A BED-AND-BREAKFAST MYSTERY
In memory of Katharine Dawson Marshall, the last of
the Dawson clan to enter eternal life on January 30,
1998, joining Monica Richardson Dawson, Louis
Dawson, Frances Dawson Webster, Thomas Dawson,
and Helen Dawson Shelley. We will always love you.
JUDITH MCMONIGLE FLYNN stacked twenty-four
pancakes on a platter, grabbed…
FRIDAY DAWNED COLD and cloudy. Renie was
driving the Jones’s…
AS SHE’D PREDICTED, Renie’s presentation went
well. “There were the…
“IT WAS ONE of those things you see, but you…
A FEW MINUTES before eight, the cousins went
NEITHER JUDITH NOR Renie screamed. Instead,
they held onto each…
IT WAS ALMOST midnight before Judith and Renie
IN THE STRAINED atmosphere of the kitchen,
Judith felt the…
AVA BURIED HER face against Gene’s shoulder.
Max half-carried Nadia…
“HE PASSED OUT upstairs,” Max announced in a
MAX AND WARD had decided to go out through
EVERYBODY SCREAMED. GENE spilled his drink
on the Navajo rug,…
AFTER THE GAME hens and the bean dish had
UNDER THE CIRCUMSTANCES, it was natural for
everyone to assume…
“WHO ELSE WAS in the corridor last night?” Judith
“THIS…CAN’T…BE…happening,” Judith gasped. 221
JUDITH AND RENIE both started to protest,
meanwhile backpedaling across…
JUDITH AND RENIE flattened themselves against
the wall, hopefully out…
FRANK KILLEGREW WAS sulking. “Sh’almost shix,”
he mumbled. “Who drinksh…
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
OTHER BOOKS BY MARY DAHEIM
ABOUT THE PUBLISHER
JUDITH MCMONIGLE FLYNN stacked twenty-four pancakes
on a platter, grabbed the syrup pitcher, and opened the
swinging door with her hip. Just behind her, the kitchen
“Damn!” Judith cursed under her breath, then sheepishly
smiled at the eight hungry, curious faces seated around the
old oak dining room table. The phone kept ringing. “Sorry,”
Judith apologized, as she set the pancakes and syrup on the
table, “I don’t usually get calls this early unless they’re reservations from the East Coast.”
The bed and breakfast guests made various incomprehensible sounds, then began dishing up pancakes. Judith returned
to the kitchen just as the phone trunked over to the answering
machine. After delivering bacon, eggs, and extra butter, she
checked the message.
“I know you’re there, you twit!” Cousin Renie’s voice had
an early-morning croak. “Call me! Quick!”
It was 7:36. Judith’s cousin never, ever got out of bed before nine and almost never achieved full consciousness until
ten. Apprehensively, Judith dialed Renie’s number.
“Are you okay?” Judith asked in a breathless voice.
“I’m terrible,” Renie replied crossly. “I’m up the creek, in
the soup, down the toilet.”
2 / Mary Daheim
The exaggerated response relieved Judith’s mind. If Renie
had been held hostage or was lying at the bottom of her
basement stairs, she wouldn’t describe her plight so vividly.
Judith poured a mug of coffee and sat down at the kitchen
table. “So what’s really wrong?” she asked, more intrigued
A big sigh rolled over the phone line from the other side
of Heraldsgate Hill. “It’s the OTIOSE conference—you know,
the Overland Telecommunications and Information Organization of Systems Engineers.”
“It’s called OTIOSE for short?” Judith asked in surprise.
“Do they know what it means?”
“Of course not. They’re engineers. Anyway,” Renie went
on, still sounding vexed, “they used to be part of the local
phone company before the Bell System got broken up by the
Justice Department. Remember I told you I was putting together a really big graphic design presentation for their annual winter retreat? I’m redoing their logo, their colors,
everything right down to the cheap pens they hand out to
lucky customers and members of their board. But there’s a
problem—the caterer backed out at the last minute and
they’ve asked me to find a sub.”
“So? There are a zillion caterers in the Yellow Pages. If
they’re telephone company people, why can’t they let their
fingers do the walking?”
“Because they are telephone company people. Their brains
aren’t attached to their fingers. Plus, these are the top executives. They’re not used to doing things for themselves.”
Renie was clearly exasperated. “Anyway, I opened my big
mouth and told them I knew a topnotch caterer. Believe it
or not, I was referring to you. What do you say?”
“Ohhh…” Judith set her mug down with a thud and
splashed coffee onto the plastic table cover. Running a B&B
was hard enough, especially with the holidays so recently
behind her. Of late she’d been trying to phase out the catering arm of her business. For several years it had
SNOW PLACE TO DIE / 3
been a joint venture with Judith’s friend and neighbor, Arlene
Rankers. Her husband, Carl, had retired two years earlier,
and their family of five had expanded. The quiet leisure years
they’d anticipated had turned into a merry-go-round of
grandchildren crawling around in the laurel hedge that separated the Rankers and Flynn properties. Arlene no longer
had the time or the energy to help run a full-scale catering
service, and Judith couldn’t do it without her.
“I really don’t think I can manage on such short notice,”
Judith said at last. “Isn’t the retreat this weekend?”
“Right, over the three-day Martin Luther King holiday.”
Renie paused. “It’d be for only a day, actually. All you have
to do is set up the first meal on Friday, then stock the fridge
and freezer and whatever. The rest of the weekend is…”
“More coffee please,” came a request from the dining room.
“Do you have powdered sugar?” called another guest.
“There’s something gruesome crawling around under the
table,” complained a third, rather frantic voice.
Judith hadn’t heard the last part of Renie’s explanation.
“Coz, I’ll get back to you in half an hour,” she said, feeling
a touch of panic.
The coffee and powdered sugar were delivered, then Judith
dove under the big oak table to retrieve her cat, Sweetums.
The cat arched his back, hissed, and began rubbing against
the sheer stockings on a pair of rather hefty legs.
“Eeek!” cried a voice somewhere over Judith’s head. “My
hose! I’m being attacked by an animal! I feel fur and disgusting warmth!”
“What is it?” inquired an anxious male voice. “Not a porcupine, surely.”
Judith grabbed Sweetums with both hands and dragged
him out from under the table. “Sorry,” she apologized again.
“My husband must have let him in when he went to work.”
“I hate cats,” said the woman who had first complained.
4 / Mary Daheim
“Cats carry all kinds of dread disease,” stated a man at the
end of the table.
“That cat looks mean,” remarked a woman who was
sprinkling powdered sugar on her pancakes. “Is he rabid?”
Sweetums was now sitting by the swinging doors, his long,
fluffy tail curled around his large orange, white, and gray
body. The yellow eyes narrowed and the whiskers twitched.
“He’s a very healthy cat,” Judith declared in a defensive
tone. “I’ll take him outside. Come on, Sweetums. Let’s go
eat some birds.”
A gasp went up from some of the guests. Judith immediately realized she should have kept her mouth shut. But this
time she didn’t apologize. Nudging Sweetums with her foot,
she guided him into the kitchen, down the narrow hall past
the pantry and the back stairs, and out onto the porch.
Sweetums balked. It was extremely cold, as befitted the
third week of January. Heavy dark clouds hung in low over
Heraldsgate Hill. Despite the budding camellia bushes and
the green forsythia shoots, Judith sensed that winter was far
from over. She didn’t blame Sweetums for not wanting to
stay outside. Maybe he’d be satisfied visiting Judith’s mother
in the converted toolshed. Gertrude Grover was probably
champing at the bit, awaiting her own breakfast.
Judith went back into the kitchen to prepare her mother’s
morning repast. Then she and the cat trudged down the
walkway to the small apartment. Gertrude opened the door
and offered her daughter a knuckle sandwich.
“You’re late, you moron,” Gertrude snarled. “It’s sevenforty-nine. I’m practically ready to keel over from starvation.”
Her small eyes brightened as Judith uncovered the plastic
tray. “Flapjacks, huh? You got any little pigs?”
“Not today,” Judith replied as Sweetums sniffed around
the legs of Gertrude’s walker. “Bacon, not too crisp, just the
way you like it, swimming in its own grease.”
“Mmm.” Gertrude seemed appeased. “Did you warm the
SNOW PLACE TO DIE / 5
“Of course.” Judith began setting the breakfast things on
Gertrude’s card table, which was littered with magazines,
jumble puzzles, candy boxes, candy wrappers, and half a
chocolate Santa. Gertrude had already eaten the head and
shoulders, and was obviously working her way through the
little round belly. Though bacon, eggs, and pancakes might
not be the most wholesome of foodstuffs, Judith consoled
herself that at least they weren’t sweets. In recent years,
Gertrude had begun to reject such items as fruit, vegetables,
and almost anything else that was healthy. The problem had
been exacerbated by the holidays. Gertrude had stockpiled
sugary treats given by friends, relatives, and neighbors. If
her mother had had any of her own teeth left, Judith guessed
that they would have fallen out by New Year’s Eve.
Returning to the house, Judith tended to her guests’ latest,
not always reasonable requests, and tried to keep smiling.
She knew she was suffering from the usual post-holiday
doldrums. Traditionally, January was a slow month in the
hostelry business, but this year had proved to be an exception. For the first time since Judith had converted the family
home into a B&B almost eight years earlier, Hillside Manor
was booked through the twenty-first. Following on the heels
of the holiday season with its professional and personal
hustle-and-bustle, Judith could have used a respite. But there
was none, and she was tired, cranky, and drained of her
usual cheerful enthusiasm.
It was eight-thirty by the time the guests had finished
breakfast. Two couples had drifted into the living room to
drink coffee in front of the fireplace, and the others had gone
upstairs to prepare for checkout. Judith dialed Renie’s number, propped the portable phone between her shoulder and
ear, and loaded the dishwasher.
“You’re late,” Renie snapped. “I was ready to drive over
to see if you’d died.”
“Just busy, coz,” Judith replied in a listless voice. “Anyway,
the answer is no. I’ve got a full house this week- 6 / Mary Daheim
end and I’m really beat. Today’s Tuesday, and if this event
is set for Friday, that doesn’t give me much time to put together a menu that’ll last through the long weekend.”
“Oh. Okay. Bye.”
“Wait!” Annoyed with herself for letting Renie goad her,
Judith slapped a hand against the dishwasher lid. “I mean,
you’re not mad?”
“Huh? No. That’s fine. See you.”
“But what will you do?” Judith asked anxiously. “You said
you were in a bind.”
“I’ll kill myself. I’m getting a noose out of the broom closet
even as we speak.” Renie’s voice was unnaturally placid.
“Now where’s a box I can stand on?”
“Dammit, you’re making me feel guilty.”
“That’s okay. You’ll forget all about it when Bill keels over
from grief and you and Joe end up with our three kids. They
may be adults legally, but they’re still a financial drain. Unlike
you, we haven’t been able to marry ours off.”
Judith’s mind flashed back to Mike and Kristin’s wedding
the previous summer. It had been wonderful; it had been
terrible. Judith had felt the wrench of parting with her only
son, and had somehow temporarily buried her feelings by
trying to help her homicide detective husband catch a murderer. But during the months that followed, the sense of loss
had deepened. Even though Mike hadn’t lived at home for
several years, his marriage had been a major life change for
Judith. He and his bride worked as park rangers some four
hundred miles away in Idaho, but they were due to be
transferred. The new posting could take them almost anywhere in the fifty states, and Judith feared she wouldn’t see
her son and his wife more than once a year. The hollow
feeling wouldn’t go away, and Judith knew it was another
reason she felt not only tired, but suddenly old.
“When do you make your presentation?” Judith asked,
forcing herself out of her reverie.
“Friday,” Renie answered, no longer placid. “I told you,
it’s just for a day. Can’t Arlene Rankers help you
SNOW PLACE TO DIE / 7
throw some crap together for these bozos? Bring her along.
You’ll be up at the lodge for about six hours, and they’ll pay
you three grand.”
“Arlene’s getting ready for her annual jaunt to Palm Desert
with Carl, and… three grand?” Judith’s jaw dropped.
“Right.” The smirk in Renie’s voice was audible. “OTIOSE
pays well. Why do you think I’m so anxious to peddle my
pretty little proposals? I could make a bundle off these phone
“Wow.” Judith leaned against the kitchen counter. “That
would pay off our Christmas bills and then some. Six hours,
“Right. We can come and go together, because my
presentation should take about two hours, plus Q&A, plus
the usual yakkity-yak and glad-handing. You’ll get to see me
work the room. It’ll be a whole new experience. I actually
stay nice for several minutes at a time.”
Judith couldn’t help but smile. Her cousin wasn’t famous
for her even temper. “How many?” she asked, getting down
“Ten—six men, four women,” Renie answered, also
sounding equally professional. “All their officers, plus the
administrative assistant. I’ll make a list, just so you know
the names. Executives are very touchy about being recognized
Judith nodded to herself. “Okay. You mentioned a lodge.
“Mountain Goat,” Renie replied. “It’s only an hour or so
from town, so we should leave Friday morning around nine.”
Judith knew the lodge, which was located on one of the
state’s major mountain passes. “I can’t wait to tell Joe. He’ll
be thrilled about the money. By the way, why did the other
caterers back out?”
There was a long pause. “Uh…I guess they’re sort of superstitious.”
8 / Mary Daheim
“What do you mean?” Judith’s voice had turned wary.
“Oh, it’s nothing, really,” Renie said, sounding unnaturally
jaunty. “Last year they had a staff assistant handle the catering
at Mountain Goat Lodge. Barry Something-Or-Other, who
was starting up his own business on the side. He…ah…disappeared.”
“He disappeared?” Judith gasped into the receiver.
“Yeah, well, he went out for cigarettes or something and
never came back. Got to run, coz. See you later.”
Renie hung up.
Joe wasn’t excited about Judith’s bonanza. Indeed, Joe
didn’t really hear her mention the OTIOSE catering job. He
was uncharacteristically self-absorbed and depressed, though
the reasons had nothing to do with his wife.
“It’s these damned drive-bys,” he complained, accepting a
stiff Scotch from Judith. “They’re always kids, both victims
and perps, and sometimes they’re innocent bystanders. The
victims, I mean. God, it’s such a waste.” He loosened his tie
and collapsed into a kitchen chair.
Judith came up behind him and massaged his tense
shoulders. “It’s sad. What are they trying to prove?”
“That they belong.” Joe sighed. “It doesn’t matter that it’s
a gang of punks just like themselves. They fit in somewhere,
there’s a place for them, a niche they can’t find with family,
because they don’t have any. Not a real family, I mean.
They’re the new outcasts, and they can only prove their worth
by blowing some other poor kid away.”
“It’s an awfully stupid way to prove anything,” Judith said,
turning back to the stove where mussels boiled in a big pot.
“You usually catch them, though.”
“That’s the frustrating part,” Joe said, taking a deep drink.
“The perps end up in the slammer for fifteen, twenty years,
wasting their young lives. What’s even worse is that the rest
of them don’t learn by what happens to the ones we send
away. There are times when I hate my job. Do you realize I
could retire in three years?”
SNOW PLACE TO DIE / 9
Judith, who was draining the mussels into a colander, almost dropped the pot. She’d never heard Joe mention retirement before. “Do you want to?” she gulped.
Joe sighed again, his green eyes troubled. “I’ve been
thinking about it lately. Hell, I’ve been on the force for thirtythree years. Plenty of guys burn out by fifty-five. I’m past
that already. I figure I’m lucky to have lasted this long.”
So was Judith. Only in the five and a half years of her
marriage to Joe had she been able to count on financial
support from a spouse. During her nineteen years with the
unemployed and unemployable Dan McMonigle, Judith had
worked two jobs. By day she had served as a librarian, and
at night, she had toiled behind the bar at the Meat and
Mingle. The daytime and evening clientele neither met nor
mingled. Most of the hard-fisted drinkers were lucky they
could read the bar specials posted on a chalkboard set next
to the blinking sign depicting a hula-skirted chipmunk.
“Well,” Judith said, tossing the mussels into a bowl of
vermicelli and rice, “it’s your decision.” She gave her husband
a quick, keen look. The red hair had more gray in it, the
forehead was growing higher, the laugh and worry lines were
etched more deeply. Joe was still the most attractive man in
the world to Judith, but he was getting older. She’d hardly
noticed. After a twenty-five-year separation, their time together had seemed so brief. “You’ll know when it’s time to quit,”
she added a bit lamely.
“Hmm.” Joe sipped more Scotch. “The retirement package
is fairly good, all things considered.”
Which, Judith realized, Joe had considered. “Medical,
“Right. I’d have Social Security, too.”
There had been no security with Dan, social or otherwise.
At over four hundred pounds, her first husband had offered
only verbal abuse and demands for more vodka, Ding-Dongs,
apple fritters, and whatever else he could stuff into his fat,
10 / Mary Daheim
“I guess we’ll have to think about it,” Judith said, sounding
Joe didn’t reply. He has thought about it. Plenty. Why hasn’t
he mentioned it to me? Judith felt betrayed.
Maybe this wasn’t the time to discuss the three grand for
the OTIOSE conference. Maybe Judith should start building
her own little nest egg. Certainly she wasn’t prepared to give
up the B&B. She’d worked too hard to turn it into a successful venture.
“Did you hear me say I’ll be gone most of Friday?” she
asked, spooning green beans onto a plate for Gertrude. “I’m
catering a phone company conference for Renie.”
Joe had picked up the evening paper and was reading the
sports page. “Since when did Renie go to work for the phone
“She’s freelancing, as usual.” Judith was getting exasperated.
