Jim made another sweep of the room, opening the drawers on the
writing desk. There was a pad inside, and he felt around for any indentations.
There were none. It was a brand new pad and hadn't been used. He checked under
the couch, under each cushion, around the room again staring at the carpet. Nothing.
There wasn't a single sign of anyone having been checked in to that room, other
than a brand new, empty suitcase under the bed, and a toothbrush and hair brush
in the bathroom. And for all he knew, those were brand new as well.
Jim gave up. He pocketed the receipt and left, locking the door behind him. He
was going to take the key back to the front desk, but his own room beckoned from
across the hall and he could no longer ignore the tired muscles and a headache
from being up so long.
After a hot shower and change of clothes, he realized
it was past twelve. He was torn between the desire to check up on Blair, and the
heaviness of his eyelids. Eventually his tired eyes won and he lay down on the
couch, intending a quick nap, but was soon fast asleep. By the time the knocking
woke him, the sky was just beginning to darken.
"Who is it?" Jim
called, rolling off the couch. His neck had a kink from sleeping in one position
for so long.
"It's Tom Hanks, Detective. We've finished sweeping the area,
I thought you'd like to know."
Jim had opened the door then,
found something. A rifle, but no body." Tom said.
Jim forced his eyes
open wide for a moment, pushing out the last of the sleep he hadn't had enough
of yet. "Rifle? Where?"
"Well, we've got it locked up in the
storage shed, with Mr. Benchly's body."
"Where did you find it?"
"Oh, ah...on top of the ridge, just inside the tree line. It was poking
out through the snow, otherwise we never would have spotted it in that mess of
logs and branches."
Jim nodded, "Better let me take a look."
He followed Tom out of the doorway, locking the room behind him. "How many
people have a key to this storage shed of yours?"
"Just me, and a
couple other ski patrolmen. And there's a master key at the Ranger's station down
the mountain. They have keys to all the rooms and buildings."
to grab his coat and now held his arms around his chest against the cold of the
wind and snow that was still coming down. The walk to the shed was short, but
when they arrived, his hands were freezing. That made him think of Blair.
said this rifle was buried?"
"Yes, mostly." After some fumbling
the padlock finally opened and they both went inside. "In the tree line the
avalanche slows down, but does more damage with the trees coming down. The snow
isn't as thick, so we usually recover any bodies that may have been buried there."
Jim picked up the rifle that was lying on top of Benchly's body bag.
lot of people head for the trees when they see a slide coming down, thinking they'll
be safer. They usually get crushed by falling trees and branches before ever being
Jim was listening as he examined the weapon. "So, in your
opinion, if a man was hiding in the trees when the avalanche started, he'd most
likely be killed?"
Tom shrugged, "I would expect so. Of course, there's
always a chance. Your friend survived."
Jim looked up, "Yes, but
he was in the open, on the slope."
"Sure, and he was buried pretty
deep and ran out of air...but he's alive." Tom walked around the table holding
Mr. Benchly. "You're thinking the shooter is dead?"
we have an unsolved murder." Jim hefted the rifle, "I'm going to need
a secure place for this, and a list of each guest registered at the lodge since
Tom thought for a moment, "Well, there's a storage
closet in the basement of the lodge itself, I think only the front desk has the
key. And the list I can get, no problem."
Jim nodded, "That should
"Are you saying, we have a murderer up here with us? I
mean, if he didn't die in the slide? Are we in danger?"
Jim raised his
eyebrows, "I would say so, yes."
"So, what do we do? Do we warn
everyone? Question everyone? What?"
"First of all, 'We' don't do
anything. Just get me a secure place for this evidence, and that list. And don't
mention this to anyone right now. Whoever is involved, I don't want to tip him--or
her--off. And we don't want to start a panic, either."
Tom nodded, absorbing
the information. "Okay, whatever you say."
