Cathy Lindsay liked to think she could still be fun, spontaneous, not a slave to routine. She might be a teacher of English to bored (and boring) high school kids, mother of two, wife of one, living in a modern four-bedroom house in a small mountain town, with an SUV and a minivan parked in the two-car garage, the driveway and sidewalk shoveled, the bushes wrapped in burlap. But she could still shake things up if she wanted.
Sure she could.
If she wanted to.
Cathy used to run half marathons. Not anymore. No time with the job, the kids, the responsibilities. She wasn't as fit as she'd once been, so she relied on her regular morning walk to give her energy to face the day.
Energy to do her boring job, to put up with her dull unimaginative co-workers, to teach her lazy students, proud and boastful in their stupidity.
Energy to put up with Gord who was getting lazier and fatter before her eyes. No wonder he was becoming a tub of lard. Look at him at the neighbors' party last week. Vacuuming up the food. She wouldn't have minded how much Gord ate at the party, if he didn't think he could eat like that everyday. She forbade junk food in the house but knew he gorged on bags of chips and cans of pop at the office. He wasn't much of a drinker, though. You had to give Gord that. Even at the party he stuck to two bottles of beer and finished the night with a virgin Caesar.
In only that one thing Gord was like Mark.
Who kept himself in shape with hockey and skiing in the winter, soccer in the summer, and jogged and worked out all year round.
Mark. Smart, funny, handsome.
Cathy had no illusions that one day she and Mark would fall breathlessly into each other's arms, to satisfy their raging passion for each other. She'd never run away with Mark and they'd never live happily ever after in a rose-covered cottage in the woods. No, she was stuck with boring old Gord. As long as the kids were still kids, still needing a stable home. Gord might be fat, tedious, boring, but he was reliable.
It didn't hurt a girl to have a fantasy now and again, did it? To act on that fantasy even if only a tiny bit. To be teasing, playful, sexy. To play a game; to believe she was attractive enough to catch a man. A man as desirable as Mark.
Cathy usually got out of bed at quarter to six. Today, she allowed herself an extra forty-five luxurious minutes because it was a Saturday and the start of school vacation. Yawning and stretching, she peeked out the window. It had snowed lightly overnight, and the late winter sun cast a cold pale light on the ridge of mountains to the east.
She dressed quickly, enjoying the quiet of the house, so intense it might have been a physical thing. She allowed the silence to wrap itself around her.
Cathy washed up last night's dishes, tidied the kitchen, and laid things out to make a fancy holiday breakfast when she got back. Then she went into the mud room, calling to the dog. She searched for her footwear, tossing boots and shoes and assorted outdoor paraphernalia aside. Finding her boots at last, she sat on the bench to pull them on and tie the laces. Standing, she pushed her arms through her heavy, down-filled coat, and wrapped the pure wool, hand-woven green scarf around her neck.
Spot danced in circles at Cathy's feet, barely able to contain her excitement. Must be nice, Cathy thought, to approach each day as though it would be fresh and fun and exciting.
Pushing aside earmuffs and hats, she found the blue leash on a hook by the door. She snapped it on the dog's collar and felt the strain in her arm as the small animal lunged for the exit.
Laughing, Cathy struggled to pull on her gloves.
At last, prepared for the cold, they set out.
The house she shared with Gord and their children was set on a large property nestled into the side of the mountain. Cathy and Spot waded through snow to the gate and the public trail beyond.
They turned left and walked together along the wide, well-travelled route. Her feet slipped on fresh snow atop compacted ice, but her boots were good ones and she kept her footing.
Soon the path turned into the woods and the row of neat modern bungalows with tidy gardens sleeping the sleep of winter ended, and she could pretend she was in the wilderness.
She bent and unsnapped the leash. A spring uncoiled, the dog charged into the woods.
Cathy laughed and lifted her head to catch snowflakes on her tongue. She held her arms out, delighting in the day. In being alive.
They planned to go skiing this afternoon. It would be fun if Mark was there. She'd suggest, casually, that Gord stay with Jocelyn on the blue runs and Cathy could slip away to race the black diamonds with Mark.
Just a fantasy, a little flirting. What harm could it do?
She smiled as she watched her boot press a fresh print into the pristine snow.
The woods shook with the crack. Birds flew from trees, startled cries filling the cold morning.
Spot immediately lost all thoughts of squirrels and chipmunks. Gathering her courage she hurried back to the woman. To the one she loved.
Cathy lay on the ground, face buried, the snow around her silently soaking up red liquid. Spot recognized that smell: the scent of meat before Gord threw it on the outdoor fire machine or oozing from a squirrel crushed on the road.
Spot crept closer, ears up, nose moving.
She sniffed at the hand. She whined and touched the arm with a paw, but Cathy did not move.
Constable Molly Smith pulled a couple of containers from the fridge. Cold pizza and leftover birthday cake for breakfast. Yum.