“Bill’s retiring next year.” Joe turned a page of the newspaper.
“What? ” Judith gaped at her husband.
He nodded, but didn’t look up. “Thirty-one years in the
university system. Why shouldn’t he?”
“Renie hasn’t said a thing!” Now Judith’s annoyance spread
to her cousin.
“Maybe Bill hasn’t told Renie. Where the hell is the Hot
Stove League news? I heard there was a big trade brewing.”
Joe riffled the pages, in search of baseball reports.
“Bill wouldn’t not tell Renie,” Judith seethed. “Bill and
“Maybe she forgot to mention it to you. Ah, here we are…”
Joe disappeared behind the paper.
Judith marched out to the toolshed with Gertrude’s dinner.
For once, she put the covered plate outside the door, knocked
twice, and raced back to the house. Gertrude hated mussels.
Judith wasn’t in a mood to hear her mother gripe. Judith, in
fact, was feeling mutinous. Joe wasn’t usually secretive, especially not when it came to making decisions
SNOW PLACE TO DIE / 11
that affected them as a couple. And Renie always told Judith
everything. The cousins were as close as sisters, maybe closer,
because they hadn’t been forced to grow up under the same
roof. Judith felt like slugging Joe, shaking Renie, and giving
Bill a boot just for the hell of it.
Judith would never admit it, but she was in the mood for
FRIDAY DAWNED COLD and cloudy. Renie was driving the
Jones’s big blue Chev, which was fitted with snow tires, and
carried chains in the trunk. The cousins set out at nine on
the dot, heading east toward the mountain pass that was
located about an hour outside of the city.
“I made a list,” Renie said, patting an envelope that lay on
the seat between them. “It’s on top. Take it out and go over
the names. When—and if—I introduce you, it won’t be so
Judith perused the single sheet of typewritten paper as they
crossed the floating bridge that led out of the city. “You
should have included descriptions,” she complained. “These
names and titles don’t mean much. The only one I’ve ever
heard of is the CEO, Frank Killegrew. I’ve seen his name in
“Good, that leaves only nine, and four of them are women.
Don’t worry about it,” Renie counseled. “With any luck, you
won’t have much contact with them.”
Judith scanned the names: After Franklin Killegrew, president and CEO, there was Ward Haugland, executive vice
president–network and customer services. Judith made a face.
“What’s with these complicated titles? Why can’t Haugland
just be an executive vice president?”
SNOW PLACE TO DIE / 13
“Because telecommunications is complicated these days,”
Renie replied. “It’s still in a state of flux. First came the big
Bell System divestiture, sixteen, seventeen years ago, along
with the revolution in technology. Independent companies
like OTIOSE are still trying to find their niche.”
“Is that why I get four phone bills instead of one?” Judith
“Yep. You’ve got your local carrier, your long distance
company, your leased equipment, your…what?” Renie shot
Judith an inquiring glance.
“My pager,” Judith said. “It’s really Mike’s pager, but he
doesn’t use it anymore. The problem is, neither do I. I only
took it from him so Mother could get me in an emergency.”
“Has she ever paged you?” Renie asked as they reached
the mainland and flourishing suburbia.
“Never. She swears she lost the number and wouldn’t use
it if she found it.”
“Then get rid of the thing. It must cost you twenty bucks
“Arlene has the number,” Judith said. “Like now, she could
page me if she has a problem taking over for the day at the
Renie shrugged. “Then maybe it’s worth it.”
They drove the interstate past industrial complexes, car
dealerships, fast-food chains, trendy restaurants, and gas
stations the size of a mini-mall. It never ceased to amaze Judith that what used to be vacant rural areas where the family
gathered hazelnuts, blackberries, and Christmas trees was
now a thirty-mile stretch of commercialism. At last they began
to climb, but even where tall trees still grew, there were large
swaths of housing developments. The city had sprawled, almost to the pass itself.
“Joe says Bill’s going to retire.” Judith finally broached the
subject that had been on her mind since Tuesday night.
“He’s talking about it.” Renie pulled into the fast lane,
passing a big semi-truck.
14 / Mary Daheim
Judith noticed that some of the taller trees were dusted
with fresh snow. “Really?” she remarked. “You haven’t said
so to me.”
Renie gave a little shrug. “It won’t be final—or real—until
he hands in his retirement application to the university administration. I never anticipate, you know.”
“Joe’s talking about it, too.” Judith tried to keep her tone
light. “Of course he wouldn’t retire for another three years.”
“Good for him,” Renie said, moving back into the righthand lane. “Both of our husbands have had long careers.
They need to kick back and enjoy themselves.”
“Yes.” Judith’s tone was dubious. “Yes. I suppose they do.”
A vision of Dan McMonigle, supine and blimplike on the
sofa, rumbled through her mind’s eye. “It’s just that I’ve been
through quite a bit of change lately. With Mike married and
now being transferred, he and Kristin could end up in Alaska
or Hawaii or Florida where I’d hardly ever see them.”
“So Joe retires and you travel.” Renie shrugged. “That’s
what people do. Frank Killegrew’s retiring, by the way,” she
added as they drove further into the forest and away from
civilization. “Haugland’s his heir apparent, but I’ve heard
you can’t count on it.”
Judith glanced at the list Renie had given her. She wasn’t
terribly interested in OTIOSE’s career paths. All she could
think of was trying to live on Joe’s retirement and Social Security. Would he insist she give up Hillside Manor and retire
“Doesn’t retirement make you feel old?” Judith finally
“Huh?” Renie seemed puzzled. “No, why should it? It’s a
natural act, like eating or shopping for shoes. Besides, I won’t
give up my graphic design business. I do it at home, we can
use the extra money, and I’d be bored stiff if I didn’t work.”
“I agree,” Judith said as low clouds drifted across the
SNOW PLACE TO DIE / 15
divided six-lane highway. “I’d like to keep the B&B going
for another ten years. But I’ll definitely dump the catering
part in the next few months. Say,” she went on, changing
gears, “speaking of caterers, what about the guy who disappeared last year?”
Renie frowned. “I told you. He left on some errand and
never came back. End of story.”
Judith, who possessed a very logical mind, wanted details.
“He never came back to the lodge? Or he never came back,
“Period.” Renie was exhibiting a touch of impatience. “This
Barry…Newsom or Newsbaum or…Newcombe, I think it
was, had forgotten something for his catering stockpile. He
went off that Friday afternoon, presumably to the nearest
store which is at the summit of the pass, and never came
back. When he didn’t show up for work the following
Tuesday after the long weekend, his co-workers back at the
company weren’t concerned. They figured he was tired out
from his catering duties. But later, one of the executives asked
about Barry because they hadn’t seen him after he left the
lodge Friday afternoon. I guess he was listed as a missing
person, and that’s what he still is—missing.”
“The executives didn’t miss him that Friday?” Judith was
“I guess not,” Renie replied, negotiating the wide, sweeping
switchback turns. “They probably thought he hadn’t been
able to find what he was looking for at the summit grocery
and had gone all the way back into the nearest town. It had
started to snow hard by then, so maybe they figured Barry
couldn’t get back up the pass. Bear in mind, coz, these big
business types are all wrapped up in themselves. They don’t
pay much attention to underlings.”
The executive suite was a world that Judith didn’t understand. The B&B, the Thurlow Street branch of the public
library, and the Meat and Mingle hadn’t prepared her to face
an officer corps. Renie, however, was accustomed to
16 / Mary Daheim
captains of industry. It seemed to Judith that her cousin regarded them much as she would observe animals at the zoo.
They were interesting, they were different, they could even
be amusing, and only upon rare occasions did they do
something vulgar in public that would be better done in
As they approached the summit, driving conditions
worsened, with deep piles of snow alongside the road. Not
once had they glimpsed the mountains. The clouds were low
and heavy, creating a foglike atmosphere that kept the Chev
down to a crawl.
“We take a side road at the summit,” Renie said, again
pointing to the envelope on the seat. “Check the map. I’ve
never been there before, but the directions looked easy.”
It was a few minutes after ten when they reached the
turnoff. Renie pulled into a service station that also featured
a small grocery store. “This is where Barry supposedly went,”
she said. “As you can tell, they don’t carry much beyond the
basics. That’s why he might have gone back down the pass.
I’m going to fill up now because I didn’t take time to stop
at the BP on Heraldsgate Hill.”
While Renie pumped gas, Judith got out of the car and
walked around the wet tarmac. The area around the station
had been plowed, but there was snow everywhere, perhaps
as much as twenty feet. Judith spotted the main ski lodge
through the drifting clouds and managed to catch sight of
some of the chalets utilized by winter sports buffs.
Having used her credit card to pay at the pump, Renie got
back in the car. “It can’t be more than a mile from here,” she
said as Judith refastened her seatbelt. “Let me see that map.”
The road was easy to find, not quite a quarter-mile from
the service station, and on the north side of the interstate.
It, too, had been recently plowed, and the going was relatively easy. Or seemed to be, for the first half-mile. Then the
pavement suddenly ended. Renie found herself driving on
SNOW PLACE TO DIE / 17
“This is stupid,” she complained. “If they can pave half of
the damned thing, why not the rest?”
“Maybe it’s a matter of jurisdiction,” Judith suggested. “The
state or county may keep up part of it and the rest is Forest
Service. I’d guess this was originally a logging road.”
“Probably.” Renie had dropped down to under ten miles
an hour. “I wish Bill were here. I don’t like driving in snow.”
“You’re not in snow. It’s plowed.”
“So far. But who knows what’s up ahead?”
The narrow road zigged and zagged, climbing higher into
the mountains. During the brief intervals when the cousins
could see more than a few feet, they noticed that the trees
grew more sparsely, and were of a different variety than the
evergreens below the snow line. Judith counted lodge-pole
pine, western larch, Engelmann spruce, and Noble fir.
“You should have let me drive,” Judith said. “I could have
taken the Subaru. What if we get into a snowstorm on the
way home this afternoon? You’ll panic and kill us.”
“I’ll panic and let you drive,” Renie responded, already
looking rather grim. “Bill said the Chev would hold the road
better because it’s so big.”
Heavy iron gates stood directly in front of them. Fortunately, they were open. Renie drove through, accelerated up
a little rise, and hit pavement again. “Thank goodness,” she
They were no longer on a road but in a sweeping drive
which lead to the lodge and a large parking area. “Who owns
this place?” Judith asked, peering through the foggy clouds
at skimpy views of weathered logs and stone chimneys.
“It’s privately owned,” Renie said, heading for the nearest
parking spot. As far as the cousins could tell, no other
vehicles were present. “It used to belong to the park service
years ago, but it’s changed hands several times. Some group
in the city owns it, and at one time, Frank Killegrew
18 / Mary Daheim
was involved in a partnership with other downtown investors. Now, it’s mostly doctors and dentists who rent it
out to private parties. Not just conferences and retreats like
the previous owners, I gather, but ski groups and church
organizations and whoever else is willing to pay the freight.
This new bunch shut it down last summer and did some
renovations to bring everything up to speed. I don’t think
the lodge rental comes cheap.”
Judith understood why after they carried the first load of
comestibles inside. The lobby was vast, with a high, arched
ceiling hung with multicolored banners. Built entirely of pine
logs, the old wood gleamed under the lights of a half-dozen
cast-iron candelabra suspended from the rafters. Animal skins
and stuffed heads decorated the walls, and the huge stone
fireplace was filled with cedar and fir, awaiting the touch of
“It’s grand,” Judith said, smiling in appreciation. “Where’s
“I told you, nobody’s here but us and the OTIOSE gang,”
Renie said, setting a carton of groceries down on the hardwood floor. “The staff was due to take off about nine this
morning. The caretaker lives in a cabin about a half-mile
from the lodge, but he won’t be around, either. I was told
he’d leave the door open so we could get in. I don’t think
the phone company folks will be here much before noon.”
“Where’s the kitchen?” Judith turned every which way,
taking in the rustic furnishings, all made of wood and covered
in rich, dark nubby fabrics.
Renie gestured to french doors on her left. “That looks like
the dining room, so I assume the kitchen is off of that. Let’s
finish unloading, and then we can snoop around.”
Three more trips were required to deposit Judith’s weekend
supplies. As Renie had guessed, the kitchen was at the far
side of the dining room. While the lodge appeared to have
been built during the thirties, the kitchen facilities were state
of the art. Judith rubbed her hands in glee as she
SNOW PLACE TO DIE / 19
ogled the stainless-steel American range, the Belgian cookware, the German cutlery, and the French skillets.
“This is wonderful!” she exclaimed. “I’m going to start
right in on lunch. Ham-filled crepes, raddicchio salad, a fresh
fruit medley, four kinds of cheese, and puff pastries with a
blackberry and cream filling.”
“Go for it,” Renie said, turning toward the door. “I’m going
to the conference room on the other side of the lobby to set
up my stuff.”
“Okay,” Judith replied, still distracted by all the latest appliances and gadgets. Then, as Renie exited, it dawned on
Judith that something was out of kilter. “Coz!” she called.
“What’s with you? Aren’t you hungry?”
Renie turned in the doorway. “No. I’ve got work to do.
That’s why I’m here.”
Judith stared. Renie was always ravenous. She ate often
and in large amounts. It never ceased to amaze Judith how
her cousin could consume so much food and stay slim. Metabolism, Judith told herself, and envied Renie’s gene pool.
All her life, Judith had fought to keep weight off, and only
now, in her fifties, did she feel comfortable with a couple of
extra pounds on her tall, statuesque figure.
“Do you feel okay?” Judith finally asked.
“Yes. Yes, I feel fine.” Renie sounded cross. “It’s going on
eleven. I’ve got to get organized. Good luck.” She disappeared from sight.
Judith didn’t have time to worry about her cousin’s sudden
lack of appetite. For the next hour, she immersed herself in
making crepes, dicing ham, rolling out puff pastry, and cutting up fruit. It was a joy to work under such splendid conditions, and best of all, with no interruptions from guests,
the telephone, or her mother.
The bus arrived at ten to twelve. Judith didn’t hear it pull
in, but Renie came to alert her. “It’s actually a big van,” she
told Judith from the doorway. “The driver won’t stay, of
course. He’s already headed back to the city.”
Judith, who was in the middle of fashioning her puff
20 / Mary Daheim
pastries, merely nodded. “Lunch at twelve-thirty, right?”
“Right.” Renie left again.
The lodge’s staff had already set up a large round table
for ten in the dining room. Judith checked the table settings,
admired the centerpiece of yellow gladioli, purple freesia and
white lilies, then returned to the kitchen. She was filling the
industrial-size coffeemaker when a small woman with big
glasses and a platinum blonde pageboy entered the kitchen.
“Are we on schedule?” the woman asked, tapping a huge
wristwatch that looked as if it could weigh down her arm.
“We are,” Judith replied with a smile. “My name’s Judith
Flynn.” She wiped her hands on a cloth and reached out to
the other woman.
“Nadia Weiss, administrative assistant,” Nadia replied with
a faint New York accent. She didn’t budge, let alone shake
hands. “If you have any problems, come to me.” With a swish
of cashmere skirts, she departed.
Judith uttered a self-conscious little laugh and went back
to work. Two minutes later, another woman appeared in the
doorway. “You must be the caterer,” she said.
Judith looked up from the crepe pan she was heating on
the stove. A slim, plain woman of Chinese ancestry fixed
mesmerizing dark eyes on Judith. “Yes,” she gulped. “I’m
“The caterer,” the other woman said in a tone that indicated
Judith wasn’t a person, she was merely a service. “My name’s
Margo Chang. If a Ms. Weiss contacts you, ignore her. I’m
the vice president in charge of public relations, and I handle
jobbers like you.”
Judith imagined that a small smirk tugged at Margo’s tight,
thin mouth. “Okay,” Judith said, still subdued. “If I need
anything, I’ll ask you.”
“You shouldn’t need anything. You should have come
prepared.” Margo’s voice dropped a notch in what sounded
to Judith like a threat.
SNOW PLACE TO DIE / 21
“I’m fine. Everything’s fine,” Judith said hastily.
Margo gave a curt nod and left. Judith’s wide shoulders
relaxed. She stiffened again when she heard someone else
enter the kitchen. To her relief, it was Renie.
“Thank heavens!” Judith cried. “I’ve just been visited by
two of the three witches.”
“Which ones?” Renie asked. “By my count there’re four.”
Judith winced. “Are all the women who work for this outfit
like Ms. Weiss and Ms. Chang?”
Renie’s round face grew thoughtful. “I’m not sure. By
chance, I’ve dealt mostly with those two. You have to realize,
coz, that I don’t know most of these people very well myself.
I’ve only done a handful of smaller projects until now.”
“But you’ve actually worked with the ones I just met?” Judith was aghast.
Renie nodded as she surveyed her cousin’s handiwork in
the kitchen. “I’m used to it. You have to remember that all
these executive types must be fairly tough to get to the top.
The women have to be even tougher.”
Judith, who was slicing kiwi, looked a bit puzzled. “But
Whatshername—Weiss, right?—isn’t a vice president or an
officer. Or is she?”
“That’s the problem,” Renie said, leaning against the
marble countertop. “She feels she should be. As administrative assistant, she wields a lot of power, but she doesn’t get
the same perks or the big salary. In the last few years that
I’ve dealt with Nadia and the p.r. v.p., Margo, I haven’t seen
any love lost between them. Nor with Andrea and Ava, if it
comes to that.”
