Chapter Twenty-four







"Has anyone seen Felicity?"

They were at breakfast, most of them. Shane and Felicity were no-shows, leading most in the room to jump to what might have been the obvious conclusion. As was Mark, who awoke late, and told Greta to go ahead without him, he wanted to take a nice long shower.

Goop was there, or Mr. Goopowski, as he was better known. He whined, he insisted, and against his better judgement, Elliot allow him this intrusion into the lives of the soon-to-be victims. Elliot joined him, in fact. Sat right by his side, taking in the smells of the omelette, home fries, hot oatmeal, and toast. He kept his left hand, the prosthetic hand, inconspicuously on his lap, but still it had drawn attention, the uncomfortable glances that after all these years he had grown quite accustomed to.

Lovely, Elliot thought. Just lovely.

"I don't care who or what she spent the night with," Greta said. "She never misses a meal."

"Even if she was with someone like Shane?" Alison asked, raising an eyebrow.

"She could wake up with Brad Pitt," Greta said, "And still the only thing on her mind would be food."

"Huh," Goop said, plucking some grapefruit flesh from between his teeth, then looking at Greta, thinking to himself how attractive she looked in that baby doll dress, with thigh-high stockings. So much more feminine than the flannel shirts and blue jeans that had been her sister's style.

There should be a rule, he felt, or some sort of law, to keep women in skirts.

"Excuse me," Greta said.

"Nothing," Goop replied, smiling at the young woman. "Just, huh."

Goop's smile made the light hairs on Greta's arms stand on end, prodded by suspicious goosebumps. To her, a guy like Goop, and she'd seen enough of them in the nightclubs and on the streets of Madison to know, was gross. Plain and simple. Way beyond, not her type.

Goop turned away from Greta, just as she turned away from him. He caught Elliot watching him out of the corner of his eye.

Elliot was playing the role beautifully. Talking about mutual funds, and pension plans, and other such crap. Listening to him almost made Goop think he's gone soft.

"First," Elliot explained to Steve and Peter, "You have to decide what type of life you want at retirement. Then you can save accordingly."

Goop actually had to suppress a laugh at that one. He almost choked on his toast, thinking that he wanted to lie on a sun soaked Caribbean beach with a bevy of teenaged girls addressing his every whim. How much will I need for that, Elliot? Will twenty million do?

Lauren -- make that Liana -- sat next to Elliot.

She hardly looked at Elliot. Not even a furtive glance. Focusing instead on Alison, more hints, suggestions, survival tips for life in Big Sky Country.

"The week between Christmas and New Years, February vacation, and Spring Break," Liana/Lauren explained. "Those are the busiest times of the year."

"Like with any resort," Alison said.

"Exactly," Lauren said. "In fact they're already booked solid for this season."

Listening, Goop had to shake his head. There's one survival tip you're forgetting, he thought. Leave. Now. He snickered a bit, and Steve asked him what was so funny.

"Nothing really," Goop said, shooting Elliot a little sideways glance, laying it on thick. "It's just we're so busy taking care of everyone else's cash, that we've barely had time to worry about our own."

Peter was about to comment on how wasn't that always the case, when Greta spoke up.

"It's about time," she said, annoyedly.

And suddenly all eyes at the table followed the young woman's point-of-view. Everyone turned to face Liana, or, more precisely, to face the person standing behind her chair at the head of the table.

Shane.

"Told you my sister never missed a meal," Greta said, then, "Where is she?"

But Shane ignored her. He never even looked at her. He looked at no one but Paige. He locked onto her eyes, and wouldn't let go.

"What is it?" Paige asked, sensing something.

Maybe it was the lack of color in his cheeks, the hint of a glistening in his eyes, or maybe it was just the desperation when he quickly replied, "Could I talk to you for a minute?"

Paige stood suddenly.

Though Shane had seemingly spoke to no one else during the previous evening's meal, Paige still couldn't remember his voice exactly, not so that she'd have heard it in her dreams, or on instant recall. But she knew for certain now that it didn't sound right.

Gone was the youthful, testosteronal confidence, and what was left was shaky, at best. His voice sounded like it needed a stiff drink, or maybe to sit down. And he didn't look much better than that.

"Sure," Paige said, squeezing Steve's shoulder as she passed, then going to Shane's side.

As Paige followed him out of the dining room, toward the great room, everyone was silent. Most sort of watched uncomfortably, then glanced questioningly at Steve.

"Trouble in paradise, Steve-O?" Peter asked his friend.

"Not that I know of," Steve replied.

And honestly, he hadn't a clue as to what was going on. Paradise was still paradise, in his mind. And even though Paige played up the trapped in Montana in the middle of a blizzard aspect, she certainly was as loving, as romantic, as turned-on, as he could ever remember her being.

