Avalanches are deadly, but high in the Rocky Mountains, something more sinister awaits...
Private investigator Katerina Carter and boyfriend Jace Burton embark on a cozy weekend getaway just before Christmas at a luxury mountaintop lodge. While he writes the biography of a billionaire environmentalist, she explores the snowy wilderness.
Then two local environmental protesters die under mysterious circumstances. Kat and Jace race to uncover the truth only to face even deadlier disaster. The mountains take no prisoners.
Neither does the killer.
In the remote mountaintops of the Rockies, everyone looks out for each other. Except for cold-blooded killers, that is. And the killer is creeping closer and closer. Someone doesn’t want this case solved. And they’ll do anything to stop Kat from finding the truth.
If you like intriguing mystery thrillers liberally spiked with spine-tingling suspense, you’ll love Greenwash, a heart-stopping adventure!
This edge-of your-seat whodunnit mystery thriller has a killer twist - one you won't see coming!
What reviewers are saying about Greenwash:
‘OMG!! I started reading and was hooked! What an amazing book! I was hooked from the first chapter and held bound and captive till the end … this book is awesome, and, I think, the author's best to date!!’
‘WOW Colleen Cross has only gone and done it again… it's one of those books you can't bear to put down, as each chapter ends you just "have to read one more" and before you know it it's the middle of the night!... I can and will wholeheartedly recommend Greenwash for anyone looking for a thought-provoking crime story but with all the hallmarks of a truly thrilling tale.’
‘Surprise twist and an ending I never expected … this is one hell of a read.’
‘Utterly addictive … a book you really need to finish before bedtime, otherwise you will be up all night hooked by this amazing thriller!’
‘When all was revealed, I was totally gut punched… a timely book and one that I feel will stay with me for quite some time.’
'This book is all consuming, there is no let up… every twist and turn is designed to make you gasp, to make your head spin and your heart beat out of your chest. Get it!’
‘Brilliantly plotted, incredibly captivating, and definitely a must-read!... Colleen Cross is like a breath of fresh air. She creates characters we can't get enough of and twisty, complex stories that suck you in…She truly writes with great depth and heart, and leaves you, as a reader, surprised, highly entertained, and extremely satisfied.’
Release date: March 2, 2021
Publisher: Slice Publishing
Print pages: 260
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Listen to a sample
Katerina Carter glanced over at her boyfriend, Jace Burton. He ran his hand absently through his dark curly hair, head bowed, as he concentrated on his notes.
Dennis Batchelor had sent his private airplane to Vancouver to collect them. The billionaire environmentalist had handpicked journalist Jace to write his biography. He had insisted on meeting him at his remote mountain lodge in Southeastern British Columbia’s Selkirk Mountains.
Neither Kat nor Jace had flown on a private plane before. Kat couldn’t take her eyes off the view as the twin engine Cessna gained altitude and left Vancouver’s glass and concrete cityscape behind. Jace, on the other hand, remained completely oblivious to their luxurious surroundings. They were the only passengers on board.
The plane’s cavernous interior was opulent compared to a commercial airplane. Kat stretched her legs out and was surprised they didn’t hit the seat in front of her. In fact, there wasn’t a seat in front of her. The plush furniture was more like something you’d see in an executive office or a living room than a typical airplane interior. The cabin furnishings included a rectangular oak table and chairs, similar to a pared-down boardroom. Kat and Jace sat in two of the half dozen reclining leather armchairs with a table between them. It sure beat flying economy.
Kat looked forward to the weekend adventure. She was between cases in her forensic accounting and fraud investigation practice and business had slowed with Christmas approaching. She couldn’t wait for her mini vacation in the mountains. With just two weeks before Christmas, she was getting in the festive spirit.
In less than two hours they would be Batchelor’s guests at his wintry mountaintop lodge. The time of year, coupled with the remoteness of Batchelor’s mountain lodge, made air the only feasible mode of transport. She was along for the ride—and the weekend.
The area had an interesting history and she looked forward to exploring it. They would land in Sinclair Junction, the only town of any size near Batchelor’s lodge. It was founded on a gold strike and prospered when the railway extended west. But it had fallen on a century of hard times until its recent resurrection as the informal marijuana grow op capital of Canada. It was an odd locale for the billionaire to establish his home.
Maybe it wasn’t as strange as it seemed. The environmentalist and founder of Earthstream Technologies had made his fortune from being green.
