Spirit Bear - Delta James

Present Day

Nora’s cell phone rang just as she cleared Customs at the Baltimore/Washington International airport. Recognizing the number, she picked up.

“Charlotte?” She and Charlotte had roomed together when they attended the Columbia School of Journalism in New York.

“Nora. Thank God. Where are you? Where have you been?”

“I just landed at BWI. My flight to Chicago doesn’t leave for a couple of hours. What’s up? Are you okay?”

“No. Remember my friend Jack?”

“The conspiracy quack?”

“Maybe not as much as I thought. Jack’s dead, Nora. I think they killed him.”

“What? Char, I’m beat. I know I missed your birthday, but don’t give me a raft of shit about it. I’ll make it up to you. Tell you what… let’s meet in San Francisco for a girls’ weekend… my treat, but let me go home and crash.”

“Nora, this is no joke. Jack called me a couple days ago and said he was following a story that was going to change everything we think we know about evolution.”

“Char, Jack always thinks he’s chasing the story to end all stories. How much did he need from you this time for his ‘secret informant?’” She loved her dearly, but Char had to stop giving Jack money.

“No! You don’t understand. This time, I think he was on to something. He was worried they were going to kill him, and now he’s dead.”

“Oh, Char, I’m so sorry. How did he die?”

“They killed him. They made it look like an accidental death in the shower, that he slipped and hit his head, but that isn’t true.”

“You don’t know that. Household accidents kill more people than we’d like to think.”

“I know that. So did Jack, and he was paranoid. Turns out he was right to be. He’d set up a hidden camera, which sent the footage to me. Nora, I’m in Vancouver, and I’m scared.”

“Canada? Call the Mounties.”

“It’s not funny, Nora. They killed him, and I think they’re after me. I don’t know how far the conspiracy goes. For all I know, they have people in the Mounties. You have to come. Promise me you’ll come.”

“You’re serious. Okay, I’ll change my flight and be there as soon as I can. Go hole up in a nice hotel, with great room service.”

“Thanks. I’ll text you my location when I find a place.”

“Get some rest, Char. You sound pretty strung out. I’m on my way.”

Nora got to Vancouver fourteen hours later. Char had texted her the information on her hotel, including the room number. Nora slipped into the hotel and went up the elevator to her friend’s room. She knocked on the door and was greeted by none other than a member of the RCMP. Nora rolled her eyes and pushed past the guy.

“Not funny, Char. So not funny. I flew fourteen fucking hours…”

The room was empty.

“Excuse me, miss. I’m Constable Stabler with the RCMP. Are you acquainted with Ms. Williams?”

“You’re for real?” Nora asked, feeling the hairs on the back of her neck prickle under her long, dark hair.

“Yes, miss. Impersonating a member of the RCMP is a crime. I wonder if you could come down to the morgue to identify Ms. Williams.”

“Identify? Char is dead? How?”

“It’s being classified as an accidental death at this time.”

Two accidental deaths of two reporters, following the same story, in less than a week? That was too coincidental for her.

“What kind of accident? Something here in her room?”

“No, ma’am. It appears she took a misstep when she was hiking and fell down a ravine.”

Char hiking? Not likely in her Louboutin’s. Nora had never seen her in anything other than stilettos or platform and bejeweled flip-flops. She rather doubted Char even knew how to tie a shoelace, much less lace up a pair of hiking boots.

“Would you mind? Do you know if Ms. Williams had any next of kin, Ms. Bishop?” the Mountie asked.

Nora schooled her face to show no emotion.

“No, she didn’t have anyone, and yes, I’ll be happy to help. Let me get my things and check-in. Can I meet you in, say, an hour?”

“That would be fine, ma’am.”

She and the Mountie rode down the elevator together, then he tipped his hat as she walked toward the front desk to check-in. It was all she could do not to run. First, Char thought she was in danger. Second, the mysterious way Char had died. And last, Nora had never told the Mountie her name. There was a line waiting to check-in. She placed her Navajo blanket weekender on the ground, asking the person in front of