About the Author

J.E. Barnard

J.E. Barnard is an award-winning author, public speaker, and Steampunk enthusiast. Her first Steampunk novella, Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond, was a 2016 Prix Aurora finalist. When the Flood Falls won the Unhanged Arthur Ellis Award in 2016. She was also a finalist for the Unhanged Arthur Ellis Award and the CWA Debut Dagger for When the Bow Breaks. She lives in Calgary.

Books by this Author
When the Flood Falls

When the Flood Falls

The Falls Mysteries
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
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Excerpt

The glass wall gazed blank-eyed over the clearing, each of its nine panes backed by thick, pale drapes. No woodcutter’s shack here, but a huge, glossy house built of stripped and varnished logs, each as wide as Lacey’s waist. The porch pillars were sanded tree trunks and in the arched front door was carved a relief of saplings. More show home than family home, more Neil’s flavour than Dee’s. Why had Dee kept it in the divorce?
Spruces ringed the glade, their roots lost in tangled undergrowth, while before the house, all was austere. Red rock shards filled zigzag beds punctuated by spiky shrubs, their jagged edges scraping on Lacey as she gave the doorbell a final push. Dee had coaxed her for weeks, leaning on the good old university days and shared misadventures in her daily texts and voice mails, to set up this reunion supper, and now she, not Lacey, was late. Six years of separation due to careers and spouses was supposed to finally end, but Dee wasn’t home.
As the last echo of the last chime died, Lacey retreated from the stone-paved patio to her shabby Civic to lean on the fender and contemplate her options. Th ey amounted to two: leave now, or wait until Dee either showed up or replied to her messages.
Five minutes. She would give Dee that much. She glanced at her watch to mark the time, crossed her arms, and settled into the alert idleness learned through years of conducting stakeouts on the Force. Catalogue every detail. Th at was how you knew when something had changed. Th e fl utter of a drape might indicate someone hiding inside, or that a rear window had been opened for a stealthy escape, sending a draft through the rooms. A barely registered movement beyond a hedge could signify someone sneaking out, or in. A man in a mail uniform wasn’t always delivering letters and fl yers. Not that these scattered acreages along the hillside would have home delivery. On the edge of wilderness, an hour from Calgary, at the feet of the Rocky Mountains, a mailman would stick out like a neon Popsicle on an igloo.
As she leaned there in the still glade, the forest rustled toward her from all sides. Tiny sounds — leaves or birds or little rodent feet going their secret ways through last year’s leaves — whispered isolation. She might be alone on the hillside, save for the sharp corner of a roofl ine higher up. She should be on her way back to Calgary and supper, although it would mean crossing that lone bridge over the rushing brown river again.
Locals expected the last of the snowpack to surge through sometime next week. Until then the river would keep rising, bringing down whole trees and threatening the bridge. Blinding, turbulent water, Lacey’s worst nightmare, and right under the windows of her new jobsite, the not-quite-fi nished Bragg Creek Arts Centre and Foothills History Museum. Lacey knew even less about art and history than she did about security-camera wiring, but being Wayne’s gopher brought in some pay and kept her most desperate worries at bay, at least during working hours. She couldn’t ask more than that of her new life. Not yet. Was that shushing sound the river tumbling over its banks, or just the breeze through the spruce tops? Where was Dee?
Only three minutes had passed. Th e emptiness was getting to her. Too much open space after a decade in the overpopulated Lower Mainland, where even the wilderness trails were rarely empty. It was a two-minute drive down the hill into Bragg Creek. She could grab a burger at the bar, the only eatery that wouldn’t look askance at her dusty jeans, workboots, and faded T-shirt. Okay, two more minutes and then she was going. She scanned the front of the house again.
Still, no drapes fl uttered, but this time she recognized something odd she’d overlooked in her annoyance. Dee loved the sun and the wide-open sky, fi r trees piercing the blue, birds fl uttering past her windows. Loved to watch deer wander through the yard to nibble on anything she planted. She had gushed about all that to Lacey when she’d fi rst moved out here, six, maybe seven years ago. Th at explained the spiky shrubs, anyway. Not deer food. Why, now, were all the windows shrouded in heavy drapes on a celestially sunny day, when small birds were squabbling around a seed tray suspended from the porch overhang? All these Dee loved, and yet she had blocked them out.
