"Steve-O, I do believe you're glowing."
Steve-O, Paige thought, as she passed a huge bowl of mashed potatoes around the rectangular oak table that could sit sixteen, but right now seated ten . . . to her left . . . all the food traveled to the left -- what would Emily Post say?
Paige wasn't going to comment, but the look on her face must have given her away.
"Dates back to college," Alison said. "We all had little nicknames for one another." She pointed at Peter, "Meet Gumby," she pointed at Mark Grimaldi, who sat across the table, "Pokey," lastly she touched a hand to her chest. "And I'm Ducky."
Alison explained how Peter had received his as a gawky child, hers was because of the collection of glass ducks which she kept on the windowsill in her dorm room, and Mark, well, all you had to do was date him to understand.
"Where'd Steve-O come from," Paige asked.
They all shrugged.
"He just seemed like a Steve-O," Peter said.
Paige gave Steve a sexy half-grin while waiting for the stringbeans to make their way around.
"What about you?" Alison asked. "You must have had a dozen nicknames growing up. Stretch? Legs? Red?"
"Slim, actually," Paige said, "Courtesy of my dad. He knew one was shortcoming, and figured if it was good enough for Lauren Bacall . . ."
"Sounds like a smart dad," Peter said.
"In my humble opinion," Paige said. "The smartest."
Alison handed Paige the plate of stringbeans, then brought the subject back full circle, as she said, "Y'know, as hard as I tried, I could never make Steve glow."
"Hmm," Paige thought. She hadn't known that Steve and Alison had been lovers. She turned toward Steve, whose glow had turned to an embarrassed blush. But Paige didn't have to bother asking.
"We were all very close in college," Steve explained.
Peter laughed. "I guess you could say we shared everything back then."
Felicity Lindfors shook her head as she took the plate of stringbeans from Paige, and piled some onto her plate.
What Peter referred to as "back then" was "now" for Felicity, and her year-younger sister, Greta.
The college years.
And while the older sister would be what the MTV crowd, or those in charge of critiquing it, might consider grunge: long straight hair, so dark it bordered on black, ripped jeans, over-sized flannel shirts, and beat-up Converse All-Stars, Greta was different.
Though not as striking as Felicity, she was pretty, feminine, with shoulder-length blonde hair, a little wavy, and a great, innocent smile, framed by deep dimples. She wore a heather-gray and black striped cropped top, with solid heather-gray cigarette pants, and with that flash taunt tummy, looked as if she had just stepped out of a clothing advertisement in Seventeen magazine.
There was at least one visible tattoo on each sister. Not to mention Greta's gold nose ring.
Paige had always wanted a piercing . . . probably she'd have opted for a navel ring, if it didn't seem to so go against everything at Quantico. The big boys club. Even for the other women present. Dress alike, act alike, speak alike, probably screw alike, for all she knew. And in that one aspect she hadn't a clue.
It seemed bad enough at the time that Paige was listening to the wrong music, wearing the wrong sort of clothes, in all the wrong colors -- if black really was a color -- reading all the wrong books, liking the wrong movies, etcetera and so on. A navel ring would have probably been the final nail, getting her booted from the training school, from the state of Virginia itself.
Paige did however have a tattoo, a thorny vine circling her left ankle. It was in vivid greens and blacks, with one about-to-bloom bud -- a red rose -- on the outside of her ankle. She got it on her sixteenth birthday, a little present for herself. Needless to say, mom and dad weren't pleased, despite their liberal pretenses, a tattoo, they argued, was forever.
"At least you didn't have to worry about AIDS back then," Felicity said, taking a nibble off one end of one string bean, while shooting the roast beef a nasty look, as if it were the cow's fault that it had been slaughtered, garnished, and broiled.
"You make it sound like we're ancient," Steve said, kiddingly.
"Mid-thirties," Felicity said, with a shrug, guessing correctly. And mid-thirties probably was ancient to the twenty-year-old Madison, Wisconsin native.
