Authors: Kathi Daley
“HR is in the main lodge. We could have dinner there and then sneak over to the office after closing. I’ll have Tony save us a table by the window and I’ll ask Cookie to prepare us something special. He’s the head chef for the resort. He can coax ordinary food into tasting like manna from heaven. He’s an absolute genius in the kitchen. He’s also quite a character. I’ll introduce you. Say around eight?”
“Sounds good. Is there a specific dress code we should keep in mind?” Alyson asked.
“Not really. We’re pretty casual around here. People usually dress sort of dressy casual in the lodge, but there’s no real rule. I’m sure whatever you decide on will be fine.”
“So what now?” Devon asked. “Should we look around to see if we can find anything related to the explosion?”
“Might as well. I wouldn’t risk waking Hank up for at least another hour. He’s the nicest guy in the world, but wake him up before he’s ready and you’re taking your life in your own hands. I should know; I tried it when I was eight. Scared the living daylights out of me. Since then I’ve never come a knocking until at least noon.”
“It sounds like Hank’s worked here for a long time,” Mac commented as they sorted through drawers and cabinets.
“Since before I was born. Quite a few of the staff have been here since the early days with my grandfather.”
“How about Mario?” Alyson asked as she opened and closed cabinet doors.
“He’s only been here about five years. The supervisor before him had been here more than twenty years, though. As I’ve said, we’re like a family here. Most people come for the season but end up staying for a lifetime.”
“I think I found some kind of log.” Eli held up a notebook. “It looks like it’s used to track calls. There’s a space for the time and date and for who called in the repair. There’s also a space for recording whether the problem was fixed or needed further attention.”
“Is Mario’s last call logged in?” Mac asked.
“Yeah, December 25th, three twenty-eight p.m. Someone named Morgan called in to report that guests were complaining that the indoor pool was cold. That’s all it says.”
“Morgan is a concierge. If the water in the pool was cold she’d be the one the guests would talk to. The propane tank that exploded was the one used to heat the pool.”
“If there was someone targeting Mario it all makes sense,” Mac said. “Someone poisoned Charlie’s sandwich so he had to go home and Mario was called in. Then whoever it was tampered with the propane tank so that the pool went cold. He could have set up the explosion at that point. Once Mario responded to the customer complaints, he did something that set off the explosion. Maybe simply turning the tank back on was the trigger. The would-be murderer could be long gone by then. Any evidence that may have existed—fingerprints or a detonator— were destroyed in the explosion.”
“So how do we, a, find the killer, and b, prove our theory?” Andi asked.
“I’m not sure. I guess we just keep looking and hope we find something. It’s too bad we’ve had so much snow. An investigation of the crime scene might prove helpful.”
“The snow removal crew keep the propane tanks dug out religiously, but because that particular tank technically no longer exists, I doubt they’ve bothered.”
“How about the pool?” Eli asked. “How have they heated it since the accident?”
“They haven’t. The explosion happened on Christmas. A new tank was supposed to be delivered the next day, but the storm hit and it never arrived. There’s another pool at Moose Lake Lodge; guests have been directed there.”
“It’s almost noon. Maybe we should get some lunch, then look up the friendly bartender,” Alyson suggested.
“Yeah. I doubt we’ll find anything else here,” Devon agreed.
“There’s a sub shop in town. They have sandwiches, soups, and salads,” Andi told them. “You’ll want to leave room for Cookie’s dinner. Trust me; you’ll be glad you did.”
After lunch they headed over to the pub. It was an old-fashioned-looking building with a wooden walkway and double doors. A large picture window revealed a plank floor and dozens of tables surrounded by wooden chairs. The bar ran the entire length of the building and was fashioned out of milled rough lumber made smooth by a thick varnish.
Andi looked through the window. “Oh, good. Hank’s already downstairs.” Tapping on the clear glass, she waved to the man inside.
“Hey, Andi. What’s up?” An elderly man with a long gray beard and hair that reached halfway down his back asked after opening the door.
“I’m giving my friends a tour of the resort. I wanted to show them the pub and introduce them to Grizzly Mountain’s orneriest resident. Can we come in?”
“Sure, why not? You all look a little young for afternoon cocktails, however.”
“We’re not here to drink,” Alyson corrected the rugged mountain man. “We just arrived yesterday in the middle of the man-in-the-snowbank crisis. I guess we were just curious. One of the security personnel told us he was in here before he ended up in the snow. Do you remember seeing him?”
