Saturday, November 9, 1996
"She hasn't a clue, does she?"
Bob was sitting on one edge of their bed. He held his guitar in his lap. It was a Martin D-41. He strummed a D chord. Softly, letting each note ring clear.
"Totally unaware," he said.
Vivian was pacing. It was all she really ever seemed to do, Bob thought, glancing up from the rosewood fingerboard.
He strummed an A-minor chord. His head was pounding a little, from a little too much wine. He had almost finished off the bottle of White Zinfandel by himself.
Vivian hadn't touched a drop. Can't pace, Bob figured, under the influence.
"So what's our course of action?" Vivian asked.
Bob strummed an E-minor, then repeated all three chords. He liked the way they sounded together. He strummed them again, then again.
"Look outside," Bob said, finally, knowing that Vivian was about to loose her patience, and not really giving a damn.
"I'm looking," Vivian said, standing in front of the window.
"We wait. What other course is there?"
Vivian was tired of waiting. She shook her head sadly, her eyes centering on a particularly large, outrageously fluffy snow flake which was falling a foot or so from the window, While all the other flakes seemed to be in a hurry, this one seemed relaxed, cool, taking its time. He was waiting, enjoying the ride. He was but an infinite fraction of the blizzard, who would notice if he slacked off?
Bob played the chord progression a few times more, then began half-humming some words, "Gonna build a snow man, gonna give him coal eyes."
"Bob," Vivian said.
"A carrot for a nose . . ."
"Bob!" She said it a lot louder this time.
"What Vivian?" He answered back just as loudly, shooting her a look that told her it was his patience that had finally run dry.
"I'm frightened," she said.
Sighing, Bob placed the guitar aside, and walked over to where Vivian stood by the window. He glanced out for a moment, at the sea of white, then spoke softly. "But isn't this what you've wanted?"
Vivian nodded. "So badly it hurt."
"Then," Bob asked. "What are you afraid of?"
"That once it's over," Vivian said, "I won't know where to turn. That I've dug such a deep hole for myself, I'll never be able to climb out, get on with my life."
"You're too strong for that to happen."
"I was strong," Vivian said. "Once."
Vivian looked into Bob's eyes. "Now I'm just driven by inertia. A boulder of rage rolling down that mountain side." She motioned with her chin out the window toward Lambert peak. "And what happens when I reach the bottom?"
Bob didn't say it, but the words were there, hanging in the room, in the lodge, soaring toward the mountain peak and down again.
"There they go, fucking up the ratio . . ."
She wasn't as loud as in her apartment, but she was definitely more off-key.
Though at six-forty-five AM, Paige didn't expect anyone to be listening. Not after the late dinner, and the even later wine and conversation by the fire:
"Paige, what did you have to study to . . ."
"Join the FBI? Law. Yale."
"If she says Summa cum laude, I'm going to . . ."
"Magna. I tried."
"Wow. And you're dating Steve? A guy who watches ballgames for a living."
"She admires my work."
And so it went . . .
And now, dressed in sweats and athletic shoes, running in place in front of the great room's picture window, Paige stared out at the snow-covered lawn, the snow-covered hills, the snow-covered Wrangler which got them to this god-forgotten/forsaken/ for-sale-cheap snow-covered place to begin with.
"Christ!" she muttered, turning up her Walkman up another notch, moving faster. She wanted the music to pulse through her veins, an I.V. right into her heart, no bypasses allowed. She wanted the screeching guitars, the tortured pathos-fill growls, to take her away. To somewhere, a planet where Prince Charming didn't exist, except in the mind of girls dreaming of their future. Where Sleeping Beauty was nothing but an animated film, made by a man who became a gazillionaire off a cartooned Mouse. To someplace warm, where the sun would bake down upon her, make the very effort of being alive a sweat-inducing activity. To someplace away from the snow -- how much snow had fallen overnight? -- was it ever going to stop snowing?
Normally she'd do laps in Lummus Park, the Atlantic Ocean on one side, respectful old men admiring her form on the other. A fannypack around her waist containing her I.D., the Pocketlite, a beeper, extra batteries for the Walkman, and some cash, just in case.