“Andrea and Ava? They sound like a dance team.” Judith
tried to visualize the list Renie had given her. “Which ones
Renie smiled indulgently. “Ava Aunuu is vice president–information technology services. Andrea Piccoloni-Roth is vice
president–human resources, which used to be
22 / Mary Daheim
known as personnel. I’ve never understood the name change
in a world that keeps dehumanizing people.”
A quick glance at the digital clock on the stainless-steel
range told Judith that it was 12:25. “I’d better start serving
the food. When are you going to eat?”
Renie shrugged. “Later. I don’t like to make presentations
on a full stomach.”
Judith started to say, since when? , thought better of it, and
began dishing the fresh fruit onto heavy brown earthenware
plates. “I’m surprised they didn’t ask for a buffet.”
“Everything else will be buffet,” Renie said, rummaging in
her big purse. “Since you’re here only for one meal, they
decided they’d like it to be a sit-down event.” Renie took out
a package of cigarettes and lighted up.
“Coz!” Judith almost dropped a crepe. “What are you do-
“Smoking,” Renie responded through a thin haze.
“You don’t smoke! You haven’t smoked since we went to
Europe where we had to smoke!”
“Well, I’m smoking now.” Renie sounded unnaturally
calm. She exhaled a large blue puff.
Judith was flabbergasted. She herself had quit smoking
almost ten year earlier, and had never quite gotten over her
desire to start again. Renie, however, was another matter:
She had been what Judith called a party smoker, enjoying
cigarettes only when accompanied by reasonable amounts
of adult beverages and loud decibels of rock ’n roll.
But there was no time to discuss her cousin’s newly acquired vice. “I could use some help with these plates,” Judith
said, picking up two of them.
“Can’t.” Renie puffed some more. “It’d ruin my image.”
“Very funny,” Judith said, heading for the dining room.
“Hold the plates steady. I don’t want to screw up the
SNOW PLACE TO DIE / 23
“I’m not kidding,” Renie called after her. “I can’t help you.”
Judith stopped at the door and turned to look at her
cousin. “What on earth are you talking about?”
“I’m serious.” Renie had put on what Judith referred to as
her cousin’s boardroom face. “I can’t be a waitress one
minute and a graphic designer the next. Those people out
there would think I was nuts.”
For the first time, Judith had a glimpse of Serena Grover
Jones, graphics specialist to the stars. Or whatever. While
she’d watched Renie at work in her basement office, she’d
never actually seen her deal with clients. Judith wasn’t sure
she liked her cousin in this other guise.
“Fine,” said Judith, annoyed. “I’ll manage without you.”
The OTIOSE executives were clustered in little groups of
twos and threes. Judith tried to place them, but recognized
only Nadia, who was chatting with a self-possessed AfricanAmerican man, and Margo, who had been cornered by a
wildly gesticulating male whose thinning fair hair stood up
in several places on his very round head.
On the third and fourth trips, Judith managed to carry
four plates at a time. The conferees still seemed absorbed in
their various conversations. Not wanting the crepes to get
cold, Judith picked up a spoon and tapped a water glass.
“Luncheon is served,” she announced.
No one paid any attention. Judith tapped the glass again
and raised her voice. Nothing happened. Judith hesitated.
Then, at precisely twelve-thirty, Nadia Weiss glanced at
her big watch. “Lunch!” she bellowed.
A stampede of conservatively dressed animals headed for
the table. Judith back-pedaled out of the way just before a
very large man with a completely bald head and a wizened
little fellow with buck teeth almost ran right over her. A
moment later, everyone was seated. No one so much as
looked at Judith.
24 / Mary Daheim
Feeling humbled, she returned to the kitchen where Renie
was lighting another cigarette. “Coz!” Judith cried. “What is
all this? You’re smoking, you’re not eating, you’ve turned
into a stranger!”
Renie examined her fingernails. “I’m working. You’re not
used to it, that’s all. Don’t you behave a bit differently with
your guests than you do when you’re with me or Joe or your
“Of course,” Judith replied. “But it’s not just that.
It’s…this.” She jabbed a finger at Renie’s cigarette.
“And…that.” She pointed to the untouched leftovers on the
Renie expelled more smoke and a big sigh. “Okay, okay.
We haven’t seen much of each other since the holidays because I’ve been putting this presentation together and you’ve
been really busy with the B&B. You know my eggnog diet?”
Judith knew it well, though she was skeptical about how
it worked. Renie claimed that from Thanksgiving until New
Year’s, she lived on eggnog, the richer the better. It was one
of her favorite things, and she refused to dilute it with milk
or liquor. Because she was so busy with holiday preparations
and annual report designs, there was barely time to eat. Thus,
she fueled herself with eggnog from morning until night, and
insisted that since she wasn’t eating many regular meals, she
actually lost instead of gained weight over the holidays.
“I flunked it,” Renie declared. “The eggnog diet finally
failed me. Or I failed it.”
Judith couldn’t help but laugh. “Coz! You mean you didn’t
lose weight this year?”
Renie shook her head. “Not only that, I gained seven
pounds. I’m wearing my fat suit.”
The tailored brown wool with the faux fur collar didn’t
look like a fat suit to Judith. “I can’t tell you’ve gained anything,” she said.
“I have,” Renie insisted, patting her midsection. “This
SNOW PLACE TO DIE / 25
outfit is just camouflage. I should be wearing Armani for the
presentation, but trying to get into my other suits is like
squeezing toothpaste back into the tube. It just doesn’t quite
Judith’s amusement faded. “So you’re starving yourself
and smoking? That’s dumb, coz.”
“Only until I lose seven pounds. Two are already gone or
I wouldn’t have gotten into this suit, either.” Renie stubbed
her cigarette out in a saucer. “I had to do something with
my mouth and hands before I went to the post-holiday sales
and bought up all the Russell Stover chocolate Santas I could
Judith recalled how Renie had eaten her way through
seventy-eight dollars worth of chocolate bunnies during an
infamous Lenten season a few years earlier. Her cousin loved
Russell Stover’s chocolate almost as much as she loved
“I certainly hope you can quit smoking when the weight’s
off,” Judith said darkly. “God knows, it was tough for me to
give it up.” Her dark eyes strayed to the open cigarette pack
Renie had left on the counter.
“I will,” Renie said complacently. “I’ll do it for Lent.”
Judith was about to mention the chocolate bunnies when
the cousins heard a commotion in the dining room. Renie
remained in place, but Judith went to see what was going
At first, she thought it was a food fight. Then she realized
that only two people were involved: A plump, pretty woman
with upswept silver hair had just thrown a handful of raddicchio salad at Margo Chang. The white wine vinegar dressing
and the hand-shredded magenta leaves clung to Margo’s flat
“Now, now,” said a jovial voice. Judith recognized the
speaker. She had seen Frank Killegrew’s picture in the
newspaper often enough to realize that he was the broadshouldered, balding man in the well-cut charcoal suit who
had a slide rule next to his place setting. “We’re steering
26 / Mary Daheim
this ship on a steady course. Let’s not get personal, ladies,”
Killegrew urged good-naturedly.
Margo whirled on Killegrew, who was seated two places
down the table on her left. “I’m not a lady! I’m a person!”
“You’re a slut!” the silver-haired woman shouted, plump
shoulders shaking with wrath.
“That’s kind of mean,” said a tall, lean man on the woman’s right. “Couldn’t we all sort of simmer down?”
“Why should we?” demanded a handsome woman who
looked as if she might be Samoan. “Don’t we come on these
retreats to air our differences?”
“Now, now,” Killegrew repeated, though not quite so
jovially, “we don’t have that many differences. We’re a team,
a seaworthy crew.” The gray eyes suddenly took on a steellike
quality as he gazed at the silver-haired woman. “Andrea, pull
yourself together.” His gaze shifted to Margo. “You’d better
clean up, what do you say?”
Margo said nothing, but got up from the table, threw her
napkin onto the floor, and marched past Judith to the kitchen.
“Hi, Margo,” Renie said, revealing only a flicker of astonishment at the spray of salad on the other’s woman’s chest.
“How’s it going?”
Margo glared at Renie. “Terrible! Andrea Piccoloni-Roth
is such a bitch that I can hardly stand to be in the same room
with her! See what she did?”
“Owie!” Renie said in a sympathetic tone. “That’s an oil
base. You’d better not try to spot it or it’ll set and stain.”
“I know,” Margo replied. “I’ll have to change. For now, I
just want to scrape off the garbage.” She went to the big
enamel sink and carefully began removing the raddicchio
from her pinstripe coat dress.
“Basically, I went with your colors for the corporate logo,”
Renie said. “I only tweaked them a little. You’ve got a good
“You can’t go wrong with black on red,” Margo replied,
SNOW PLACE TO DIE / 27
grimacing as she took in the damage to her outfit. “You did
keep that concept, didn’t you?” Her almond eyes pinioned
Renie, however, seemed unperturbed. “I reversed it. TIOSE
isn’t a firefighting unit, it’s a telecommunications company.
You use a red background, you’re stuck with it for everything.
It’s too hot, it lacks class. Black is much more versatile. You’ll
like it when you see it. Your basic colors were a great idea.”
If Margo was taken aback, she didn’t show it. “Okay, we’ll
see. I still think red is vivid and eye-catching. I’ve got Ward
Haugland’s vote on that. Max Agasias is in my corner, too.”
Renie chuckled softly. “I didn’t realize it was a democratic
Margo’s smooth skin darkened. “It should be.” With great
thoroughness, she wiped her hands on a towel. “You’re on
in thirty minutes,” she said to Renie. “I hope you’re ready.”
Renie smiled and inclined her head. Margo left the kitchen.
Judith started putting the puff pastry on dessert plates.
“She’s dangerous, coz,” Judith said. “Don’t these people
“Not anymore. I don’t know what went on out there in
the dining room, but I’d guess that one or more of them was
acting like a big brat. That’s what they are—spoiled children.
You have to treat them like that. Let them have their little
tantrums and allow them to show off a bit and give them an
occasional ego-massage. Then yank the chain. Every so often,
they have to get a dose of reality. If they don’t like it, I peddle
my wares someplace else.”
Judith didn’t try to hide her admiration of Renie. “You
don’t worry about losing clients?”
Renie shook her head. “That’s bound to happen. But the
marketplace is vast these days. If I lose somebody, two more
pop up. Besides, I don’t intend to lose this bunch.
28 / Mary Daheim
Unless,” she added with a little laugh as she reached for another cigarette, “they die on me.”
It didn’t occur to Judith that Renie’s little joke might not
be so funny.
AS SHE’D PREDICTED, Renie’s presentation went well. “There
were the usual glitches,” Renie reported to Judith three hours
later, “and of course they got to arguing among themselves.
But Killegrew still has the last word, and he seemed very
Judith gave Renie’s shoulder a congratulatory pat. “Good
for you, coz. I was worried, especially after that scene in the
“You can tell me about that now,” Renie said, opening a
duffel bag and pulling out a pair of old slacks and a Georgetown University sweatshirt. “I didn’t want to know about
it before I went onstage. It might have distracted me.”
While Renie changed, Judith recounted what she knew of
the incident between Margo Chang and Andrea PiccoloniRoth. “Mr. Killegrew took charge, and everything sort of
calmed down. There was another man who intervened, a
tall, lean guy with a faint drawl.”
“Ward Haugland,” Renie said promptly. “He’s the executive vice president, remember?”
Judith did, vaguely. “The only other one who spoke up
was a woman who looked as if she was Samoan. I guessed
her to be Ava Aunuu.”
“Exactly.” Renie slipped into thigh-high boots.
30 / Mary Daheim
“Ava’s a computer whiz. Frank Killegrew raided her from
one of the big computer companies about four years ago and
immediately made her a vice president. She’s only in her
thirties, but I’ve been told that she’s the person most responsible for bringing OTIOSE up to speed in terms of technology.
Frank’s strictly from the old school of engineering. That’s
why he keeps his trusty slide rule at his side. I don’t think
he’s figured out how to use a computer, let alone apply the
new technology to modern communications.”
Judith only half-heard Renie’s comments. It was a quarter
after four, and she was taking final inventory of the foodstuffs
she’d arranged for the rest of the weekend.
“Just before we leave, I’ll set up the supper buffet,” Judith
said, removing the soiled apron she’d worn since arriving at
the lodge. “They plan to eat at seven, right?”
“Yes.” Renie reached for her cigarettes, saw Judith’s disapproving glance, and began to nibble for the first time. A slice
of peach, a chunk of cantaloupe, and a plump strawberry
seemed to satisfy her. “Right now, they’re taking a breather,
then they’ll gather for cocktails around six. You’ve got chafing dishes, so you can put the hot food out around six-thirty.
Then we can head home.” Renie yawned and stretched.
“Sounds good to me,” Judith said. “Is there any reason why
we can’t have a look around now?”
Renie considered. “We probably shouldn’t go upstairs
where the guest rooms are located. But we could snoop
around the main floor. Oh, when I carted all my presentation
materials back to the car, the clouds had lifted, and you could
see the mountains. It’s beautiful outside.”
“Great,” Judith said, putting on the dark red three-quarter
coat Joe had given her for Christmas. “Let’s have a look before it starts getting dark.”
The cousins went out through the dining room, where Judith had cleared away the luncheon debris and reset the table
for the buffet supper. In the lobby, they paused to
SNOW PLACE TO DIE / 31
examine some of the art works more closely. There were
soapstone carvings, Native American masks, and a few pieces
of jade, which were kept under glass. The only painting was
a large, rather abstract mountain scene hanging above the
big stone fireplace.
Judith smiled wistfully when she saw the swirling signature
in the lower left-hand corner. “It’s a Riley Tobias,” she said
to Renie. “Doesn’t that bring back a few memories?”
Renie, however, made a face. “Not good ones, seeing how
we found him dead next door to the family cabin.”
Judith inclined her head in assent. “His art lives on, though.
He did some wonderful work at one time.”
“Let’s skip the body count,” Renie said. “You and I have
had our share of stiffs over the years.”
It was true. But Judith rarely marveled at her encounters
with premeditated death. She was married to a homicide
detective; she was engaged in a business which brought together all sorts of people, with all kinds of passions and
quirks; she had a natural curiosity and a penchant for the
unusual; she lived in a violent world. To outsiders, her daily
routine of personal and professional domesticity should have
invited calm. But coping with husbands, children, relatives,
in-laws, neighbors, and friends brought not only joy but
conflict. And the B&B guests ran the gamut from amiable to
zany. If Judith didn’t exactly live life in the fast lane, she was
accustomed to traveling a bumpy road with unexpected detours.
“Here’s the library,” Renie said, standing in the doorway
of a room off the far side of the lobby. “It’s nice.”
Judith agreed. Unlike the rest of the lodge, the room was
paneled in knotty pine. Tall, open bookcases reached almost
to the ceiling. With her librarian’s eye, Judith took in the
collection, from some of the classics to the latest best-sellers.
There was also a combination game-and sunroom, which
faced what was probably a terrace when the snow melted.
32 / Mary Daheim
Renie showed Judith the main conference room, though it
lay in darkness and they couldn’t find the lightswitch.
“You get the idea,” Renie said dryly. “Chairs, tables, a
viewing screen, sound system, etc. Seen one big conference
room, seen ’em all.” She started to close the double doors.
Judith put one hand on Renie’s arm and signaled with the
other for her cousin to be silent. A faint rustling noise could
be heard from somewhere deep within the room.
Renie’s face puckered with curiosity as she stared at Judith.
The rustling stopped, only to be replaced by what sounded
like heavy breathing. Transfixed, the cousins waited.
At last, there was silence. Renie slowly and quietly shut
the doors. “What was that?” she whispered. “People? An
animal? A gas jet?”
“They don’t have gas up here,” Judith murmured. “It’s all
electric. Whatever it is, I don’t think it wants to be interrupted.”
“OTIOSE sex?” Renie put a hand over her mouth to stifle
a giggle. “Why in the big conference room? These people
have private bedrooms, for heaven’s sake!”
“How would I know?” Judith retorted. “You’re the one
who has them all figured out.”
“I’m drawing a blank this time,” Renie admitted. Rapidly,
she opened the doors to the three smaller conference rooms,
including the one where she’d made her presentation.
“Shoot,” she said, espying a folder on the podium. “I must
have forgotten to collect all my stuff.” Hurriedly, she marched
down the aisle between the folding chairs. “This isn’t mine,”
she called back to Judith. “I guess I’ll leave it here. Whoa!”
Judith straightened up from where she’d been leaning in
the doorway. “What is it?”
Staring down at the open folder, Renie shook her head.
“I’m not sure. It’s a list, sort of like a racing form.”
Judith’s curiosity got the better of her. “Let’s see.”
Renie hesitated, then picked up the folder and brought it
SNOW PLACE TO DIE / 33
to Judith. “Look. It’s a bunch of names, with comments.
‘Heady Amber—light on her feet; Willy-Nilly—slim, trim,
ready to roll; Algonquin Annie—new to the game.’”
Judith grinned. “You’re right, it’s some sort of handicapping. Which one of your OTIOSE pals plays the ponies?”
“It could be any of them.” Renie closed the folder. “I’ll
leave this on that big coffee table in the lobby. I wonder how
it got up on the podium. I was the last to leave.”
Having completed their exploration of the lodge’s main
floor, the cousins went outside. During the half-hour since
Renie had finished her presentation, the clouds had begun
to settle in again but there were still spectacular views. The
tips of evergreens poking out of the snow looked as if they
had been covered with great dollops of spun-sugar frosting.
