Avalanche (A Stone Mountain Mystery Book 3) (9 page)

“Fair enough. Let’s talk about the phone call from the bank.”

“I don’t know what to tell you that I haven’t already.”

“It didn’t occur to you the bank closed at noon on Saturdays?”

“I never…I mean, I was busy. I didn’t think about it.”

“Did you take the money? Now is the time to admit it before this goes too far.”

“I swear I didn’t.” Helen cleared her throat and said with confidence, “I’ll take the polygraph. It doesn’t matter what Jessica wants anymore.”

“Why is that?”

“Paul Turner let her go this morning. She’s no longer my boss. So…”

Miller leaned toward her. “How do you know this?”

“I was promoted to manager of the finance center.”

“Interesting motive.”

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

 

While Jessica packed her office, Kalin used the time to regroup from the devastating conversation with Ben.

“I need to come back for my skis and boots,” Jessica said.

“Sure. I’ll put them in my office for you. Are both sets yours?”

“No. The blue ones are Simon Crane’s.”

“He’ll have to come and get them. Do you want me to call or would you rather?”

“I’ll call.”

Jessica placed the last of her possessions in a box, and Kalin escorted her to the bottom of the stairs leading to the exterior of the administration building. Even with Jessica carrying personal items from her office, Kalin picked up her pace to match Jessica’s as she pounded down the steps.

Jessica jolted to a stop on the landing and twisted to face Kalin. “Will you give me a reference?”

Kalin pushed the outer door open, using both hands against the force of the wind. “I would, but I don’t think Turner’s going to approve. If you were let go without cause, I’d be happy to.”

“But I was good at my job.”

Kalin squinted against the snow pelting her face. “I know you were. If someone calls and asks if we’d hire you back, I have to say no. I don’t think that will help you.”

“You can’t give out details about me.”

“And I won’t, but I am allowed to answer if we would hire you again.”

Jessica shifted the box from one hip to the other. “This really sucks.”

“Are you going to be okay?”

“Do you actually care?”

Kalin held the door open with her shoulder. She blew warm breath onto her bare palms and rubbed them together. “I do. If I could help you, I would.”

Jessica frowned and nodded once. “Sure.” She kicked snow out of her way and jogged toward the path leading to the parking lot.

Kalin shuffled back inside. Stress, grief, whatever, depleted her energy, and the walk back to her office seemed to double in length. Her gut clenched every time she thought about Roy buried and alone. And thinking of Roy made her think of her late husband.

She closed her office door and slipped the photo from underneath the shelf on her wall. A decisive man without fear, Jack had taken one look at Kalin and told her she would become his wife. Kalin laughed and told him to do his best.

After Jack died, she looked at the photo every day and told him she missed him. She’d kept up the ritual until she’d gotten serious with Ben. Out of respect for him, she no longer talked to Jack each day, but she couldn’t bring herself to throw out the photo.

She sat and swiveled her seat, taking in her surroundings. Duct tape held the arm of her chair together, and the carpet was worn through to the floor in several places. At the northern latitude, the building had been designed to let in maximum light and compensate for the short days, but the oppressive atmosphere beat the design. Was critiquing her work environment a way of looking for reasons to accept the job at White Peaks?

A staccato rap announced Turner. Her boss wore a striped button-down shirt hanging loosely over ironed khaki pants. He got straight to work, no preamble, no concern for her. “You understand why the search was called off?”

“I do. My mom’s having a hard time, but I’m trying to get her to understand, too.” Kalin held her breath for a few seconds. “I spoke with Jessica. It would have been better if you’d involved me in her termination. Gavin Reed kept me in the loop on all employee issues.”

“I’m not Reed.”

You certainly aren’t.
“I understand, but it’s easier for me to ensure we’re compliant with the labor laws if I know before someone is fired.”

“Jessica Scott broke policy by losing her office keys and not having the lock changed.”

“Do you think she stole the money?”

“I don’t know. I fired her because she didn’t follow a security policy. We need to talk about Roy. You know he’s a suspect.”

“I spoke with Constable Miller about him. I don’t believe he stole the money.”

“Normally, I’d want you to lead an investigation into the theft, but considering your brother is the prime suspect, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

Turner’s words drove Kalin to the opposite of what he asked. Her brother would never steal and certainly not such a large sum of money. “I don’t believe—”

“He’s the obvious suspect. I’ll take care of the investigation until Fred returns from vacation. There’s one other thing. I’ve promoted Helen to take over Jessica’s role.”