“Yeah, he was here. Came in around eight. Ordered a forty-year-old bottle of single malt scotch. I didn’t even know we had such a thing. Someone must have special-ordered it. It’s a lot pricier than most people want.”
“He ordered the whole bottle?” Alyson asked.
“Said he had some friends coming. Mentioned some type of reunion.”
“Did anyone show up?”
“No. He took the bottle over to that table in the corner and had one drink. Next thing I know, he’s staggering out of here. Left the rest of the bottle on the table. No one ever did show up to drink the rest.”
“Do you still have it?”
“I put it behind the bar. Figured the guy paid for it, maybe he’d be back for it when he sobered up. When I found out he was dead I credited his charge card and put the bottle back into inventory.”
“Do you think it’s odd that the guy was staggering after only one drink?’
“Some people are lightweights. That stuff is strong. Figured he could have been drinking before he wandered in here and the scotch put him over the top.”
“I’d like to buy the rest of the bottle.” Alyson whipped out her credit card. “I’m not going to drink it. It’s a gift for my dad.”
“I don’t know. You’re underage.”
“Come on, Hank,” Andi pleaded. “We won’t tell and we won’t drink it, I promise. Alyson told me earlier that she was looking for the perfect gift for her dad. It’s his fortieth birthday. A forty-year-old bottle of scotch would be perfect.”
“It has been opened,” Hank reminded them.
“My dad won’t care about that,” Alyson assured him.
“Well, okay. But if anyone asks, I know nothing about this transaction.”
“What transaction?” Andi bagged the scotch as Hank ran Alyson’s card.
“I know you didn’t really buy the scotch for your dad. So what’s with the expensive souvenir?” Mac asked Alyson after they left the bar.
“Evidence. The whole thing is just too odd. Think about it: Bruce Long went into a bar and ordered an expensive bottle of scotch the bartender doesn’t even know he had. He told the bartender he was going to meet some friends who never showed up, had one drink, and ended up dead in a snowbank.”
“You think the scotch was drugged,” Devon guessed.
“Bingo. Furthermore, I think someone planted the scotch, either because they knew it was the victim’s preference, or they somehow instructed the victim to buy that particular brand and year.”
“So who planted the scotch and what happened to the friends he was supposed to be meeting?” Eli asked.
“Both good questions. But is there a way we can test this scotch for drugs?” Alyson asked Andi.
“Dr. Mark might have a way, but I don’t know how we’d get him to test it without telling him why we want it done.”
“Do you do pre-employment drug testing?” Mac asked.
“Yeah, and random tests on all safety-sensitive personnel.”
“Are the tests done locally?”
“They’re sent over to the lab.”
“So all we need to do is break in again and find a drug kit. I can do the test. It’s really pretty easy. We can test the victim’s blood while we’re at it.”
“Blood?” Andi asked. “How are you going to get his blood?”
“We’ll have to draw it. It’ll be hard on someone who’s been dead for twenty-four hours but not impossible.”
“Are you thinking of performing this procedure before or after we indulge in Cookie’s epicurean delights?” Eli asked.
“After,” Mac answered. “We want to be sure no one is around. The later the better.”
Andi turned pale. “Okay, but if my dinner ends up on Dr. Mark’s floor don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“You can wait in the hall or in one of the other rooms. I’ll really only need one person to help me after we find the kits.”
“I’ll do it,” Eli volunteered. “Where my woman goes, I go.”
“Your woman?” Mac asked.
“A little too chauvinistic?”
“A lot too chauvinistic. But you can help anyway.”
“It’s almost two o’clock. We can head over to the security offices if you want,” Andi interrupted.
“Okay, let’s go.” Alyson nodded. “The more we investigate these so-called accidents, the more convinced I am they weren’t.”
They once again piled into the SUV and headed across the resort. Alyson had yet to get a glimpse of the ski lifts with all the snow, but the town was delightful. The resort had been built to provide an atmosphere that was both woodsy and charming. Many of the businesses had themes, such as the fifties diner.
“So everyone is clear on the plan?” Alyson asked the rest of them once they arrived at the security office.
“We’re clear.” Devon turned the tires into the nearest snowbank. “We’ll be close by if you get into trouble.”
Alyson walked into the security office, where a young uniformed officer sat behind the desk.
“Can I help you, ma’am?”
Alyson shook the snow off her jacket and pushed back the hood, revealing her face and hair. “I seem to have gotten my vehicle stuck in a snowbank. It’s right out in front of your office. I was hoping you could help me get it out.”
