Authors: Kathi Daley
“Would I do that?” Trevor asked innocently.
“You would, but don’t.”
“My lips are sealed.”
Alyson gave him a hard stare.
Mac shyly walked out of the house and hesitated.
“We totally forgot about looking through the security report on Todd Wallford’s death,” Alyson said, trying to divert everyone’s attention away from Mac.
“We’ll do it tomorrow.” Devon nuzzled Alyson’s neck.
Alyson saw Mac slip off her cover-up and slide into the tub. Eli whispered something to her and she turned beet red, but she was smiling.
“Do you know if the forecast is still for a clear sky?” Alyson asked.
“As far as I know. It should be a great day for skiing. You guys in? I know all the best runs,” Andi offered.
“Sounds good,” Alyson answered. “I was beginning to think I’d end up going home without trying out the world-class slopes I’ve been hearing about.”
“Have you skied a lot?” Andi asked.
“Yeah, mostly in Europe and on the East Coast. East Coast slopes can’t really compare to European ones.”
“I thought you were from Minnesota.” Trevor shook his head. “You haven’t skied Colorado? They have some awesome runs.”
“Yeah, of course I have. My parents just liked to vacation on the East Coast,” Alyson explained. “Vermont, mostly.”
“I noticed a tram going up the hill earlier.” Mac changed the subject. “Some of the people didn’t even have skis. Is there something else up there besides ski runs?”
“Yeah, sort of a miniresort. There’s a restaurant, a pool that’s enclosed in the winter and open in the summer, an ice-skating rink, and a really fantastic spa. There’s also an arcade and a workout center.”
“An alternative with a view,” Mac summarized
“Exactly. Of course it’s only open when the wind allows the tram to operate, so it’s not really an alternative on the days the lifts are closed. It’s really nice, though. We should go up for lunch tomorrow. On a clear day the views are spectacular.”
“This is so relaxing.” Alyson leaned her head against the back of the tub as revolving jets circulated the water. “I can’t believe how clear it is. The sky looks so big here. And the stars; I had no idea there were so many stars.”
“The air is thin at this altitude, plus it’s very dark here. Very few streetlights. The nights can be really spectacular. Oh, look, a shooting star.” Andi pointed into the night sky.
“I bet it’s spectacular sitting out here when there’s a meteor shower,” Mac speculated.
“Yeah, it’s really something. Summers are the best for sky watching unless you have a hot tub, though. It can get pretty cold at night in the winter.”
“It seems cold tonight. Even colder than it was during the blizzard, if that’s possible,” Trevor commented.
“The temperature always drops after a storm. Be sure to dress warm tomorrow. Lots of layers. I doubt the temperature will even get close to zero.”
“Oh, look, another shooting star.” Mac pointed into the sky. “That one looked close. If I didn’t know better I’d bet it hit earth somewhere.”
“Some fragments of a meteor did hit earth not too long ago,” Devon told them. “It must have been something, seeing those streak through the sky.”
“What’s that over there?” Eli asked. “That bright glow off to the left? You don’t think that streak of light really hit earth, do you?”
“I doubt it, but I see what you’re talking about.” Mac sat forward and tried to make out what they were looking at. “What’s over there?”
Andi tried to get her bearings. “Nothing much. A few of the more isolated cabins.”
“Well, I think one of them is on fire.” Mac stood up.
“I’d better call it in.” Andi got out of the tub and grabbed a towel.
“So much for our romantic evening,” Trevor grumbled.
“Come on, we’d better get dressed.” Mac got out of the tub and followed Andi inside.
A few minutes later a siren rang out, notifying the volunteer firefighters that their services were needed. More sirens could be heard in the distance. They were dressed and on the road within ten minutes.
“Oh, God. It is one of the cabins.” Andi groaned. “I hope no one was inside. It looks like a total loss.”
Flames shot high into the air, threatening to catch the limbs of the trees surrounding the cabin. Volunteer firefighters were working frantically in an attempt to keep the flames from spreading. Andi’s dad pulled up and the gang ran over to his vehicle.
“Do you know if anyone was inside?” Andi asked.
“Not at this point. By the time the fire department arrived the cabin was totally engulfed. It shouldn’t have gone up that fast. It’s likely some type of accelerant was used.”
“You think someone did this on purpose?”
