Authors: Kathi Daley
“Maybe. At this point I’d say the evidence is pretty inconclusive. Maybe we should ask around at the bar tomorrow, see if anyone remembers anything,” Mac suggested. “Do we have a name or any other personal information about the victim?”
“Not that I know of. I’ll ask around,” Andi volunteered. “I could check with registration; they should have basic check-in data. Maybe we could meet up in the morning. The coffee shop has excellent pancakes. Say around nine?”
“Sounds good,” Trevor answered for the group. “How about we give you a ride home?”
“That would be awesome. It’s not far; just up the road, actually. I usually walk pretty much everywhere I go, but with the storm, I’m not all that anxious to make the trek.”
Devon dropped Andi off at her house and headed back through town. All of the buildings were constructed of real wooden logs and each had a coil of smoke spiraling out of chimneys constructed from various shades of river rock. The town had been decorated for the holiday with white lights, evergreen boughs, and large red bows.
The giant Christmas tree that stood in the center of the town square swayed to and fro as many of the colored lights, red and green balls, and decorated pine cones blew across the snow-covered roadway. Snow was piled high against a huge stone and the wood sign that announced you were entering Grizzly Mountain Resort.
“I bet the town was a Christmas fairy land before the storm hit,” Alyson commented. “Based on the decorations that are scattered all over the ground, it looks like they went all out.”
“Yeah, it was really pretty.” Devon squeezed Alyson’s hand between them. “I’m sorry you missed it.”
“Is the resort open year-round? Andi mentioned that entire families live here.”
“Yeah. In the winter there’s skiing, both downhill and cross-country, ice-skating, snowmobile rides, snowshoeing, and other snow sports. In the summer they have hiking, fishing, rock climbing, mountain biking, canoeing, and other warm-weather sports. There’s even a golf course buried underneath the nordic ski track.”
“I bet it would be beautiful in the summer,” Alyson imagined.
“Right now I’d be happy to get a peek at the winter landscape. With this storm I’ve barely been able to see a few feet in front of me,” Mac complained from her second-row seat.
“Don’t worry. I’m sure it will clear up in a day or two.” Eli put his arm around her and pulled her close. “In the meantime I can think of a few other things we can do to stay occupied.”
“Oh, yeah? Like what?”
Eli whispered in her ear and Mac giggled.
“Hey, you guys, knock it off,” Trevor complained. “No talk of smoochies unless Andi or some other equally hot chick is around for me.”
“Who said we were talking about smoochies?” Mac defended herself. “For your information we were talking about playing board games.”
“We’re here.” Devon pulled up in front of a two-story house, constructed with the familiar log and rock exteriors of the rest of the buildings on the resort. The roofline was strung with white lights and there was a large Christmas tree showing through the picture windows that lined the front of the house.
Huge drifts of snow had piled up in front of the structure and the walkway was almost completely concealed beneath the blowing snow.
“Watch your step walking into the house. I shoveled the walkway earlier, but you’d never know that now. It’s bound to be slippery,” Devon warned. “Mac and Alyson can share a room.” Devon grabbed Alyson’s bags and walked ahead of the rest of them through the large entry and up the stairs. “Trevor can share with Eli and I’ll bunk in with my dad. Each room has two double beds and its own bath.”
“Wow, this place is gorgeous.” Mac looked around at the cathedral ceilings, rustic furniture, and warm evergreen color scheme as she followed Eli, who was carrying her bags up the wide staircase.
The floors were all polished wood with thick green and brown rugs. Every exterior wall was framed with large picture windows and green and brown drapes. There was a huge stone fireplace in the living area that towered two floors high and boasted a real log mantel that was decorated with candles, greenery, and antiques.
The bedroom to which Devon showed Ali and Mac had two double beds covered with heavy down comforters, a large pine armoire, twin night tables with pine lamps, and two overstuffed chairs beside a small rock fireplace. The floor was carpeted with plush forest carpeting and the walls were paneled with natural pine.
“The bathroom is right through this door,” Devon indicated. “Go ahead and get changed and unpacked, then meet us downstairs in the living room. I’ll start a fire. I think we could all use a hot drink to thaw out.”
Mac kissed Eli as he set down her bags. “Thanks. I’m glad we’re finally here. I‘ve missed you. I hope we’ll get to spend some time together, just the two of us.”