Hell, Steve thought, she even made love to me this morning while she thought I was sound asleep. God, what concentration it took for him to keep his eyes closed. How he wanted to look at her. To watch.

And that line about the Miami Dolphins. Simply brilliant.

And while every night wasn't as perfect as their first night together -- "That first date should be in the Guinness Book of World Records," Paige commented more than once -- any night with Paige was nonetheless pretty perfect still.

As the old friends continued theorizing as to what the hell was going on, Goop caught Elliot and Lauren glancing his way. Their looks scolded, they warned, they told him that he better had not let his urges run amok.

Goop shrugged . . . a little helplessly, innocently even . . . answering their concerns, their scoldings, with apathy . . . then, standing, he calmly wiped the corners of his mouth with a napkin, and said, "Time to clean up the mess."

"I'll take care of the dishes," Liana said, unemotionally, her eyes attempting to bore a hole into Goop's soul.

He laughed, shot her his most winning grin, then patting his belly, said, "Wasn't the dishes I was talking about."







Chapter Twenty-five







"We've got to get out of here."

Shane was leading Paige up the grand staircase, and down the second floor hall, toward the right, away from her room, her's and Steve's "honeymoon suite."

He was rushing, running almost, picking up speed with every step.

Paige probably would have stopped dead in her tracks, placed her hands squarely on her hips, and demanded, "What the hell is going on?" in a tone that would have given Shane instant split-ends, had she not been so damn frightened by something in his tone.

That tone.

Paige had heard such a panic only twice in her life.

Once on her first case out of Quantico, where she posed as one half of a husband and wife art smuggling team.

It was a case that had been a thorn in special agent Wesley Selden's side for longer than he cared to remember. Millions in classic paintings and sculptures were disappearing from the mansions of South Florida, and vanishing without a trace.

It was what led Selden to Quantico, to scope out the latest class of rookies, in the hopes that he'd find someone so far out of the bureau loop that they'd stick out like the perpetual sore thumb.

It didn't take long for him to notice Paige.

This was the assignment which had brought her to Miami. Paige spent a total of eight months undercover, with no contact to her family, or any friends back home. Only Selden and her partner. She fell into a new world, became another person, mansions, yachts, parties with the rich and famous until all hours of the night. And no one ever suspected a thing.

The operation was ultimately a success in that she and her partner recovered a warehouse full of priceless masterpieces. There was a Van Gogh, a Matise, two by Jackson Pollock. It was like walking though the Museum of Modern Art, except that this was a run-down storage facility on the waterfront, and these objects of art were for sale.

It wasn't, in that Paige got shot. Shot by her partner, another special agent, the husband half of the team, who had been dealing from both sides of the deck. He had felt the sides closing in -- burning both ends of the candle, working undercover for both the good guys and bad. He had joked more times than Paige could recall, and three-plus years later she could still recall quite a few, about selling out the Bureau.

"Think of the money we can make," he had told her. "We'll be millionaires."

But when he read her reaction, when he knew for certain that Paige would never go willingly over to the other side, he'd always laugh, joke it away.

"Just kidding, baby," he'd say, playing the role.

That's when she first recognized the tone.

And each time, with every successive "joke," it'd be a little deeper, a little more severe, until that night he drew his weapon. His voice was quivering so, the mumbled apologies, that Paige wasn't sure if he was going to shoot her, or himself.

That answer came as he pulled the trigger.

But Paige shot back.

His aim was off. Her's wasn't . . .

The first time, the other time, she heard the panic, it was coming from her own throat.

It was in the front seat of that Lexus, as she asked the sonofabitch to stop. Please stop. I don't want to do this. Please. No!

But now she followed, herself in a panic about what could have made this stranger so frantic, what could have made this snowmobiling dude freak out, in, backwards, and sideways.

"What are you talking about, Shane?" Paige demanded, watching as he came to a stop in front of one of the guest room doors, at that very end of the hallway.

"I was worried about her," Shane said, slightly out of breath. "After last night. She seemed so mad. As if I were the one who let her down. So, I went looking for her."

He began to cry, to rub at his eyes.

"Felicity?" Paige asked.

"Yes," Shane said, nodding, the tears coming now in waves, sobs wracking his chest, the panic, the fear raising the tone of his voice octaves.

Shane faced the door, reached out for the handle, and slowly, as if it were the last feasible action of his life, a final reaction as well, turned.

Pushing the door open, he looked away. Shane could not bear the sight, it would forever haunt him. Beyond forever, past incessant, he thought, burying his face in his hands.

Paige turned slowly, steadily, moving her gaze from Shane's hysteria and into the darkened room.

The bile rose in her throat before her mind could even play connect-the-dots with the images in front of her.