Lacey straightened up, surveying the house with the keen ex-cop’s eyes she hadn’t fully brought to bear earlier. No visible windows were open, but that could mean air conditioning. No drapes had been disturbed since her last scan. If the back of the house wasn’t as closed in, maybe Dee was merely protecting expensive upholstery from sun damage. Circling the house would fi ll in the two minutes nicely. A single glance inside could ease the half-formed worry that her old friend might be lying injured inside, victim of an accident or worse. Times beyond count as a constable, she had undertaken welfare checks on strangers, saved a few, and found some past saving. She could not let this one pass her by.
Returning to the carved front door, she turned left past the vast windows and around a massive fi eldstone chimney stack. Each window she saw was securely locked and swathed. French doors on the rear terrace had their blinds turned down too tight to see anything at all between the slats. Impossible to guess which rooms lay beyond which windows. She’d seen grow ops less carefully cloistered.
A plank deck connected the terrace and the front patio to a triple-car garage. A high post-and-beam pergola supported a riot of blossoms in hanging baskets well above the reach of a deer’s teeth. Garage doors: all locked. No sign of forced entry anywhere, no signals of distress. Just an unfriendly house devoid of its current resident.
She skirted the sage-green deck furniture and looked again over the rear yard. Th e spruce circle was wider here, leaving space for a tended lawn and opening a gap where a woodland path ran up to a wider trail. A wire-fenced dog run attached to the garage was deserted, but the stainless steel water bowl was half full. Maybe Dee had simply taken a dog for a walk. She’d always had a dog. Young Duke, a honey-haired Labrador, had hiked the Algonquin Trail with them when he was a gambolling pup, barely knee high. He’d be old now, and slow. Maybe it was a slow walk, and this search and speculation were only the old habits of a cop’s brain that had not quite retired six weeks ago, when Lacey’s resignation letter landed on her staff sergeant’s desk. Th e RCMP had been her life for most of a decade, and now it wasn’t. Her head needed time to adjust to civilian life, to stop seeing criminals behind every closed curtain. Dee had simply gone for a walk and lost track of time.
Blue sky refl ected on glass in the garage’s rear wall: a window inside the dog run, above Lacey’s head. Impossible to tell from here whether it was covered or not, but she bet not. Dee’s vehicle was probably parked in there right now, supporting the walk theory. Finding out would fi ll in another minute or two. She jiggered an oblong patio table, one end at a time, down the wide plank steps and into the dog run. When it was fi rmly in position against the garage wall, she scrambled up and peered in. What would Dee think if she came home to fi nd her old friend perched on a patio table, peeking into her garage?
Whatever Lacey had subconsciously hoped or feared, the garage held no answers. A second small window high up in the end wall cast enough light to show her a gold Lexus SUV and a rack holding two bright plastic kayaks. Th e third space was empty now of whatever Dee’s recently divorced skunk had driven. Did that SUV mean she had gone for a walk, or did she have a second vehicle that she now parked in Neil’s spot? Had she gone away with someone else? Why wasn’t she calling back or replying to texts?
As Lacey turned back to the house, to the deep shade of the front patio, she blinked. Just for a second, she had fl ashed back to coming home to her old house in Langley, checking that all the drapes were shut tight the way she had left them, and scanning the street for Dan’s car before she risked opening the door. She knew all too well what she’d been afraid of then. Was Dee afraid of her ex-husband, too? In the warm afternoon sunshine, Lacey shivered.

 

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Where the Ice Falls

Where the Ice Falls

The Falls Mysteries
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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Excerpt

Chapter One

Just before dawn the blizzard let up, leaving the wilderness shrouded in white, the roads snowdrifted, and the oil derricks iced over. Far out on the shoulders of the Rockies, the scattered chalets at Black Rock Bowl were hidden under the blanket of snow. No sign of life disturbed the stillness, save a lone spire of chimney smoke rising up into the lightening sky. As the sun rose, revealing this new white world, it kissed the roof of the shed, slowly melting the snow, the water dripping down to form ever-lengthening icicles.