“Sure thing.” The young man grabbed his coat and gloves and headed out into the blizzard with Alyson on his heels.
“Doesn’t look too bad.” The man opened the driver’s side door. “I’ll push while you give it gas.”
From the corner of her eye she could see Andi sneak in the front door of the security office.
“Are you the only one here?” Alyson asked. “In case we can’t get it out ourselves.”
“I’m here alone, but I think we can manage this. When I tell you to, put the vehicle in reverse and give it a little gas. Not too much or we’ll only bury it deeper.”
Alyson hadn’t seen Andi come out yet, so she tried to stall. “When you say a little gas how much is a little? Half a throttle?”
“Less than that. Just a gentle pressure on the gas pedal should do it.” The man got into position. “Okay, give it gas.”
Alyson gave the vehicle too much, causing the wheels to spin.
“Not that much,” the patient security guard instructed. “Just a tap. I’ll push and you steer.”
Alyson saw Andi sneak out and run toward the snowbank where the others were hiding. She gave the vehicle just a tap of gas and gently drove it out of the snow.
“Thanks so much.” Alyson shook the man’s hand. “I never would have gotten it free without your help.”
“My pleasure. Have a nice day now, and watch your speed. The roads can be treacherous during storms. I wouldn’t want to see you have a more serious accident.”
“I’ll be careful. Thanks again.”
Alyson drove down the road to where the others were hiding. Alyson slid into the passenger seat, relinquishing the driver’s seat to Devon.
“So what’d you find?” Alyson asked after everyone was inside.
“The locker had the man’s clothes, a set of keys, a military ring—marines, I think—and a wallet. His wallet had several credit cards, a driver’s license, and a few random photos. There was also a note that had the brand and year of the scotch he ordered in the bar on it.”
“If it was his favorite brand he wouldn’t have had to write it down,” Devon concluded. “Someone must have told him to order it.”
“Yeah, but who? And why?” Eli asked.
“If we figure that out we may find the murderer,” Alyson said.
“It’s after three. Maybe we should swing by the Hawkins cabin, then head home to rest and clean up for dinner,” Devon suggested. “I have a feeling this is going to be a late night.”
“Good idea,” Alyson agreed. “Personally, I’m freezing. A nice long soak in that Jacuzzi tub would be heaven.”
The Hawkinses were still out, so they dropped Andi off at her house and arranged to pick her up for dinner at a quarter to eight.
The Grizzly Mountain Lodge was about as perfect a ski lodge as you could find. A large main room with a vaulted ceiling was made to feel cozy and intimate by the huge fireplace taking up one entire wall. The fireplace opening was so large that a fully grown man could stand in its center. The room was furnished with comfortable forest green sofas, large wooden tables, and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves that invited weary skiers to curl up by the fire with a current best seller or an age-old classic. The most striking feature of the room, though, was that one entire wall was encased in glass, which, in daylight, provided a breathtaking view of the frozen lake and the towering mountains in the distance.
“Wow, this place is really spectacular,” Mac murmured as they wandered through the common room to the restaurant, which boasted its own wall of windows with a view similar to the one found in the other area. The difference here was that many of the windows were actually glass doors that opened onto a large deck where outdoor dining was possible in the summer.
In the center of the room was a baby grand piano at which an excellent pianist played holiday tunes and requests.
The host greeted them. “I’ve got a table reserved by the window. The best in the house.”
“Thanks, Tony. Come on; I’ll introduce you to Cookie before we sit down. He’s preparing a meal especially for us.”
Andi led them through the huge kitchen, past walk-in refrigerators, floor-to-ceiling glass-fronted cabinets, and huge gas stoves. Thousands of dollars’ worth of steaks and freshly grilled seafood covered almost every surface as an army of cooks prepared dinners for the hundred or so guests in the restaurant.
“Cookie, these are the friends I was telling you about. This is Alyson, Trevor, and Mac. I think you might have already met Devon and Eli. They’ve been here a while.”
“Glad to meet you.” Alyson held out her hand and tried not to let her mouth hang open in surprise. Cookie was a huge man; at least two hundred and fifty pounds, probably more. He was tattooed from head to toe and looked like he had just stepped off the battlefield of some great war. Two of his teeth were missing and his head was shaved bald.
“Bit skinny. Cookie will fix you right up,” Cookie promised.
“Uh, thanks,” Alyson responded as Cookie ignored her hand and instead gave her a great big bear hug that nearly cracked her ribs.
“We’ll be out front,” Andi informed him. “Table twelve.” She grabbed Alyson’s hand and led the rest out of the kitchen to the reserved table.
