"Got to admit, he's cute."
Paige, Alison, and Liana were seated around the kitchen table. They sipped from mugs filled with warmed cider. Paige munched on some oatmeal cookies.
"If you like that long haired type," Liana said.
Alison shot her a quizzical look.
Liana nodded, rolled her eyes, and gave in. "Okay, he's sort of cute," she admitted.
"And crazy," Paige said, between bites. "To take a broken-down snowmobile out in weather like this. It's suicidal."
"Just another thrill-seeker," Liana said. "We get them all the time. They either want to scale Lambert Peak, or go snow boarding down the most advanced trails. We have this one trail, going down it is called, Doing the D."
"Doing the Dutch," Paige said, then answering Alison questioning look, "Slang for suicide."
"Lovely," Alison said, then to Liana, "You'll have to point that one out."
"It's on the property map," Liana said. "Trail twenty-nine."
"I'll have to remember that," Alison said.
"Do you ski?" Paige asked Liana, as she reached into the Pepperidge Farms bag for a few additional cookies.
"A little cross country," Liana replied. "It's a nice workout, and I've gotten pretty good at it over the years."
"What about you, Alison?"
"Beginner trails only," Alison said. "Though I plan on improving."
"You'll have plenty of opportunity," Liana said.
Mark suddenly entered the kitchen. He looked around, caught sight of the three women and blanched slightly.
"I feel like I'm walking into a scene from MacBeth," Mark said.
Liana and Alison seemed confused, but Paige knew exactly what the English Professor was getting at.
"Do we look like witches to you?" Paige asked.
"Ooh, I forgot. Yale. Magna Cum Laude," Mark said. "Got to watch my obscure lit references around you."
"Pretentious lit references," Alison corrected, then asked, "The children still in bed."
Mark opened the refrigerator, retrieved a can of Coca-cola, and said, "I'm ignoring you, Ducky."
"What I don't get, Mark," Alison continued, "is what the hell she sees in you?"
"I pass her time," Mark said, honestly. "I take her to better restaurants, buy her nicer presents. She gets to sleep in a king-sized bed. I let her drive my Porsche. What frat boy can offer her that?"
"You have a Porsche now?" Alison asked, then shaking her head, looked at Paige and Liana. "Talk about over-compensating."
Mark shrugged. It was as if he knew his every fault, and had just learned to live with them. "Got a good deal."
"Isn't that sad, though?" Paige asked. "I mean for you, Mark. Don't you want someone who loves you for who you are, rather than what you can give them?"
"He had that as freshman," Alison said.
"What happened?" Paige asked.
"Ask her," Mark said, on his way out of the kitchen.
Once he was gone, one the swinging door came to a complete stop, Alison nodded a few times, then said, matter-of-factly, "I dumped him."
"I don't get it."
It was long after dinner, long after most everyone else had retired for the evening.
Vivian was sitting in the great room with Bob. She on one of the rocking chairs, he on the floor by her feet.
Bob held a long wrought-iron poker in his hand, and was stoking the fire, flailing at the burning cinders, tossing in another log, and some kindling, just being mesmerized by the flames, the crackle and pop, the smell.
"There's nothing to get," Bob said, in a soft whisper.
"Bullshit," Vivian said. She was as tense, as stressed, as always.
"Will you chill out, for Christ's sake," Bob said. "We're supposed to be on a little vacation."
Vivian was about to tell him that she'd have plenty of time to chill out when it was all over and done with, but the footsteps, light and fancy on the hardwood floor, pulled her attention away.
It was Elliot. He smiled, as he walked from the dining room, carrying a cup of steaming tea in his hands. It was a rare evening foray out of his bedroom -- very rare if he counted the months at the Facility -- a freedom he could get used to: like opening doors at will, like the good food, good wine . . . like a beautiful woman.
"Sorry for interrupting," Elliot said, carefully placing his left hand into the safety of his sports jacket's outside pocket. "I thought everyone would be in bed."
"Didn't interrupt a thing," Bob said, standing, smiling in a friendly manner. "I'm Bob Kennedy," he said, not offering up a hand, but sweeping one toward Vivian, "Vivian Harper."
Elliot nodded in his direction, "Alan Hitchcock," he said, nodding toward Vivian. "Pleasure to meet you."
"Here on business or pleasure, Alan?" Bob asked, making light conversation.
"Oh," Elliot said, nonchalantly, "A little of both. I'm here with my partner. Do a little skiing, a little work." He hooked a thumb toward the picture window. "But it looks like it'll be all work and no play, at least for the next couple of days."
