hands were pressed against the glass, shielding both sides of his face. His breath fogged the window.
Chica bounded at the glass door. Her nails clattered and slipped on the window, but her teeth were bared at the intruder.
The man turned and ran before she could identify him.
“What’s wrong?” Fred asked.
Kalin’s heart pounded as if she’d skied a double black diamond run beyond her skill level and she’d been lucky to reach the bottom. “A man’s peering in my kitchen window.”
Ben ran into the kitchen and stopped inches behind Chica. He held the fireplace poker ready to swing. “What’s going on?”
Fred asked, “Did you see who it was?”
“What happened?” Ben asked.
Kalin answered Fred. “No. He took off when I screamed.” Her initial thought was Justin Bradley, except the man didn’t move like him. Still, something was familiar.
“Should I send one of the guys over to check it out? I have to stay here until someone from the RCMP arrives.”
Kalin pressed her trembling fingers into Chica’s fur and took a couple of deep breaths. “No, Ben’s here. We’re fine.”
She hung up and checked the windows, the back door that led to the hot tub and the front door. Every time she went near a window her pulse raced. She rechecked each lock, made a pot of tea and scrunched into the corner of the couch, pulling her knees to her chest. Chica jumped up beside her and gave her a look as if daring Kalin to push her off.
Ben joined them on the couch. “This is out of control.”
* * *
“I think it’s time we had another chat,” Constable Miller said. “Your boss told me about the person looking in your window last night.”
Kalin stopped in front of the administration building and unbuckled one snowshoe. “How did Turner know about that?”
“You’ll have to ask him. But I think there’s more going on here than you’re telling me.”
Turner could have read the security reports, or Fred could have reported to him. She checked the time on her phone. Miller was up at the resort before the work day had begun. “How come you’re here so early?”
Miller gave her an easy smile and winked. “You know I can’t reveal that.”
“That’s right. I forgot we’re in secret spy mode.”
“Can we go for a walk and talk?” He lifted his arm and pointed along the path leading to the lifts.
Kalin undid her second snowshoe and leaned the pair against the outside wall of the administration building. A low theft rate was one of the things she loved about small-town living. Her equipment would be there when she returned. “So what’s up?”
“Any idea who was looking in your window last night?”
“Ben and I talked, but there are too many possibilities. The only reason I saw the person was because Fred had just called me about a security issue.”
“Were you planning on reporting the incident?”
“So that means no.”
“You didn’t come here to ask me about last night. Why don’t you ask me whatever it is you want to know?”
“I’ve been hearing rumors about your relationship with Roy. Can you tell me about your past together?”
Miller had no need to know about her family history, still, she wanted him to find out what really happened to Roy and if he had an accomplice. “I helped Roy get his job, so we could be near each other. When I left Ottawa, we weren’t exactly on speaking terms. Since Nora’s son was just born and she took the summer off, he spent last summer working for Ben as a fly-fishing guide.”
“And how were things going?”
“Except that you kicked him out the night before the theft.”
“How do you know that?”
Miller straightened his back and held eye contact with Kalin.
“How I was getting along with Roy had nothing to do with the theft.”
“It’s my job to decide what’s relevant, not yours.”
Kalin laughed. “Do you know how many times I’ve heard you use that line?”
“If you weren’t speaking to Roy when you left Ottawa, what happened to cause that?”
When Miller waited longer than Kalin could stand, she said, “So we are having a serious talk. Roy and I had a fight. I told him something about his fiancée that wasn’t true, and they broke up.”
“What did you tell him?”
“That she’d cheated on him. I thought she had, but found out too late maybe it wasn’t true. I’ve felt terrible ever since.”
Miller remained silent while they walked by several housekeeping staff on their way to work. When they were alone again, he continued with his questions. “Did you know Roy planned to steal the money? Is that why you kicked him out?”
“That was a bit direct. I don’t believe Roy is the thief. I think it’s convenient to blame him when he’s not able to defend himself.” Kalin wasn’t sure why she lied. In the safety of Ben’s arms, saying Roy was guilty was one thing. Telling Miller was another.
“The timing of his disappearance is suspicious. Did you help him steal the money?”
