Avalanche (A Stone Mountain Mystery Book 3) (4 page)

Her jaw ached from clenching her teeth during her meeting with Turner. He’d dragged her out of the finance center and grilled her about the security process without a thought of Roy or the avalanche.

Ben rounded the corner, clomped over a mound of snow and reached for her hand. She held tight as if his touch could give her strength.

Her breath blossomed into clouds in front of her face, and her skin prickled from the sub-zero temperature. “Any news?”

“Nothing yet. The team’s still searching. I just came off the mountain to talk with you and meet more rescuers. What’s with the suit? Aren’t you freezing?”

“A bit. Are the helicopters here?”

“Already searching.”

“What about dogs?”

Ben canted his head toward the parking lot. A red SUV pulled into a space at the end of the nearest row. The driver disembarked and opened the back hatch. Two German shepherds wearing vests jumped to the ground and barked at their handler. Ben waved at the driver to head toward the snowmobiles waiting by the side of the building. “There are two already searching and here come two more.”

“Who’s on the mountain now?”

“Everyone available is searching for Roy. I get you’re worried, but I’ll handle this. Okay?”

Kalin bit the inside of her cheek to keep herself from saying anything rash. She shouldn’t take her fear out on Ben. “Okay.”

The icy air stung her hands, and Kalin shivered. She pulled her suit jacket tight over her chest.

“You’re freezing. Let’s go inside.” Ben put his arm around her shoulder and led her into the ski patrol meeting room.

Even when empty, the room smelled of antiseptic.

“I’ve never seen you in a suit.”

Kalin rubbed her hands together, and the heat returning to her skin caused more pain than the cold. “Now’s the worst time to talk about this. The chairman of the board at White Peaks called me. I was supposed to have my panel interview today.”

“You didn’t say yes to the job, did you?”

Disappointed at his first response, Kalin hid her feelings. “I wasn’t offered it yet. I postponed the interview because of what’s going on.”

“I don’t want to move there. White Peaks is a metropolis. There’s no village plan. It’s sprawling condos surrounded by more sprawling condos. There’s no community. It would be like living in a city. What if you get the job?”

Stone Mountain was Ben’s life. And she loved him. “It’s a long shot.”

“No, it’s not. You can’t mean moving. We just built our house.”

“And it’s beautiful. It won’t be hard to sell.” Their first attempt at building the house had been destroyed by arson. They’d almost decided not to rebuild, but both Kalin and Ben believed in Stone Mountain and the life they’d created.

Could she really think about moving after all they’d been through? The isolated resort surrounded by crown land suited her. The town of Holden, twenty minutes away by a rough mountain road, provided all they needed.

“If I’d known you were really serious about this, I wouldn’t have accepted the manager role.”

Ben was right. The timing sucked. He’d worked hard to get this promotion, and he deserved the success. Oliver would be annoyed if Ben quit so soon after taking the position, but she had to see where the opportunity led.

“Does Turner know yet?”

“No.”

“Aren’t you worried he’s going to find out?”

Since the theft and the avalanche distracted Turner, she wasn’t worried. Much. “The people at White Peaks will be discreet. There’s something else.” Kalin told Ben about the theft.

Ben wrapped his arms around her. She folded into him and rested her cheek on his shoulder. She loved this man. He was dealing with an avalanche and still had time to comfort her. A sob built in her throat.

He pressed his lips to her ear. “You okay?”

“No. Yes. You’re so unbelievably good to me.”

The man with the search dogs rapped twice on the window.

Ben released her from the hug. “I need to get back on the mountain. Call if you need me.”

The conversation about White Peaks would have been much tougher if Roy wasn’t missing, and for that Kalin silently thanked Ben. He understood her relationship with Roy and how hard this was on her. “Be careful.”

CHAPTER SIX

 

Jessica Scott rested her forehead against the frosted windowpane and watched Kalin walk from the mountain ops building to the administration building. Would Kalin stand up for her?

How could someone empty the safe while she managed the operation? Her office might be a hovel, but she’d earned the place. And how dare Turner treat her like she’d done something wrong? She kicked the wall hard enough for drywall to loosen and drift to the carpet.

“I hate that wall, too,” Simon Crane said.

Jessica swirled. “Ever think of knocking?”

The scent of freshly shampooed hair followed him into her office. Jessica glared at him, daring him to speak. His cheeks and ears were flushed from the cold. When he’d turned fifteen, Simon acquired his perfect looks as if a magic fairy visited his bedroom one night and granted him one wish. Since then, he tried to look cool. He wore a hunting knife on his belt when everyone else carried bear spray. He refused to wear a toque when the temperature dropped below zero and everyone else dressed for the weather.

“I just got Helen’s voicemail,” Simon said.

As the night auditor, Simon’s last duty of his shift included delivering the previous day’s receipts to the finance center. Irritation understated what Jessica felt about him missing today’s delivery. “What happened with the receipts this morning?”

Simon flashed his signature smile meant to disarm her, but she knew him too well to fall for the amateurish trick. She waited while he stared at her with his transparent blue eyes and tidied his blond hair with his hand.