“I’m betting that’s what the investigation will show.”
“We need to find out who was staying in this cabin. With the other events that have occurred in the past week this looks like another murder.”
Andi’s dad reached into his car for his two-way radio. “Get me registration,” he instructed whoever was on the other end of the line.
“Yes, sir.” Alyson heard a female voice answer a few seconds later.
“Can you tell me who was staying in cabin 92?’
A few seconds passed. Then they heard, “Martha Strom. She just arrived today. She’d arranged for a private helicopter to bring her in.”
“What do we know about her?” Andi’s dad asked.
“She arrived alone. Mentioned she was here to meet an old friend. Seemed pretty excited about it. Her registration information lists her home address as Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.”
“Has she made any in-house charges since she’s been here? Maybe for dinner?”
“Her account shows she had an early meal in the lodge. The charge came through at six thirty.”
“I’m betting she was already back in her cabin and sound asleep when the fire started,” Andi speculated. “And I also think that if we dig deeper, we’ll find that she was a marine.”
“I hope you’re wrong, but I suspect you’re right.” He shook his head. “I’m going to go have a talk with security; you kids stay out of the way.”
Andi’s dad walked over to where the security patrol had gathered.
“Let’s head over to the lodge and see what we can find out about the meal that was charged to the room,” Devon said.
“My dad wants us to stay out of this,” Andi reminded him.
“We won’t be putting ourselves in any danger or breaking into any locked buildings. We’re just going to ask a question,” Mac said to justify their plan.
“Okay, let’s go.”
Tony confirmed that Martha had shown up alone but told her waiter she was meeting someone. She’d waited for over a half hour before she received an in-house call, after which she’d ordered and dined on her own. Someone had had a bottle of wine delivered to her table, though Tony wasn’t sure where it had come from.
After speaking to Tony, they decided to check the phone records the next day and headed back to the fire, which continued to burn hotly, barely reacting at all to the gallons of water the firemen sprayed on it. They all huddled together until the flames were finally extinguished. It was several hours later until the debris cooled enough for the firefighters to confirm that there was indeed a body inside, burned beyond recognition.
The next morning Alyson dragged herself downstairs, still dressed in pajamas and fuzzy slippers. She pulled a large sweatshirt over her pajama top and curled up into the corner of the sofa.
“You’d better get dressed,” Mac instructed her. “Andi will be here any minute. She’s bringing pastries from the bakery again.”
“Okay, what about skiing?”
“I’m not feeling all that well. I think I’m coming down with something.” Alyson sneezed. “You guys go ahead.”
“You’ve looked a little pale the past couple of days.” Mac placed a hand on her friend’s forehead. “No fever, though.”
“I’ll be fine. You guys go have fun.”
“I don’t know. I hate to leave you here alone.”
“I’ll stay,” Devon volunteered. “I’ve already gotten in two weeks of skiing. It looks like we got the Internet connection back and I have a little computer work to catch up on. I also want to check out the phone records from last night’s calls.”
“Are you sure?” Mac asked. “’Cause I can stay.”
“I’ll make you some tea before I go,” Mac offered.
“With lemon and honey,” Alyson called after her.
Andi arrived a few minutes later and the others enjoyed their pastries and coffee while Alyson nursed her tea. Devon plugged his laptop into the wall near the couch where Alyson was sitting and began checking e-mails.
“Is the rest of the world still there?” Alyson asked. “I’ve felt so isolated since we’ve been here. No television, no phones, no Internet.”
“Yeah, it looks like the earth managed to continue to revolve without our help. The Lakers won again.”
“You really like those Los Angeles teams. I remember you were supporting the Dodgers in your baseball debate the other day.”
“I grew up in LA. It feels like home.”
“Have you ever thought about going back? Now that you’re eighteen and basically graduated from high school.”
“I guess we’re ready,” Mac interrupted. “I can come back in a few hours to check on you.”
“Go. Have fun. I’ll be fine.”
“Okay, if you’re sure…”
“Hope you feel better. We’ll be back this afternoon.”
“Okay, ’bye,” Alyson called after her.
“Can I get you anything?” Devon asked.
“Maybe a blanket.”
“I’ll be right back.”
Devon found a blanket upstairs and wrapped it around Alyson. He kissed her on the forehead and added another log to the fire.
“You didn’t have to stay, you know. I can take care of myself.”