None of this had even been on the radar until Batchelor called Jace out of the blue to write his biography. It was an offer he couldn’t refuse. Not only for the six-figure paycheck, but also the exposure he would get as Batchelor’s biographer.
Writing a biography memoir was a far cry from Jace’s freelance journalism work at The Sentinel. But it was still writing, and diversification was a good thing considering the declining state of the newspaper industry. Writing a billionaire’s biography paid well, and it just might help Jace transition his writing talents into a new career.
Only twenty minutes into their flight from Vancouver and they had already left the Coast Mountains behind. The sky was clear and below was a vast expanse of forest broken only by blue lake water that glistened like a jewel in the bright winter sunshine. Ahead loomed the snow-covered peaks of the rugged Selkirk and Purcell mountain ranges, and beyond that, the Rocky Mountains. Once they landed in Sinclair Junction they would be met by a driver to take them into the mountains and to Dennis Batchelor’s lodge.
The environmentalist had parlayed his environmental activism into a billion dollar business. He put his money where his mouth was with environmental consulting, solar and wind energy companies, and generally “investing in green”, as he liked to refer to it.
“What will I do with myself, Jace?” All weekend with nothing to do, a huge change from her normal 24/7 work practices. As the sole employee of her burgeoning forensic accounting and fraud investigation practice, she was unaccustomed to downtime. “I should have brought some work.”
Jace shook his head. “This is your perfect opportunity to relax. While I’m working you can kick back and have fun for a change.”
“I plan to, but I’m not sure I can do it for an entire weekend.” She patted her duffel bag as a measure of security. Inside were guides and maps of the area. She could snowshoe or hike, depending on the amount of snow on the ground. She had also packed a half dozen mystery novels in case she was stranded indoors. The one thing she had a hard time with was doing nothing at all.
“It’s not that hard once you get used to it. Think of this as your intervention. For once the tables are turned. I’ll be working all weekend.” Jace would complete a first draft for Batchelor’s review and approval by their departure on Sunday, then finalize the book once they returned to Vancouver.
Nothing wrong with leisure time, Kat decided. She just wasn’t used to it. At any rate, she had brought her laptop as a backup plan in case any issues arose at the office.
A severe winter storm had blasted the area the last few days, so their travel plans had been up in the air until this morning, when the weather had temporarily lifted. “I hope we don’t get snowed in,” Kat said. “I have a client meeting at the office first thing Monday morning.”
“I’m sure the weather will hold.” Jace looked up from his notepad. He was an avid outdoorsman and search and rescue volunteer. He practically idolized Batchelor for his environmental work. “I still can’t believe he chose me of all people to write his biography. He could have hired anyone.”
“He didn’t choose just anyone.” She placed her hand on top of his. “He chose you.”
“I’m kind of nervous. What if I screw up?” Jace’s usual self-confidence was absent because he was so in awe of Batchelor.
Kat squeezed his hand. “Don’t be ridiculous. You’ve been writing for The Sentinel for more than ten years. He chose you because you’re a great writer.”
“I’ve never written an entire book before, let alone an autobiography for a famous billionaire.”
“You can do it. It could open up new opportunities for you.”
“I know.” Jace sighed. “Somehow I thought my first book wouldn’t be a biography. I thought it would be an action novel or something.”
“Doesn’t matter. You know how to write, and Batchelor trusts you. Your outdoor experience gives you both a lot of common ground.” In addition to being a search and rescue volunteer, Jace was an avid hiker and skier. If it involved the outdoors, it involved Jace. Both men loved the outdoors and respected the environment.
“I hope you won’t be bored by yourself, since I’ll be busy day and night with this guy. I’ve got to complete a first draft by the end of the weekend. What will you do with yourself?”
Kat laughed. “I’ll think of something.” Although it would be nice to just relax for a change, maybe she could lend a hand. Jace often helped with her fraud investigation cases; maybe she could return the favor. “I’m sure we’ll catch a few stolen moments.”
“Can’t promise anything. You know how these tycoon types are. I have a hunch I’ll be with him every waking hour.”
“That’s okay. I can always go into town and explore.”
Kat eyed Jace’s notes. “Is anything in his biography off limits? I’ll bet he has some secrets to tell.”
“I wouldn’t have accepted the job if it was.” Jace stretched out his long legs. “Or put my name on it. A bit of controversy is a good thing. That’s the kind of stuff people want to read about.”