“I’m sorry. I forgot to bring them to Helen. I went home to sleep and didn’t realize—I’ll take them to her now. Anyway, she should have called to remind me as soon as she got in.”

“You know she’s too timid for that.” Jessica held out her open hand with impatience. “Give them to me.”

Simon handed her the bag. “Are you pissed? It won’t happen again.”

“You can’t rely on our history to get you out of this.” Jessica had grown up in the valley with Simon. Besides a brief stint in Calgary, he’d never lived anywhere else. She’d hired him when the last night auditor quit after her husband died in some horrific accident. The woman had been one of Kalin’s best friends.

She opened her desk drawer and pulled out a disciplinary form. She filled in Simon’s offense and handed him the paper.

“You’re kidding, right?”

“My job’s on the line. I have to show Turner I’m capable.”

Simon flicked the paper at Jessica, letting it flutter to the floor. “You can’t.”

“You owe me.”

“How do you figure that one?”

“I told Kalin I did a reference check on you, so she wouldn’t. As if she’d hire you after the number of times you’ve been fired.”

“I didn’t ask you to lie for me.”

“Who else would hire you?”

Simon inhaled deeply, several times, as if controlling his temper. “Fine.”

Jessica walked around her desk and picked up the form. Simon signed on the dotted line, and she put the paper aside to store in his personnel file. “So let me tell you what happened today.”

After she finished her tirade on the day’s events, Simon said, “That explains your mood.”

“Don’t be snide. I’ve had enough. Constable Miller treated me like any other staff member. I should be given more respect than the clerks. Tomorrow he’s coming back with questionnaires and a fingerprinting kit. Turner’s going to force everyone to take a polygraph test.”

“That could be a problem for you.”

“Shut up.”

“Hey, if you need to talk, I’m here for you.” He punched her lightly on her arm and left her alone.

The rhythmic thumping of helicopter blades drew her attention toward the ski hill. The chopper thundered past her office window. She’d been dating Roy since last summer. If a skier had an accident requiring a helicopter, he’d be busy. Still, he should be the one offering support, not Simon.

If Roy kept behaving like an ass, well, off to the dump with him. She’d caught the jerk going into Helen’s place at night, too drunk to notice her a few steps behind him. When he’d left the bar, her intuition told her to follow him. Why did he have to choose one of her employees? Not that he’d ever sleep with someone as fragile as Helen.

Jessica loved skiing with Roy. He’d learned to ski with his sister when they were kids, and with his aggressive nature, he’d excelled. She didn’t know why, but she liked guys with an edge.

The problem with the edge was the cuts that came along with the adventure. For the first time in her life, the beginnings of heartbreak nipped at her.

Her desk phone rang. She ignored the ringing until the call switched to voicemail. Roy never called her landline. Her cell rang. She checked the display in case it was Roy, but no luck. Ben Timlin was on the other end. Too bad. She wasn’t in the mood to talk to him.

 

* * *

 

Jessica figured Constable Miller had finished interviewing employees, and she left her office in search of Helen and Eric. Her two clerks. One shy and typically nervous. The other a contrast with his loud voice and outspoken demeanor. Jessica found them and led them into the maintenance closet at the end of the hallway.

In the cramped room, Helen leaned against the shelves containing cleaning products, and as usual her face became a host to stains of red and uneven goose bumps. And what was with the flat shoes? If she was going to wear a skirt, why not wear flattering pumps to go with it?

Eric ducked his head as he walked through the doorway, shifted a mop and stood beside Helen. “Why are we meeting in here?”

“I don’t want anyone to see us together.”

Eric looked at her as if she was an idiot.

“If we meet in my office, anyone passing by can see through the window. Look, it’s better if we keep a low profile. This has been a tough morning for all of us.” Jessica rested her backside on the edge of a commercial vacuum cleaner. A plume of dust rose behind her, releasing a musty odor into the air. Grit from the machine stuck to her sweating palms. “I don’t think either of you had anything to do with the theft, and I don’t like the way Turner’s treating us. We’re not criminals.”

“I agree. Turner’s being a jerk,” Eric said.

“Why did you ask Helen to cover for you this morning?”

Eric slid his eyes toward Helen and licked his bottom lip. “I had something personal to do.”

“Which was?”

“Personal.”

“I don’t think the RCMP will let you get away with being so vague,” Jessica said, suppressing the annoyance in her voice.

“They didn’t ask if I was supposed to be on duty. Why do we have to fill out questionnaires if Constable Miller already interviewed us?”

Nice change of subject, Jessica thought. “I guess they want to look for inconsistencies or maybe they want our answers in writing. Who knows? Have either of you agreed to a polygraph test?”

Helen looked to Eric. He nodded and she copied.

Jessica hired Eric for the winter season because of his previous banking experience. Most of the time, Eric’s friendly and outgoing nature drew people to him, although Jessica noticed he’d put his joking aside for the moment. But really, what did she know about him? He was confident enough to pull off the theft. All he needed to do was hide the money until he left the country at the end of the ski season. “Eric, do you want to take the test?”