But not to her sister, who was visiting the Lambert Ski Lodge with her boyfriend of the hour, her English Literature Professor for the semester, that fourth and final member of Steve's band of college friends, Pokey himself, Mark Grimaldi.
In tweeds and with a bushy moustache, Mark, at about-to-be thirty-eight, was the eldest of the foursome. Married three times. Divorced three times. Average age of his three wives on the day they each said "I do": nineteen years, ten months.
Yet that was hardly the accomplishment of which Peter and Steve were most interested in or jealous of. Mark had tenure. And at the University of Wisconsin, in Madison, no less. One of the best English departments this country had to offer, and Mark Grimaldi was its rising star.
They had all studied together at the University of Florida, in Miami, three English majors, and the one business major who happened to lust after the other three. And they stuck together after graduating, at least for a few years. Alison ended up with Peter, he at a high school over five hundred miles away, she at the dry cleaners nearest that high school. Only Steve stayed in Miami, getting an internship at the Herald, that turned into a fulltime position, which led to a nationally read column. Steve never married, and had had only a half-dozen not-very-serious girlfriends over the course of his post-college life. Mark, on the other hand, got a position at Miami Life Magazine, and worked on a novel by night. And though only five thousand copies were printed, it earned glowing reviews, and a National Book Award nomination. The nomination was enough to get Mark's foot in the door at the University of Wisconsin. One thing led to another, which led to tenure.
"That's hardly ancient," Greta said.
"You would know," Felicity said, a little sing-songy, a lot sarcastic.
"Y'see, we have a love/hate relationship with Mark," Greta explained to the others at the table. "I love him, Felicity hates him."
"I'm not too fond of you right now either," Felicity said.
Felicity was at the Lambert on Greta's urging. She had assumed that there'd be dozen's of cute and available ski-bum type guys their age. Guys for Felicity to tease, play with, then toss away, broken hearted but with a memories of an encounter they'd most likely take with them to their graves.
But Greta was wrong. Greta was always wrong, at least in Felicity's eyes.
There were only three others at the lodge on this Friday evening, not counting the two guests who chose to dine alone in their room.
And the lone male of that trio, Bob Kennedy, was in his mid-forties, and hardly what Felicity would consider sexual fodder. He was compact and a little soft in the middle, with a full head of hair that couldn't have ever been combed, and a softness to his tone that belied his passion.
"I'm in kid's music," Bob said, piling a few lean slices of beef into his plate.
"He's the Raffi of Akron," his companion explained.
Her name was Vivian Harper. In her early forties, with a solid though still-feminine figure and short, rapidly graying hair, Vivian explained that she was a district manager for the world's second largest music store chain. She supposedly oversaw twenty-one stores, in three states, and given the opportunity would choose to never be subjected to music of any sort -- jingles, themes, Christmas carols, nothing -- for the rest of her natural life.
Vivian and Bob were the other paying guests at the resort on this, the first official transition week of Peter and Alison's regime. And four paying guests, this early in the season was like hitting it rich.
They claimed to have planned this ski getaway at the last minute. Vivian had been about to line up all twenty-one of her store managers against any stone wall, and open fire. A few days of R & R, seemed a more reasonable solution, at least until after December twenty-fifth. No reason shooting herself in the foot.
Bob had just finished recording his first album of all original music. "Educational songs for pre-schoolers," he explained. The tentative title: Brushing and Washing and Saying Your Prayers.
Vivian promised everyone at the table that under no circumstance would Bob perform any of the eighteen songs, or any others, for that matter, during these few days of R & R. And though she openly admitted her love and respect and admiration for Bob -- they had been together for going on fifteen years -- his songs would only, and sadly, push her over that final edge.
"And murder is not allowed at the Lambert," Peter said, jokingly. "Says it right in the brochure, next to 'No Pets.'"
"What about Saint Bernards?" Greta asked.
"What about them?" Peter said.
"Aren't they, like, snow dogs?" she said. "To rescue stranded skiers?"
Peter turned to face the tenth and final person at the table, and asked, "Stranded skiers. Do you get many of those?"