Six more days of melting and freezing followed before the plow from Waiparous Village reached the deserted resort. It rumbled around the Black Rock Loop from the northern end, its operator keeping an eye out for a red Toyota Camry reported missing on the first day of the storm.

Day by day and week by week, the sun added more icicles to its artwork, until the front of the shed resembled a waterfall frozen mid-tumble. The diamond clarity of the ice reflected the surrounding snow, sky, and forest. November ended. December began. The icefall thickened.

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Why the Rock Falls

Why the Rock Falls

The Falls Mysteries
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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Excerpt

Chapter One

The helicopter’s blades shredded the hot August afternoon, their every thwap vibrating up through Lacey McCrae’s workboots. Fed up with gazing down on the barren dust of clear-cuts and oil wells, she looked the other way, into the green cirque of Black Rock Bowl, at deserted ski chalets half hidden amid fluttering aspens. The ski slopes lay golden in the sun, their late-summer grasses split by peninsulas of pine and spruce. The chopper swung away, around the mountain. Immense limestone walls closed in, their jagged grey faces ripped by white granite veins. Ominously close, it seemed to her. Jake Wyman, in the co-pilot seat, sat calmly as the rocky valley narrowed. He’d have been this way lots of times, visiting his well sites out in the Ghost Wilderness. Today was Lacey’s first ride-along. After a day baking in the boulder-strewn wilds, she longed for nothing more than cool water and dust-free clothing. At each site, she’d tested cameras and motion-sensor lights, replaced one solar panel — and hadn’t mentioned aloud the irony that oil companies used renewable energy to power their equipment. There’d been no sign of the vandalism her boss told her to watch for; only normal wear and tear from exposure to harsh mountain winters and the scouring winds of summer. She opened her phone and added no sabotage to the report. The sooner she emailed the document to Wayne, along with her time sheet, the sooner she could stop the clock and jump into a shower. The chopper flew straight at a vast, sheer cliff, like a hummingbird about to splat on a picture window. She’d almost compared it to a mosquito, but that label belonged to the neon splash that was surely a mountain climber clinging to bare rock a hundred metres from anywhere. Soon she made out tanned limbs splayed against the grey cliff and traced the rope that anchored the climber from above. The helicopter hovered at a distance as the climber edged across the rock face. The pilot’s voice came through her headphones.“Up or down, sir?”Jake’s thumb went up. The machine followed. Soon the cliff-top lay below them. Two more brightly clad climbers sat in the sun while another guided the rope that dangled over the edge. As the helicopter settled on a flat spot well back from the valley, one of the sitters pulled off a helmet, revealing short auburn hair. Jake said, “That’s her.”The woman jogged to the chopper and scrambled in. Clearly an experienced passenger, she clipped herself into her seat and put on her headphones before speaking. “Thank you, darling. You have my luggage, too?”Jake nodded. The helicopter lifted off. The new passenger turned dark glasses on Lacey’s workboots and sweat-stained T-shirt and as promptly looked away, chatting to Jake about her last climb, a 5.11b — whatever that meant — and her son Earl, the one still climbing. “He’s head of our Denver office now,” she said. “A far stronger leader than any of his brothers, although they won’t admit it. Bart fills his desk chair when he remembers, and Ben is still rebelling against his father by protesting the company in ridiculous ways. He’s been arrested more times than I can remember.”Nobody Lacey knew. She tuned out and watched the scenery unroll below: the Bow River, braided turquoise and blue; the navy depths of Ghost Lake, where boats darted around like water bugs; a dusty sage pasture dotted with black Angus cattle; the Trans-Canada Highway slicing the rolling prairie from Calgary to the mountains. The chopper picked up the greeny-grey Elbow River and followed it to Jake’s estate overlooking Bragg Creek. After a gentle landing on the gravel helicopter pad, everyone except the pilot piled out. A young man in a green staff polo shirt brought a golf cart for the baggage and passengers. Jake offered a hand to the red-haired woman. “I’ll have a car for you in five minutes, Giselle.”