"All work and no play . . .," Bob said, with a helpless grin.
"I know, I know," Elliot replied.
"What do you do?" Vivian asked. She was staring at Elliot with the intensity of a supernova. She could not take her eyes off his face, his blue eyes.
Elliot gave her a pleasant half smile. "Money management," he said, almost sheepishly.
"Must be interesting work," Bob supplied.
"It can be," Elliot said, then, cutting the conversation short, "But, I'll leave you now. The hour is getting late."
"Goodnight," Bob said.
Elliot turned and headed toward the staircase leading to the second floor.
Vivian watched him as he walked, as he reached the landing, then turned right and disappeared finally from view.
Then she began to tremble.
It was as if the foundation of Vivian's life, of her every belief, was crumbling before her very eyes. And there was no way to stop it, no life-saver that could be tossed out to prevent her from sinking to the bottom of the pit, to save her from the sharks, from the stingrays, to save her from decomposing, to stop the tremors of her heart . . . as it burst into flames.
"I think I know how to warm you up."
Shane was in the tub, leaning back, his eyes closed, alone in this tundra. He didn't even hear her . . . not at first.
A small boombox was on, a little loud, a Hootie and the Blowfish tape playing.
And near the music machine, Shane's clothes, all of his clothes.
Felicity said it again, a lot louder this time, and with a little more confidence, "Shane, I think I know how to warm you up."
Shane opened his eyes. Felicity was not who he expected. Not hardly. Not after the looks, the flirtations at dinner. He smiled nonetheless. A little forced, but still pearly-white perfect.
"Do you really?" Shane replied, uncomfortably.
That was all the prodding Felicity needed, as her clothes came off in a blur, and he sat down on the opposite edge of the tub. Dipping her feet into the water, calf-deep, she looked over at the somewhat startled expression on Shane's face, then down at the tuft of dark curly hair between her legs.
"Well?" Felicity asked.
Shane smiled, then nodded. "Very nice," he said.
"That's it? Very nice?" Felicity said, adding, "You sound like my grandmother."
"You do this with your grandmother?" Shane asked, laughing a little, then gulping.
"You know what I mean," Felicity said, sinking, moving slowly into the water until it was shoulder deep.
She waded over to where Shane sat, and wasted no time at all. With both hands she reached out and began massaging him. She moved her mouth onto his, open and hot. Her tongue pushing its way into his mouth, pushing and licking, her teeth nibbling on his top lip . . . but his hands, his hands were doing . . . nothing. Shane wasn't touching her, he wasn't . . . hard. He was . . . limp, lifeless, hopeless.
"What the hell is wrong?" Felicity asked, pulling back, letting go, as pissed and put off as she could ever remember being.
Shane swallowed hard. His face turned a little red, and he looked away.
"It's . . . well," Shane stammered, ". . . got nothing to do with you. I don't really know how to say this. But I . . ."
"Never mind," Felicity said, standing, hopping out of the tub and into her clothes in one furiously blurred motion. "I get the picture."
Next, Felicity was standing in the great room, drying herself in front of the dying embers of the fireplace, her mind reeling from the rejection.
No one had ever turned her down, at least not sexually. No man had ever been able to, or so she thought. And the one time she decided to test the bisexual waters -- she wasn't really, though her lover that night could never tell -- Felicity picked her target, fired, and hit a bulls-eye on the first shot.
If there was one aspect of her life that Felicity was sure of, it was her sexuality, her allure, the hard-ons she could cause at a heartbeat's notice.
And now that was in question.
Everything in her life, the meaning of her life, was a big meaningless question mark.
That's what she'd have tattooed on her next. A question mark, right on one of the cheeks of her ass. No, on second thought, on the middle of her forehead. Right where it belonged.
Felicity was so angry, she shook.
"Asshole!" she muttered, moving her hands closer to the fire, wondering what she had done wrong.
It was when her mind finally started to clear that she heard someone singing in the kitchen.
The words were unfamiliar: "There's a storm clouding my soul, because you won't be true, I need a woman to help me chase away the blues." But Goop was belting them out with all his heart.
Felicity walked through the dining room, headed toward the kitchen, and saw him there.
Goop was standing in front of the open refrigerator door, a chicken leg in his mouth, a beer in one hand, and with his free hand he searched.