“I know. I really wanted to get some work done anyway.”
“Maybe now that the Internet is up we can find a connection between the victims.”
“I thought we promised to leave it alone.”
“Andi promised to leave it alone. I didn’t promise anything. Did you?”
“No, I guess not. Okay, let’s make a list of what we know and I’ll see what I can find.”
“Let’s start with Mario Gonzales,” Alyson suggested. “He’s worked here for about five years. Before that he was in Afghanistan. He went to medical school on a military grant but never worked as a doctor after returning from the war. According to his sister, something happened that changed his life.”
“Do we know where he went to school or where he lived before his stint in Afghanistan?” Devon asked.
“I don’t remember anyone saying. Although it might be in his personnel file.”
“Okay, who else?”
“Bruce Long. A guest who was drugged, then froze to death. I’m trying to remember where he was from.”
“I seem to remember Calgary.”
“Yeah, I think you’re right.” Alyson sneezed.
“God bless you. Do we know anything else other than that he was a marine? Or at least he had a marine ring. It could have been his dad’s or something.”
“True. I guess we’ll have to operate on the marine assumption for now.”
“Okay, then we have Stacy King. She suffered a heart attack, we suspect after being drugged. Also assumed to be a marine. Although, again, a bumper sticker doesn’t necessarily prove anything.”
“I guess our theory is predicated on quite a few assumptions,” Alyson acknowledged.
“Then there’s Todd Wallford. We have no idea whether he was a marine.”
“Yeah. I should go through the security report.”
“Do we know anything at all about last night’s victim?” Devon asked.
“Other than the fact that her name was Martha Strom and that she checked in yesterday and was meeting an old friend, not really. Except for the fact that she was supposedly stood up for dinner and someone had a bottle of wine delivered to her.”
“And then there’s Bret Robbins. Our could-be victim, could-be murderer, could-be-tucked-away-with-a-hot-babe dark horse.”
“At least we have confirmation that he was in the marines and served with Mario,” Alyson pointed out.
“He also has a fondness for explosives.”
“Okay, so what now?”
“Let me surf around a bit to see what I can find. Do you need some more tea?”
“Yeah, but I’ll get it. You work.”
“Devon,” Alyson called from the kitchen.
“Do you think the others are in any danger? I mean, if whoever is doing this has been paying any attention at all they must know we’ve been snooping around.”
“Chances are whoever is doing this is focused on specific victims, but it wouldn’t hurt for all of us to be careful. The gang will be in very public places all day. They should be fine.”
“I hope so.” Alyson returned to the room and curled up in her spot on the sofa. She rearranged the blanket over her legs and took a sip of her tea. She opened the security folder and started to read.
“I found something on Stacy King,” Devon informed her. “She graduated from Princeton at the top of her class. She majored in international studies. She did four years in Afghanistan before taking a job with the United Nations.”
“Wow, impressive. At least we’ve confirmed she was actually a marine and didn’t just have the bumper sticker.”
The house phone rang.
“I’ll get it,” Devon offered.
“Hello. Oh, hi, Dad. They did? Really? Okay, thanks. ’Bye.”
“What was that all about?”
“They’ve completed their investigation of the fire. It was started with a wireless detonator. Pretty high-tech. Whoever planted it knew what they were doing. The cabin had been doused with an accelerant, so the minute the bomb went off the whole place was enflamed. There’s no way anyone inside could have gotten out.”
“Wow, poor Martha. It was Martha, wasn’t it?”
“They think so. They can’t make a positive ID at this point, but Martha Strom hasn’t turned up at the registration desk wondering what happened to her cabin.”
“And the detonator…Did they compare it to the stuff in Bret’s closet?”
Devon nodded. “It looks like it matches the other stuff he had. They’re assuming at this point that he’s the killer, although there’s a fringe theory that someone killed him and is using his stuff.”
“Dad just wants us to be careful. It looks like the killer is still out there. Who knows if and when he or she will stop?”
“Dev, can you pass me that box of tissues?”
“Still feeling funky?”
“Yeah, but I’ll be okay.”
“You should eat something. How about some soup?”
“Maybe in a little while. Right now I just want to sip my tea and try to solve a murder.”
“Any idea how old Mario was?” Devon asked. “Mario Gonzales is a common name. We need something to narrow it down.”