“Maybe you kicked him out, so we wouldn’t think you were in on the theft with him. Is this something you planned together?”
Kalin’s anger tightened in her chest. She resisted the urge to walk away from Miller. “I didn’t do anything wrong and neither did Roy.”
“Did you lend Roy your master key?”
“No, I…What are you talking about? Did you find an extra key?”
“Just wondering if Roy had access to yours.”
Kalin had worked with the locksmith and Fred on a new key protocol when keys had been used to gain unauthorized access to a ski-tuning room. Miller had been involved in that investigation and had met the locksmith. He’d probably called Brightman after Kalin told him all the directors had a master key that opened the finance center.
“This is not the first time you and Roy have been investigated.”
“Really. I know about your husband’s unsolved death.”
Her intake of cold air froze her lungs. She planted her boots in the snow but didn’t say anything.
“Did you inherit much when your husband died?”
“We didn’t have any money or life insurance.”
“Did Roy gain anything from his death?”
“Of course not.”
“You and Ben must owe quite a bit of money now.”
The change of subject threw her off a bit. Miller wasn’t holding back because they were friends. “We can afford the payments. Besides, one hundred grand barely covers a quarter of the house. It’s not enough.”
“It’s enough to ease things a bit.”
“What’s wrong with you?”
* * *
Kalin flopped onto Roy’s bed in the guest room. Resting her head on his pillow, she inhaled, searching for a lingering scent. How could she have lost him?
Miller’s questions frightened her. She didn’t understand the link back to Jack’s death or why Miller had looked into her past. After Miller left her standing in the cold at the bottom of the lift station, she’d gone straight to the locksmith’s.
“Other than the list you already gave me, are you sure no one else has a master key?” she asked.
“Positive,” Brightman answered in his customary gruff voice.
“When was the latest key issued?”
Brightman checked his records. “I gave one to Oliver Ward when he was promoted to director of mountain ops.”
“Why didn’t you give him the key from the previous director?”
“It wasn’t returned to me.”
“So where is it?”
Brightman shrugged his shoulders.
Knowing Brightman shut down if he thought he was being criticized, Kalin hid her frustration. During the investigation into the death of a local ski hero, Kalin had discovered Brightman’s atrocious record keeping and forced a new process in place.
She rolled over on Roy’s bed, shoved her hand underneath his pillow and bunched it tighter. She felt a lump and pulled out Roy’s wallet. Either he forgot it when he took off the morning of the avalanche or he was planning on coming back.
She put his wallet to her nose, breathing in the leather. After saving for several months, she’d given it to Roy for his twentieth birthday. It was the first expensive gift she’d ever given him, and she’d bought it at Roots, hoping he’d think it was cool.
She spread the contents of the wallet across his comforter, including a crumpled newspaper clipping she found stuffed into the billfold. Kalin didn’t need to read the words to know what it said. The
published the article not long after Jack died. It was a summary of the accident, stating the hit-and-run driver hadn’t been located and asking for information. The clipping was an odd thing for Roy to save.
She examined a small photo of Roy and Patricia standing at the side of the Rideau Canal getting ready to skate on Canada’s second-longest outdoor rink. Had anyone called Patricia and told her about Roy? Even though she was no longer engaged to him, she had a right to know.
Roy’s bank and credit card were in the pile. She ran her fingers across his name embossed on his bank card and blinked to clear her eyes. She believed he’d been planning to return to their place. Otherwise he would have taken his wallet. He wasn’t on the run with the finance center money. Still, she asked herself if Roy took her keys without her noticing and copied the master. Maybe he stole the money, but at least he wasn’t pretending to be dead.
The doorbell rang. On her way to the front hall, she dropped the bank card on the windowsill. She opened the door an inch. “Ben?”
“What are you doing here so late?” Kalin looked down at her sweats and tank top. Good thing she wasn’t wearing pajamas.
“Hi to you, too.”
“Can I come in? I’d like to talk to you.” When Kalin didn’t move he added, “Please.”
Letting politeness get the better of her, she relented and gestured to the stairs leading to the living room. After he passed by her, she nudged the door, pretending to close it, but left the bolt unlatched against the frame. Her intuition told her there was something off about Aiden. Maybe he was the one who’d been looking in her window.