He was wearing another muscle-shirt and some sweat pants, it was pretty obvious the guy spent a lot of time in the gym. For an older guy, there was a funky edge about him, which Felicity liked. Maybe her sister wasn't so off the mark after all, fun could be had at a ski lodge in Montana.
"Nice tattoo," Felicity said.
Goop stiffened slightly, and with that free hand, he grabbed the handle of the steak knife which protruded from the chicken carcass he had cut to shreds right there on the shelf. Then straightening up, he turned and shot a glance at his admirer.
Immediately loosening his grip on the knife, he pulled the chicken leg from his mouth, licked his lips and smiled, then, as if he forgot which piece of art was on which arm, Goop looked down at the tattoo which caught her attention.
"An art lover, huh?" he said, eyeing the Edvard Munch masterpiece.
She nodded, and stepped forward into the room. "Felicity," she said, holding out her hand.
"Call me, Goop," he said, putting the chicken leg back on the plate in the fridge, wiping his fingers on the legs of his pants, then taking and kissing the top of her hand lightly. "Everyone else does."
"Okay," Felicity said. "Goop it is."
He took a swig of beer, then asked, "So, Felicity, what do you think of this one?" He turned and proudly displayed his other bicep.
Felicity laughed. "Is that who I think it is?"
"Only the most beautiful woman in the world."
"Got any others?" Felicity asked.
"Dozens," Goop replied.
"Well then," Felicity said, suddenly feeling a little less dejected, and a whole lot more desirable, "Hand me a beer, and we can get down to business."
"Business?" Goop asked.
"You know," Felicity said. "You show me yours. I'll show you mine."
"Die, you bastard! Die!"
Paige's heart raced.
She could hear rapid thump-thump-thumping, feel the pulse, the steadiness, frantic and explosive, in her head.
She pressed her hands to the side of her head, to her temples to rub away the beat. To her ears to drown out the sound. They were so cold. Her ears. Everything. Every part of her.
Paige was cold, frigid to the bone. What was she doing outside anyway? A gun in one hand. Her jacket on, but it wasn't zipped up. It had stopped snowing, the wind had stopped blowing.
Everything was quiet . . . deadly silence.
Except for the pounding in her head.
If only she could get her heart to stop. To be still for a minute or two or three, or just until the pain in her head evaporated.
But, no, that was what he wanted. What he wanted . . . for her heart to stop. For her to stop.
But Paige needed to go on. There was one thing left to do. One thing. Only. Before she died. Before she willed herself to death. Before the thump-thump-thumping stopped of its own volition. Just gave up. Too painful to go on.
Paige raised her gun.
It wasn't the Pocketlite, but her standard issues, one of the Smith and Wesson model six-six-nine 9mm automatic pistols. The piece weighed like forever in her hand.
Paige was afraid the recoil would knock her back onto her ass, into oblivion, with only her headache to remind her that she wasn't dead yet, with the pounding as her only friend in purgatory.
Paige took her stance . . .
She could actually still remember the stance. Could she ever forget the Goddamn stance?
. . . and squared down the sight, squinting, aiming . . . but at what? What the hell was she looking for? What was she looking to kill? Whose life did she want to end in the most violent fashion? Who? What? Where? How? Why? Why was it all so fucking white?
And the pounding.
It was white-washed. Pure white. Snow white. Blinded and blinding.
Paige spun around, then back again. Three hundred sixty degrees, to travel so far and be right back where she started. To travel so far and see nothing. To travel so far blind.
Nothing but white.
She focused on down the sight of her Smith & Wesson. Focus . . . focus . . . focus.
Open your eyes and focus.
Find the bastard you want dead. Find him.
But nothing. Just white. In every direction. Except up. There the sun beat down, blinding as well, burning, conspiring with the whiteness to destroy her, to explode her head from inside out.
To . . . to . . . but why wasn't the sun warm? Why was everything so cold?
Her ears had been cold, and her gun too . . . ice cold. So cold it stuck to the skin of her hand.
Paige took a few deep breaths, still squinting down the barrel . . . in case. Just in case the bastard returned before she froze to death, or died from the internal pounding, or the whiteness finally burned through her retinas, into her brain, and out through her soul, to the other side of hell and back.
She struggled with the zipper of her jacket, but her fingers were numb. She couldn't get a grip. She rubbed at her legs, at her arms. What was she doing out there?
Suddenly a crack, a twig, something, out in the distance. Behind her.