The elevation was so high and the mountains so close that
the great peaks loomed above the landscape, their sharp
crags pocketed with new snow.
The afternoon sun apparently had warmed to just above
freezing, for there were signs of thaw. Icicles dripped under
the eaves of the lodge and ice chunks flowed freely in a creek
that tumbled among big boulders. The footing was just a
trifle soft, forcing the cousins to walk with care.
They followed the creek, not down toward the parking
area, but up a bit where they could see a small waterfall
caught between two large outcroppings of snow-covered
rock. The sun was setting, and the mountains’ long shadows
reached far across the silent world of white.
“This is when I wish I’d learned to ski,” Renie said, puffing
a little with exertion.
“You did try,” Judith responded. “That’s more than I ever
“I quit after I skied between some tall guy’s legs,” said
Renie, stopping and leaning precariously against a fallen
evergreen limb. “It was up here, at the pass. Gosh, that must
have been thirty-five years ago.”
Judith gazed upward, taking in the majesty of winter.
34 / Mary Daheim
“Doesn’t it seem weird to talk about things that happened
so far back in the past? I remember hearing our mothers
mention things they’d done when they were young and
thinking how old they’d gotten. That was years ago, when
they were a lot younger than we are now.”
Setting her gloved hands on her hips, Renie glowered at
Judith. “What’s with you? Suddenly you’re obsessed with
getting old. For God’s sake, coz, you’re two years younger
than I am, and it never even occurs to me! Besides, we took
a vow. Remember?”
Judith looked puzzled. “What kind of vow? A suicide pact?
Or is it the promise I asked your daughter Anne to make,
that when I got old and impossible like my mother, she’d
put a pillow over my face, slip a Gone with the Wind video
in the VCR, and wait for me to peg out?”
“Jeez!” Renie threw up her hands. “No! It was a few years
ago, when our kids were teenagers, and they were accusing
us of not acting our age. We told them we never would, because we might get older, but we’d never get old.”
“What did the kids say?”
“Who cares? That’s not the point.” Renie began tramping
around in the snow, leaving a circular pattern of foot-prints
between the fallen branch and the tree. “It was our attitude
that mattered. I remember, we looked at each other as if to
say, This is a solemn promise. Except that being solemn
wasn’t part of it. We would always keep our sense of humor
and our slightly screwy perspective on life and uphold the
old Grover mantra of finding something to laugh about even
when things got really grim.”
Judith knew what Renie meant. Grandma Grover, who
had endured her share of tragedy, had never, ever, lost her
ability to laugh. “Keep your pecker up,” she’d advised. “It’s
always better to laugh than to cry.” Such homely, even trite
counsel had been the family by-word, and it worked because
it was practiced rather than preached.
“I guess it’s this retirement thing,” Judith admitted.
SNOW PLACE TO DIE / 35
“And Mike getting married. Those are big life changes. You
can’t just shrug them off. You have to stop and think what
it all means.”
“You think I never think?” Renie was still trudging awkwardly, if gamely, around in the snow. “I think plenty. I
couldn’t be married to Bill if I didn’t think now and then.
He’d shoot me. Bill thinks all the time. But what I think now
is that you…Ooops!”
Renie slipped in the snow at the edge of the creek and
tumbled into the cold, swift-flowing water. Her shoulder
struck the steep bank on the other side, dislodging a great
chunk of snow. Judith rushed to her cousin’s aid.
“Damn!” Renie wailed. “I’m soaked!”
Judith tried to grab Renie’s hands, but their heavy gloves
impeded them. They grappled for several moments, with
Renie finally trying to gain some purchase on a boulder in
the creek. The water rushed past her knees as she struggled
into an upright position. Then a piece of loose ice hurtled
into her, and she fell into the opposite bank. This time a
veritable cloud of snow came loose from above the creek,
pelting Renie and showering chilly particles on Judith.
Renie swore, resurrecting every curse she’d learn at her
seagoing father’s knee. But she’d managed to get to her feet
and was slogging toward Judith.
“I’m going to catch pneumonia!” she shrieked. “I’ll die
before I can collect ten cents from OTIOSE!”
Judith, however, barely heard her cousin’s lamentations.
Her eyes were fixed on the far bank which now revealed a
gaping hole above the creek. Broken branches protruded
from each side, like long wooden fangs. Hazily, Judith
thought of the ice caves she and Renie had explored in their
youth a few miles from the family cabin. But this opening
wasn’t quite the same. It was much smaller, no bigger than
a hall closet, and not quite as high.
What made it remarkable was the body inside.
36 / Mary Daheim
Judith tried not to scream. She succeeded, and just stood
there while Renie collapsed against her shoulder. “Do you
have any spare underwear?” Renie murmured through chattering teeth.
Judith didn’t respond. She was transfixed. “Coz,” she finally
gulped, “I hate to mention this, but…” Gently, she held Renie
by the shoulders and turned her around. “Look.”
“Good God.” Renie sagged against Judith. “I don’t believe
The cousins stood together in silence for what seemed like
a very long time. The sun was setting, the clouds were rolling
in, and it was beginning to grow dark. At last, Judith and
“I might as well get wet, too,” Judith sighed. She waded
into the creek and crossed the four-foot gap to the other side.
“Dare I ask what you’re doing?” Renie inquired in a bleak
“Ohhh,” Judith replied, sounding weary and haggard, “just
the usual cursory check. Whoever these poor bones belonged
to still possesses remnants of clothing.”
“Don’t touch anything!” Renie shouted. “Come on, get
back here! I’m turning blue!”
But Judith’s curiosity overwhelmed caution and consideration. “We can’t just run away. Besides, I wondered if…ah!”
She held up a wallet. “There’s more, scattered around the
ground.” Despite her aversion to being in such close quarters
with skeletal remains, Judith dug around in the snow and
ice. She found a keychain, a watch, a coin purse, and a soggy
notebook. Unable to convey so many small items in her big
gloves, she tossed each in turn to Renie, who stuffed them
into the pocket of her all-weather jacket.
Judith had kept the wallet in her own coat. After she was
satisfied that there was nothing else in the little cave except
SNOW PLACE TO DIE / 37
the body, she recrossed the creek and stood next to Renie,
shivering and shaking with cold.
“Let’s not dawdle,” Judith said. “I feel like a freaking
“I’m already dead,” Renie replied through stiff lips. “Can
we make it back to the lodge?”
The lodge, in fact, was less than a hundred yards away.
Still, it took the cousins over five minutes to get there. They
arrived in a numb, half-frozen state.
The fair-haired man with the round head that Judith had
noticed before lunch now stood in front of the stone fireplace
which he’d apparently just lighted. He turned jerkily when
the cousins entered the lobby.
“Sorry,” he said, waving both hands as if to shoo Judith
and Renie away. “This is a private gathering.”
“It’s me, Russell,” Renie said in a feeble voice. “Serena
Russell whipped off his rimless glasses and peered at the
cousins. He was still wearing the glen plaid suit he’d had on
earlier in the day. Vaguely, Judith noticed that the suit was
blemished with grease spots. “Oh! Ms. Jones!” Russell exclaimed in astonishment. “Why are you so wet?”
“It’s a long story,” Renie said with an inquiring glance at
Judith. “We were…”
Judith’s response was to shove Renie toward the dining
room and kitchen. “First things first,” she muttered. “I can
barely walk or talk.”
There was a washer and dryer in an alcove off the kitchen.
The cousins undressed, rubbed themselves down with big
towels, and proceeded to do their laundry.
“I didn’t bring any extra clothes,” Judith said, the feeling
in her feet starting to return. The cousins were sitting in the
kitchen, each wrapped in the biggest towels they could find
in the supply room.
“I’ve got my good suit, but that’s it.” Renie fluffed up her
short, straight chestnut hair. “We can’t leave until our clothes
38 / Mary Daheim
“We can’t leave anyway until I get the food out,” Judith
said in frustration. “How am I going to do that wearing a
“Nobody’s around. I’ll help. My stint’s over, and they
won’t see me. We could do it in the nude.”
“Yeah, right, and scare the OTIOSE executives half to
death.” Judith grimaced. Only now that her teeth had stopped
chattering and her limbs were responding was she able to
face up to their awful discovery. “None of the above are the
biggest problem, though.”
Renie sighed. “I know. I’ve been trying to forget about it.
Maybe we were hallucinating.”
“We weren’t.” Judith’s eyes wandered over to a telephone
that was set against the far wall. “We’ll have to notify the
“We could do that now,” Renie said, clumsily lighting a
cigarette. The raw redness in her skin was beginning to fade
and she had almost stopped shivering.
Given the circumstances, Judith refrained from criticizing
Renie’s newly acquired habit. Indeed, she could have used
a cigarette herself, not to mention a stiff drink. “Hang on for
a minute,” she said, gathering the towel around her and
walking over to the counter where she’d put the items she’d
collected from the little cave. “Maybe we can read some of
The plain leather wallet was soaked, but Judith pried it
open and saw that most of its contents were either plastic or
encased in plasticene. “Here’s a driver’s license,” she said,
holding the laminated item under an overhead light above
the counter. “It’s in pretty good shape.”
“Better shape than its owner,” Renie remarked, rubbing at
“I’m afraid so…Ohmigod!” With a stricken expression on
her oval face, Judith turned to Renie. “This belongs to Barry
Renie slid off the tall stool where she’d been perched.
“Barry! The disappearing caterer! Holy Mother!”
SNOW PLACE TO DIE / 39
With shaking fingers, Judith rifled through credit cards
and other personal pieces of ID. “It’s him, all right. Some of
this stuff is paper, and it’s unreadable, but here are his
OTIOSE employee card, credit cards, gas cards, medical
enrollment card—the whole lot.” Still clutching the wallet
and the towel, Judith leaned against the counter.
“I guess,” Renie said in a subdued voice, “Barry’s not
Judith gave a single nod. “Are you going to call the cops
or shall I?”
“Why call the cops?” Renie objected, puffing frantically at
her cigarette. “We need an undertaker. Barry must have
gotten caught in the middle of a snowstorm and froze to
“We need a cop because he was a missing person,” Judith
persisted. “Besides,” she began, then made a face, “we need
a cop, because that’s what you do when you find a body.”
Renie winced. “I wonder if we should tell the rest of them
about Barry first. I mean, he belonged to them, not us.”
“We found him.” Judith chewed her lower lip. “Let’s call
and then you can tell them about Barry.”
“Me?” Renie placed a hand on her semiexposed chest and
gulped. “I didn’t find him. You did.”
“You fell and knocked down that big snow pack,” Judith
“I didn’t go crawling around inside the cave.”
“This is your big project.” Judith was beginning to get annoyed. “Where’s all that bravado you were showing off an
“I don’t know,” Renie replied, gazing around the kitchen.
“Where is it?”
“Oooh…We’ll do it together. As usual.” She marched over
to the phone. “I’ll even call the cops.” She punched in 911.
A quavery voice answered on a crackling line. Judith
40 / Mary Daheim
could barely understand the woman—she guessed it was a
woman—at the other end. “I’m calling from Mountain Goat
Lodge,” Judith said, speaking more loudly and precisely than
usual. “We’ve found a corpse.”
“You want a Coors?” the voice said, sounding slightly
stronger. “This isn’t a tavern, it’s the county sheriff’s emergency line. Please hang up at once.”
The line went dead. “She thinks I’m a nut. Now what?”
“What?” Renie, who hadn’t heard the other half of the
conversation, looked bewildered.
“Never mind.” Irked, Judith redialed. The same voice
answered. “This isn’t a joke,” Judith shouted. “We have a
dead body at Mountain Goat Lodge.”
There was a long pause. Judith figured the woman in the
sheriff’s office was trying to figure out if this was a genuine
call. “Mountain Goat?” the woman finally said. “That’s not
our jurisdiction. Try the next county to the east.” She hung
“What is the next county to the east?” Judith demanded
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Renie replied
in an irritated tone. “I’m going to put our wash in the dryer
while you figure out how to call the cops. You’re married to
one, for God’s sake, you ought to know.”
“I’ll try the forest service,” Judith said, trying to put a check
on her impatience. “Their number is posted by the phone.
If they used to own this property, they ought to know what
county it’s in.”
Renie’s eyebrows lifted in mock amazement. “A government agency knowing where they are? Who they are? What
As the connection was made, Judith made a shushing
gesture with her hand. But the voice on the other end was a
recording. The staff was out of the office, but if the caller
would care to leave a name and number…
Judith hung up before the message droned to its conclu- SNOW PLACE TO DIE / 41
sion. “What staff? I’ll bet there’s only one person in a snow
shelter next to the nearest restaurant.”
She was looking for a phone book when the man that
Renie had called Russell poked his head in the kitchen. “Excuse me,” he began, then gasped as he saw Judith adorned
in the towel. “Sorry, I didn’t realize you were…ah…um…”
“Russell?” Judith made a reassuring gesture with her free
hand. “You work for the phone company. Do you know
where I can find a phone book?”
The ordinary question seemed to calm Russell. “Of course.
There’s one in the…er…surely it would be…um…have you
looked…ah…I’ve no idea.” His face began to turn a deep
Judith put a hand to her shoulder-length silver-streaked
hair and rubbed furiously at her scalp. “Okay, okay. Tell me
this—how can I reach the local sheriff?”
Russell’s eyebrows rose above his rimless glasses. “You
dial 911, just as you would in the city.”
Judith shook her head. “It doesn’t work that way. Maybe
the lines are crossed. Have you got another suggestion?”
“Ohhh…” Russell seemed at an utter loss. “I’m R&D, not
operations. Really, I’m not what you’d call…practical.”
Judith would have held her head with both hands if the
effort wouldn’t have caused her to drop the towel. “R&D?
What’s that? I know R&B is rhythm and blues, but…”
“Research and development.” Renie was back in the kitchen. “Russell Craven is vice president-R&D.” She nodded
at Russell. “Hi again. What county are we in?”
“County?” Russell’s thin fair hair seemed to twitch. “Well,
I really couldn’t say…We are in one, though…I mean, we
have to be, don’t we? Counties are like that, sort of next to
each other and all…ah…Do you ladies need some clothing?”
Renie gave Russell a toothy grin. “Now there’s a helpful
42 / Mary Daheim
idea, Russell. We wouldn’t mind borrowing a few items for
just a bit. Let me see…” Renie glanced at Judith. “How about
asking Ava and…” She paused, gazing down at her own
towel-wrapped figure. “…Nadia. I think.”
“Yes. Yes.” Russell nodded enthusiastically. “Ava and Nadia. Shall I…?” He gestured at the door.
“You shall. And we thank you.” Renie cocked her head.
Russell started out the door, then turned back. “Oh! This
business about the sheriff…is it urgent?”
“It’ll keep,” Renie replied dryly.
Russell left. Five minutes later, Ava Aunuu was in the kitchen, hand-tooled leather suitcase in hand. “What
happened?” she asked, evincing what Judith took for actual
Renie introduced Judith to the woman who served as
OTIOSE’s vice president–information technology services.
The long-winded title didn’t mean much to Judith, but she
recalled that Ava was some kind of computer genius.
“We fell in the creek,” Renie explained. “You and my
cousin are about the same size, so when Russell Craven
suggested we borrow some clothes, I thought of you.”
“Sure,” Ava said, undoing the straps and flipping the locks
on her suitcase. “I brought extra everything along. There’s
underwear, too. I’m not really into clothes, but you never
know what can happen on one of these retreats.” Her brown
eyes danced with what might have been amusement—or
something less pleasant.
Judith picked up the first items she saw. A high-necked
blue sweater and navy slacks, almost exactly like the dark
green outfit Ava was wearing. “This’ll be great. Are you
sure…?” She gave Ava a questioning look.
“Well…” Ava reached into the suitcase and a removed a
red crewneck sweater and matching slacks. “How about
these? I’ll bet red’s your color.”
“It is.” Judith smiled. “Thanks a lot.”
“Don’t worry about returning them right away.” Ava’s
strong, handsome features seemed to radiate good will.
SNOW PLACE TO DIE / 43
“I’ll probably be seeing your cousin at corporate headquarters
in a week or two.”
Judith grabbed the garments and headed for the laundry
room to dress. She had just slipped into her own boots when
Renie joined her.
“Nadia’s stuff is going to be a squeeze,” Renie said, shaking
out a gray cashmere sweater that had been carefully wrapped
in tissue paper. “But Margo’s too thin and Andrea’s too
plump. It was Nadia or nobody, unless I wanted to wear
one of Russell Craven’s soup-stained suits.”
“Let’s go back,” Judith said abruptly.
“Back? Back where?” Renie’s head poked through the
sweater’s mock turtleneck. “We can’t go home until you’ve
set up the buffet.”
Judith was searching the drawers in the laundry room. “I
know, plus we have to wait at least a half-hour for our clothes
to dry. Ah, here’s a flashlight.”
Renie stared at Judith. “What are we doing?”
“We’re going back to the cave.” Judith was now at the
linen closet. She tossed a blanket at Renie.
“Come on!” Renie cried. “It’s almost dark! What’s the
Judith was covering herself in a striped Hudson Bay
blanket. “Are you coming or not?”
“Not.” Renie planted both feet firmly on the floor.
“Okay.” Judith swept out into the kitchen, the blanket
trailing behind her.
It wasn’t quite dark, but it was very cold and a few drops
of snow were drifting down. The wind had picked up,
blowing from the north. Judith had to hold up the pants legs
of Ava’s slacks while trying to keep the blanket wrapped
around her. She didn’t try to cross the creek this time, but
squatted on the opposite bank and turned on the flashlight.