Paige saw flashes . . . the wrists, the ankles, tied to the bed posts . . . yellow straps of terrycloth cutting into the flesh were she was bound . . . the tangled mess of hair, caked and brownish/purple . . . the face, Felicity's face, her eyes upturned, her mouth snarled and ugly, opened wide, forever frozen in terror . . . but nothing else made sense. Nothing was as if could be, should be. Nothing. The tattoos . . . all of her tattoos . . . gone . . . there was no form, no reason, to what remained. Just red . . . soaked . . . death.

"We're dead," Shane said, between sobs. "We're all going to die."

Then there was a laugh.

But it wasn't Shane's. It was calm. A he-he-he tittering on the brink of Snidely Whiplash. Enjoying the monstrous. Licking the chops.

Paige could feel zaps of rage shoot down her spine -- rage at her stupidity for going anywhere in Montana without a weapon in hand, without a body guard, a grenade launcher -- oh, what the hell was she doing there in the first place?

She clenched her fists, and spun around . . .

A knee half-raised . . .

A foot ready to strike . . .

A Beretta semi-automatic aimed . . .

Right at her face.

"Uh-uh-uh," Goop sang, watching her hands, anticipating a kick, a punch . . .

Paige stayed tense, rigid, her eyes never drawn to the whimpering Shane, but locked on Goop's sickening grin, locked on his face as he glanced into his bedroom, and said, "Must'a been that time of the month."





Chapter Twenty-six







"Better get a ring on her finger before you lose her."

The warning came from Alison. A little strange in Steve's mind, considering she and Peter never tied the knot. But maybe she knew him better, maybe she'd read something from Paige. Maybe it was that obvious.

"I've been giving it some serious thought lately," Steve said.

"You're going to ask Paige to marry you?" Peter said.

Steve nodded. "Yes. I think so. It's just that . . ."

"Sorry to interrupt."

The voice came from Elliot. He stood, and reached under his over-sized and untucked sweater to retrieve a Beretta 9mm automatic pistol, which he held now, steady and low, in his artificial hand. It was aimed at no one in particular.

Greta dropped her fork. It clinked loudly against her plate. Her voice was trembling with confusion as she asked, "What are you doing?"

Everyone at the table froze, except for Lauren/Liana, who stood, and like Elliot, pulled a Beretta 9mm from the back waistband of her jeans. This wasn't the way it was supposed to happen, but now, thanks to Goop, thanks to the vicious desires of their partner -- how the word made her cringe -- there was no turning back.

Bob turned and shot Vivian a frantic look that warned her, "No!" Do not to reach for your gun. Otherwise the body count would be significant. He squeezed her hand under the table. But she did not squeeze his back.

Elliot smiled. He stared right at the young woman, his eyes flashing. "I'm stealing back my life, Greta," he explained, his voice cool and seductive. "Please understand. It's nothing personal."

Peter went to speak. His mind suddenly reeling. He looked at Liana. Begging her. "Liana," he said, "What's going on here?"

Lauren/Liana didn't turn to face him, or Alison. She couldn't. Her eyes were dead of emotion, and it was almost as if her breathing had stopped.

"Ssshhh," Elliot said, dragging out the first "s" sound, then making the others all jittery and staccato. "I want silence. And I don't like repeating myself." Then, he said softly, "Now move." And he pointed his weapon toward the doorway that led to the great room.

Bob was the first to stand, his arms raised in front of him.

Slowly, everyone followed, first standing, then walking toward the great room, in step with Bob.

They met Goop as he was leading Paige down the stairway, his own weapon aimed at the small of her back.

"Where are the others?" Elliot asked.

Goop mimicked Shane's voice, but ended up sounding more like Dennis Hopper on crack. "The ski dude, he's like crying like a fucking baby, man . . ."

"Where's my sister?" Greta asked, cutting him off, sensing something was terribly wrong. "What did you do to my sister?"

Elliot walked over to her.

Grabbing a handful of Greta hair with his good hand, Elliot dragged her face down so that it was inches from the barrel of his gun, which he calmly held waist high.

Greta screamed.

"What did I tell you?" Elliot said, twisting her hair, pulling it hard, pressing her face against the gun.

Paige glared at Elliot, at Lauren.

It was worse that she might have expected.

Three of them.

Paige could have risked it with Goop. A kick to the side of his arm, while she dove away from the aim of the pistol. But the gun might have gone off, or Goop, with those slab-of-beef forearms might not have dropped the damn thing, and then what?

A bullet to the head, and it'd be all over . . . or worse, a fate like what befell Felicity.

"Well?" Elliot said.

"To shush," Greta said finally, between gasps, between sobs.

"Very good," Elliot said, a long beat between the words. "And what did you do?"