But Paige had no sudden or burning desire to venture outdoors today.
She looked up at the sky -- just another shade of white -- and blinked. It burned a bit to stare too long, gave her the seeds for a dull headache. She rubbed at her eyes for a moment, then quickened her pace.
"Keep it up and you'll go snow blind," a warm, tender voice warned.
But Paige didn't hear. The Walkman was up a little too loud. Instead, she just continued staring out the window, at the snow -- so much damn snow -- a little miffed with herself for agreeing to spend this much-needed vacation in Montana, picturing in her head the brochures from Saint Barts.
"What the hell was I thinking?" she said aloud, turning, gasping, coming face-to-face with Liana Lambert, who had been watching her, warning her.
Paige stopped dead in her tracks, and pulled off the headphones. "How long have you been standing there?" she asked, catching her breath.
"Only a minute," Liana said. "I tried warning you about staring too long at the snow, but I don't think you heard me."
Paige nodded, motioning towards the headphones. "I like it loud."
"I could hear it from the kitchen."
"Sorry," Paige said. She didn't think it was that loud.
"I'm kidding," Liana said, then, "I was just about to make myself some breakfast. Care to join me?"
Breakfast sounded delightful and warm, Paige thought, smiling. "I'd love to," she said.
Seated a few moments later in the kitchen, a bowl of raisin bran with fresh cut strawberries and a little skim milk in front of her, Paige asked Liana, who had opted for hot oatmeal with apple slices and a sprinkling of cinnamon, what warning in particular had she been referring to.
"The whiteness can blind you," she shrugged. "It's only temporary, of course."
"I thought snow-blindness was caused by the glare of the sun," Paige asked, glancing out the window. It looked back upon the pro-shop, the tram, the mountain, and the trails down. But there was no visible sun, just the whiteness, everywhere, swirling and falling and blanketing.
Liana nodded. "You're correct, of course. Technically. But I look out there now, and it still hurts my eyes. Sun or no sun."
Liana followed Paige's point of view towards the top of the mountain. "Believe it or not," she said, "there's a snow machine up there."
"Guess you won't need to turn it on today," Paige said.
"It's only for harsh winters."
"This isn't harsh?"
"This," Liana said. "This is wonderful. Harsh is when it doesn't snow."
Paige nodded, as she poured herself a cup of coffee, then loaded it down with extra milk and two Sweet 'N Lows. She expected the look Liana gave her, and explained without having to be asked. "Love the smell, hate the taste."
"Is there any taste left?"
Liana switched on a small, white-plastic countertop TV. The reception was fuzzy. "Must be the storm," she said, turning to the Weather Channel. "Surprise the cable's not out all together. It's always going down this time of the year."
Liana sat back down, and as some generic weatherwoman pontificated about "the blizzard of the century," she asked Paige, "What makes a woman join the FBI?"
"Hmm," Paige went, remembering the work she'd put in on the Prince Charming case in the days before she left, checking and rechecking. Reading and rereading -- how many character profiles can one criminal have? She must have given the Lambert Ski Lodge phone number to every agent in South Florida . . . just in case.
She thought for a moment about telling Liana everything: about growing up in Carefree, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix. Her dad a Political Science professor at the state University, while her mom headed the state chapter of N.O.W., the National Organization for Woman.
Albert and Madeline Turner were exemplary parents, loving, supportive, living breathing examples of a republican's nightmare, liberals with family values. And except for that little disagreement about the tattoo, Paige had nothing but optimistic, affirmative memories of her early years at home.
The old colonial house on Maple Lane, the fenced in back yard where her pet Labradors, Casey and Kilgore, would run and romp, the family Volvo, and her years at Carefree Elementary, all filled with fond grade school memories, funny, endearing -- it was all so idyllic, until Paige turned thirteen, until high school.
As her best friends blossomed into quote-unquote desirable young women, Paige just got taller . . . and taller . . . and taller.
At fourteen she'd have given anything to be able to trade an inch or two of height for an inch or two of curves. At fifteen, the same. And at sixteen, an inch or two just wouldn't have been enough.