“Has he moved?” The voice belonged to Renie, who had
crept up behind Judith.
Judith gave a little start. “He’s still there.” She handed
44 / Mary Daheim
the flashlight to Renie. “Look. See if you see what I thought
Renie, who had only glimpsed the skeletal remains of the
dead man, steeled herself. “I see a really convincing Halloween costume. Except this is January, and it’s not very
funny.” She shuddered, then tried to give the flashlight back
Judith rebuffed Renie. “Look again.”
Sighing, Renie complied. “I see what’s left of his
clothes—jacket, pants, shirt, whatever. It’s hard to tell.
Oh—he’s got a watch on his left wrist.” Starting to shiver
again, Renie had trouble keeping the flashlight from wavering. “There’s a leather thong around his neck, but I don’t see
any medal or jewelry or decoration.”
“That’s not what it’s for,” Judith said in a hollow voice.
As the snow began to fall harder, Renie steadied the
flashlight with both hands. “Then it must be part of whatever
he was wearing.”
Judith took the flashlight from Renie. “No. I saw it from
the back when I was in the cave earlier. It hasn’t anything
to do with apparel. It looks as if it’s been twisted around
something at the base of the neck. I believe you call it a garrote.” She stood up and switched off the flashlight. “Barry
didn’t freeze to death, coz. He was murdered.”
“IT WAS ONE of those things you see, but you don’t take in,”
Judith explained as the cousins trudged back to the lodge.
“It was such a shock finding the body in the first place, and
we were so wet and cold that the garrote didn’t really register
until much later, probably when Ava opened her leather
suitcase. But it had been niggling at me all along.”
“Incredible,” Renie murmured. “Barry must have been
murdered a year ago this very weekend.” She stopped suddenly, a stricken expression on her face. “Oh, God—he may
have been murdered by one of them!” Her brown eyes were
riveted on the lodge.
“You’re right,” Judith said in wonder. “Let’s hurry, coz.
We’ve got to finish up and get the hell out of here.”
They were met at the door by the African-American man
who had exchanged his pinstripe suit for a turtleneck sweater
and corduroy pants. “I’d appreciate it,” he said in a grave,
concise voice, “if you’d tell me what’s going on. It’s not safe
to have outsiders wandering around in the snow. OTIOSE
isn’t legally covered for such contingencies.”
“Coz,” Renie said, sounding tired, “meet Eugene Jarman,
Junior, vice president-legal, as if you couldn’t
46 / Mary Daheim
guess.” She offered the attorney a small smile. “Gene, you
honestly don’t want to know.”
Gene Jarman quietly closed the doors behind the cousins.
Frank Killegrew and Ward Haugland were both in the lobby,
wearing worried expressions and virtually matching outfits
of plaid flannel shirts, tan khaki pants, and brown suspenders. Beyond them, Russell Craven huddled by the fire, his
“I’m afraid it’s my business to know,” Gene responded,
his blunt features solemn. He was average height, but the
self-assured way he carried himself made him seem much
taller. “Let’s sit down and discuss this.”
Judith and Renie looked at each other. “Okay,” said Renie,
removing her blanket and tossing it over one arm. “Has
anybody unlocked the liquor cabinet? This isn’t going to be
“Liquor,” Ward Haugland echoed, his lanky form twisting
around. “There must be liquor somewhere.”
Judith had spotted what might have been a wet bar in the
dining room. “I’ll check,” she said. “Give me a hand, coz.”
Five minutes later, the cousins had lined up bottles, glasses,
mixer, and a bucket of ice on the big polished burl coffee
table in the lobby. By then, other members of the OTIOSE
executive corps were streaming in. It appeared that their
master had spoken.
“Who’s missing?” Killegrew asked, not bothering to look
around. Judith guessed that others did that for him.
In this case, the task was performed by Ward Haugland,
as befitted his executive vice president’s status. “Ava and
Leon,” Ward said in his faint drawl. “They’ll be here any
minute, Frank. That dinky elevator can’t hold but four or
five people at a time.”
“Persons!” snapped Margo Chang. “How often do I have
to remind you persons that we’re not just people?”
Judith nudged Renie. “Who’s the big bald guy who
SNOW PLACE TO DIE / 47
looks like number nine on the chart showing the Ten Steps
From Ape to Man?”
“Max Agasias, vice president-marketing,” Renie whispered.
“He’s sharper than he looks.”
“I hope so. He practically mowed me down when lunch
was served.” Judith glanced at the elevator in the corner of
the lobby which was discharging Ava Aunuu and the small,
wizened man with buck teeth who Judith also remembered
from the midday stampede.
“Leon Mooney,” Renie murmured, “vice president and
Judith’s brain raced. Not only was she trying to put names
to faces, but she couldn’t keep from trying to figure out if
one of the ten people—or persons—who congregated in the
lobby looked like a murderer. Maybe they all did; certainly
each of them seemed to have the killer instinct.
“Drink ’em if you got ’em,” Frank Killegrew said, his usual
jocular manner tempered by a hint of anxiety. “I believe Ms.
Jones has some news for us.”
“I thought she’d already made her presentation,” Andrea
Piccoloni-Roth said in a waspish tone. “And why is she
wearing Nadia’s castoffs?”
“They’re not castoffs,” Nadia declared with a malevolent
look for Andrea. “Are you mocking me because I don’t make
as much money as you do?”
“Now, now,” said Killegrew. “Let’s get settled and hear
what Ms. Jones has to say.”
Margo, who had just accepted a very dry martini from Judith, stared at Renie. “You haven’t reneged on my color
scheme, have you?”
“Your color scheme!” Andrea exploded. “No wonder I
didn’t much like it!”
“It beats the crap out of the purple and pink you wanted,
Andrea,” growled Max Agasias, the simianlike marketing
head. “What the hell do you think we are, a bunch of fruity
48 / Mary Daheim
“It wasn’t purple and pink, you idiot,” Andrea retorted. “It
was purple and gold. They’re regal colors, fit for kings and
“Speaking of queens,” Ava began, “what do you suppose
But Killegrew cut her off. He was standing in front of the
fireplace, Scotch and soda in hand, looking less like a corporate CEO and more like a building contractor in the casual
attire that tended to show off his impressive girth.
“As you know, the purpose of this retreat is to get away
from the workplace, to put some distance between ourselves
and what goes on in each of our shops, to reflect, to recreate,
to…” He paused and leaned toward Margo who was sitting
on a leather ottoman by the hearth. She whispered something
to him and he resumed speaking. “To revitalize ourselves.
Given those parameters and the current, often chaotic state
of the industry, we…”
“It’s an old speech,” Renie said behind her hand. “Margo
writes all of his public utterances. I actually got stuck listening
to one last Memorial Day. You’d have thought Frank won
the Korean War all by himself.”
“…feel compelled to do some soul-searching. But,” he added, lowering his voice and apparently ad-libbing, “we can’t
accomplish much if we’ve got a bunch of distractions. The
last hour or two should have been a time to relax in peace
and quiet. I mean, you can’t play golf in the snow.” He
paused to finger his belt buckle as dutiful laughter rose from
members of the audience. “Anyway, some things have been
going on around here that have gotten me a little frazzled.
I want to keep the ship on course. Before we settle in for the
rest of the weekend, I’d like an explanation. I’m sure it’s
nothing to worry about, but we’re here at Mountain Goat
Lodge because we don’t want to get this train side-tracked.
The moonshot’s got to land on target, right?” The smile he
gave Renie went no farther than his nose. “Ms. Jones, you’re
Renie, who looked as if she’d been stuffed into Nadia’s
SNOW PLACE TO DIE / 49
sweater and slacks, moved in front of the fireplace. She hesitated, staring down at the flagstone hearth, then lifted her
head and let her eyes take in the entire gathering.
“We found Barry Newcombe this afternoon. He’d been
murdered. Thank you very much.” Renie stepped aside and
lit up a cigarette.
Frank Killegrew gasped; Nadia Weiss screamed; Max
Agasias swore; Andrea Piccoloni-Roth sagged in her chair;
Margo Chang protested Renie’s smoking; Russell Craven
asked, “Who’s Barry Newcombe?”
“I don’t get it,” Ward Haugland said, scratching his head.
“This sounds screwy.”
“I think,” Gene Jarman said carefully, “we need to have
this situation clarified. Ms. Jones?”
Renie related how she and Judith had accidentally uncovered the ice cave by the creek. Judith, in turn, told how
she had seen the garrote around the skeleton’s neck. Some
of her listeners reacted with skepticism.
“That’s crazy,” asserted Ward Haugland. “It must have
been a joke. Somebody did that after poor Barry died.”
“Hikers, probably,” said Killegrew, though his fingers
shook as he picked up his slide rule. “They can be strange.
A lot of them are ex-hippies.”
“Excuse me,” put in Margo. “I don’t think that makes sense,
Frank. Who would find a body and make a joke out of it?
Why didn’t they call in a forest ranger? No, I’m afraid Ms.
Jones’s cousin is right.”
“Poor Barry!” Andrea was still reeling in her chair. “He
was so sweet! Do you remember the duck pate he left for
us? It was divine.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” Margo snapped. “You ate all
“Did I ever meet Barry Newcombe?” Russell Craven asked
in a bewildered voice.
Killegrew intervened before the two women could go at
it again. “Let’s not get derailed,” he urged. “We don’t want
to go off on a sideline and miss the depot.”
50 / Mary Daheim
“What the hell happened?” Max demanded from his place
behind a big wood and leather sofa. “Barry took off here
around two in the afternoon. Did somebody jump him outside?”
“He didn’t take the van.” The speaker, who had been silent
until now, was the gnarled little man Renie had identified
as Leon Mooney.
All eyes turned to the vice president and comptroller.
“That’s true,” said Ava. “Or if he did, he came back and then
“We thought he’d walked to the store at the summit,” Ward
said. “It was a mighty funny thing to do, but Barry was a
A dozen questions flashed through Judith’s mind, but it
wasn’t her place to ask them. Renie, however, possessed the
corporate cachet. “How long was it before you realized he
Glances were exchanged; several people shrugged. “A
couple of hours?” Max finally offered.
“It was at dinner,” Andrea said. “Actually, it was before
dinner. We expected Barry to serve as bartender. When he
didn’t show up, Gene stood in for him.”
Gene Jarman uttered a self-deprecating laugh. “I’d tended
bar while I worked my way through Stanford Law School.”
He lifted one shoulder in a dismissive gesture, as if to suggest
that those degrading days were far, far behind him.
Judith couldn’t resist. “What did you do when Barry never
The others looked at her in mild astonishment. “We carried
on,” Margo said. “We figured he’d…had one of his whims.”
“All that’s behind us,” Killegrew declared before Judith
could speak again. “Let’s get this tugboat hooked up to the
barge. The question is, what do we do now?” His glance
lighted on Gene Jarman.
SNOW PLACE TO DIE / 51
Gene tugged at one earlobe. “The authorities must be notified.” He gazed at Judith and Renie. “Or has that already
“We tried,” Renie said. “There seems to be some confusion
“Really?” Gene gave a slight nod. “That’s possible. This
is something of a borderline location.”
“Which district?” asked Ward Haugland. “Do we have
supporters in the legislature from around here?”
“Screw the legislature,” Max Agasias snarled. “It’s the rate
commission we care about. What the hell have our lobbyists
been doing lately anyway? They’re down there in the capital
drinking high-priced booze out of some low-down hooker’s
“Cut the sexist remarks,” Margo demanded in a shrill voice.
“At least one of our lobbyists is a woman.”
“So?” Max sneered at Margo. “If you ask me, she’d like to
get in the sack with some cute little…”
“Now, now,” reprimanded Killegrew, “let’s keep our plane
in its landing pattern. We’ll skip all these local folks. I mean,
persons. I’m calling the chief of police back in the city.”
“Good idea,” said Ward.
“You’re damned right,” agreed Max.
“Could somebody describe Barry Newcombe?” asked
“Call the chief,” Killegrew ordered Nadia. “Explain
everything. He’ll know what we ought to do.”
Judith knew what she had to do. It was after six, and she
had to set up the buffet. Though no one heard her, she excused herself and headed for the kitchen. Renie followed.
“It serves the chief right,” Judith said, getting a big ham
out of the refrigerator. “He ought to have to put up with
these self-centered morons. Joe says that under all that public
bonhomie the chief is a stuffed shirt.”
“I’ll carve the turkey breast,” Renie volunteered. “I
52 / Mary Daheim
gather you’ve had enough of the OTIOSE crowd.”
“You bet. I don’t see how you can work with people—or
should I say persons?—like them.”
“You get used to it. They’re all alike.” Renie selected a knife
from the wooden cutlery holder. “The problem is that they
get into these executive slots and they become distanced from
reality. They’re pampered, protected—and isolated. The same
thing happens in government. They’re all out of touch.”
“So’s the chief, according to Joe.” Judith piled ham onto
a platter. “I suspect this crew is going to get a dose of reality
when they start investigating Barry Newcombe’s murder.”
“It’ll serve them right, too,” said Renie, aggressively slicing
the turkey. She suddenly paused. “As long as it doesn’t screw
up their acceptance of my presentation.”
Judith shot her cousin a baleful glance. “Stop it. You sound
like one of them.”
“I’m not,” Renie asserted. “I’m just a servile jobber who
wants to suck at the teat of corporate excess.”
Twenty minutes later, the cousins had the buffet set up.
The chafing dishes were lighted, the plates and utensils were
stacked, and the makeshift sideboard looked fit for a king.
Or a queen, or maybe even ten spoiled corporate executives.
In the laundry area, they found that their clothes were dry.
Hastily changing, Judith and Renie felt a huge sense of relief
as they put on their own garments.
“Let’s go,” Renie said. “We’ll leave Ava and Nadia’s stuff
on an empty table in the dining room where they can’t miss
it. I’m not sure I want to talk to any of these people again
for a while.”
Judith had found a rear exit off the supply room. Feeling
liberated, the cousins headed through the door and into the
During the hour or more that they’d spent inside the lodge,
the snow had been falling steadily and heavily. The
SNOW PLACE TO DIE / 53
wind from the north had now reached a high velocity. The
blinding flakes whirled and swirled around the lodge, obliterating everything except the unsteady hands the cousins
held before their faces to ward off the stinging cold.
“Jeez!” Renie cried. “It’s a damned blizzard! I can’t drive
“I can’t either,” Judith admitted in a stunned voice. “What
shall we do?”
Renie stood stock-still, with the wind and snow blowing
straight into her face. “We haven’t got much choice. We’re
stuck, at least until the storm blows over and the roads get
plowed. Let’s go back inside before we end up like Barry.”
“Don’t say that,” Judith cautioned. “The weather didn’t
kill him.” She swallowed hard. “I’ve got a very ugly feeling
that somebody inside that lodge that we are about to reenter
was the person—yes, person—who killed Barry Newcombe.”
“You sure know how to terrify a person,” Renie retorted.
Judith gestured toward the lodge. “These people are risk
“Right. In one way or another.” Renie kept her head down;
her voice came out muffled.
“It required a big risk to kill Barry with the others around,”
Judith continued. “Whoever did it must have realized a storm
was coming, but did you notice all those branches at the
front of the little cave? I think the killer put them there to
hide the body, just in case. Besides, when the snow
melted—assuming there’s ever a big thaw at this elevation—the branches would still provide some concealment.
But then, the snow finally broke them down, probably when
you fell into the bank.”
“Lucky me,” Renie sighed. “I’m a regular walkin’, talkin’
“Lucky us,” Judith echoed. “It isn’t like it’s the first time.”
Feeling bleak and bleary eyed, she entered the lodge.
54 / Mary Daheim
They explained their forestalled departure plight to Nadia
Weiss, who, surprisingly, was not without sympathy. “There
are plenty of vacant rooms,” she said. “I’ve already moved
Frank once. Naturally, he wanted a corner room. But
Mountain Goat Lodge can accommodate two hundred guests.
We’ll find you something in the main wing on the second
floor, where the rest of us are staying.”
Judith and Renie didn’t find the idea particularly reassuring. But again, there wasn’t much choice. “We’ll share,”
Renie blurted. “We wouldn’t want to mess up two rooms,”
she added hastily.
The arrangement was fine with Nadia. She led the cousins
to the elevator via a back corridor. While waiting for the car
to arrive, Judith overheard Killegrew expostulating on the
deficiencies of the municipal police department.
“Lack of personal contact…city employees, not used to the
bottom line…boondoggles…civil service…political pork
barrel…favoritism…” The litany of complaints went on.
The three women got into the elevator. “Did you talk to
the police chief?” Judith asked innocently.
Nadia leaned her slight frame against the upholstered
padding of the elevator. “No! It’s after six, he’d gone home.
Frank had me call him there, but I reached his answering
machine. We haven’t heard back yet.”
“Ah.” Judith didn’t know what else to say. She recalled
how often Joe had tried to see the chief when he and his
partner, Woody Price, were working a case. Unless the investigation was high profile, the chief usually shunted Joe
and Woody off to his deputy or some other underling.
“This whole thing is very peculiar,” Nadia said as they got
out on the second floor. “I cannot—I simply cannot—imagine
anything as seedy as murder being linked to OTIOSE.
Whatever will our board of directors think? And our shareholders will be up in arms! This is simply terrible!”
“It’s rough, all right,” Renie agreed.
“It had to be some lunatic,” Nadia declared. “Someone
SNOW PLACE TO DIE / 55
wandering around the mountains. I’ve heard there are all
sorts of strange types who live in the forest. Hermits, and
other kinds of eccentrics. They often kill people. That’s what
must have happened to Barry.”