“But—”

“We need someone in place right away.”

“I’m not saying Helen is the wrong person, but usually I would be involved in any organizational decisions, especially with a promotion to a managerial position. Until the theft is solved, maybe we should operate without a manager.”

“She’s already in place.” Turner handed Kalin a letter. “The details of the promotion are here. I need you to process it effective today.”

“Anything else?” Kalin tried to keep the coldness out of her voice but failed. She suspected Turner would push her out of the way until he found out who stole the money. But what if guilt lay with Helen and she was now the manager? Kalin didn’t think Turner had made the best decision, but she’d lost the power to influence him.

The flop of Turner dropping a copy of
The Holden Press
drew her eyes to the surface of her desk. “Any idea how the newspaper found out about the theft?”

Kalin picked up the paper, keeping her head lowered, hoping Turner wouldn’t smell the sweat rings seeping into her armpits. The byline belonged to Charlotte Summers.

 

Avalanche at Stone Mountain

 

Thirty-year-old Roy McCann remains missing in the Dragon’s Bowl at Stone Mountain Resort.

McCann, one of the ski patrol’s newest recruits, was lost in the early morning avalanche. So far only some of his ski gear has been found. Search and Rescue stated they have stopped the search until the weather improves. The search will resume when it is safe for the rescue team, but SAR is not hopeful about finding him alive.

The resort’s president, Paul Turner, confirmed a theft occurred at the resort. At this time, he is unwilling to release details, but one has to question if the theft and avalanche are related.

 

“This says you told the reporter,” Kalin said.

“She asked me if the theft and the avalanche were related, and I told her the theft details were confidential. I guess that was her way of confirming a rumor.”

“I’m not sure what you want me to do with this.”

“Find out who told her about the theft before she came to visit me. Then fire the person.” Turner snatched the newspaper from Kalin and left her office.

She couldn’t worry about Charlotte’s article. Charlotte would never tell anyone she leaked the information. Kalin’s mom was her priority, and she dialed.

“Any news?” her mom asked straight away.

Kalin could imagine her mom shrunken by sadness and wished she did have news. “No, I’m just checking in.”

“If only there was something we could do.”

“Oh, Mom. You know he won’t be found alive. All we can hope for is to find his body and bury him properly.” Kalin didn’t know how to help her mom through this, but she did know she couldn’t tell her about the theft and Roy being a suspect. What a way to break her heart.

“I know…It’s just…I want him back.”

“Me, too,” Kalin said and decided to hell with Turner’s wishes. If she couldn’t have Roy back, she would prove his innocence.

The locksmith’s office. That’s where she needed to go. A quick check with Ben, and she’d head to the lower village.

She donned her jacket as she jogged across the path to the mountain ops building and waited while the administration assistant opened his top desk drawer and gave a locker combination to a liftie.

“Ben around?” Kalin asked.

“He’s with the grooming team.”

 

* * *

 

Kalin slogged toward the locksmith’s office. She squinted against the blowing snow and tucked her hands in her pockets. She hunched forward and leaned into the wind. Why had she been so hard on Ben? He’d had no choice but to call off the search. Except Roy was still out there, and they’d left him alone.

Turner had told her not to investigate, but he hadn’t told her not to work on better security for the finance center. If he found out what she was about to do, she’d use security as an issue and pretend she hadn’t understood his orders.

Located in the basement of the same building that housed the front desk, the locksmith office contained a key-grinding machine. The keys to the hotel rooms were created using a card system, but the keys to the resort’s offices and conference rooms hadn’t been upgraded and still used metal keys.

She checked the time. Almost five. Hoping to catch Brightman before he left his office, she picked up her pace.

A crusty man in his mid- to late-fifties, Ted Brightman had a full head of frizzy hair, thick arms and an unfriendly demeanor. He didn’t get up from the grinding machine when Kalin entered his workshop, and the screeching made her teeth hurt. Did he even notice the slight odor of burnt metal anymore?

As soon as he stopped the grinding machine, she got right to the point. “Who has a key to the finance center?”

Brightman stared at her in his usual rude fashion.

“I know you’ve updated the key recording process since the McKenzie murder, so I’d like to know who has a key.” Before Kalin forced Brightman to update the process, he hadn’t kept track of keys. Since then, Fred had installed a recording system, and the information existed on some hard drive.