Guys didn't want gawky, and in high school Paige was the epitome of the word, tripping over herself, the baggiest of clothes to hide her toothpick of a body, those damn braces, and acne, which at the time seemed God's most sadistic punishment.
But, in retrospect, it didn't take Paige all that long -- though back then it felt like a lifetime -- to realize that guys really didn't know what they wanted, and that she honestly didn't care. And by her senior year, the braces came off, the zits went away, and suddenly that very same body went from being gawky to modelesque.
It was her grades -- solid A's, except in biology where she absolutely refused to dissect a cat -- that got her into Yale. Things started out well. She was enamored by the quality of the education, and the desire shared by most of her fellow students to learn. Even by the architecture, and the culture of New Haven.
But then everything changed the last weekend in October of her freshman year. Everything blacked out, screwed up, exploded in her face.
On a Saturday night, on the way back from a what had been a pleasant first date -- some original New Haven brick-oven pizza and a movie -- Paige was raped, not by a stranger in a dark downtown alley, but by her date, in the front seat of his father's Lexus SC400 coupe. Her date was the son of one of the universities most prominent professors.
That night, shivering with fear, shaking with rage, convulsing with self-loathing denial, Paige reported it to the campus police. They did nothing, except make her feel like a tramp. The next morning she reported it to the school's powers that be. They likewise did nothing, except tell her that a scandal wouldn't look good on her transcripts.
So, she told no one else about the incident, not her parents, not any of her friends. Paige became depressed, withdrawn, she lost weight, ignored her studies, back then not even music could seem to ease the pain.
Then, one afternoon, numbly searching for a text book in the campus Co-op, she discovered a remedy of sorts. She discovered Healer. The novel's black cover ominous on the corner of the "new fiction" table.
And that evening, she read.
Healer told the story of a beautiful young woman, one who had everything to live for, but was chosen randomly to be humiliated, stripped, beaten, and raped by a group of young men following initiation rituals -- specific orders that would gain them membership into an ivy league college fraternity. They took her clothes and left her for dead, covered only by bushes and some leaves in New York's Central Park. But the young woman didn't die and instead emerged with no memory of the rape or her past, of her identity, but with the power to heal the terminally ill.
The author, Anatole Laferriere, struck a chord in Paige's heart. His words angered and inspired, they reached into her soul with that same power to heal the terminal.
Was Paige, at that point, terminal? She certainly felt that way. Dead from the neck down, worse from the neck up. Detached from a world that she suddenly found stifling.
But Laferriere's book made her realize something, that she too, that Paige Madeline Turner, had the power to heal.
The next morning, she switched her major from political science to law, then dug into her studies with a passion that shocked and overwhelmed even her. Her social life became a nonentity, everything, every waking moment was spent learning, some music on in the background to drown out the other sounds of the world, to quiet the constant turning of pages.
Let anyone try to fuck with Paige again.
She was twenty-five and armed with a masters degree -- backed by a 4.0 grade point average -- when she finally made it from the ivy-covered walls in New Haven, to Quantico, the FBI's training facility on the beautiful Potomac River in Virginia. And in four very long months Paige would leave. Four months that made the seven years of college seem like nursery school. Four months of the most rigorous training a creature on this earth could receive.
Half her class dropped out within the first month, citing mental cruelty or physical fatigue, but Paige wasn't going anywhere. She was staying put, learning what she'd need to heal.
There were days when she was wired, when everything was perfect, on line, in line, when the face on the target was the face of that sonofabitch who told her, "Relax, honey. This won't hurt a bit."
Then there were nights when she cried herself to sleep, aching in places she never knew existed, wondering if maybe she had made a mistake, rushed into something she wasn't ready for. Wondering if maybe she wasn't, for want of a better phrase, good enough. If perhaps healing was a fiction that only worked in books.
But no, Paige had to be good enough. She was good enough. And if she could prevent one person -- a single soul -- from suffering through the humiliation, the terror, the pain, then it would be worth her effort. If she could save some innocent, some innocence. If she could rescue a life. It would help her face herself again, to see her reflection a little less lop-sided in the mirror of life.
Healing was a two-way street.
It had to be.