“Well, he went through medical school, then did a stint in the military. He’s worked here for five years. Assuming he started college right out of high school and took a normal amount of time to finish, I’d say he’s in his midthirties.”
“Maybe I should try looking up military records.”
“Can you do that?” Alyson asked.
“The amount of information I can access on my laptop is limited, but there are things that are public record. It’s too bad I don’t have my home computer. I could get most anything on there, given enough time.”
“I wonder if the guys are having fun. It’s such a nice day. I bet the skiing is over the top.”
“Yeah, I bet it is. Get some rest and maybe you’ll feel like going tomorrow. Can you believe tomorrow is already the thirty-first? New Year’s is in two more days. It seems like this year has flown by.”
“I’m looking forward to the New Year’s Eve party. Andi made it sound so elegant. I haven’t done elegant for a long time. Maybe I’ll go into the village to see if I can find a new dress.”
“I thought you were sick.”
“I am, but it doesn’t take much energy to shop. Besides, I want to look nice for you.”
“You always look nice. Right now, pigtails, overlarge sweatshirt, fuzzy slippers, still hotter than anyone else.”
“You’re just saying that so I don’t sneeze on you and give you my cold.”
“No, seriously, hotter than anyone.”
“You’re sweet. A liar, but sweet. I hope I’m feeling better for the party. I want to dance all night and forget about murder and mayhem for once this holiday season. Between the ‘Grizzly Mountain Killer’ and the mayor’s murder last week—was it really only last week? Anyway, I’d like one perfect holiday moment.”
“We’re alone now. I can think of something pretty perfect.”
“You type, I’ll shut up,” Alyson said. “I can see I’ve got you all distracted.”
“Ah, here we are: Mario Gonzales. It looks like although Mario was a medic in the war he served with a field unit rather than in a hospital.”
“Yeah, the guys who actually go into the villages and shoot down bad guys.”
“What a drag. He spends years learning how to save lives and they send him over there to take them. It makes no sense.”
“I guess the guys in the trenches need someone with medical training too. It makes sense that they’d want someone who could respond immediately.”
“Poor Mario,” Alyson sympathized. “No wonder he wanted to hide away. I can’t imagine dealing with something like that. It must be like living a nightmare every second of the day.”
“Yeah; from what I’ve heard things were pretty awful over there.”
“Charlie said Bret served with Mario. Have you found anything on him? Anything that might explain why he might want to kill a bunch of people over the Christmas holiday?”
“Not yet, but I’ll keep looking.”
“I’ve been thinking about yesterday’s accident.” Alyson looked up from the report she was reading. “It occurred to me that the man in the wheelchair may have been involved.”
“Randy said the safety bar on the chair had been working fine all day. He also said the lift itself had been running smoothly, and that he had been at his post at the bottom of the run. What about the top of the run? If the lift had to stop momentarily, isn’t it possible someone at the top could have tampered with the lift and the chair?”
“I guess. The chair in question would have had to have been exactly at the top, though.”
“Yeah, I guess it seems unlikely.”
“I found something on Stacy King.” Devon paused. “It says she was honorably discharged after being found innocent in a military court.”
“Innocent of what?”
“I’m not sure. It just says that she was honorably discharged after serving three years of a four-year stint after a military court found her innocent of all charges.”
“So what are we thinking?” Alyson asked
“I have no idea. I’m sure this is relevant, though. I’m just not sure how.”
“Keep looking. I think I’ll heat up some of that chicken noodle soup I saw in the cupboard. Do you want anything?”
“No, not right now. Thanks anyway.”
Alyson opened the soup, dumped it into a pan, and turned on the heat. She rummaged through the cupboard for some crackers. Getting sick was a total drag, but she was enjoying this time alone with Devon. She’d have to take Mac’s advice and ask him about his future plans at some point. Maybe after they solved the crime and, hopefully, the bad guy was captured.
Alyson took her soup out to the living room. She opened the file and read a bunch of stuff they already knew. Todd Wallford had fallen to his death from chair 146 on Patty’s run.
“What was that code again? The one we found in Todd Wallford’s wallet?”
“It was 16146138. Why.”
“Look at this. The chair Todd fell from was number 146. What if the 146 in the code refers to the specific chair?”
“Maybe. I wonder what the other numbers mean.”