Yesterday had been her mom's birthday. Lucy Smith, known to all as Lucky, was a good cook and a great baker. Molly's dad, Andy, hadn't been. Over all the years of her parents' marriage, Andy insisted on fixing the dinner for his wife's birthday: take-away pizza and supermarket chocolate cake with super-sweet icing.
Andy had died unexpectedly two years ago. Slowly and steadily they were getting over their loss, but there were somethings Molly wanted to remain as they always had. Her mom's birthday tradition among them.
So takeout pizza and store-bought cake it was.
Although she would have preferred if Lucky hadn't invited her friend—Molly shuddered—to join them. Lucky Smith's gentleman friend was none other than the Chief Constable of Trafalgar, Paul Keller. Molly Smith's boss. Her mom and Paul been dating on and off for the past couple of months. Lucky did not want to talk about the relationship, and Molly was more than happy to oblige. The time she'd arrived at her mom's place at six in the morning to find all the lights off and Keller's car parked in the driveway had been traumatic enough.
Molly's own boyfriend, RCMP Constable Adam Tocek, had also come to dinner. Adam's police dog, Norman, and the Smith family mutt, Sylvester, settled themselves in the family room in front of the fireplace with soup bones that had been Adam's hostess gift as logs popped and embers glowed. Sylvester decided Norman's bone looked much better than his. Norman, the far better trained of the two, lifted one eyebrow and gave a single warning growl. Sylvester wisely retreated to the far end of the fireplace.
Lucky reminded them with a laugh of the time the family had been playing cards around the dining room table while Sylvester climbed onto a chair to get to the kitchen table and the remains of the Christmas turkey.
It had been a nice evening. Paul Keller had left, thank heavens, at the same time as Molly and Adam.
Now, she took her Glock out of the gun safe and slipped it into her holster, looking forward to what should be a quiet day. She wiggled the belt onto the most comfortable spot on her hips, and stuffed her uniform shirt in. Trafalgar was a low-crime, generally peaceful town. Nestled deep in the mountains of British Columbia, far from any cities, on the way to nowhere, it was a neohippy paradise, retiree haven, convergence of ley lines, outdoor adventurer's dream, center of the B.C. pot culture. A small town, yet its cops pretty much saw it all.
Today was the first day of March Break. The town would be full because of the holidays and the fast-approaching end of the skiing season. The police could be busy at night with drunken college kids brawling in the bars and drunken families resurrecting long-held grievances, but the days were generally quiet. With today's forecast calling for nothing but light snow and no wind, the roads shouldn't be bad.
As she let herself out of her apartment, the marvelous aroma of baking bread filled the staircase, even though the sun was not yet up. She lived above Alphonse's bakery and loved getting off a tough night shift, arriving home to be wrapped in the warm fragrant air wafting out of the ovens. Alphonse often left a treat waiting for her on the bottom step.
Fat flakes drifted out of a black sky as she walked the short distance to the police station. The lights at the intersection blinked yellow, not a moving vehicle in sight. Street lamps burned, and the police station was brightly lit, but otherwise all was dark. The mountains not yet visible.
She bounded up the steps, ran through the small waiting room, and punched in the code to open the inner door.
Jim Denton was settling himself behind the console, steam rising from the mug of coffee clutched in his hand.
"Morning, Molly," he shouted.
"Morning. Anything much happen overnight?"
He clicked the mouse on his computer. "A lady slipped on the ice in front of her garage and broke her arm. A minor car accident, out-of-towners driving too fast down the steep roads. They would have gone straight over the cliff if not for a conveniently-parked SUV." The screens monitoring the cells in the basement showed no one currently in residence.
"This changeable weather has done a number on the roads and sidewalks," he said, and she grunted in agreement. Temperatures at the lower elevations had played with the freezing point all last week, melting snow during the day and turning it into solid ice overnight.
"You been up to Blue Sky lately?" Denton asked, sipping coffee.
"Ooooh, yeah. And the conditions are good." On the mountains it would be good skiing for a couple of weeks yet.
No one else was in and Smith went through some paperwork, munching on cold pizza and cake, until light began creeping through the blinds. She retrieved her hat, pulled on her uniform jacket, and went out back to get a vehicle.
She drove through the quiet streets while the sun rose. The sky was overcast and as light spread across the valley, everything simply turned from black to gray and then the gray progressively lightened. They hadn't had much snow in the night; just enough to freshen everything up and make it look nice again.
She drove down Front Street slowly, peeking in shop windows, looking for something out of place, an open door, a broken window. Most of the stores, including her mother's business, Mid-Kootenay Adventure Vacations, were trimmed with small white lights, an abundance of fake snow and decorations in the windows.
A handful of people were out walking dogs and the snowplow made a sweep down the main street, but otherwise the only activity to be found in the early hours grew in front of hotels where tourists, skis over shoulders, stamping feet and rubbing gloved hands against the cold, waited for the bus to take them to Blue Sky.