“It makes it objective and balanced. If that’s the case, you’ll do just fine.” Dennis Batchelor was revered for his environmental work but had plenty of enemies with his no-holds-barred approach. Some accused him of self-interest, putting his personal goals ahead of his environmental causes with media-grabbing tactics. But that same ruthlessness separated the billionaires and the also-rans.
Kat scanned the lavish cabin. The plane had less than half the number of seats as a commercial plane and the atmosphere was much more informal. No security and boarding line-ups, no crammed luggage in the overhead bins and no unruly passengers. It was the first, and probably the last, time she had flown in a private airplane.
They had snacked on smoked salmon, bruschetta and exotic cheeses, washed down with sparkling mineral water. She could definitely get used to this rock star treatment. But she’d better not, because the flight was only an hour long. She was acutely aware that this was likely the only time she would experience such luxury. It was a far cry from the cramped, bring your own food economy flights she was accustomed to.
Batchelor had founded GreenThink, the environmental lobby group famous for its stance against clear-cut logging, fish farms, and pretty much anything that combined big business with nature. Since its inception thirty years ago, it had lobbied governments and inspired environmental protection and conservation.
In an ironic twist, the tenacious environmental crusader had himself become the face of big business. Earthstream Technologies, his own wildly successful company, had sprung out of his environmental work and launched his multi-billion dollar business empire. Earthstream’s patented decontamination technology remediated contaminated sites at a fraction of the time and cost of competitor’s products.
Earthstream’s motto of ‘Green Makes Good’ was true in more ways than one. Batchelor’s companies employed technologies that improved or conserved the environment. In addition to environmental remediation and clean up, the company had developed a patented technology that dissolved toxins without harsh chemicals. Earthstream was a textbook case of how doing good could also be profitable.
Kat jolted in her seat as the Cessna hit a pocket of turbulence. She glanced out the window to see that the once bright and cloudless sky had darkened with cumulus clouds.
The Cessna began its descent. It broke through the clouds, exposing steep snow-capped mountains and the vivid turquoise blue of a glacier-fed lake nestled in a large rift valley. The plane circled the water before touching down on the lakeside airstrip.
They stepped off the plane to blinding sunlight and a cold breeze that blew in off the lake. Snow dusted the surrounding hillside. Kat shivered in her heavy down jacket as she contemplated the next leg of their journey to Batchelor’s mountaintop lodge.
They were greeted by a tall, bearded man in his late thirties. He held out his hand and smiled. “Ranger. I’ll be taking you to the lodge.”
Kat wondered whether that was his first or last name but never got the chance to ask. Within seconds he and Jace were engrossed in animated discussion about ski equipment.
She glanced around the tarmac and noted little activity at the small airport. Theirs was the only flight, though a half dozen other planes were parked in or outside their hangars. Aside from Ranger’s Land Cruiser, there were no other vehicles around to meet the flights.
She knew the town had fallen on hard times but had expected more signs of life. She slung her pack over her shoulder and followed Ranger and Jace off the tarmac towards the truck.
Soon they were headed up a steep road to the main part of town. She stole glimpses of the historic downtown as they passed through and was already enamoured with the late nineteenth-century stone and brick buildings. A gold and silver boom had erupted a hundred years ago, followed by mere decades as a railroad transportation hub. The architecture stood as proof of its short-lived prosperity.
After almost a century of slow decline, the town reinvented itself as the unofficial marijuana capital of British Columbia, but even that commerce had dried up. Whatever fortunes had been made in the hills had disappeared along with the people, and the town seemed shabby and worn.
She wanted to stay and explore, but their final destination was still an hour away. After a few blocks of closed cafes and tired-looking storefronts, the town gave way to a two-lane highway surrounded by dense forest. Only a few cars passed in the opposite direction during the entire trip, so she was surprised when they suddenly skidded to a stop after three quarters of an hour.
A dozen vehicles, mostly trucks and SUV’s, were parked haphazardly on the shoulder. Ranger slowed and turned onto the gravel road directly in front of the cars. One of the vehicles blocked the road.
They were in the middle of nowhere. Where had the cars come from?
A few dozen men and women stood across the road fifty feet in from the highway junction. They brandished protest signs. An older woman in the center broke from the group and began walking towards them. It was a blockade.
Kat squirmed in her seat. “Who are those people?”
Ranger slowed the truck to a crawl. “Just a bunch of radicals. There’s a lot of them around here.”
“What do they want?” Jace asked.
The men and women who blocked the road all carried signs. One read Protect our drinking water. Another said: We live here. No toxic water.