“Me too.” Eli kissed her back. Tucking a strand of her long red hair behind her ear, he smiled at her and kissed her again. “Me too.”
“Check out this tub,” Alyson called as Mac closed the door behind Eli’s departing form. “It’s even got Jacuzzi jets.”
“Perfect for all your little sore parts at the end of the day. Eli mentioned that there’s an outdoor hot tub on the back deck. Sounds very romantic. Of course it never occurred to me to bring a bathing suit on a ski trip, but he says there’s a shop in town that sells them. I thought we could check it out tomorrow.”
“Let’s unpack and get downstairs. The thought of curling up by the fire with something hot to drink, watching the snow, and having pleasant conversation with the people I love most sounds like heaven on earth.”
“Pleasant conversation?” Mac snorted. “You know the guys are going to want to strategize. Give them a good mystery to solve and they become single-minded.”
“For tonight, we’ll put a ban on shop talk. We’ve done what we could tonight. Tomorrow’s soon enough to jump into research mode. For tonight I’m thinking soft music, a warm fire, and pleasant conversation.”
“Sounds good to me.”
After they unpacked, Mac and Alyson joined the guys by the fire in the great room. When Alyson had pictured this setting during the previous week, snow had been falling gently outside and the biggest concern she had was which ski run to start off with the following day. The reality was a storm that continued to blow angrily, completely obstructing the view outside the large floor-to-ceiling windows and a boyfriend who had already started making notes for the next day’s investigation. She took the notepad away from Devon and pulled him toward the large rock fireplace, where a fire danced merrily in tune to the soft jazz someone had put on the expensive stereo system.
She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him as she swayed to the music. “Mac and I have declared a moratorium on death and frozen corpses for tonight,” she whispered against his lips.
“Sounds good,” Devon groaned.
“I’m going to show Mac the rest of the house.” Eli grabbed her hand and started walking toward the hallway leading to the kitchen and dining area.
“There’s a rest of the house?” Trevor asked as they disappeared down the hall.
“Not really. Just the kitchen.”
“I think he wanted for them to be alone,” Alyson guessed.
“Yeah, Eli’s been all nervous about the gift he got for her: a birthstone necklace. Sapphire.”
“But Mac’s birthday is in January. January is garnet,” Alyson pointed out
“Sapphire is for September. He said that because he met her in September, he considers that the birth of their relationship.”
“Oh, that’s so sweet.” Alyson handed Devon the gift she had brought for him. “Tasteful, but not nearly as touching as Eli’s gift. I hope you like it.”
Devon took the box and handed one to Alyson in return. They both opened them at the same time to reveal cashmere sweaters. “Oh, it’s perfect,” they said in unison.
“Feeling a little left out over here,” Trevor teased.
“Eli and I got a little something for you.” Devon handed Trevor a brightly wrapped box.
“Really, for me? You shouldn’t have. Really.” He tore open the package. “Oh, wow. Thanks. They’re great.” Trevor slipped on the pair of dark sunglasses.
“Actually, they were Mac’s idea. Eli called her to ask what to get. She said you needed a pair.”
“I so did. Thanks a lot.”
Alyson and Devon curled up on the love seat.
“Uh, maybe I should head up to bed.” Trevor started to stand up.
“No, stay,” Alyson said persuasively. “We’ll make some hot drinks and catch up on the past couple of weeks. I just want to take a minute to relax in this beautiful house with my friends. All of my friends. I’ve missed having us all together.”
“Okay, if you’re sure. I’ll get the drinks,” Trevor offered.
“I’m not actually sure how we’re going to have a conversation without using the words
.” Devon kissed Alyson’s neck.
”Yeah, I guess that was a stretch.”
“I’d really like to hear about your adventure last week. When the others get back. For now, I’d just like to kiss you.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
The next morning they went to the café for breakfast. It was decorated as charmingly as the rest of the resort, with red-and-white-checkered tablecloths covering round tables surrounded by old-fashioned chrome and red vinyl chairs. The matching curtains were pulled back, offering a view of blowing snow and near whiteout conditions. On one side of the room, an old-fashioned counter was lined with red vinyl-covered stools, facing the kitchen through an open cook’s window. On the other side of the café, a vintage ice cream counter encircled an old-fashioned soda fountain. Fifties music played in the background as waitresses in poodle skirts waited on tables.
“Have you heard anything more about Mario?” Alyson asked Andi as she drizzled syrup on fluffy buttermilk pancakes.