It was shortly before graduation from the FBI academy when Paige met Special Agent Wesley Selden.
Selden was looking for a new recruit, a rebel, a bohemian type, someone who looked comfortable in black.
"I need a Goddamn artist," Selden had said in his caustic way. "And you seem to fit that bill."
"I can't paint," Paige said at the time.
Selden laughed. "That's not what I mean. I want someone who doesn't fit into the mainstream, but who can blend in with the freaks and geeks and misfits."
"Have I just been insulted?" Paige asked.
"I wouldn't insult anyone with your G.P.A.?" Selden said, with what she later would realize was his warm smile. "But you're different, Turner. Use those differences to your advantage. Instead of trying to adapt, slap conformity in the face."
"I usually do."
"And I'm sure that's made you popular around here."
Paige thought for a moment before shaking her head. "Not exactly." And she wasn't, popular, not with the boys club mentality that prevailed at Quantico.
"You fought hard to get here. I'm not sure why exactly, not when you could be pulling in a mid-six figure salary with a Wall Street law firm."
Paige went to explain, by Selden stopped her.
"Why ain't my business. My business is Florida, most of the time. And I can use a good undercover agent. Interested?"
Paige nodded, a few times, slowly, then said, "Yes, I'm interested."
And soon thereafter she was settled in Miami, which offered her the climate she had grown up in, and preferred. It was kind of like Phoenix, with ocean views.
Paige could have told all that to Liana Lambert, but instead, on this Saturday morning, stuck in Montana, in the middle of the blizzard of the century, she gave up as sacrifice her usual fib.
"A lot of things, actually," Paige explained. "An excellent salary, great benefits, a chance to travel . . . "
"C'mon," Liana said. "You don't seem like someone who's driven by salary and benefits. I'd buy that from Vivian, but certainly not from you."
"Okay, then," Paige said, a slight smile. "I get bored easily. And I figured this was one job in which I'd never get bored."
"Were you right?"
Goop was laughing as he said it. Running a hand over the cases of plastique. These were the left-overs. The extras. These would have put their intended target into orbit. And that was a little too far gone.
Elliot fingered a discarded detonating device. "Better than fertilizer?" he asked, half in jest.
"Elliot," Goop said, "Only a nuclear warhead could do more damage, but then . . . the desired effect would be lost. Nothing would be left."
"And we don't want that," Elliot said. "Now do we?"
They had both slept late, ate the breakfast which had been left on trays outside their door, then when the lodge seemed most quiet, they'd bundled themselves up, took their skis, and walked unnoticed out the front door.
These were cross-country skis, not that they need to go that far. Just about five hundred yards from that front porch, to be exact.
To a barn.
Half-built into the side of a mountain, and the color of the sky-high trees that flanked it, it almost disappeared in the storm. They skied past it twice before Goop realized that the wall of snow -- the one reaching to the sky -- was their intended destination.
But the storm, the ferocious onslaught of snow was blinding them, making visibility a joke. White-out conditions. Neither man had never heard the phrase before, now they'd never forget it.
Hell, Elliot thought, looking back. He could barely see the lodge from the far end of its parking lot.
Goop had brought a folding snow shovel with him, just in case. And an ice pick. He pulled both from a knapsack slung over his shoulder, and went to work.
Elliot leaned against the east side of the widest and closest pine. The wind still got to him, cut through him, but not as bad as out in the open, or traveling forward, the wind slapping their faces, on those damn skis.
Forty minutes later, his muscles aching from cracking the shovel into the ice hard wall of white that guarded the entrance to the barn, Goop was finally able to open the door wide enough so that he and Elliot could squeeze inside.
Goop started up the gas-powered generator to give them light, then the kerosene heater in an attempt to thaw their bones. After proudly displaying his explosive plans -- the wheres, hows, whats, and whys -- he turned to an old army chest and unlocked a veritable arsenal of weaponry: two AK-47's, a case of Uzis -- only Goop would purchase the popular street weapon by the case load -- hand grenades, a rocket launcher, three bazookas, as well as a Midwest pawn shop-like collection of handguns -- automatic and not.
"Our own militia," Goop said, smiling proudly.