She was seated at the head of that table for a last time or two. The woman who, with her late and much older husband, Jonathan Lambert, had owned the Lambert Ski Lodge. Who, shortly after her husband was taken away from her and she realized that running the lodge was too lonely and painful a proposition, had read about such contests, placed the ads, judged the applicants, and finally chosen Peter and Alison.
Her name was Liana Lambert.
"Not many," Liana said. "In fact, none that I can recall."
Though the thirty-year-old claimed a Canadian heritage, Liana's accent was decidedly Parisian. As was her look, her lips. Paige knew at least three women in Miami who paid thousands for lips as full as Liana's, but undoubtedly these were real. Then there was the hair, a mane, long, thick, and so black it defied depth.
Before anyone could really dig in, Liana tapped a fork on the side of her wine glass, and stood, raising the glass high. It was time to toast.
"Alison and Peter," Liana said, a little teary-eyed, "in the past week you've become more than just the new owners of my beloved lodge, you've become friends. Know that in the end, I chose you as the winners of this contest, not because of your essay," she cracked a little smile Peter's way, and changed her tone for a moment, "which of course was brilliant . . . but because of the warmth you both radiate."
"They'll need all the warmth they can get," Steve joked.
"I'll second that," Mark said.
"Your love seemed strong, secure," Liana continued. "It reminded me of the love I shared with my dear Jonathan. And I sincerely hope the Lambert Ski Lodge will become for you, the . . . ," she clenched one hand her over chest, ". . . home that it was for us."
Liana raised her wine glass just a tiny bit higher. "Good luck. And may your years here be filled with love."
Liana lifted the glass to her lips and took an elegant sip. The nine others at the table followed suit.
By the time dinner was over, the snow was just beginning to make the transition from flurries to a heavy powder that was sticking, covering everything fast.
The temperature was down to single digits, but still Liana insisted, "Get your coats everyone," she said. "There's something I want you all to see."
She led the group out to the pro-shop, and from there told Peter, "It's your place now. Go for it."
Peter flipped the switch, and suddenly the trails lit up like the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. White runways of light going up and down the mountain side, up the tram and over the cable to which it was attached.
"Let's go for a ride," Alison said.
"When in Montana," Paige whispered, pressing herself up against Steve, trying to steal whatever body heat she could.
They climbed into the tram, and Liana worked the controls. It could be driven from the pro-shop, or manually from inside the unit.
The ride was grand, up the mountain side, lasting about five minutes. The view from every side spectacular, taking them over the fragile, ice-covered branches of glorious whitebark pines mostly, Pinus albicaulus, as well as some subalpine firs and Engelmann spruces. The ridges and summits just visible in the glow, the moon peeking though some eastern clouds, winking at them, so close you could reach out and snatch yourself some cheese, or perhaps a handful of the frosty snow flakes as they plummeted to the ground.
At the top of the ridge, there was a covered waiting area, with benches so skiers could prepare themselves for the swift ride down. And even a small outdoor snack shop, for coffee or hot chocolate. It was painted brown like the other buildings, and would only be open during the busiest of times.
Paige was standing at the edge of the steepest trail, looking out, all but the northern-most parts of America at her feet. It was almost as if she were ready to fly, to take off, to soar. But where would she go? South for the winter? Home for the holidays? Or would she fly to Rome just to perch upon Michelangelo's David?
"What do you think?" Steve whispered, walking over to Paige, putting his arms around her waist, hugging her close.
"He's out there," Paige said, so back to the frigid reality, not just of Montana, but of her professional life. "Somewhere."
"Who?" Steve asked, his mind a little fuzzy from the wine and food, his heart warm with love for his closest friends, and for Paige.
"Prince Charming," she said, wishing immediately that she hadn't.
The FBI profile said he was a white male. Between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-five. A loner, who nonetheless blended in. The Prince was the veritable guy next door, about whom neighbors would one day say, "He always seemed like such a nice guy. Kept to himself. Never bothered anyone." Well, Paige knew far too well, had seen the proof up close and personal, that thus far Prince Charming had bothered six women, all white, in their mid-twenties. Redheads. And though he didn't butcher his victims, though he didn't rape them, or violate them in any physical way, the crime he committed seemed worse somehow.