“He’s still in intensive care, but they’ve managed to stabilize him. I hope he’s going to be okay. It’s hard getting updates. The phone lines are down, but the two-way radios are working okay. My dad’s been talking to a good friend of his in Vancouver who’s been checking in on him. Hopefully the storm will lighten up a little and we can get through directly.”
“I hope he’s going to be okay,” Trevor sympathized.
“Me too.” Andi smiled at him.
“It’s really snowing out there,” Mac added. “How much do you think we’ve gotten since last night?”
“Several feet. My dad said the national weather service is predicting upward of ten feet by the time this is all over. I’m afraid your first day at our resort won’t be quite the ski holiday you imagined.”
“Yeah, it doesn’t look like it,” Mac agreed.
“The resort has several indoor activities scheduled,” Andi offered. “It helps to keep the guests from getting too restless. There’s bingo in the lobby of the main lodge and a complimentary movie in the theater. I think they’ve got something going in the pizza parlor too. Not exactly a day on the slopes, but if you’re bored…”
“Thanks, but I thought we’d head over to the bar and start asking around about the dead guy,” Alyson informed her. “As long as we can’t ski we may as well investigate. It’d be nice to get this wrapped up by the time the slopes open.”
“The bar doesn’t open until two. We can go then. In the meantime, we can see if Hank, the bartender, is available to talk to us. I found out the dead guy’s name was Bruce Long. He’d been a guest for several days. He was here alone; no friends or family. His registration paperwork shows that he lived in Calgary and visited here once before, around this time last year. I wrote down the address and phone number he used to check in. Oh, and he used a credit card to secure the room. I got the number. If the Internet ever comes back up we should be able to use it to check on prior activity. At least I guess we can. Veronica Mars always seemed to be able to get information like that.”
“Wow, I’m impressed,” Alyson complimented. “I can see you’re going to fit right in with our group. It’s not everyone who could have found out so much in such a short amount of time.”
“Well, it helps to know people. Oh, and I also found out he was staying in one of the cabins up the road. Maybe we could check it out. I’m pretty sure no one’s been in to clean it up yet.”
“Sounds like we have a good start.” Alyson poured herself a second cup of coffee. “We should visit the cabin first, just in case someone from housekeeping does decide to do some cleaning. Then we’ll look up the bartender. Later, we can stop by the bar to talk to the other patrons.”
“If the Internet does come back up I should be able to handle that credit card lead,” Mac said. “We can also Google him to see if anything pops up.”
“All we need is for the storm to clear enough for the satellite signal to get through,” Andi informed her. “Even with big storms, there are often small breaks in the weather. We’ll need to be ready to jump on it if one occurs.”
“What about Mario’s accident?” Trevor mixed his hash browns with his cut-up egg. “If we suspect foul play, shouldn’t we be investigating that too?”
“I’m not sure what we can do,” Alyson responded. “I guess we could check out the scene.”
“It’s under four feet of fresh snow,” Eli reminded her. “If there was any evidence of foul play I doubt we’d be able to find it now.”
“We could check out the maintenance shop,” Andi suggested. “Maybe Mario left something behind. Notes or something.”
“Did anyone witness the accident?” Mac asked. “Another employee, maybe a guest?”
“I’m not sure. We can ask around,” Andi said. “Someone must have seen something. It was Christmas Day, though, and most of the guests must have been occupied with family and friends. I don’t think there were a lot of people out and about.”
“Okay, here’s an obvious detective question,” Devon joined in. “As far as you know, Andi, could there be a connection between Mario and Bruce Long? Are they friends? Did they ever work together? You said Bruce was here last year. Could they have met then?”
“I guess. I really don’t know. It’s a good angle to check out, though. Maybe Carmen would know. Or maybe Charlie, one of the other maintenance workers; he and Mario are pretty good friends.”
“So how’s your dad holding up through all this?” Trevor asked. “With the safety audit going on, he must be pretty stressed out.”
“He’s not loving it, but he’s okay. So far none of the investigators have found any safety violations. The fact that two accidents have occurred in the past few days is odd but not setting off any alarms, apparently. Honestly, at this point I think we’re the only ones to suspect foul play.”
“Other than the family that’s suing you, can you think of anyone who might want to cause trouble for the resort?” Alyson asked.
“I have an uncle who’s engaged in a feud with my family, but I doubt he’d murder anyone. Besides, he’s not here.”