“Wow, he’s really…” Alyson searched for the right word. “Something. How’d he ever come to work here?”
“He was in the war with my grandfather. Afterward he came back here and has been tantalizing our guests’ taste buds ever since. I know he looks rough, but he’s really a teddy bear, and he can cook like you’ve never tasted. Whatever he comes up with for dinner will be the best food you’ve ever eaten. If I didn’t burn tons of calories skiing all day I’d weigh five hundred pounds.”
“You have a lot of interesting employees here,” Alyson observed. “I like that. It shows the place has character.”
“Dinner was everything you promised.” Alyson groaned and placed her palm over her stomach as they waddled out of the restaurant a couple of hours later. “I doubt I’ll have to eat again the whole time I’m here.”
“Don’t count on it. Fresh mountain air tends to stimulate the appetite. So where to first? The lab or the human resources office?”
“The HR office definitely,” Mac said.
The office was located down a hallway that housed most of the other administrative offices at the resort. They were all deserted with the exception of a cleaning crew that was three doors down from human resources.
Andi unlocked the door and they all slipped inside. She pulled the blinds and turned on the light. “We’ll need to hurry. The cleaning crew could be by at any time. The personnel files are in that long file cabinet along the back wall. The key should be,” she opened a desk drawer, “right here.”
Andi hurried over to the cabinet and opened the top drawer. She sorted through the file until she found the one labeled Mario Gonzales.
“He was hired five years ago, which I knew. Married, no children, which I also knew. Previous to his employment here, he served a tour of duty in Afghanistan. It doesn’t look like there’s anything unusual. It’s a pretty standard education and employment history.” Andi paused. “That’s interesting.”
“What?” Mac asked.
“Prior to enlisting in the marines, Mario was in medical school. He never mentioned anything that would lead me to believe he’d trained to be a doctor.”
“So why was he working here as a maintenance man?” Alyson wondered.
“I have no idea.” Andi returned the file to the drawer.
“It’s odd for a man with that level of education to take such a menial job,” Mac commented.
“I agree, although Mario’s job can be pretty complex. There’s a lot of pretty sophisticated equipment that needs to be maintained. Still, it is odd.” Andi shrugged. “We’d better go. I hear the cleaning staff next door. This office will be next.”
Andi and the others snuck back into the hallway and out to the main lobby.
“You said Mario’s sister also works here?” Alyson whispered.
“Carmen. She works in the cantina.”
“Do you think she’d talk to us? Maybe she knows why Mario was a maintenance worker rather than a doctor.”
“I guess we could try. It’s late now, though. Maybe tomorrow.”
“Try to set it up. For now, let’s head over to the clinic,” Alyson said.
As it was the previous evening, the clinic was dark and deserted. They made their way to the lab before turning on any lights.
“You guys look around for the drug test kits; Eli and I will get the blood sample,” Mac instructed as she picked up a syringe and a vial and headed back into the dark hallway.
“Okay, if you were drug test kits where would you be?” Alyson mumbled as she began to sort through drawers and cabinets.
“Do you think this is really going to work?” Trevor asked. “Don’t those kits just test for specific types of drugs? What if this drug is something else?”
“Honestly, I’m not an expert on drug testing, but it’s worth a try,” Alyson answered.
“If we do prove that the scotch was spiked with some type of drug, then what?” Andi asked.
“I guess we’ll have to tell someone at that point. If Bruce Long was murdered we need to be sure the proper authorities are called in,” Alyson responded.
“Only problem is, in this storm no one, even the cops, are getting anywhere near the resort. I guess our security patrol could do an investigation, though.”
“I think I hear sirens.” Devon stopped rummaging through the cabinet he had been searching through and listened.
“We need to get out of here.” Andi slammed the drawer she had been looking through. “That’s the siren from our ambulance. I’m betting we’re going to have company at any moment.”
Andi and the others headed into the hallway. Mac and Eli were headed toward them. They all hurried out the front door, being careful to lock it behind them.
“Did you get the sample?” Alyson asked Mac.
“We did. Did you get the test kits?” Mac asked Alyson.
“No, we heard the siren before we could find them.”
“It looks like the emergency lights are coming from the main lodge,” Andi said. “Let’s go check it out.”
When they arrived the emergency medical crew was loading a body into the back of the ambulance. Andi’s Aunt Veronica was speaking to one of the medical technicians.
“What happened?” Alyson followed Andi as she rushed over to her aunt.