Then he proudly showed Elliot their rides: three brand new, Artic Cat Thundercats snowmobiles. They were the Mountain Cat editions, made for climbing.
"Liquid-cooled 900cc engine with three VM 38 Mikuni carbs, and a double-wishbone front suspension," Goop raved. "These babies can out drag a Porsche on dry ground."
Elliot walked over to the machines. The look on his face spoke of his admiration.
"How much these set you back?" Elliot asked.
Laughing, Goop said, "Be real."
He motioned with his chin toward a trailer which could be hitched up to the back of one the Artic Cats. "We can take some fire power with us when we go."
"You've thought of everything," Elliot said.
Goop nodded, and smiled. "Wait 'till you see what I got hidden inside."
Elliot return the smile. "You do good work, my friend."
"It's why you hired me," Goop said, not able to resist the urge to needle his partner, "And the reason you were locked up in the first place is 'cause you didn't have me along for that particular ride."
"If I remember correctly, you were otherwise engaged."
"If I remember correctly, you couldn't wait two weeks."
"True, my friend," Elliot said, shaking his head, thinking how stupid he'd been to hire Chuck V-man Vincenzo in the first place.
They had been partners -- successful partners -- he, Goop and Lauren Devereaux. And though most crews were made up of four to five conspirators, Elliot felt it best to limit his risks, his probability for turncoats and snitches. His lover and his closest friend. Lauren and Goop. Both sharp, perfect in their roles, planning and execution.
Lauren could fool, seduce, lure anyone. He truly doubted than any male or female could resist her when she turned on the charms.
Goop was brilliant when it came to securing and utilizing weapons of destruction. He could crack open most any safe, or kill at the blink of an eye, with no remorse.
Elliot was the sketch artist. The motivator. He decided when and where. His partners helped him fill in the blanks from there.
Jobs well done.
A dozen jobs, heists, over eight years, netting them each a little over eleven million dollars -- never caught, never even suspected, and with only that occasional casualty.
Elliot had to smile at that one.
The occasional casualty.
Goop was usually the terminator of the group, and really only killed those who were frightened, those who got in their way. And wouldn't anyone in their way be scared out of their wits?
No great waste of life, at least as far as Elliot was concerned. Wasn't life just wasted on the living? And really, weren't he and Goop, just sanitary engineers, hauling to the black hole of death what wasn't being exploited to the fullest? One could only exploit life without fear.
As for that thirteenth and final job, the Baker's dozen, with V-man in Goop's role, Elliot, going on his instinctive distrust of V-man, had insisted they take two vehicles. He'd be with Vincenzo in one, Lauren -- fearless Lauren -- would drive the other.
While V-man crashed into a telephone pole, Lauren had at least managed to walk away with the entire take.
Though not as grand as some newspapers were reporting, Elliot figured they got away from that armored car with at least two million, maybe a little more. Not bad for a day's work, even if split three ways.
Even better if split two.
Though the V-man's death had cost him, as did his freedom. An even exchange when Elliot thought about it.
And how glad was he now that neither he nor Lauren had ever mentioned any of the previous jobs to Vincenzo? The sick, frightened bastard would have spilled his guts to the authorities, the feds, the cops, anyone who'd listen. As he did about Lauren, describing her -- her hair, the clothes she wore, the way she smelled, the sound of her voice, Elliot heard the tapes, he wanted to die -- telling them everything he knew.
And though Vincenzo actually knew little about they ways of Elliot Haring and Lauren Devereaux, that he divulged anything at all was enough to warrant his execution.
Even if Elliot could not have bought his freedom, he had known that arranging a prison hit on V-man would take very little effort, or cash, at all.
Fifty thousand dollars, in fact. Delivered to the home of the mother of one of his fellow inmates.
Such a bargain.
And wasn't it wonderful that the two blessed events coincided?
Finally, shaking the thoughts, his mistake, his vengeance, the doubts that clouded his every waking moment, from his mind, Elliot turned to Goop.
He smiled brightly.
"But it was Christmas," Elliot said, a small white lie. "And I'm an impulse shopper."
SNOW BLIND ©2004 Gorman Bechard - All Rights Reserved