They had reached a door at the far end of the hall. Nadia
sorted through a large key ring. “Two-thirty-nine,” she said
under her breath. “Here we are.”
There were twin beds, a small fireplace, a bathroom, and
a wet bar. There were also two hooded bathrobes hanging
on wooden pegs. Matching terrycloth slippers sat side by
side on the polished hardwood floor. Judith and Renie both
sighed with relief.
“Nice,” Renie remarked. “Thanks, Nadia. We’re sorry to
impose, but that storm out there is really something.”
Nadia’s smile was tense. “It should blow out in a few
hours. That’s what happened last year when we were at
“You had a storm just like this one?” Judith asked, setting
her purse down on one of the twin beds.
“Oh, yes,” Nadia replied. “It was terrible. We weren’t sure
if we could get out by Monday afternoon. But it finally broke
that morning, and we were able to leave.”
“Who drove?” Renie had uttered the question from the
fireplace where she was putting a match to the pile of wood
“I did,” Nadia replied. “Barry had driven us up here, but
when he…disappeared, it was up to me to get us back to the
city. Fortunately, we were able to chain up at the summit.”
Judith sat down on the bed with its counterpane woven
in a bright Native American design. “Nadia, weren’t you
worried about what had happened to Barry?”
Nadia hung her head and clasped her hands. “Not terribly,”
she replied in a sheepish tone. “You see, Barry was gay. He
was given to…following his special star.” She paused, her
thin face very earnest. “It had happened before. Two summers
ago at the company picnic, Barry was in
56 / Mary Daheim
charge of the food. About halfway through, he suddenly
disappeared. He’d met someone on the adjacent tennis
courts. Then at the Christmas party a year ago, he went off
with Santa Claus.”
“I see.” Judith took a deep breath. “So you thought—what?
That he’d met someone outside of the lodge or at the summit
or down in the next town—or what?”
“Any of those things.” Nadia now appeared to be on surer
ground. “Even here at the lodge, there are cross-country skiers
who pass through. Not to mention snow-mobilers and hikers.
It may seem isolated, but it really isn’t, not when the
weather is decent.”
“Except that you had a big storm last January,” Judith
pointed out. “That would have cut down on the sports enthusiasts.”
“Y-e-s,” Nadia said slowly. “I suppose it did.” She glanced
around the room, her practiced mind taking inventory. “I
hope this will do. Everything seems to be in order. Now I
should get back downstairs. I must see what’s happening
with Frank and the police chief.”
Judith locked the door behind Nadia and slid the deadbolt. “We ought to be safe in here,” she said, then gritted her
teeth as Renie lighted yet another cigarette. “Coz—must you?
This is a small room, and it’s too cold to open a window.”
Renie waved the cigarette. “It’s either this or we raid the
Judith sniffed at the trail of smoke. “That’s not a bad idea.
It just dawned on me that I’m starved. I haven’t eaten since
“Then let’s forage after they’ve finished. Meanwhile, we
can check out the honor bar.” She nodded at the compartment built between the room’s two small windows.
The little refrigerator contained soda pop, sample-sized
bottles of liquor, and water, both plain and flavored. There
were also packets of various snack foods. The cousins
SNOW PLACE TO DIE / 57
opened a bag of chips and a bag of pretzels before making
themselves a drink.
Sitting in a wooden chair with a comfortable padded back
and seat, Judith gazed around the room. “There’s no TV. Or
radio. How are we going to hear about what’s happening
with the weather?”
Renie also studied their surroundings. “No phone, either.
I guess this is one of those places where you’re supposed to
get back to nature or in touch with yourself or some damned
thing. Bill and I stayed at a lodge like this in Oregon a few
years ago. After an hour and a half, we were ready to kill
Judith got up and went to one of the windows. “All we
can do is watch what’s happening outside. Once the storm
dies down, I suppose we could use the phone in the kitchen
to check on highway conditions.”
Renie uttered a terse laugh. “Assuming we can reach the
right part of the state and don’t end up with a report on the
“I’ve got a feeling that this blizzard is going to last well
into the night,” Judith said, still peering through one of the
window’s six small panes that were trimmed in bright red.
“I vaguely recall hearing a weather report at home yesterday
that said we might get some snow in the city by Sunday, but
of course I didn’t worry about it because…” She stopped,
cupping her hands around her eyes. “What in…? I just saw
Renie, who had been reclining on one of the twin beds,
went to the other window. “Where? I don’t see anything.”
“It’s gone. Which way are we facing?”
Renie considered. “We’re at the end of the hall, which
runs the width of the lodge. I’d guess that we’re looking out
from the east, opposite from the parking lot and the creek.”
“That makes sense. The wind is from the north, and it’s
blowing the snow right by us.” Judith remained at the win- 58 / Mary Daheim
dow, but the light didn’t reappear. “Did you say there was
Renie had returned to the bed. “Right, but he’s at least
half a mile away. I doubt he’d come out in this storm. Besides, he’s under orders to keep away. The OTIOSE gang is
very set on privacy.”
“Where’d the staff go?” Judith asked, finally deserting her
post and sitting down again.
“Home?” Renie gave little shrug. “I understand some of
them usually sleep over, up in dormer rooms on the third
floor. But during the conference, they were all sent away. It
is a three-day weekend, and they were probably delighted
to have the time off.”
Judith finished her bag of chips and sipped at her Scotch;
Renie ate three pretzels, lighted another cigarette, and drank
her bourbon. The fire, which Judith had lighted a few minutes
earlier, burned in the small grate. They could hear the wind
howl in the chimney, causing the flames to waver and dance.
“I should have mentioned to Nadia that we left her
clothes—and Ava’s—in the dining room,” Renie said,
breaking the sudden silence between them.
“They’ll find the stuff,” Judith replied, her eyes still on the
storm that raged outside the window. She sat up straight
and looked at Renie. “The folder was gone.”
“Folder?” Renie was momentarily puzzled. “Oh, the one
I found on the podium.” She nodded once. “You’re right.
Somebody had picked it up off the coffee table in the lobby
where we set up the bar.”
Judith’s high forehead was puckered in a frown. “I thought
Ava acted kind of odd about which clothes she wanted to
“Maybe. So what? The blue outfit might be her favorite.”
“Then why wasn’t she wearing it?”
“I don’t know,” Renie replied, slightly impatient. “What
difference does it make?”
SNOW PLACE TO DIE / 59
Judith didn’t reply immediately. “Would you know how
to fashion a garrote?” she asked after another brief silence.
“I think I could learn,” Renie said darkly. “Like about now.
Forget it, coz. This isn’t our problem.”
“If you knew how, I don’t imagine it would take much
“I hope not. I’m feeling a little weak.” Renie glowered at
“But you need a stick or something, don’t you? Where
was the stick? I didn’t see anything like that.”
“If I had a stick, I know where I’d put it,” Renie said
between clenched teeth.
“What do you know about Barry Newcombe? Did you
ever meet him?”
“Good God.” Renie rubbed at one eye. “You’re hopeless.”
She tossed her cigarette butt into the fireplace and regarded
Judith with an indulgent expression. “Okay, I’ll play the game
if only because we can’t amuse ourselves by watching Cru-
sader Rabbit reruns on TV. Yes, I met Barry a couple of times,
a year ago last December, when I got called in on the annual
report. He seemed very nice, quite efficient, and otherwise
utterly unremarkable. I also talked to him on the phone.”
“Who did he work for?” Judith asked, adding more ice to
“He was assigned to Margo in p.r. then, as a staff assistant.
But I think he’d been in human resources before that.”
“Andrea Piccoloni-Roth?” Judith was finally beginning to
put titles and departments with faces and names.
“That’s right. But I honestly don’t know much more about
him,” Renie admitted. “It appears that he didn’t intend to
make a career out of working at OTIOSE, or he wouldn’t
have started up the catering business on the side.”
Judith grew thoughtful. “How old was he?”
“Mid-twenties, blond, medium height, nice-looking. I didn’t
know until today that he was gay, but then I wouldn’t have
given it a thought if I had,” Renie said, slipping one
60 / Mary Daheim
more pretzel out of the little paper sack. “Quite a few of the
guys who are employed at lower management levels in corporations are gay.”
“So Barry wasn’t in a power position?” Judith asked as the
wind rattled the windows.
Renie ruffled her short hair. “Well—that depends. The
salaries at that level aren’t much, but somehow staff assistants, at least at OTIOSE, have some kind of abstruse clout.
They answer the phones, they run personal errands for the
bosses, they handle correspondence, they know all the gossip.
They can be a great source of information, which means their
importance goes far beyond their lowly titles and puny
“Interesting,” Judith murmured. “Maybe that’s what got
Renie shuddered. “I hope not. I kind of like Nadia’s hermit
“It’s comforting,” Judith allowed, then turned a dour face
to Renie. “The only problem is, I don’t believe it.”
A FEW MINUTES before eight, the cousins went downstairs
to get some food. They had snooped around on the second
floor until they found a staircase that led from the west end
of the main corridor to a small hallway off the laundry room
and the rear entrance. A quick peek into the dining room
told them that the conferees had finished eating. Judging
from the hum of conversation, they had regrouped in the
“Who tidied up?” Judith inquired, noting that the big
round table had been cleared away and the sideboard swept
“Nadia, I suppose,” Renie replied, opening the refrigerator.
“Maybe someone was kind enough to help her.”
The cousins loaded plates with ham and turkey sandwiches, raw vegetables, and what was left of the potato salad
Judith had made from Gertrude’s legendary recipe. They
were about to return upstairs when Ward Haugland entered
“You’re still here, huh?” His smile was off-center and selfconscious. “I guess you can’t get out in this storm.”
“That’s right,” Renie replied. “We’re marooned. I don’t
suppose you’ve heard a weather forecast?”
62 / Mary Daheim
Ward shook his head. “Nope. There’s no radio or TV at
Mountain Goat. That’s one of the reasons we pick this place
for the retreats. Frank doesn’t want any pleasurecraft bobbing
around our corporate ship of state. Or something like that,”
he added with an uncertain frown.
Judith held up a hand, feeling like a grade-school pupil.
“Did you ever get hold of the police chief?”
Ward winced. “Not yet. The deputy chief called but Frank
won’t deal with him. He wants to go straight to the top.”
Judith bit her cheeks to keep from smiling. “I see. Well,
good luck. With a three-day weekend at hand, I suspect the
chief has gone off to ski in Canada. He usually does, during
Ward’s pale blue eyes widened. “You know the chief?”
Embarrassed, Judith coughed. “Ah—sort of. It’s a complicated story.” It wasn’t, of course, but Judith didn’t think it
was a good idea to mention that her husband was a homicide
detective. “We’ve…um…crossed paths from time to time.”
“Oh.” Ward seemed satisfied. “I’m sorry you folks got
stranded up here. I hope you realize that our meetings are
real confidential.” His off-center smile was apologetic.
Renie waved a hand. “Sure, Ward, I know how these retreats work. We’ll stay in our little tiny room and amuse
ourselves by watching each other’s faces sag with age.”
Ward didn’t seem to see the humor in Renie’s remark. His
long bony fingers fiddled with the belt loops on his khaki
pants. “I think there’s a game room in the basement. You
know—billiards, ping-pong, chess.”
“What fun.” Again, Renie’s irony was lost on OTIOSE’s
executive vice president.
Judith, however, decided to take advantage of Ward’s
hesitation. “What do you remember about Barry’s disappearance last year, Mr. Haugland?”
Ward, who had started for the refrigerator, paused in
midstep. “Barry? Shoot, I don’t recollect much about it.
SNOW PLACE TO DIE / 63
He took off and never came back. The only thing I remember
was the avocado dip.”
Judith frowned. “What about it?’
“That’s what he went out for,” Ward explained, opening
the refrigerator. “We had all these chips, and he’d made a
couple of special dips. But Margo or Max or somebody got
a hankering for avocados. Barry volunteered to get some, so
he took off and we never saw him again.” Ward removed
what was left of the ham from the fridge. “Personally, I’m
not much for avocados. They’re too danged squishy.”
As Ward began to carve the ham, Judith leaned against
the counter. “Weren’t you shocked when you got back to the
city and discovered he’d never shown up at all?”
Ward drew back, looking puzzled. “Well…not really. I
mean, people can be kind of odd. Anyway, he didn’t work
Which, Judith thought with a pang, apparently made Barry
a nonentity. “Now that Barry’s body has been found,” Judith
began, carefully phrasing her words, “have you thought about
why he was killed?”
Ward was pulling out various drawers. “Nope. It sounds
kind of fishy to me.” He extracted a knife and fork, then
picked up his plate of ham. “I mean, we don’t know for sure
that he was killed. And,” he added, heading toward the exit
with his long, awkward strides, “we don’t even know if it’s
On that jarring note, Ward Haugland left the kitchen.
“You know,” Judith sighed, “he’s right. We won’t know
until a positive ID is made by the police.”
“Shoot.” Renie picked at the ham that Ward had left on
the counter. “Are you saying Barry killed somebody else and
made it look as if he was the victim?”
“It’s been known to happen.” Judith poured out a glass of
cold apple cider. “If I had to guess—and you know I will—I’d
say that’s not the case. How many other people
64 / Mary Daheim
would have been wandering around Mountain Goat Lodge
that Friday afternoon? I’m assuming the place was as
dead—excuse the expression—then as it is now. It’d be a
real stretch to have somebody show up that Barry wanted
“Unless it was prearranged,” Renie noted.
Judith reflected briefly. “No, I don’t think so. If you were
Barry, and there was someone you wanted to get out of the
way, would you have that person drive to Mountain Goat
Lodge, and then do him or her in less than a hundred yards
from where your company’s top executives were waiting for
their avocado dip? I don’t think so.”
“You have a point,” Renie allowed, “though whoever killed
Barry did just that.”
“I know,” Judith said quietly. “As I mentioned earlier, that’s
what bothers me most.”
Before the cousins returned to their room, they each called
home to let their loved ones know they were marooned. Bill,
as usual, was terse on the phone because he firmly believed
the instrument was a satanic tool. Joe was somewhat more
talkative, if subdued.
“I cuffed a twelve-year-old today,” he said after Judith told
him about the storm. “He’d shot two other kids at a strip
mall. Can you believe it?”
“Are the other kids dead?” Judith asked, lacing her voice
with sympathy for Joe, the perp, and the victims.
“No, they’ll probably make it,” Joe replied. “But it still
makes me sick. This kid—Jamaal—isn’t a bad kid, really. At
least I don’t think he is. He just wants to belong. But it’s
been rough getting him to open up. He doesn’t trust adults,
especially not middle-aged white males.”
“Why don’t you let Woody interrogate him?” Judith asked,
referring to Joe’s long-time partner, who was black.
“Because I’m the primary.” Joe said. “And frankly, Woody
can be pretty hard on black kids who get themselves in
trouble. Sometimes it’s almost like he takes it
SNOW PLACE TO DIE / 65
personally. Woody made it, and he can’t understand why
kids with the same ethnic background don’t bother to try.”
“Woody was solid middle class,” Judith pointed out. “I’ll
bet most of the gang members haven’t had that advantage.”
“You’re right,” Joe agreed, “but tell that to Woody. He
says that’s all the more reason less fortunate black kids should
try even harder.”
Judith could picture Woodrow Wilson Price, with his
serious brown eyes and thick walrus mustache, lecturing
disadvantaged youth. He would be solemn, eloquent, and
somewhat pedantic. It was dubious that he’d make even the
slightest dent on most of the bad apples Joe had described.
“By the way,” Judith said, nervously clearing her throat,
“you may hear something about an…incident at the lodge.”
“An incident?” Joe sounded on guard.
“Yes. Ah…well…it seems that a body was discovered this
afternoon not far from the parking lot. Um…it’s not a new
body, it’s an old body. That is, it’s…er…been dead for a
long time. The OTIOSE president and CEO has been trying
to get hold of the chief.”
Judith thought she heard Joe say an extremely naughty
word under his breath. “The chief? Our chief?”
“Yes. Mr. Killegrew—the CEO—will only deal with his
“Screw Mr. Killegrew,” Joe growled. “The chief’s in Hawaii.
Besides, Mountain Goat is way outside our jurisdiction.” He
was silent for a few seconds, then exploded. “Jude-girl!” The
nickname was not spoken with affection. “How the hell did
you get mixed up with another freaking body?”
Judith’s voice came out in a squeak. “I’m just along for the
Renie, who been watching and listening with reasonable
attention, yanked the phone out of Judith’s hand. “Listen,
Joe,” she said in a sharp, querulous tone, “don’t blame
66 / Mary Daheim
your wife. She’s right, this is all my doing, and all she did
was provide the food. We’ll probably be home tomorrow,
so go easy on her. It’s been a long day.” Renie handed the
receiver back to Judith.
Neither husband nor wife spoke immediately, but it was
Joe who broke the strained silence. “Okay, okay. It’s not your
fault. Am I to understand that this dead body met with an
“That’s it,” Judith said brightly. “It must have been an accident. A skier, a hiker, a…wandering minstrel. Be sure and
tell Mother I’m okay, and let Arlene know what’s going on.
I trust she’s still in charge?”
“Arlene was in the kitchen when I last looked about an
hour ago,” Joe said in a more normal voice. “If she’s not
there now, I’ll call her.”
“Thanks.” Judith slumped onto the tall stool next to the
counter. “I love you.”