“Make it twenty and give me a drink first,” said the redhead. She linked her arm through his and told the driver to take them to the house. Left behind, Lacey strolled toward the main swimming pool at the west end of the sprawling ranch house. The breeze cut off when she stepped inside the high walls. The pool was an oasis of luxury, with a waterfall tumbling down a fieldstone chute, a huge hot tub, a swim-up bar, and floating devices that ranged from inflatable alligators to lounge chairs complete with drink holders and waterproof phone docks. After her dusty afternoon a swim would be heaven, but today she was technically staff — well, Wayne’s staff, but he worked for Jake — and her privileges did not extend to this area. Reluctantly, she opened one of the glass doors beyond the bar and followed the dim corridor to the airless, windowless security office. The good news for Wayne would be the lack of vandalism. Drunken off-roaders sometimes broke stuff for fun, and hunters occasionally shot up equipment, but there’d been no sign of those today. No radical environmentalists, either. She wasn’t sure how real that last problem was, but every oilman she knew was convinced eco-sabotage was a real threat. They told each other stories of the lunatic up north who’d waged a years-long campaign of pipeline damage before being caught. There hadn’t been wide-scale sabotage elsewhere, but the oilmen’s concern ran deep. An undetected pipeline blowout could poison a wilderness watershed and hand anti- pipeline activists a potent public relations weapon. Still, if oilmen weren’t worried about eco-saboteurs, Wayne wouldn’t have half his clients, and she wouldn’t have the job of maintaining his on-site security equipment. She finished the report, hit Send, and stretched. Day’s work done and still time to do a few laps in the swim machine on the lowest level before Dee arrived for her workout. One small perk of her grey-zone existence between staffer and neighbour was Jake’s willingness for her and Dee to use the workout space he’d built for his frequent hockey guests. He’d only offered because he still felt guilty about last summer’s mess. Even though he’d played no intentional role in Dee’s near-fatal attack, he had deviated from his own code and inadvertently exposed her to it. Access to his fully equipped workout area up the road from Dee’s made him feel better and her rehab a lot more convenient. Returning to the sunny pool, Lacey strolled past chaises with their striped cushions and headed down the cliff stairs to the terraces below. Halfway to the lowest one, she realized its glass wall was drawn back, opening the workout area to the lovely afternoon. The swim machine’s hum warned her someone was there already. Dee wasn’t supposed to swim without supervision, in case her weakened leg gave out. Lacey hurried. The swimmer was a stranger. Pinned against the back wall by the current, her thin arms scrabbling at the small pool’s rim, she dipped beneath the surface. Lacey dashed across the paving and knelt to grab one bony forearm. She pulled up until the woman’s face cleared the water. “I’ve got you. Take a few breaths.” The woman was skeletally thin, light enough to hold like this indefinitely, but already too exhausted to help herself. Lacey adjusted her grip. “If I get you to the ladder and give you a hand, can you climb out?”“I—”The woman coughed. “I think so.”After a few minutes’ crawl to the ladder, and a few more while the woman rested up, Lacey finally got her out of the pool. The dark blue one-piece huddled on the tiles as water drained from the thin brown hair. The spidery limbs seemed uninjured, and the woman was breathing, although heavily. She coughed again. “How are you feeling?”“I’m fine, really. Had the current set too high.” After a moment the woman added, “Can you help me up?” Lacey led her to a chaise and wrapped her in the terrycloth bathrobe spread across it. She lay there, wan and trembling, but when Lacey moved toward the house phone, one shaking hand came up. “Please. Don’t tell. They’ll worry.”“You should get checked out by a doctor. You’re very weak.”“I’ll be okay.” The woman lay there, eyes closed, until the elevator chimed. Then, surprising Lacey, she scrambled up and pushed into the elevator as Dee exited. In a moment, she was gone.

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