Paige spun around, assumed the position . . . the stance. She shot off a round. It cracked against the silence, accented the drum beat in her head. A shrill Jimi Hendrix wail on the upper register of his flaming guitar. Pour gas all over me, Jimi. Make me burn, Jimi. Set . . . me . . . on . . . fire!
Paige sat up with a start.
She was drenched. Breathing heavy. And her head ached.
She rubbed at her temples, and attempted to calm herself, find her bearings. She looked about the room. Steve was there, asleep beside her, lying on his stomach with one arm flopped up under the pillow, the other scrunched beneath his chest.
And outside, the fragments of ice and snow continued to beat against the window, against the world, the state, she was trapped in.
Paige reached over to the nighttable, and took a long sip from a glass of water she always kept by her bedside.
"State of mind," Paige whispered to herself. "Or, state of Montana?"
She didn't have an answer, and she wasn't about to try and figure it out in the middle of this night. So she took a few deep breaths, another sip of water, then lay back down, snuggling close to Steve's all warm and toastie and familiar back.
But it was him.
He was haunting her in her dreams.
Prince Charming, was what the press had dubbed him, because his victims were all so beautiful, so pristine, Sleeping Beauties, each and every one.
Six women, so far.
So far . . .
Paige remembered reading the account. She had been working on an undercover case in Hollywood, California, when the second, the second Sleeping Beauty, was found, in early February, 1995.
Six months after victim number one.
And about ninety miles south.
The Prince had moved from Jacksonville to Daytona Beach.
Both victims were white females, in their twenties. Slender, un-tanned, with red hair and green eyes. Good looking women, with respectable jobs, nice apartments, no out-of-control debt or habits. One was a secretary, the other a vice president at a local bank.
They both died identical deaths.
After being slipped a drug called Veronol, a Barbital, the victims would fall into unconsciousness.
Veronol worked immediately, and could be administered through injection, orally, or used as a gas for anesthesia. In both cases, the initial dosage had been mixed with vodka and orange juice.
Once the drug took hold, Prince Charming would undress his victims, and pose them, always on a white backdrop, a sheet or blanket. Their legs closed, their arms folded serenely across their chests, and in their hands a red rose. The thorns always pressed lightly into the skin between their breasts, and into the palm of their hands.
A few trickles of blood against an otherwise pale tableau.
And he'd brush their hair, spread it out stunningly, a red halo around their heads, making it look like hair always did in shampoo commercials.
They seemed so serene, so peaceful, so beautiful. Even in the police photographs.
"Like Sleeping Beauty," one local cop said.
The name stuck.
In both cases, once the scenario was arranged to his liking, the Prince gave the women a second dose of Veronol. This one fatal, and administered by injection into their right arms.
Three details differed with the second victim.
One: her pubic hair had been shaved into a heart-shaped design.
Two: traces of foreign saliva were found on her lips.
And three: she was the daughter of one of Florida's elder statesmen, a four-term Republican Senator.
It was the latter that took the case out of the hands of the Florida State Police Major Crimes Division, and dropped it, like a hot potato, into the lap of special agent Wesley Selden.
A phone call. The President of the United States.
"Wesley," the President said, speaking with a slight Southern brogue, speaking as if they had been best friends at Harvard, when they hardly knew one another. "The Speaker of the House is using what's happened down there in Florida as an example of everything that's wrong with me, my administration, the Democratic party, with every Democrat who's ever lived, for God's sake. You know, the family value sermon, and this from a man who tells his wife he's divorcing her as she lay dying of cancer in a hospital bed."
The President went on to explain that he wanted action on this matter. He wanted Selden to find Prince Charming, and "string the S.O.B. up by his balls, for all the voters to see."
So Selden turned to Paige.
She had just wrapped things up in California, returning tired, and expecting a long over-due vacation.
"Why me?" Paige asked.
Selden had picked her up at the airport, and slapped a file in her hand the moment she deboarded the plane.
"Other than, I'm his type?"
"Cause you're one of my best men," Selden explained. "You can get into his head, you can take the bastard apart."
Paige took the compliment, knowing he meant nothing by the gender slight.
She took the assignment as well.
At first she concentrated her effort in the northern Atlantic coast region, from Jacksonville, and down to Daytona, but when the third victim showed up in Melbourne, another ninety miles to the south, this time five months after victim number two, approximately three months since Paige took the assignment, she began picking up on his pattern.
All three of the murders occurred between midnight on Saturday, and four AM on Sunday. All three victims had been out partying, drinking, dancing, bar hopping, but not from sleazy dive to sleazy dive.