“I love you.” Joe sounded just a trifle weary. “Keep out of
“Renie and I are going straight to our room,” Judith assured
The cousins didn’t get any further than the door to the
laundry room. Leon Mooney had tiptoed into the kitchen, a
napkin tied around his scrawny neck. “Is there any more
angel food cake?” he asked a bit shyly.
“I’ll look.” Judith removed the cover from the glass cake
plate. “Yes, would you like some?”
“A thin sliver,” Leon replied, seemingly unable to meet
Judith’s gaze. “You needn’t add the strawberries. I’m allergic.”
“Okay.” Judith cut a piece of cake and put it on a dessert
plate. “There you go, Mr. Mooney. How’s the meeting
“Oh!” Leon put a hand to his mouth. “It’s top secret! I
daren’t discuss it!”
Judith smiled indulgently. “Of course you can’t. How
SNOW PLACE TO DIE / 67
stupid of me. Are all your annual retreats so very secretive?”
“My, yes.” The little man nodded gravely. “But this year,
it’s even more so.”
“I see,” Judith replied, though of course she didn’t. “I suppose you always make a lot of big decisions that determine
how the company will be run in the coming year.”
“Definitely, definitely.” Leon wagged his head. “Executive
decisions. Visionary decisions. Especially this time. The
twenty-first century is at hand.” OTIOSE’s vice president and
comptroller looked terrified at the prospect.
“It’s not really an old company, is it?” Judith remarked
with a quick glance at Renie, who had sketched in the corporate history earlier.
“My, no,” Leon replied. “It was founded by Mr. Killegrew
a few years after the big Bell System breakup. OTIOSE is an
independent company, serving a fast-growing number of
business and residential customers in the Pacific Northwest.”
Leon sounded as if he were reading from one of Margo’s p.r.
brochures. Indeed, he had to take a deep breath after he
“OTIOSE,” said Renie, with a touch of irony, “is all Frank
Killegrew. He’d worked for one of the Baby Bells as an engineering vice president. Then he decided there was room
in the marketplace for a new independent, so he rounded up
investors and put in quite a bit of his own money to get
OTIOSE started. Isn’t that right, Leon?”
Leon’s gaze, which was always evasive, now seemed fixed
on his angel food cake. “That’s true. He bought up some
very small independents as well. You know—family-owned,
small-town firms without proper funding for the new technology.”
Renie nodded. “His timing was excellent. He was able to
buy out the little guys when they were faced with bankruptcy
or getting in over their heads.”
“Yes,” Leon murmured, his buck teeth fretting his lower
68 / Mary Daheim
lip. “Yes, Frank Killegrew is very astute.” At last, he looked
up at the cousins. “Excuse me, I must get back to the meeting.
I shouldn’t have sneaked away, but I’m very, very partial to
angel food cake. My dear mother used to make it for me.
Rest her soul.” His withered face turned wistful.
The cousins watched him tiptoe out of the kitchen. “He’s
not like most of the others, is he?” Judith remarked.
Renie shook her head. “He’s an odd duck. Actually, he’s
exactly what he looks like—the stereotypical bookkeeper who
spends his days—and nights—hunched over his accounts.”
“I can’t see him using a garrote on Barry Newcombe,” Judith said, again heading for the back stairs.
“Probably not,” Renie agreed.
This time the cousins got as far as the rear door to the
laundry room. That was when Nadia came tearing into the
kitchen, screaming, “Help! Help!”
Judith and Renie backtracked, practically colliding with
each other. Nadia’s slight figure was running in circles, small
hands waving frantically.
“What is it?” Renie demanded, setting her plate and glass
of milk down on the counter.
“It’s Mr. Craven! Quick, I need an ice bag!” Fighting for
control, Nadia opened the freezer section of the refrigerator.
“What happened to Mr. Craven?” Judith inquired.
“Mr. Agasias attacked him with a soapstone Eskimo!” Nadia was grabbing handfuls of ice, spilling cubes all over the
floor in the process.
“Here,” Judith said, holding out a plastic bag to Nadia.
“Fill this, then we’ll take it out to Mr. Craven.”
Nadia’s hands were shaking so badly that she could hardly
get the cubes into the bag. The autocratic demeanor Judith
had seen earlier in the day had faded and fizzled into a
quivering bundle of nerves. “Oh, dear,” Nadia cried,
SNOW PLACE TO DIE / 69
“I’m usually not such a wreck. But this weekend is turning
out rather badly…”
“I’ll take the ice bag,” Judith said with a reassuring smile
as Renie began to scoop up the fallen cubes. “Why don’t
you wait here and collect yourself?”
“I shouldn’t,” Nadia said, but collapsed onto one of the
tall stools anyway. “Oh, dear. I do feel nervy.”
The scene in the lobby was like a tableau on the stage.
Andrea Piccoloni-Roth was bending over the prone figure
of Russell Craven; Ward Haugland and Gene Jarman were
restraining an irate Max Agasias; Ava Aunuu had a finger
shoved into a bewildered Frank Killegrew’s chest; Margo
Chang held the soapstone carving at arm’s length; Leon
Mooney was scrambling around on the floor retrieving his
angel food cake, which he’d apparently dropped.
“Excuse me,” Judith called, trying to edge around Ava and
Killegrew. “First aid!”
Grudgingly, the company stepped aside, except for Leon,
who was still on his hands and knees. Andrea hovered over
Russell, whose eyes looked glazed. Under the thinning fair
hair, Judith could see a bump beginning to rise.
“Mr. Craven,” Judith said softly as she applied the ice bag.
“What’s your first name?”
His eyes didn’t quite focus, and he winced when he felt
the ice. His mouth worked, but nothing came out.
“What’s your first name?” Judith repeated.
“Barry,” Russell replied, and passed out.
Max Agasias had finally simmered down, so much, in fact,
that he and Ward Haugland carried Russell Craven to one
of the lobby’s three long sofas. Andrea, who had hurriedly
helped Leon pick up the rest of his cake, took over from Judith. Her plump, motherly figure was perched on the sofa
arm where she held the ice bag to Russell’s head.
“I won’t take back what I said,” Max declared, pouring
himself a single shot of Canadian whiskey from the make- 70 / Mary Daheim
shift bar Judith and Renie had set up earlier. “Craven and
the rest of those R&D bastards don’t know a damned thing
“Now, now,” soothed Killegrew, “let’s not bore more holes
in the corporate ship, Max. We all have to work together
and try to understand what goes on in each other’s shop.”
“That’s my point,” Max railed. “Nobody in this company
understands marketing! But R&D is the worst. You cut our
budget for their sake, and we’ll be out selling door-to-door!”
“You won’t have anything to sell,” Ava put in, “if R&D
doesn’t come up with new product. Put a sock in it, Max.
You made your point.”
He’d also made quite a lump on Russell Craven’s head,
but at least Max’s victim had come around. Andrea offered
him a glass of water or a snifter of brandy. Russell said he’d
prefer coffee, strong and black. Judith started back to the
She met Renie in the dining room. “What’s up?” Renie
asked. “Is somebody else dead?”
Judith shook her head. “Just wounded. I’m going to make
Nadia was still in the kitchen, fussing about, apparently
trying to find busy work to calm her nerves. “Is Russell all
right?” she asked when she saw Judith.
“He’s got a nasty bump on his head, but I think he’ll be
fine,” Judith replied, removing a regular-sized coffeemaker
from one of the cupboards. “He should be checked for concussion, though. He seemed a bit confused.”
“No wonder!” Nadia briefly closed her eyes. “Max hit him
awfully hard. It was so unnecessary.”
“Mr. Craven doesn’t strike me as a combative type,” Judith
said, putting coffee into a copper filter.
“He’s not,” Nadia responded. “But he’s very protective of
his R&D people. When someone like Max calls them a bunch
of dreamers and a waste of corporate funds, Russell
SNOW PLACE TO DIE / 71
can become very mulish. Max resents all the other departments because he feels they don’t understand marketing. But
he despises R&D most of all, because of the way they work.
Or don’t, from his point of view.”
“You mean…?” Judith frowned. “They just sit and dream
“Yes.” Nadia now seemed more relaxed, perhaps because
she was discussing a subject she knew backward and forward.
It was beginning to dawn on Judith that many of the OTIOSE
conferees were like that. They felt on safe ground only when
dealing with corporate matters. The rest of the world, even
everyday occurrences, seemed to threaten them. “You see,”
Nadia went on, “much of the R&D work is conceptual. As
Russell puts it, his people have to dream a long time before
they can even begin to cope with reality.”
That, Judith thought, explained Russell himself, who didn’t
seem quite plugged in. But it didn’t explain his response to
her question about his first name. “Did Russell know Barry
Nadia tipped her head to one side. The stylish platinum
pageboy had wilted during the past few hours. “I don’t think
so,” she answered cautiously. “In fact, I recall him asking
several questions about Barry today. As far as I know, Russell
probably never met Barry until he drove us up to the lodge
last January. Why do you ask?” Her blue eyes hardened like
Judith shrugged. “It’s not important.” The coffee was almost ready and she didn’t want to waste time bringing
Russell his cup. “You knew Barry, of course.”
“Oh, yes,” Nadia replied, her expression softening. “Such
a well-mannered young man. I’d worked with him before
when he’d catered some of the other company events. He
was very good at it, even if he tended to…become distracted.”
She lowered her eyes.
Judith and Nadia both returned to the lobby where Russell
Craven was now in a half-sitting position on the sofa.
72 / Mary Daheim
He seemed reasonably alert, and grateful for the coffee. Judith
offered to pour a cup for the others, but only Andrea and
“I’ll get it,” Andrea volunteered, taking Russell’s hand and
placing it on the ice bag she’d been holding to his head.
“Easy does it,” she said in a soothing voice.
Frank Killegrew had resumed his place of dominance in
front of the fireplace. His shrewd gaze traveled from Renie
to Judith. “We’re going to get back down to business now,”
he said, hands clasped behind his back. “It’s been a terrific
session this evening, right up until the…” He glanced at
Russell, then at Max. “…the controversy. So this train has
to make up for lost time. It’s just about nine o’clock, and we
can keep the old locomotive running until say, ten-thirty. If
you’ll excuse us, Ms. Jones, Ms.…” His voice trailed off.
“Flynn,” Judith said, barely above a whisper.
“We’re gone.” Renie waved one hand, then trotted out of
Judith followed. In the dining room, they met Andrea,
who was carrying two cups of coffee. “I checked Russell’s
eyes,” she said. “They seem normal. Pay no attention to his
mention of Barry. Russell didn’t know him.”
“So I’ve heard,” Judith replied, ignoring Renie’s puzzled
Andrea’s pretty face flushed slightly, an attractive combination with her silver hair. “I understand why he said what
he did. Russell is terribly sensitive. I’m sure the news of
Barry’s death upset him. You know how creative types tend
to overreact.” She bustled off to the lobby.
“I’m creative,” Renie said in an ingenuous voice. “Do I
“It depends,” Judith said, continuing on into the kitchen.
“I don’t think I’ve ever described you as sensitive.”
“What’s with this about Russell calling himself Barry?”
Renie picked up her plate but dumped her milk into the sink
and poured out a fresh glass.
SNOW PLACE TO DIE / 73
Judith explained as they went up the back stairs. Renie
thought Andrea’s rationale was probably correct. Judith
didn’t comment further.
It was after ten when the cousins finished their meal. The
storm had not abated. Judith dared to open the window to
get a better view.
“Brrr!” she exclaimed, closing the casement quickly. “It
must be down in the teens, with a wind chill factor of minus
about a hundred. Look at the way the snow is drifting on
“It’s drifting, all right,” Renie said without enthusiasm.
“The fire’s almost out. Do you want to stoke it or go to bed?”
Involuntarily, Judith yawned. “It’s getting cold in here
without the fire. We might as well sleep. I’m tired.”
Renie tapped her fingers on the arm of the chair. “I’m
hyped. I always get this way after a big presentation. Finding
a dead body also makes me a little…edgy.”
Judith was leaning against the honor bar. “You’re scared?”
“Sure. But I’ve been scared before. After nineteen years
with Dan McMonigle, I can face almost anything.”
“You do and you have,” Renie said dryly. “Of course
nobody wants to kill us. We’re insignificant bugs on the
corporate highway of life.”
Judith smiled. “Roadkill?”
“That isn’t what I meant.” Renie got out of the chair and
lighted a cigarette. “One for the road,” she said. “Or should
I say one for the corporate highway?”
“If you must,” Judith responded, then turned to make sure
she’d latched the window properly. “Coz!” she hissed.
“There’s that light again!”
Renie rushed to join her cousin at the window. This time,
she, too, saw a faint, blurred light somewhere out in the
swirling snow. “Jeez! Who could it be?”
74 / Mary Daheim
“Maybe it’s not a who,” Judith muttered. “Maybe it’s a
“You mean some sort of beacon?” asked Renie, all but
pressing her nose against the window pane.
“Yes. Some kind of weather-related signal. Did you notice
anything like that when we were outside today?”
“No. But I’m not even sure where we’re looking,” Renie
pointed out. “We were on the other side of the lodge.”
The light went out, or perhaps it was swallowed up by the
thick flakes that blew past the lodge with renewed frenzy.
Renie paced the small room, puffing and scowling. “Nobody
in their right mind would be outside in this weather,” she finally said. “Maybe there’s a ski lift nearby. The storm might
have shorted the wiring.”
“That’s possible.” Judith moved away from the window.
She tensed as she heard muffled voices in the hall, then the
closing of doors. “The OTIOSE gang must be wrapping it
up for the night. I hope nobody else got hurt. Say, do you
know why Andrea got so mad at Margo this afternoon?”
Renie shook her head. “I couldn’t guess. Women talk a
great line about helping each other in the business world,
but believe me, the sisterhood is a myth. Look at Nadia and
Andrea—there’s bad blood there, too, probably because
Andrea is an officer and Nadia isn’t. It’s every girl for herself,
just like it is with the boys. Maybe more so, because it’s
tougher for women. The old boy network still seems to
“They’re sure a testy bunch,” Judith remarked. “Frankly,
I’m surprised. I would expect better of people in executive
“Not so,” Renie said, turning back the spread on the nearest
twin bed. “These people are under tremendous pressure,
from within and without. As a public utility, OTIOSE is
watched closely by the state and federal commissions, not
to mention the public and the media. So when
SNOW PLACE TO DIE / 75
they go off on a private retreat like this, they’re supposed to
vent and let their hair down. It’s only natural that their
emotions boil over and they behave badly.”
“They sure do,” Judith agreed.
“They’re spoiled brats,” Renie said. “I’ve tried to explain
“I know. I’m just not used to it,” Judith said with a shake
of her head. “I’ve never been involved in corporate life. Oh,
there were politics and a pecking order within the library
system, but it wasn’t like this.” Slowly, she wandered around
the room, hugging herself to keep warm and absently taking
in the modest decor: another mountain-scape, a brightly
colored Native American throw rug, a photograph of the
lodge under construction. The handwritten date in the corner
read August 21, 1936.
“This must have been a public works project,” Judith
mused. “You know—one of FDR’s efforts to put the unemployed to work during the Depression.”
“Probably,” Renie agreed. “It has that look—spare, but
functional. Of course the recent owners from the private
sector have tried to jazz it up. Like the fancy kitchen, and
the conference rooms.”
“Speaking of kitchen,” Judith said with a sheepish expression, “I wouldn’t mind getting a little extra something.” She
pointed to her empty plate. “How about you?”
Renie waved her cigarette. “I’m good, but I’ll be your
bodyguard. It’s probably not wise to go off by ourselves.”
The lights in the corridor had been dimmed. Judith and
Renie decided to use the elevator now that they assumed the
lobby was vacant. Again, it appeared that Nadia—or somebody—had tidied up. A single lamp glowed in a corner by
one of the sofas. In the grate, the fire had died down to a
few crimson embers. The wind moaned in the big chimney,
and the pennants that hung from the rafters rustled gently
above the cousins’ heads.
The dining room was dark, but Renie found the switch.
76 / Mary Daheim
A pale, sallow patch of light followed them into the kitchen.
Judith started to feel for the on-off button by the sink, but
Something was wrong. She could make out the marbletopped counter and the glass dessert plate. She could also
see that someone’s face was lying in what was left of the
angel food cake.
NEITHER JUDITH NOR Renie screamed. Instead, they held
onto each other so hard that their fingernails practically drew
blood. Finally, after what seemed like hours, but was probably only a minute, they stood back and stared at their discovery.
“It’s Leon Mooney,” Renie said, stunned and hoarse. “What
happened to him?”
Reluctantly, Judith went around to the other side of the
counter. Leon’s small body sagged against the counter, his
knees buckled, his arms dangling at his sides.
“He is dead, I gather?” Renie still sounded unnatural.
Judith felt for a pulse in Leon’s frail wrist. “I’m afraid so.”
Her own voice was shaking. “It could have been a heart attack.”
But Judith knew better. As soon as Renie’s fumbling fingers
managed to turn on the lights, Judith saw the ugly bruise on
the back of Leon’s head. Then she spotted a heavy-duty
plastic freezer bag next to his feet. The bag had something
in it. Judith bent down for a closer look.
Through the transparent plastic, Judith could see the
soapstone Eskimo carving. “Good God!” she breathed,
wobbling on her heels. “It’s that same carving Max used to
78 / Mary Daheim
“Poor little Leon!” Renie sounded genuinely moved. “I
hardly knew him, but he seemed the most harmless of the
Judith sat down on the floor and held her head. “This is
awful. I feel kind of sick.”