“What choice do we have? Helen said Turner would fire anyone who didn’t.”

“If we all refuse, he can’t fire the entire team,” Jessica said.

“What if the cops don’t catch the thief? Turner’s going to think one of us did it, and he’ll fire someone,” Eric said. “We could clear our names, and the RCMP would target someone else.”

“Our names are clear. It’s their job to prove otherwise,” Jessica said.

Helen fidgeted with a bottle of bleach. She picked at the label with her fingernail, ripped off the top corner and searched for a place to put the gummy remnant. She ended up squishing it in her palm. “I’m not sure it’s a good idea to refuse the polygraph.”

Too timid to steal from Stone Mountain and a rule follower, of course, Helen would think that way. Jessica just couldn’t picture Helen sneaking into the finance center in the middle of the night. “The cops can’t search anyone’s place without a warrant, and since they have no evidence, they can’t get a warrant without tripping someone up. I won’t have our group treated this way. The cops should be looking for an outsider.”

Eric lifted his chin and studied Jessica. “Since when do you care about anyone in the group?”

“Just because I don’t show it, doesn’t mean I don’t care. Look, we’re all upset about having to take a polygraph. I don’t think we should let them push us around.”

“But Turner will be angry if we refuse,” Helen said.

Jessica studied the dust on her palm, then wiped her hand on her jeans. “I’ll talk to him. Tell him no one feels right about this. Let me at least try, and if it doesn’t go well, we can always do what he wants.”

 

* * *

 

Jessica ignored the headache pounding its way from the base of her neck to her temples. It wasn’t even five o’clock yet, so too early to go home. The theft wasn’t directed at her personally, but the missing money would cause her problems. She punched the back of her office chair. The chair swiveled, and the armrest knocked her teacup onto the floor.

“Shit.”

She called Roy for what must have been the tenth time, and he didn’t answer. She tossed her cell at the wall, but it fell short and thumped onto the carpet. Roy had probably cut out early and headed to the bar to drink with his all-important buddies. To hell with him.

With the way Turner treated her, staying at home tomorrow seemed more appealing than coming to work. Maybe she should get back into the real estate business. She still had her license, and she got along well with the people in the local office. The flexible hours of an agent would mean she wouldn’t have to miss any ski time. Maybe she could even ski more.

If she was going to change her life, a drastic change should do the trick. She should dump Roy and change jobs, except she liked her job and had worked hard to get it. Roy, she could do without.

A knock on her office door caused an uncontrollable shiver to travel from her spine to her ribcage. After the day she’d had, it couldn’t be anything good. Ignoring that she was mad at him, she picked her cell off the floor and dialed Roy again, but the call forwarded to voicemail.

“Shit. Shit. Shit.”

She opened the door. Aiden Price stood in front of her, wearing his lift operator uniform. Jessica had met him during her first week at Stone Mountain. In her enthusiasm to get on the slopes, she’d forgotten her newly printed staff pass. Aiden had been at the lift station and given her a complimentary ticket, making her promise to show him her pass later. An overnight powder dump smothered the runs, and she would have missed the fresh tracks if she’d had to go home and get her pass. He’d said she looked so excited about skiing that he hadn’t had the heart to turn her away. They’d been friends, sort of, ever since.

Aiden’s toque sat crooked on his head, and his zipper stuck halfway to the top of his jacket as if he’d dressed in a hurry. He stood silently staring at her.

“What?” Jessica asked.

“Can I come in?”

She let him pass. “Man, you smell ripe.”

Aiden wiped sweat off his forehead. “I’ve been working hard all day. We’re short on ski patrol. I had to manage the lifts and take care of the junior patrollers.”

“What’s going on?”

“Why haven’t you been answering your phone?” Aiden asked.

“To understate things, I’ve had a busy day.”

“Have you talked to Roy today?”

“No. Why?”

“An avalanche hit the Dragon’s Bowl this morning. Roy’s missing.”

Jessica had seen the helicopter earlier. Her gut clenched. When he hadn’t returned her calls, she never guessed he might be hurt…or worse. And why hadn’t Turner told her? What a jerk.

“It’s possible he went into the Bowl alone this morning before the lifts opened,” Aiden said.

“I told him he shouldn’t be doing that alone. And usually, he lets me know before he goes. I don’t get why you think he was caught in an avalanche. There’s something you’re not telling me.”

“A guest saw someone going up the hill early this morning before the avalanche. Search and rescue found part of a backpack with a Canadian flag sewn on the flap. The same kind Roy had.”

Her heart raced. He couldn’t be buried. Not Roy. “Did they find anything else?”

“His ski pole.”

“Even if he was caught in the avalanche, he could be trekking down the mountain right now. You don’t know he’s hurt.” Jessica regretted every lousy thought she’d had about Roy. If only he would walk in and she could yell at him for not answering her messages, but not this.

“You look pale. Are you alright?”

“It’s been a bad day.”

“So I heard. Everyone’s talking about the theft. Funny Roy disappeared this morning.” Aiden shrugged. “Just sayin’.”

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