Traffic signals had been switched on, lights glinted from behind drawn curtains, signs on shop doors flipped to open, people were walking to work, and Molly Smith was thinking about heading to Big Eddie's to pick up a mug of their special hot chocolate when her radio crackled. Nothing better on a snowy winter's day than a mug of Big Eddie's special hot chocolate.
Unless it was drinking Big Eddie's special hot chocolate heading out of town to Blue Sky with her skis on the roof.
"Five-one. Go ahead."
"Hiking trail on the old railroad tracks at the top of Martin Street. Report of a body found."
She checked for oncoming traffic—nothing—and spun the truck into a U-Turn. "They say anything about the condition of the body?"
"Only that it appears to be recently dead. Caller's name is Matt Hornbeck. He'll meet you at the top of Martin Street, walk you in."
"On my way." She punched the console and headed up the mountain under lights and sirens.
"I'm hungry. When's breakfast?"
"When your mother gets home."
"How much longer's she gonna be?"
"She'll be back soon, honeybunch. It's so nice out, they must be having a great walk."
Gord Lindsay glanced out the window. He'd have to shovel the driveway soon. Again. Cathy loved snow. She loved to ski in it, she loved to walk in it, she loved to play in it, she loved to sit by the window and watch it fall. He, who had to shovel it, hated the stuff.
She was a mountain girl, raised on a backcountry property until she went to university in Victoria and spent a few years teaching in schools around the Island. Then marriage and children and stability. She'd never stopped pining for the mountains and the snow.
He'd always known she stayed in Victoria for him. He liked the ocean.
When she'd been offered a job at Trafalgar District High, he knew it was his turn to make some sacrifices, and so they packed up and moved. He, after all, could work just about anywhere. That had been ten years ago. His Internet development business was thriving, the children were growing strong and healthy, Cathy was, if not happy, at least content.
He was happy.
Most of the time.
But he still hated the damned snow.
He rubbed the top of his daughter's head. Jocelyn was ten, Daddy's girl. That, he knew, wouldn't last much longer. Look at Bradley. The freckle-faced, gap-toothed boy who'd loved nothing more than to kick a soccer ball around the yard with his dad and had wanted to be an air force pilot when he grew up, had morphed into a sullen, swearing, scowling juvenile delinquent.
Bradley had gone out last night, after scarfing down his dinner, despite Cathy's pleas that he stay home, just this once. Play a board game perhaps, do something as a family to celebrate the start of March Break. The door slammed shut behind him, his mindless, unfocused anger at the world reverberating through the house.
Gord had popped his head into the boy's room this morning. Fast asleep beneath a mountain of blankets.
Cathy was an early riser: all that mountain air she'd breathed growing up, Gord assumed. When he woke, her side of the bed had been empty. The kitchen was tidy for a change, dinner dishes washed and put away, coffee-pot full, bacon laid out to thaw, ingredients assembled for pancakes. Cathy liked to celebrate holidays, even a nonoccasion holiday like March Break.
Spot wasn't in the house; Cathy always took her out in the morning. Yes, their dog went by the name of Spot. Jocelyn had been six when they got her, and the girl insisted on naming the mutt for the black dot on her forehead, the only mark in the mass of curly white fur.
Gord glanced at the clock on the stove. Almost ten o'clock. Perhaps Cathy had run into a friend and gone to the friend's house for coffee, lost track of time.
He'd better check. He grabbed the kitchen phone and dialed her cell. The sound of ringing in his ear, and then he heard a traditional ringtone beneath a dish cloth tossed on the counter not more than two feet away. She'd left her phone at home.
"Can I have a muffin while we're waiting?" Jocelyn asked. She looked adorable in her blue flannel pajamas dotted with smiling white polar bears, fuzzy pink slippers, strands of brown hair escaping the pony tail.
"Okay. Then you'd better get dressed if we're going skiing after breakfast."
* * *
The silence was almost total. The gentle whoosh of skis gliding through snow, poles breaking the surface, the sharp puff of his breath. It had snowed in the night and he was breaking fresh trail. The going was tough.
Tough was good.
Tough was what he needed.
His heart pounded a steady rhythm in his chest. Sweat gathered in a pool on his low back and underneath his arms. He'd unzipped his jacket and taken his gloves off about a kilometer back and welcomed the piercing cold.
A line of tracks, paw prints, crossed the path ahead. He slowed to check them out. Might be a large dog, but no human marks accompanied them. A wolf then. A big one too. He'd heard them in the night, calling to each other across the valley. He'd closed his eyes and listened, delighting in the primitive wildness of the sound. He had no fear of wolves. Wild animals didn't frighten him. He'd faced the most dangerous animal of them all.
And he'd survived.
Sometimes he wished he hadn't.
Mark Hamilton dug his poles into the snow and pushed off again. A hill loomed ahead. A steep one. It would be tough going.