Renie, who had propped herself up against the refrigerator,
scanned the kitchen. “I hope whoever did this isn’t lurking
around here someplace. Is he still warm?”
Judith nodded, then tried to focus on the digital clock. “It’s
ten to eleven. Didn’t Killegrew say they were going to cut
the meeting off at ten-thirty?”
“I think so,” Renie replied. “That’s about when we heard
the noises in the hall.”
“Dear heaven.” Judith rocked back and forth on the floor.
“We have to do something.”
Renie gestured at the phone. “Should we at least try to call
Judith hesitated. “Yes. We have to.”
“I’ll do it.” On wobbly legs, Renie went to the phone.
Judith averted her eyes from Leon’s pathetic body. If the
little man had seemed wizened in life, he now appeared utterly wraithlike in death. But, Judith thought, that’s what
he’d become—a wraith. She felt an unaccustomed bout of
hysteria surging up inside.
“Damn!” Renie slammed the phone back in place. “I can’t
get a dial tone! The lines must be down.”
The announcement snapped Judith out of her emotional
slide. She started to get up, still trying not to look at Leon.
“We can’t do anything about that,” she said, using the
counter’s edge to pull herself to a standing position. “How
do we deliver the bad news?”
Renie twisted her hands together. “Nadia, I suppose. We
start with her. Or should it be Margo? She’s p.r.”
“Stop sounding like a corporate clone,” Judith said, more
severely than she intended. “Wouldn’t it be better to go to
SNOW PLACE TO DIE / 79
Renie considered. “Maybe. Yes, you’re right. Let’s do it.”
But the cousins had no idea which room belonged to Killegrew. Bewildered, they stood in the dimly lit second-floor
corridor and scanned the various doors.
“To hell with it,” Renie finally said, and knocked at the
one in front of her. There was no response; she knocked
“Maybe,” Judith whispered, “that was Leon Mooney’s
Renie grimaced. “You might be right.” She moved on to
the next door on the right.
Only a single knock was required before the cousins heard
noises inside. Then Andrea Piccoloni-Roth, attired in a lavender satin robe, opened the door. Seeing the cousins, she
blinked twice and gave a little start.
“What is it?” she asked in a low voice.
Renie swallowed hard. “It’s Leon Mooney. I’m afraid—I’m
really sorry, Andrea—but he’s dead.”
In a flurry of lavender satin, Andrea Piccoloni-Roth collapsed onto the brightly colored Navajo rug.
“It would have been nice,” Renie said as Judith tried to
rouse Andrea, “if they’d included the company medical chief
on this trek. Not to mention their head of security.”
Judith didn’t respond. Her concern was for Andrea, who
was beginning to move, though her eyes were still shut. At
last, the heavy lids fluttered open.
“Oh,” Andrea said in a lifeless voice. “It’s you.”
“Do you want to sit up?” Judith inquired.
Andrea’s eyes, which were a light brown with flecks of
green, wandered around the room “I don’t know. I don’t
care.” She pressed a plump fist to her carefully made-up
cheek. “What happened?” Her voice was hollow.
“We’re not sure,” Judith temporized.
As usual, Renie was less tactful. “Somebody hit Leon
80 / Mary Daheim
on the back of the head with that soapstone carving. I’m
sorry, Andrea, but it looks like he was murdered, too.”
Andrea’s mouth fell open, her eyes bulged, and then she
began to hiccup. It was a struggle, but Judith managed to
raise her to a sitting position.
“Get some water,” she said to Renie.
Renie went off to the bathroom. Andrea’s wide shoulders
were heaving; the hiccups continued. Judith fought to keep
the other woman upright.
Renie, wearing a curious expression, returned with the
water. Andrea tried to drink, sputtered, hiccuped, and finally
choked. The hiccups stopped. “Lord have mercy,” she
whispered, and crossed herself.
The cousins automatically followed suit. “Was Leon a
Catholic?” Judith asked.
Andrea shook her head. The upswept silver hair had come
loose, and strands trailed down her back. “No. But I am.”
“So are we,” Judith replied, hoping the religious affinity
might somehow comfort Andrea. “Would you like to lie
Together, Judith and Renie got Andrea to her feet and
guided her to the nearest of the twin beds. The room was
almost identical to the one shared by the cousins, except that
the painting was of an alpine meadow, and the photograph
showed the completed lodge.
“What’s happening?” Andrea asked in a frantic voice as
Judith propped an extra pillow from the other twin bed behind her. “Could there be a serial killer loose in these
“I don’t know,” Judith replied in all honesty. “I think we’d
all better watch out for ourselves from now on.”
“Oh, my.” Andrea covered her face with her hands. “I can’t
believe this!” she wailed. “Who would kill a decent little man
like Leon? Or Barry, for that matter. It’s insane!”
Judith sat down on the other twin bed. “If you have an
idea—any idea at all—who’d want to harm them, you
SNOW PLACE TO DIE / 81
ought to say so. This situation is getting more than ugly.”
“But I don’t!” Andrea removed her hands, revealing a face
drained of color except for a touch of blush on each cheek.
“This isn’t the Mafia, this is the phone company!”
Neither Judith nor Renie responded immediately. Finally,
Renie spoke up. “The others have to be told. Are you up to
Andrea frowned, appeared to concentrate, then slumped
back against the pillows. “No. In fact, I’d like to be left
There was no choice. Judith and Renie went back into the
corridor. They had barely shut the door behind them when
Renie grabbed Judith by the arm. “Coz! That’s not Andrea’s
room! Didn’t you notice that there were no female-type items
anywhere? When I went into the bathroom, there was a
man’s shaving kit.” In her excitement, Renie’s voice had
started to rise. She quickly lowered her tone, and glanced
around to make sure no one had heard her. “There was also
a prescription for allergies,” she whispered. “It was made out
to Leon Mooney.”
Judith usually wasn’t so unobservant. But between the
shock of finding Leon’s body and trying to cope with Andrea,
she simply hadn’t noticed the absence of feminine articles.
“She was wearing makeup,” Judith said, then grimaced.
“You think she was having an affair with Leon? ”
“It’s possible. Men and women possess strange attractions
for each other that are sometimes hard for the rest of us to
fathom.” Renie pointed to the door where they’d gotten no
response. “I’ll bet that’s Andrea’s room. She was in his,
waiting for him. Maybe…” Renie paused and swallowed
hard. “Maybe he was bringing them both a piece of cake.”
“Is Andrea married or divorced?” Judith asked, still marveling at the thought of an amorous Leon Mooney.
“Married,” Renie responded, beginning to pace the corridor. “Her husband, Alan Roth, is an unemployed com- 82 / Mary Daheim
puter genius. You know the type.” Renie raised her eyebrows.
“I know the unemployed part, but the genius eludes me,”
Judith replied just as Ward Haugland poked his head out of
the door directly across from them.
“What’s going on out here?” he demanded, exhibiting
uncharacteristic testiness. “Some of us are trying to sleep.”
Renie, who disliked being snapped at under any circumstances, turned sharply. “Leon Mooney’s been murdered.
Pleasant dreams, Ward.”
“What?” Ward’s usual drawl was swallowed up in a single
Renie had turned her back on the executive vice president,
but perceiving what appeared to be both shock and horror
on his face, Judith took pity. “It’s true, Mr. Haugland. We
found his body in the kitchen about half an hour ago. Do
you think you could tell the others?”
There was no need. Doors were now opening on both
sides of the corridor. Margo, Max, Gene, Russell, Ava, Nadia,
and finally Frank Killegrew all peered out of their respective
Ward delivered the bad news, then waited for the cousins
to elaborate. This time, Renie deferred to Judith. “She saw
him first,” Renie declared in a slightly sulky voice.
Judith explained, briefly, if a bit haltingly. The circle of
faces ranged from a distraught Nadia Weiss to a stoic Gene
Jarman. Naturally, Frank Killegrew assumed command.
“Let’s go down to the lobby,” he said, his usually broad
shoulders slumped under a bright blue bathrobe. “Nadia,
call the police. Again.”
“It seems the phone lines are down,” Renie said, not
without a trace of satisfaction. “It’s too bad you don’t have
underground wiring up here.”
Killegrew scowled, then stepped into the elevator, along
with Ward, Gene, and Ava. The others waited. Apparently,
thought Judith, there was a pecking order even when it came
to elevator riding.
SNOW PLACE TO DIE / 83
“Why the hell would someone kill Leon Mooney?” Max
muttered. “That little guy wouldn’t step on a bug.”
“Mooney’s money,” Margo said softly. “That’s what we’ve
always called the comptroller’s shop, isn’t it? Maybe he was
juggling the books.”
“Not Leon,” Max responded. “What would be the point?
The man had no life outside of the job.”
“There’s nothing wrong with that,” Russell said, on the
defensive. “Some of us love our work. Usually.” He shot Max
a dark glance and rubbed the bump on his head.
Judith hadn’t mentioned anything about the weapon that
had presumably killed Leon. With a sidelong look at Max,
she wondered if he’d used it again, and for a more lethal
purpose. But anyone could have used the carving to deliver
a death blow. The last time Judith had seen the soapstone
Eskimo, it had been in the hands of Margo Chang.
The elevator returned; Russell, Margo, Max, and Nadia
got in. The cousins were left alone in the hallway.
“I guess we know where we fit into the scheme of things,”
Judith remarked. “Dead last.”
Renie elbowed Judith. “Don’t say things like that.”
Judith gave a nod. “Okay. I’ll stick to conjecture, guesswork, and speculation. I take it Leon wasn’t married?”
“I don’t think so,” Renie replied as the elevator doors slid
open. “Somewhere along the line I heard he lived with his
mother until she died a year or so ago.”
The doors were about to close when a frantic voice called
from down the hall. Judith quickly pressed the “open” button.
Andrea dashed inside, still in her robe, but with her hair
swept back up on top of her head.
“I heard all the commotion in the corridor,” she said in a
breathless voice. “I decided I’d better not miss out on what
was happening. Did anyone ask where I was?”
No one had, at least not as far as the cousins could recall.
Andrea looked relieved, then disappointed. Judith wondered
if being overlooked was worse than being chastised.
84 / Mary Daheim
“How are you feeling?” Renie asked as the car glided to
the first floor.
“I’ll survive,” Andrea replied, but her voice was listless.
The bar had been reopened in the lobby. Nadia, in fact,
was carrying more bottles in from the dining room.
“I won’t go in the kitchen,” she declared, looking mulish.
“You’ll have to reuse your glasses.”
“I’ll go in the kitchen,” Max volunteered. “I was in ’Nam.
Stiffs don’t scare me.” He stalked out of the lobby, his short
plaid robe flapping around his pajama-clad legs.
“I was in Korea,” Killegrew said in a troubled voice, “but
I don’t think I want to see poor Leon.” He made a faint gesture in the direction of the kitchen. “The only thing is, we
can’t leave him there. We have to eat.”
But Gene Jarman shook his head. “We can’t move the
body. We have to wait for the authorities.” He turned to Judith and Renie, who had managed to squeeze onto one of
the sofas next to Ava. “You didn’t touch anything, did you?”
“Only the light switch,” Judith said.
Ward leaned forward from his place on one of the other
sofas that ringed the big coffee table. “Did you say you knew
the chief of police?”
“Ah…” Judith hesitated. “Not personally.” It was more or
less true. Judith had met the chief at various departmental
functions, but she doubted that he would recall to whom
she was attached.
“See here,” Killegrew said, ignoring both Ward’s question
and Judith’s response, “we can’t have a dead body underfoot,
Gene. I don’t care what the rules and regulations are. We’ve
got to keep this ship afloat.”
“Frank,” Gene began, “we can’t take the law into our
“The law!” Killegrew made a dismissive gesture. “This is
jungle law around here! Some maniac is on the loose, we
can’t get through to the authorities—though I’m sure that
this is only a temporary lapse and service will be re- SNOW PLACE TO DIE / 85
stored promptly—and there’s no way out until the storm
breaks. I’m perfectly willing to take responsibility.”
“I’d like that in writing,” Gene murmured.
“What I propose,” Killegrew continued, “is that we move
poor old Leon down to the basement. There’s a safe behind
the desk here in the lobby. We’ll lock up the so-called
weapon in there. I’ll do it myself, you can watch me. Then
we can restore some semblance of order to this retreat.”
“Oh, Frank!” It was Andrea, bursting into tears. “How can
you? This isn’t normal! This is horrible!”
“Now, now,” urged Killegrew, coming over to pat Andrea’s
heaving shoulders, “there’s no point in going to pieces. The
telecommunications industry has gone through more terrible
times than this—the great blizzard of 1888, the Johnstown
flood, the San Francisco earthquake and fire, the Depression,
a bunch of wars, strikes, antitrust suits, Judge Harold Greene,
and the breakup of the Bell System. It’s just that what’s
happened to us here hits close to home. But bear up, the
train’s still on track. We have to show our mettle. After all,
The rallying cry did not go unheeded. “Here, here!” Ward
Haugland shouted, clapping his hands. “You’re darned
tootin’, Frank. What happened to Barry and now what’s
happened to Leon is pretty danged bad, but let’s face it,
we’ve got a business to run.” Somewhat clumsily, Ward got
to his feet. “Come on, Gene, let’s get Leon out of the way.”
OTIOSE’s corporate counsel held up both hands. “Sorry,
Ward. I won’t be a party to this. It’s not legal.”
Exasperated, Ward turned to Russell. “How about you?”
Russell grimaced. “It’s not that I don’t want to help, but
I’m rather…squeamish. I’d rather remember Leon as he was.”
“He was one pretty darned homely little bugger, if you ask
me,” Ward muttered. “I don’t reckon that being dead has
made him look much worse.”
86 / Mary Daheim
Andrea’s sobs grew louder. “I can’t bear it! Shut up, Ward!
I hate you!”
“Oh, for Pete’s sake!” Ward threw up his hands. “I’ll get
Max. He won’t weasel out on me.”
Reluctantly, Gene got to his feet. “I’ll get the weapon. I’ll
wrap it in a towel.”
Killegrew’s expression was uneasy as he watched his
second-in-command and his legal counsel depart. “Did anybody bring a laptop?” he asked.
Margo sneered. “You told us to leave everything at the office except our fertile brains. No distractions, remember?”
“Yes, well…hmm.” Killegrew fingered his jutting chin.
“Maybe that was a mistake. In retrospect, of course. We
might have faxed somebody for help.”
“Using what?” put in Ava. “If the phone lines are down,
so are the fax lines. In case you’ve forgotten, Frank, they use
the same wire.”
“Of course I haven’t forgotten,” Killegrew snapped, though
his face turned red. “I just thought that with all your gee-whiz
expertise, there might be another way.” He glared at Ava.
She gave the CEO an arch little smile. “I’m afraid not.
We’re helpless. We might as well be living in the nineteenth
Killegrew turned to Margo. “I hope you’re coming up with
some ideas about how to keep this from the media. I don’t
want a scandal. OTIOSE can’t afford bad press right now.”
“It’s a murder case,” Margo said. “Two murders. There’ll
be an investigation. You can’t hush that up.”
“You damned well better try,” Killegrew growled. “It’s your
job.” It wasn’t just a reminder; it sounded to Judith more like
Andrea’s sobs had finally subsided. She raised a haggard
face and spoke in a surprisingly strong voice. “We’ve got
another, more important job, if you ask me. In case it
SNOW PLACE TO DIE / 87
slipped everybody’s mind, I’m vice president-human resources. We’ve lost two of those human resources, in a most
inhumane manner. I want something done about it, and I
want to start now.”
The motherly velvet glove had been thrown down; the
plump iron fist was shaking at Frank Killegrew. He drew
back, looking unsettled.
“Now, now, Andrea, I don’t see what we can do.” Killegrew’s glance of appeal fell on Gene Jarman, who had returned from the kitchen and was cradling a towel that contained the freezer bag with the soapstone carving. “What’s
your considered opinion, counselor?”
“For now, I want somebody to open the safe. I don’t much
like holding on to evidence like this,” Gene replied.
Killegrew went behind the registration desk. The safe was
in a recessed area below the room slots. “Damn,” he
muttered. “It’s locked. We don’t know the combination.”
Judith felt herself wince. In years gone by, she had become
adept at figuring out combination locks. It had begun with
necessity, when Dan McMonigle would hide his occasional
earnings as a bartender and leave Judith holding the bag for
the household bills. Later, the knack had served her well
when on the sleuthing trail. She preferred not revealing how
she’d acquired her skills. Fortunately, no one asked.
The combination proved remarkably simple. Judith wrote
it down on a piece of lodge stationery and passed it around
to the others. There was safety in numbers, she decided.
With a scowl, Gene handed the towel and the carving over
to Killegrew, who put the items inside the safe after only a
brief, awkward juggling act. “There we go,” he said, dusting
off his hands as if he’d accomplished a feat of derring-do.
“Lock it up.”
Judith complied. The group reassembled around the
hearth. Killegrew again turned to Gene Jarman. “That’s that.
Safe as houses. Now let’s hear your words of wisdom on
what we do next.”
88 / Mary Daheim
Gene sat back on the sofa, his brown eyes lifted to the
rafters. “I’ll have to think this over,” he said after a long
“We don’t have time for that,” Killegrew retorted. “Come
on, Gene, for once, forget about all that due caution and
deliberate care bunk.”
Gene uttered a heavy sigh. “We can do one of two things.
We can all keep our mouths shut and not discuss what’s
happened today. That’s what I’d advise. Or,” he went on,
with a sardonic look for Killegrew, “we can start asking each