Several feet down the road another group huddled around a makeshift fire in an oil can. A semi-permanent plywood structure provided shelter. A few plastic chairs were scattered underneath.
“Anything and everything,” Ranger said. “They’re totally against development of any kind. As if their houses and farms aren’t the same sort of thing.”
Kat stole a glance at Jace. “Do you live around here?”
Ranger nodded. “I live on the lodge property in a separate cabin.”
Kat assumed that meant he didn’t own any land in the area. It explained his nonchalant attitude towards development. He didn’t care one way or the other since he had no property at stake.
“What’s wrong with the drinking water?” Kat asked.
“Nothing, really. They’re overreacting and making trouble with their scare tactics.”
“Why would they do that?”
“There’s an old mine nearby. It’s been shut down for a couple of years, so there’s no activity. Anyways, a small section of the tailings pond—that’s where the waste rock, water, and solvents end up—broke and they think that it’s contaminating the water.”
“Isn’t it?” Jace asked.
“Technically, yes, but it’s pretty minor. The tailings pond water did over flow, but it never reached Prospector’s Creek. The groundwater tested positive for contaminants, but that was three years ago. The site was completely cleaned up and nothing ever reached the water supply or anybody’s property. But that’s not how they see it. They claim they’ve suffered losses, but I say they’re just looking for an excuse to fight.” Ranger slowed the truck as he neared the group.
“If this area is so remote, why are they even here?” Kat asked.
Ranger met her gaze in the rear view mirror. His brows furrowed. “What do you mean?”
“Well, they can stand here for days without another vehicle going by.”
“They saw me leave and knew I’d be back, so they mustered the troops,” he said.
“But the protest has no impact on you, does it? Is the demonstration for our benefit—your guests?”
“Partly. But even if you weren’t here they would have blocked the road. They like to harass us. But like I said, it’s pointless. The water’s clean—always has been—and it’s tested regularly.” Ranger slowed the car as a slender woman in her sixties approached the truck. “It’s got nothing to do with Dennis anyways.”
Ranger rolled down his window. “Elke.”
“You can’t pass.”
“You can’t stop me. I live here.”
Elke peered into the truck “Who are these people?”
“None of your business. But I’ll tell you anyways. They’re friends of Dennis’s. Now be a good neighbor and let us pass.”
Elke scowled but backed away from the truck. Ranger drove slowly past the group as they shouted obscenities.
Once they had passed the crowd, Kat turned to look back. “Quite the welcome wagon you have here.”
The protesters dropped their signs and headed back to their makeshift plywood shelter. “It’s awfully cold to be standing around out here.”
“The smart ones packed up a long time ago,” Ranger said. “But there are always a few diehards.”
“And Elke is one of them?”
“Yep. She and her husband want a financial settlement. Ridiculous, since they haven’t been harmed in any way. They say their property value has dropped, but property values have always been low around here. They’re just looking for an excuse to make money.”
“Why bother Dennis? Where are the mine’s owners?” Jace asked.
“Offshore,” Ranger said. “Since the mine’s owners aren’t around, they figure they’ll get attention if they harass Dennis. We try to ignore them.”
“Where is this mine?” Kat hadn’t seen any type of business activity since leaving Sinclair Junction.
“The Regal Gold Mine is just up the road. It borders Dennis’s property. If an environmental activist like Dennis isn’t worried about it, they shouldn’t either. They’re making a mountain out of a molehill, just looking for a fight.”
“Who exactly owns the mine?” Jace asked.
“Regal Gold Mines is owned by a Chinese company who likes to keep a low profile. There’s no way to reach the absentee owner. The protestors have complained to the government who says it’s not their responsibility either. So they figure the next best thing is to go after Dennis, since he’s an environmentalist. They think they can shame him into taking it on as a cause.” He shook his head. “They’re wrong. He doesn’t like being told what to do.”
Kat laughed. “Kind of ironic, don’t you think? Dennis Batchelor being targeted by protestors?”
Ranger remained silent. He didn’t meet her gaze in the rear view mirror this time.
She thought it was funny, but maybe she should have kept her mouth shut.
They drove up the steep gravel road as it climbed higher up the mountain. Every few minutes there was a break in the trees and Kat caught a glimpse of a valley below. It was breathtaking. Huge mountains surrounded a turquoise lake bordered by snow.