"Can you take me
to the storage room now?" Jim was waiting for him to grasp the situation
and deal with it. He seemed a little shocked, but then who wouldn't be? Murder
wasn't part of a mountain rescuer's job. Avalanches killed, they didn't murder.
"Oh, right. Sure, this way." Tom led the way back through the snow
to the rear of the lodge. They entered through the service door and down a short
hallway. "Here you go. It's not locked right now, but the front desk has
a padlock we can use. I'll just go get that."
Jim watched Tom leave, then
entered the room, pulling the chain for the light. It was a small room, filled
mostly with cleaning supplies. He found a counter with some spare room and set
the rifle down there, giving it as close an exam as he could in the dim light.
There was nothing telling on the rifle that he could see. The serial number had
been filed completely down, he expected that. Even with his Sentinel sight he
couldn't make out more than three numbers. And without access to the Department
database, it would do him no good, anyway. Fingerprints were also next to worthless,
until they could get back to the lab. Tom returned then, handing Jim a large padlock
and two keys.
"They said these are the only two keys. Should I keep one,
just in case?"
"No, that's fine. Thank you." Jim took both keys,
exited the room and locked the door, checking its security. "I'm going to
go check in on my friend. Just let me know if you find anything else out of the
ordinary. And tomorrow, I'd like to see the area where this was found."
Jim followed the hall to the stairs, up one flight, back
into the main lobby of the lodge. Glancing around, he noticed the same crowd of
visitors, still complaining and worrying about the road closures that were making
a longer stay out of a simple ski trip. He hurried upstairs for his jacket. It
was snowing heavily now, but the wind had died down. As he crossed the road to
the aid station, he glanced back up the slope, barely visible in the downpour
of large, white flakes. He couldn't discount the possibility of the shooter surviving
the slide. But so far, the only person he could swear wasn't in the lodge at the
time, and was still unaccounted for, was one of the older man's yes men. Maybe
Blair's imagination wasn't running wild, after all.
Once inside the aid
station he shrugged off the snow that was piled on his shoulders and head.
Mr. Ellison. I see it's snowing again?" Dr Stuart was just coming out of
Blair's room when he came into the lobby.
"Again? I wasn't aware that
it had stopped."
She smiled, wrapping the stethoscope around her neck
and letting her hands hang from it. "It did for about thirty minutes, I think.
It must be really coming down now, you're covered."
Jim shrugged out of
his jacket and let the rest of the snow fall off in the doorway, trying to keep
it off the carpet. "How's he doing?"
"He's doing well. I've
just changed the bandaging on his leg, it's looking as well as can be expected.
No sign of lung congestion as of yet, but I still want to keep a close eye on
him. Other than that, his temperature is up to normal, no signs of permanent damage
from the frostbite."
"That's good news, thanks doc." Jim hung
his coat on a peg in the waiting area and walked over to the door, knocking quietly
as he opened it. Blair was propped up, blankets wrapped thickly around him. Jim
recognized the look of someone heavily medicated as Blair turned to him.
Chief. How you feeling? You can't still be cold...?" Jim walked over to the
chair that was still next to the bed where he had spent the past night and placed
a hand on his friend's forehead.
"It's more psychological now, I think."
Blair answered, shivering only slightly. "Not like before."
into his eyes for a moment, trying to judge Blair's health for himself. Satisfied
with what he saw, he sat down. "How's the leg?"
Blair laughed a little,
"It hurts." he said. "But only when I move."
don't move, Chief."
"Simple as that, huh?"
that." Jim replied.
Blair shifted a little in bed, "You saved my
life, again. They told me about how I wasn't breathing when you found me and all."
"You gave me quite a scare."
"I know, and I'm sorry."
he said, looking down for a moment. "They also said you stayed here all night?"
Jim nodded. "You don't remember, do you?"
Blair admitted. "Just images...like a nightmare. I remember you, and..."
he looked away for a moment, then back to Jim. "I keep seeing Lash when I
close my eyes, like he was here."