To Paige it was unconscionable.
Turning finally, forcing a smile, noticing the sorrowful look on his face, Paige took Steve's hand, brought it to her mouth and kissed it softly.
"Sorry," she whispered, leading him back to the group, where they caught the end of some Montana lore, a story about the Kootanei Indians.
Paige leaned back against Steve, quietly shaking her head when someone asked if they would like to join in a little beginner's skiing the next morning, in case the storm turned out to be a bust.
"Umm, maybe next trip," Paige said, playing along, wishing she could drown in their merriment, wishing she could just forget, wishing it were that easy to . . . rest . . . and . . . recharge.
"The boredom ends here."
"I hope so," Goop said. He was pacing back and forth in Elliot's room, rubbing the fist of one hand into the palm of the other. "You don't know how bad it's been, man. There are no hookers in Montana. No titty bars. You can't even rent a porno. You go to a bar, there're no women, there's nothing but hicks complaining about the government."
Elliot laughed. He was sitting on the edge of the bed, glancing over the local newspaper. The blizzard special.
"It's not funny," Goop said, himself beginning to laugh. "I was going nuts."
"I promise you," Elliot said, folding the paper, and placing it aside. "Fun times are ahead."
Goop nodded a few times, then stopped pacing, and in hushed tones said, "What about the over-population problem?" He hooked a thumb toward the door, and motioned with his head as well. "We didn't expect they'd be hanging the No Vacancy sign."
"Not a problem," Elliot said. "They'll drink and talk and fuck themselves into oblivion."
"Not a bad idea," Goop said, wishing he could join a few of them.
Elliot shook his head, stood and walked over to his friend. He spoke his next words slowly, carefully, "We have a plan. Like always. We need to stick to it. As long as we do, there'll be no surprises, no problems, and we might actually get to enjoy a few days of R & R."
"I'll assume you're not referring to rape and revenge?" Goop asked.
"Rest and relaxation, Goop," Elliot said. "Then, come Monday morning, at . . ."
"Six AM," Goop said, impatiently. "That's when they're saying it'll be over."
"Fine. Then on Monday at six AM, we'll wave bye-bye to the Lambert Ski Lodge and all of its guests."
"Can't wait," Goop said. "If I never see snow again . . ."
"You won't," Elliot said, thinking that now he was using the snow to his own advantage. A little punishment for Mother Nature, or maybe he was just working with her, instead of against her. Letting her in on the take.
And though he realized it wouldn't be long before the authorities were hot on his trail. Before they put two and two together: a missing prisoner, a dead warden. Two days, three days, four tops, Elliot wasn't worried. By that time he would have disappeared from the face of the earth, all trails leading to him covered in six feet of snow, and every clue blown and burnt to a cindered crisp.
Elliot held back a laugh. It had trapped him the last time. Separated him from Lauren. Placed him on the brink of his demise, at the edge of the bottomless pit. All because he wasn't ready, wasn't willing to cut Mother Nature in for her fair share.
He remembered the words used in the newspaper accounts: "Haring and Vincenzo forced their way into the Dunlap's sprawling," Elliot loved the word sprawling, "Bedford Falls home once their getaway car became disabled due to a snow storm-related accident."
A snow storm-related accident. Damnit, Elliot thought. It was his fault for allowing that idiot V-man to drive. It was oversight for having anything whatsoever to do with Vincenzo, for screwing with the crew. His crew. His perfect little crew.
But not this time.
This time Elliot had chosen wisely. This time he waited patiently.
And this time the snow would be his friend. His best goddamn friend in the whole wide world.
"But in the meantime," Elliot continued, "control yourself. We have a number of things still to do."
Goop held back a sarcastic little laugh. You certainly have something -- someone -- to do, he thought. Elliot had the best of this situation. At least he would not have to sleep alone.
"Now," Elliot continued. "Get some rest."
"Right," Goop muttered, opening the door to Elliot's room, stopping himself short of leaving. "You through with that?" he asked, his tone pleading and a little exhausted. He was pointing at their third bottle of wine, barely touched.