But at family-style hangouts: T.G.I.Friday's, Houlihan's, Bennigan's. The safe and popular national chains. Wholesome depravity, with some potato skins on the side.
The details with number three were identical to number two, right down to the pubic heart and saliva on the mouth.
As in every case, there'd been no sign of a struggle, or a break in. Nothing was missing. And even the door to the victim's apartment was locked by the Prince on his way out.
There were no fingerprints, no foreign fibers, no tracked in dirt, just that trace of saliva.
Aside from the standard serial killer profile, Paige knew immediately that the Prince was an above-average looking guy, one who blended in, seemed safe enough to bring home.
And that he was moving south.
For the next four months, Paige roamed the bars of West Palm Beach by night, while running every possible check during the day. She made herself available, made sure she looked like the other three woman, dressed like them. She spoke to everyone, smiled, flirted.
But still a fourth woman died.
Paige had been right about the town, though in the wrong bar on the right night.
She headed south, to Fort Lauderdale.
But the details kept haunting her.
Paige felt that the Prince was kissing his victims to bring them back to life. But why? And what was the deal with the heart?
And the fact that there was no sexual assault, no brutality, no violence. Made it all the creepier, somehow.
Could Prince Charming just be living out a sick Walt Disney fantasy?
Paige watched the Disney movie, she watched the Faerie Tale Theatre episode, she even watched two different porno tapes that bared the same name. She read Charles Perrault's seventeenth-century novel.
And in the end, she was left wondering whether the bastard though he was Maleficent and Prince Phillip all rolled into one? Out to kill the Princess, and save her all at the same time?
"Or," Paige thought, one night while sipping diet cola at a T.G.I.Fridays, "Maybe the sonofabitch is impotent."
She told Selden her theory. That the Prince believes only a woman who could rise from the dead would be able to cure him.
"What about the heart?" Selden asked.
"Cures him, then gives him her heart."
"Okay," Selden said, shaking his head and exhaling deeply. "I can buy that. But why redheads? If I remember correctly, Princess Aurora was blonde."
"The fair skin," Paige guessed, though in reality, that fact had been puzzling her, bothering the hell out of her. "Y'know," she shrugged, "the fairest in the land."
"That's 'Snow White,'" Selden said. "Don't mix up your fairy tales."
"It's a lot easier to tell a bottled redhead, from a bottled blonde," Paige said, tugging at her own hair. "The freckles and the pale skin are usually a dead giveaway."
"You don't have freckles," Selden noticed.
"Remind me. One day I'll show you a picture of me at five. I was covered with 'em."
"And they all went away?" Selden asked.
"Every last one."
"Okay," he said. "I'll go along with you. The impotence, the shaved hearts, the Prince's desire for an all-natural girl."
Selden gave her the okay, whatever she needed.
"Thank you," she said.
And during the week, Paige talked to anyone and everyone who might know something about and/or offer a cure for impotency. She left no stones unturned, no magic ejacu-pump ads unanswered. There were a few leads, one good suspect even, but nothing in the end panned out.
And then, only three months later, came victim number five.
She was a woman, another redhead, seated across the bar from Paige. She had been drinking Bloody Marys, made with Absolut Peppar. Paige overheard her telling the bartender how much spicier the top shelf vodka made the drink.
At one point, the redheaded woman left, Paige assumed to used the toilet, and never returned.
Paige saw her again later the next day.
"It could have been me," she told Selden. "Why didn't he choose me?"
"Maybe he knows you're watching," Selden replied.
Paige didn't find out how right her boss was until the sixth victim rolled around.
Two months later.
Jane Flaherty, a claims adjuster for a large insurance company based in Miami.
Paige's home town.
And then there was only one place left for the Prince to go. One stop on his south bound train.
Key West . . .
Which brought Paige pathetically up to date, still struggling for clues, for answers, other theories, anything short of testing the DNA of every male in Florida, or at least every male hairdresser. Still, almost seven months after his sixth victim, waiting.
Paige lay in bed now, so close to Steve, trying to picture this monster, coming up only with the cartoon image from the Disney flick, Maleficent as a man.
Or a man, dressed as Maleficent.
Where were Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather when you really needed them?
She smiled, pushing all thoughts from her mind.
Maybe Wesley was right.
She needed rest, to recharge.
Paige needed something, of that she was certain, though she seriously doubted that she'd find it in a ski lodge in Montana.
SNOW BLIND ©2004 Gorman Bechard - All Rights Reserved