Slowly Brightman stood, looking as if the effort hurt his knees, and limped toward his desk. He turned on the computer. “I’m not too fast with this thing.”

Kalin followed him and waited.

“Hovering won’t make me any faster.”

He clicked on an icon on the desktop and pointed. “Jessica Scott, Eric Wilson, Helen Armstrong, Fred Morgan, Paul Turner, you and the rest of the directors.”

“That’s not right. I don’t have a key.”

“You have a master.”

“I do.”

“The master opens every hard lock on the resort.”

Kalin re-read the names. Fred was in Hawaii, so that removed him from the suspect list. Turner and the other directors just joined the team of possible thieves. Again with the keys. “I’d like you to change the lock on the finance center door again. This time, don’t give access to master keys. There’s no reason to.”

“That’s difficult.”

“Not my concern. Just get it done.”

Kalin hurried back to the dark administration building, went directly to the finance center and tried her master key. She unlocked and locked the door, testing to make sure the room was secure. She didn’t know Turner well, and if she was truthful, she didn’t like him. She hoped her decision to call Miller instead of Turner had nothing to do with her feelings toward her boss and everything to do with furthering the investigation. Without hesitating, she dialed.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

 

Ben slumped on the living room couch. Seven p.m. Was Kalin working late just to avoid him? If he’d done something, anything, differently, would Roy be alive? If only he’d gotten out of bed early on the day of the avalanche, he might have been with Roy and been able to save him or at least persuaded him not to go. Roy’s dangerous habit of night skiing had gotten him killed.

Helping Kalin get closure without a body had to be his priority now. Somehow he had to make her understand his decision.

A low whine prodded him to pay attention to his world. Chica thumped her tail against the hardwood floor and gazed at Ben. He pushed himself off the couch, and she ran to the mudroom.

Ben chuckled. “I get it. You’re hungry.” He opened the bottom cupboard and grabbed the kibble.

While Chica gobbled her food, Ben jogged down the stairs to the ground-floor guest room and looked at Roy’s things. He’d been sleeping in Ben and Kalin’s guest bedroom for a month, and the shared accommodations had been getting a bit annoying. He’d wanted Roy to move out, but not the way he did.

Ben carried Roy’s suitcase into the garage and stuffed it into a cubbyhole. He returned to the guest room and looked for Roy’s army-green duffle bag. He checked the front hall, the back closet and the shelves in the garage but found nothing. Maybe when Roy left on the morning of the avalanche, he’d been in the process of moving out and taken the bag with him. After the tense conversation they’d had about why Roy should leave, he wouldn’t be surprised if Roy had taken off without telling them.

When he returned to the living room, he found Chica with her nose pressed against the sliding glass door. He picked up her leash, and she pranced in circles. He grabbed his headlamp and secured the straps over his toque.

Ben walked Chica, thinking about the night before Roy died and how he’d left things in such a mess with his brother-in-law. He would never have a chance to fix that, but he did have the chance to recover with Kalin.

He reached Jessica’s place and plodded through knee-deep snow to her door. He lifted the bird-shaped knocker and tapped the tail against a cast-iron base. He waited a minute, and getting no response from within, gave up.

He trudged along Black Bear drive until he reached the mountain ops building. Snowflakes drifted to the ground, but the ease in snowfall had come too late to help Roy. Tomorrow he’d order the team to check the surrounding terrain and determine if the slopes were stable enough to resume the search.

Considering the lateness of the hour, the light inside the building surprised him. Ben quietly opened the door and poked in his head.

Someone lay on one of the gurneys.

Chica burst past him and barked at the person, wagging her tail furiously. Jessica rolled to her side and sat, but stayed wrapped in a blanket. “What do you want?”

Ben stepped around the puddles created by the snow falling off Chica. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“Then why are you lying on a gurney?”

“It’s stupid.”

“What is?”

“Roy used to sleep here sometimes. I just wanted…I don’t know what I wanted, but I had to get out of my house.”

Jessica’s hoarse voice and slow speech reminded Ben she’d cared for Roy. That little fact was easy to forget when Roy had been so difficult. Ben didn’t know Jessica well but understood she was hurting. “Do you think Roy might have come here the night before the avalanche?”

“Maybe.”

With the room almost empty, Ben smelled antiseptic cleaners from the treatment station and wool from the blankets stored on the shelf beside him, making him glad the employees change room and lockers were a floor below them and couldn’t add to the odors. “Was he going to move in with you?”