"Be my guest," Elliot said.
Goop stepped over to the bureau, snatched the bottle, then made his exit. "'Night," he said, stepping from the room, closing the door behind him.
Restless and a little irritated, Goop went directly across the hallway to his room, closed and locked the door behind him, then hopped onto the queen-sized bed, stretching out, making himself comfortable. He watched a soft-core flick on Showtime, as he guzzled the wine, his eyes getting heavy, his mind smothered by the imaginary softness of some actress' bosom, his body drifting off, quickly and finally, to sleep . . .
Unlike his partner, Elliot didn't bother with the television.
Instead, he opened his suitcase, and from it pulled the two items which he had taken with him from his cell in the Idaho State Correctional Facility.
Both were books, his two favorite works of fiction: a volume of the complete plays of William Shakespeare, and an old King James Bible.
Opening the Shakespeare volume, Elliot pulled from its pages a letter, it was one of the many which had come his way since the publicity generated by his trial and, dare he say, tribulations? Conviction and convictions, in the very least.
His photo seen so often in the papers, and on the nightly news. He was a Hard Copy staple for a while there.
"You're beautiful," many of the notes began. Or something similar. There'd be flattering adjectives about his piercing black eyes -- he couldn't wait to rid himself of the damn contact lenses, he couldn't wait to grow his hair in -- the prominent aquiline nose, his square jaw. They were love letters, from women who evidently had nothing else to do but stare at Elliot Haring. Lonely women, he assumed. Desperate. Seeking to right what was wrong with his soul. To repair his damage.
Many contained proposals of marriage, which confused Elliot. Why would anyone marry a person they had no chance of ever being with? Where was the pleasure in that? Was it simply in the notion of having a mate for life, this despite the fact that life was limited?
But then isn't life always limited?
There were hundreds of these women. They sent photographs, some Polaroids, or shots taken with those disposable 35mm cameras. There were many of smiling faces taken at the local Sears store, others of the women in sexual poses, something akin to what other inmates would giggle at and squirt to in the "beaver hunt" section of Hustler magazine. These intrigued him, thought they were too vulgar for Elliot's tastes. He would often gives these to other death row inmates. A little eye candy to help them past their final days.
What Elliot usually kept were the poems, the short stories. Many of his admirers wrote long dreamy essays on the shortcomings of America's system of justice -- Elliot had never thought there was a problem, but then he had never before been caught.
One even sent him a one hundred, twenty page screenplay based on that Christmas eve incident in Bedford Falls, which ended with the Governor of Idaho granting him a complete pardon.
How Elliot loved happy endings.
Then there were those who sent fantasies. Sexual romps, that actually made Elliot blush. The words, their power to stimulate. For a women to write such thoughts down. Elliot was embarrassed, aroused, and even a little repelled, all at the same time.
A tremendous, all-encompassing feeling.
And all for the price of a first-class stamp.
Such a bargain, Elliot thought, as he reread his favorite letter now. It was one of the more shameful missives. One of those which could bear repetition, and few could. It was art. De Sade would turn away in tears. Embarrassed that the infamous Marquis hadn't imagined such delights?
Elliot leaned back on his bed, and began to read.
The woman had used rather original descriptions, words that Elliot had not heard before, not even in prison. Yet, there was a certain passion to the letter, a gutter romance, an all-encompassing lust to the tone of the words, debauched, animalistic, yet, he could not helped but become aroused.
Elliot let the words sink into his subconscious, then clenched his eyes shut, his mind drifting, swirling with the phrases, and the eminent release they would bring.
He thought of Lauren Devereaux, how he would soon touch her, his hand, the real hand with real fingers and real senses, running through her long black, hair. Becoming lost in its depth, sinking into its smells, its void. His mouth covering every measure of her physical being, devouring her as she devoured him.
"Oh, Lauren," he cried out in a voice that masked the pain of their separation.
He could not wait to hold her again.
SNOW BLIND ©2004 Gorman Bechard - All Rights Reserved