"You did mention him when you were
delirious." Jim said quietly, noting the slight reflection of fear in his
friend's eyes. "That's normal, to flash on something like that after another
trauma. Don't worry about it. He's dead, Blair. And you aren't."
sighed deeply, tugging at the blankets. "You got there just in time, too.
I just wanted to say thanks." He looked back up at Jim, "For that, and
for staying here with me."
Jim smiled. There was a lot he could say, and
would have liked to say, but he knew Blair embarrassed easily. He was looking
like someone's little lost puppy again, lying there with the blankets pulled up
to this neck. "You're welcome." He'd been through enough lately. "I'm
your Blessed Protector, remember?"
Blair nodded, accepting that. "At
least it was just an avalanche, and not some murdering psycho or something."
Jim rolled his eyes and sat back, leaning into the chair. "Well, not exactly."
"What do you mean?"
"Our skinny nervous guy, from the lodge.
Turns out his name was Richard Benchly. He's dead."
"Not from the avalanche. He was shot."
nodded, rubbing tired eyes for a moment. "We've got a murder on our hands,
Chief. High-powered rifle, shot through the head. We think that's what triggered
"Tom Hanks, one of the ski patrol.
He found the body, and the rifle just a few hours ago." Jim smiled inside
at the slight note of jealousy he heard in Blair's voice. "He also helped
me dig you out."
"So...what do we do? They said the roads were blocked
and the phone lines are down. We're stuck up here with a murderer?"
exactly. I'm having a hard time imagining someone pulling the trigger, and getting
away from that slide. You were halfway down already when it hit and look what
happened. The killer couldn't have shot Benchly up on top of the slope, then beat
you and the slide down. And if he was in the woods, where the rifle was found,
he should be dead but there's no body. He couldn't have known the shot would bring
down half the mountainside. And if he had, why didn't he just fire from a better
distance, and let the snow kill him." he paused, shaking his head. "Unless
he wasn't the only target. You haven't made anyone mad at you lately, have you?"
"Just Simon." Blair replied.
Jim laughed. "Well,
if you had been the only other person on the slopes, then maybe Simon would be
a suspect. But Mr. Kelly died up there too. And Mrs. Evans could have died."
Blair raised his eyebrows, questioning the names.
"They were in front
of you, heading down the slope. Mrs. Evans is the young lady from the dining room,
looked like she was on her honeymoon?" Blair nodded. "And Mr. Kelly
was the older guy, with his wife. They were the two not speaking to each other."
Blair nodded again, remembering.
"What about the mobster, with the girlfriend
and those two goons?"
Jim smiled at Blair's description, then shook his
head. "Well, all are accounted for, except one. They were at the window,
looking up the mountain with binoculars, and a night vision scope, just before
"What? Night vision? Why?"
Chief." Jim replied. "He's my number one suspect right now, but I haven't
had a chance to question anyone." Just then he yawned mightily, stretching
his arms. "I fell asleep after going over Benchly's room."
you find anything?"
"No, as a matter of fact. Absolutely nothing.
Like he hadn't even been in there." He pulled out the slip of paper from
the closet floor and examined it again. "Just a suitcase under the bed, with
absolutely nothing inside. A bathroom with no signs of anyone having been in there,
other than a brand new toothbrush, and the hotel toothpaste."
the way you like it." Blair interjected.
"Funny, Chief." Jim
replied. "And this."
for the ski gear he was wearing. He just bought it the day he went up."
knew he didn't look like he belonged on the slopes." At that it was Blair's
turn to yawn. "What now?"
"Well, right now, I'm going to get
some real sleep. I can't think anymore." He stood and stretched. "There's
no way out of this pass, so whoever is behind all of this is not going anywhere,
at least before morning." He bent backwards, listening to tired joints pop.
"Get some sleep. I'll bring you up to date after I check things out tomorrow."
He paused at the door, looking back.
He smiled, "I will Chief. Get some sleep."