“Not that I know of. Why?”

“I can’t find his duffle bag. I think Kalin might want the contents. He left our place before dawn, but I don’t know where he went.”

“He didn’t come to my house.” Jessica swallowed hard. “He could have gone to Helen’s. He went there sometimes when he’d had too much to drink. You could ask her.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah. Oh. It’s not what you’re thinking. They were friends. Roy would never be interested in someone like her.”

Someone like her. What did that mean? Ben didn’t ask.

Jessica slumped against the wall and tightened the blanket. “I can’t believe this happened.”

“Neither can we. Kalin’s taking it pretty hard. Did you know Roy planned on skiing early that day?”

“No. And no, I don’t think he stole the money, so don’t start with that shit.”

“I didn’t say that. Kalin doesn’t believe he did either. I’m only looking to get his things together. Kalin needs some closure and without…Well, you know. I want to help her if I can.”

“You mean you want her to forgive you for calling off the search.”

 

* * *

 

Just because Ben had been kind and walked Jessica home didn’t mean she owed him anything. And he didn’t need to know her real reason for being in the clinic.

She turned the deadbolt and phoned Aiden. As lift manager, Aiden had worked closely with Roy, but that didn’t mean she trusted him. She just couldn’t come up with anyone else to turn to. “I’ve been thinking about what you said the other day about Roy being near the finance center on the morning of the theft. Maybe you’re on to something.”

“Are you telling me you didn’t take the money and he did?” Aiden asked.

If Aiden hadn’t seen Roy with the duffle bag and hadn’t seen her in the finance center at night using a flashlight, she wouldn’t involve him in her plan. “You jerk. Of course I didn’t.”

“You have to admit, you must be high on the suspect list. Talk about suspicious. The money gets stolen, then your boyfriend disappears.”

Jessica plopped on her couch and rested her feet on the coffee table. “I didn’t take the money, but what if Roy had help from someone else in the finance center?”

“Who?”

“Helen. Always Helen this and Helen that just because she doted on him like a lovesick puppy. They hung around together a lot.”

“Yeah, I can tell you weren’t fond of that.” Aiden snickered. “Is that why you set up Helen? Just sayin’.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You could take the money and get back at Helen in one go. The night I caught you in the finance center after hours, it seemed odd you were using a flashlight. I don’t believe your story of the burnt-out light bulb.”

Even though Aiden couldn’t see her, Jessica rolled her eyes. “Shut up. You don’t seem too upset Roy died.”

“It wasn’t like we were friends anymore. It’s sad, but not my problem. Anyway, you think he stole the money?”

Jessica walked to the kitchen and stared at the contents in her refrigerator. Who was she kidding? She couldn’t eat. The depth with which she missed Roy surprised her, but she had to take care of herself. If she couldn’t have him, she could at least find what he’d stolen. She set her phone on the counter and hit the speaker icon.

“Did you hear what I asked?”

“Yeah. I guess it’s possible. Ben was just here. He was looking for Roy’s duffle bag. I bet he thinks that’s where the money is. He made up some story about getting stuff together for Kalin, but I don’t believe him.”

“If Roy stole the money, any idea where he’d hide it?”

“If Helen was in on it, then maybe at her place. It’s also possible Kalin was his partner.”

“The duffle could have been buried with Roy on the mountain.”

“I can’t see him carrying it up there,” Jessica said.

“There is another possibility no one’s talking about.”

Jessica picked up a beer, then replaced the bottle on the fridge shelf with a clang. “And what is that?”

“Maybe Roy set the scene to look like he died in the avalanche and then took off with the money.”

The stench of sour milk wafted in her direction, and Jessica slammed the refrigerator door. “You’re an idiot. There’s no way he would do that to me.”

“You sure about that?”

She stared at her blurred reflection in the stainless steel appliance. She was sick of being a shoe wipe for Stone Mountain. If she found the money and didn’t tell anyone, Turner and the cops would ultimately blame Roy. He was dead, so it’s not like the betrayal would cause him any pain.

“Yes, I’m sure. Look, the money has to be somewhere, and I don’t see why I should help the resort find it, but that doesn’t mean I’m against looking for it on our own. You’re not going to change your mind and tell the police what you saw on the night of the theft?”

“As long as you don’t tell Ben. You seem to like him.”

Who didn’t like Ben?

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