“Oh, Andi. One of the guests appears to have had a heart attack. I’m afraid we were too late. She was alone in her room. We wouldn’t even know about it except for the fact that she appears to have been running a bath when the heart attack occurred. The tub ran over and the water leaked down to the room below. The occupants called the desk to report the leak and we found the woman dead on the floor.”
“Oh, God. That’s awful. Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Actually, can you see if you can find a new room for the occupants of 312? I asked Dawn to do it, but with all the commotion she’s pretty swamped with curious guests.”
“Sure, no problem.”
Alyson whispered, “Any way we could get a look at the woman’s room?”
“She was in 412. I can get you a key, but you’ll have to hurry. I’m sure housekeeping will be up there shortly to clean up the water damage.”
Andi slipped behind the desk, telling the clerk she’d take care of finding a room for the guests in room 312. She slipped Alyson a key to 412, telling her that she’d ring the room on the intraresort phone if she saw housekeeping heading that way.
“What exactly are we looking for?” Mac asked after they’d made their way into the room.
“I don’t know. Anything unusual,” Alyson answered.
“I found her wallet.” Devon pulled it from the woman’s purse. “Her name was Stacy King She was only twenty-nine. A bit young for a heart attack.”
“Twenty-nine? Really?” Alyson asked. “I wonder why they’re assuming a heart attack. That seems unlikely.”
“Probably due to lack of any other obvious cause,” Mac concluded. “We can assume she didn’t have any obvious bruising or contusions.”
“There’s an invitation in her purse,” Devon added.
“An invitation to what?” Mac asked.
“Here, actually. There’s a note that says, ‘Hi, old friend. Join me for New Year’s at the resort; my treat, of course. We’ll catch up on old times.’”
“It’s not signed?” Mac asked.
“That’s odd.” Alyson crossed the room and took the note from Devon.
“You know what else is odd? The woman was getting ready to take a bath, but there are two wineglasses on the coffee table. Both half full,” Mac pointed.
“So where’s the friend?” Eli asked.
The phone on the bedside table buzzed.
“We’d better go.” Alyson stuck the note into her pocket.
They snuck out and headed toward the elevator. The housekeeping crew was just getting out of the elevator as they got in.
“That was close,” Mac breathed. “Another few seconds and they would have seen us coming out of the room.”
“I wonder if Andi can find out who paid for the woman’s room,” Devon said.
As soon as the elevator reached the lobby, Alyson hurried over to the desk. “Andi, can you find out who paid for room 312?”
”Sure, hang on.” Andi pulled up the woman’s registration information. “It says the room was paid for with an employee comp.”
“An employee comp?” Alyson asked.
“Yeah, employees can earn complimentary nights at the resort for doing things like working overtime or perfect attendance. It’s our way of rewarding employees for going above and beyond. Additionally, every employee gets comp nights on their work anniversary, depending on their years of service. Most employees use the comps to have friends or relatives visit.”
“Does it say whose employee comps were used?”
“No, I’m afraid not.”
“So who would know?” Alyson asked.
“Whoever made the reservation. They would have had to confirm the comp nights with HR.”
“Can you find out who made the reservation?”
“I guess I could check with HR to see who cashed in comp nights for this week. The problem is going to be coming up with a plausible reason why I want that information. I don’t really want my dad to find out what we’re doing.”
“Let’s head back over to our place to compare notes,” Alyson suggested. “I feel like I see a pattern emerging, but to be honest, I have no idea what it is. I think a little brainstorming might be in order.”
“Sure, just let me finish moving 312. I’ll meet you at the Expedition.”
After Andi finished helping out they all headed back to the house where they were staying.
“Is your dad here?” Mac asked as they pulled up in the front of the house.
“His car’s here. The place is dark, so he’s probably already in bed,” Eli answered.
“You guys get comfortable in the living room,” Devon volunteered. “I’ll check. Just keep it down. If he’s asleep we want him to stay that way.”
Mac and Eli settled onto one of the three couches facing the fireplace, Trevor and Andi on another, with Alyson on the third.
“Fires still burning,” Eli observed. “If Dad did go to bed it couldn’t have been too long ago. Can I get anyone something to eat or drink?”
“I’m still stuffed from dinner, but a soda would be nice,” Mac answered.
The others nodded in agreement.
Eli went into the kitchen just as Devon returned to the room.
“Dad’s watching a movie in our room, but he said he’d lay low. He’s not one to interfere in what I’m sure he imagines is some teenage make-out session, so we should be fine. Let’s just keep it quiet. Where’s Eli?”