“It’s very beautiful here, so pristine and wild.” She understood why Batchelor had chosen the area for his home. It was a quick jaunt to Vancouver by plane, yet remote and not easily accessible to the media and the general public.
Minutes later the road levelled out and they emerged onto a large plateau atop the mountain. Dennis Batchelor’s lodge was visible from a mile away at the edge of the plateau. The massive stone and wood structure was built on a stone outcropping that jutted out of the otherwise flat landscape. It resembled a log cabin on very expensive steroids. It was surrounded by smaller buildings and forest on two sides. The main façade was glass and faced the valley below.
They enjoyed hot cappuccinos in the great room while their room was readied. It was a self-contained cabin built on the cliff edge. Kat was getting to like this more and more.
The lodge’s great room was bigger than her entire house. Floor to ceiling glass was interspersed with massive wood beams and stone, giving it a feeling of casual grandeur. The lone wall featured a massive rock fireplace with a roaring fire. The hearth was flanked with pictures of Batchelor over the years. The photographs were in chronological order, a pictorial timeline of Batchelor’s life and the environmental movement he had inspired.
The first photograph was the one that had gained Batchelor an international following. Several protestors blocked a logging road, among them a defiant twenty-something Dennis Batchelor, the focal point of the image. He had chained himself to an old growth Sitka Spruce tree. He grinned defiantly at the camera. A dozen loggers faced him, their passage blocked. Police stood behind the loggers, reluctant to take any action that might provoke a fight.
A moment frozen by the camera lens had been the catalyst to sway public opinion on the plight of the Carmanah Valley and its fabled spirit bears. Protests had been ongoing for years, but that day was the tipping point. Protestors mobilized en masse to join the fight. It marked the beginning of Batchelor’s environmental crusade.
While Batchelor was far from the first of the protestors, his charisma and outrageous attention-getting antics attracted a critical mass of followers. His daredevil stunts made great video footage, and he took on an almost mythical action hero status. Many stunts were downright dangerous, but he got the attention he sought. He thought nothing of skydiving from an airplane right into a logging operation.
His idealism coupled with his youthful good looks won him many followers, especially female ones. Public opinion forced the government to preserve and protect the remaining old growth forest.
He was still in his early twenties when he had founded GreenThink, the grassroots environmental movement that inspired a generation of young people. A few years later he combined his passion for the environment with a string of profitable businesses. The most recent, Earthstream Technologies, was a billion-dollar success story. Kat wondered if the hippie chained to the tree had ever imagined that he would be a famous billionaire one day.
“You made it.” A deep male voice boomed from somewhere behind them.
Kat turned to see Dennis Batchelor standing in the doorway. He was thirty years older, forty pounds heavier, his once handsome face replaced with jowls and dark shadows under his eyes. While he still bore a slight resemblance to the youthful protestor in the photograph, the billions hadn’t come without a cost.
He wore a flannel shirt, faded jeans, and worn cowboy boots.
He caught her assessment. “Nobody wears suits here. It’s come as you are.”
“Makes sense.” Kat sipped her cappuccino and pointed to the largest of the photos. In it, Batchelor stared down a logging truck in the middle of an otherwise deserted logging skid road flanked by centuries old Sitka spruce trees. “I remember seeing that picture when I was just a kid. I had never really thought about the environment until I saw you.”
“No one did. That’s why I had to stand my ground.” Batchelor laughed. “Though I feared they would drive right over me. It was pretty extreme back then.”
“You saved the forest that day,” Jace said.
“Somebody had to do it,” Batchelor said. “While we still could. Building that road would have brought all sorts of problems. People, vehicles, polluting businesses. Once the habitat’s destroyed, it’s pretty hard to get it back.”
“You inspired a generation, including me,” Jace said. “Getting the truth out there, no matter how controversial. That’s why I became a journalist.”
Batchelor smiled. “That’s very flattering. It’s also why I called you for my biography. I need to work with someone who understands what I’m all about.”
Writing Dennis Batchelor’s biography was a huge opportunity, a chance of a lifetime that could make—or break—Jace’s career. Rumors abounded that the tycoon was notoriously difficult to work with, but Kat saw no evidence of that. At least not yet.
Batchelor strode over to the large hearth. “You appreciate the outdoors like I do.” He nodded at Kat. “I thought you both might enjoy a weekend here. Isn’t it breathtaking?”
“Pristine wilderness,” Jace agreed. “This is a beautiful place.”
“Took me ten years to build it,” Dennis said. “After all that, I rarely get home to enjoy it.”
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