“A feud over what?” Trevor asked.
“The resort was originally built by my great-grandfather. On his death, my grandfather and his siblings, my Great-Uncle Bobby and my Great-Aunt Alexis, each inherited a third. Bobby had a bit of a gambling problem and needed cash, so he sold his share to my grandfather. When my grandfather passed away last year he left his two thirds of the resort to my father and my Aunt Ronnie. Apparently, Great-Uncle Bobby thought his share should have come back to him. I could almost see him doing something to cause trouble for the resort, but murder? That’s pretty serious.”
“Does your great-uncle have money now?” Mac asked.
“Not that I know of. Why?”
“Because, if he did have access to some cash, he might be able to get the resort back if the pending lawsuit causes a financial hardship. My guess is that the family suing the resort wants cold hard cash, not stock in the resort.”
“So Great-Uncle Bobby could probably buy it from them at a huge discount?”
“I don’t know. It’s a good theory, but I don’t know how he’d get the money.”
“Unless he has a partner,” Eli speculated.
“I guess. He always was a bit of a player. My dad said he used to scam people out of money all the time to cover his gambling debts.”
“I don’t think we should take him off the suspect list,” Eli said. “Right now I think we need to keep an open mind.”
“Well, if we’re making a list of all possible suspects we should add Truman Montgomery. He’s one of our closest competitors. He’s been trying to buy the resort for years. My grandfather refused to sell it to him and since he died and my dad is running the place he’s been working on him big-time.”
“Has your dad shown any interest in selling?” Alyson asked.
“No, but that won’t keep Truman from trying. I’m sure if there were a financial hardship, Truman would swoop in and try to buy the place out from under us. Great-Aunt Alexis still owns a third of the resort and she’s already made some noise about wanting to sell. I’m sure she wouldn’t do anything against my dad and Aunt Ronnie’s wishes, but if the situation presented itself, I think she could be convinced. She lives in New York and doesn’t have the same love of the place the rest of us do. To her, the resort is just an investment.”
“She must have grown up here,” Alyson pointed out.
“She did, but the minute she was old enough to leave she did. She rarely visits, and when she does it’s usually because of some business meeting she can’t get out of.”
“So Truman gets added to the suspect list,” Eli concluded.
“You know,” Trevor realized, “if Bruce Long was murdered the killer is probably still here. The slide happened shortly before the body was found. I doubt he or she would have had time to get out.”
“Oh, that’s a comforting thought.” Mac lay her head on Eli’s shoulder. “I guess we’d better keep our eyes open. If there is a killer and that person is still on the grounds he probably won’t appreciate us snooping around.”
“We just need to be careful so that no one knows what we’re doing,” Alyson said.
“If we assume the two men were the victims of a killer or killers and the motive was to sabotage the resort, who else should we add to the list?” Devon asked.
Andi leaned back in the booth. Her brow was furrowed, as if she was considering the question.
“There is one person who comes to mind, but it’s a long shot. While most of our employees love us there was an incident a while back. One of the women who works in the administration office was accused of siphoning funds from the cash drawers that are distributed each day. Based on the testimony of several other employees, as well as the timing of the missing cash, it seemed obvious she must be the guilty party, but my dad was never able to catch her red-handed. He didn’t want to fire her without conclusive proof, but he also didn’t want her to have continued access to the cash, so he transferred her to another position. The woman claimed she was being harassed and threatened a lawsuit if my dad didn’t return her to her former job.”
“Did he?” Alyson asked.
“No. The cash drawers had been turning up short for months, but the minute the woman was transferred they started balancing. The woman ended up quitting her job and moving away, but not before she made sure everyone knew she planned to get even for the injustice she felt she’d suffered.”
“Sounds like motive to me,” Mac commented.
“Yes, but as far as I know she’s not here at the resort. However…”
“However?” Alyson asked.
“She does have several close friends who still work here. If she happened to be staying with one of them I suppose it’s possible she could be on-site and we wouldn’t know about it.”
“Maybe you should ask around,” Trevor suggested.
“Yeah, I’ll do that.”
“In the meantime, I suggest we find out what we can about the victims and look for a motive other than resort sabotage,” Devon suggested.
“I agree with Dev.” Alyson nodded. “It’s much too early in the investigation to focus in on any one motive or suspect. Chances are the incidences are unrelated, but if they aren’t, we need to find a link.”