"I," Greta said, searching for the right words, looking around for a sign, for help, for a note from God that this was all just a sick joke, a nightmare, and that someone pinch me please, she'd awake with a start, all covered with sweat.

"You . . . ?" Elliot said.

"Talked."

"Such a bright girl," Elliot said, as if speaking to a child. "You didn't listen. Now, you know what I'm going to have to do?"

Elliot pressed Greta's face closer to the gun, so that her lips were against it. "Open wide," he said.

He never moved his gun, but gripped it unflinchingly in his prosthetic hand as he pulled Greta close, forcing her mouth over the barrel.

"Elliot," Lauren said, she was standing behind him, watching him act like she had never before seen. Watching a man she hardly knew, yet loved.

"Yes, dear," he replied. "Can't you see I'm busy."

"Don't," Lauren said.

"Hmm," Elliot went. "What do you think, Goop? Should I spare her?"

"I'd never shoot a lady, Elliot," Goop said. His voice was earnest and sympathetic. "It just isn't right." He was standing on the second stair now, Paige one step in front of him.

Elliot looked down at the young woman. Her tear-streaked face, her pouty lips wrapped around the barrel of his automatic pistol.

"Very well, then," Elliot said.

He let Greta go.

She fell to the floor, coughing, rubbing at her eyes, at her mouth, realizing that it wasn't a dream, dreams didn't taste of steel and grease.

Dreams didn't hurt.

Elliot turned to face Goop. "Now," he said, a little perturbed. "Care to explain yourself."

"I didn't mean for it to happen," Goop said, with a shrug. "Things just got out of hand."

Even as Goop spoke, Paige kept focused on Elliot. Who was this sonofabitch? she wondered. Elliot. Elliot what? Certainly not Hitchcock. And Liana, who was she? Had this all been a setup? A conspiracy? Had Peter and Alison gotten themselves into something, troubles that Steve could have never foreseen, and this was payback time?

Her guns. If Paige could only get to one of her guns.

Could she take out the three of them? Two, yes, easily. Elliot first, then Goop. She'd take her chances with the woman, Liana, if that was even her name.

Armed, Paige would take her chances against almost anyone. She had graduated Quantico with a perfect score in marksmanship. A certified pistol expert.

Not that it did her one iota of good without a pistol.

"Tell us about it, Goop," Elliot said now, almost reflectively. "Tell Greta what it was about her sister that you couldn't resist."

"You sure?" Goop asked.

"Oh, yes," Elliot said. "Tell her. Make her wish that she too were dead. Make her beg for one of my bullets."

"Elliot," Lauren said. She didn't want to hear this. She didn't want to see this. She was wondering if she even wanted to be there at all.

"Hush, darling," Elliot said, standing back, eyeing the guests, smiling at Lauren. "Go ahead, Goop. Make us proud."

Goop scratched at his chin with the tip of his gun, then stepping around Paige, he began speaking, walking over and bending close to Greta, so close that she could smell her sister on his breath. Close enough to make her, as Elliot assumed, wish she were dancing through the pearly gates right about now.

Elliot walked about the room as Goop recanted his glorious evening. He stepped up to Peter, then Alison, then Steve, then Vivian and Bob. His eyes telling them, their lives, their futures, were in his hands. He looked into each of the faces, taking deep breaths. Fear, he was smelling for fear. A fresh bouquet of primal, knee-quaking, God-fearing, wet your pants terror.

It was enough to make him cry. Weep at his good fortune. Turn to the Lord and ask, "Why have you blessed me so?"

Lastly, Elliot came upon Paige. Her eyes were locked on his. Elliot sniffed, then grimaced slightly. He sniffed again, then, with the slight shadow of a grin playing on the edges of his mouth, he whispered, "Give it time."

But Paige felt there was no time. It had run its course, sand out of the hourglass, or some such cliche.

There was only even, rational thought, to focus . . . no trigger-finger heroism, no sound. Instinct, intelligence, and above all, calmness would get her and Steve, and the others through this.

Goddamnit, it had to.

Lauren turned away. She couldn't bear another word. She caught Alison's gaze. The hatred. So pure, so intense. This isn't me, Lauren thought, horrified by what she heard, by what she saw in Alison's eyes. I'm not doing this to you. I can't be.

Elliot looked to Goop. The squat man was just finishing his tale. And quite a lively tale it was. What a master storyteller. Elliot was almost shocked at the man's buoyancy, his spirit, his panache.

Smiling, Elliot turned and watched Greta.

The youngest guest held herself as she sobbed. Covering her ears, burying her face in the nook of her elbows. Muttering nonsense.

Then Elliot began to clap.

"Very good, Goop," Elliot said. "A lively, entertaining tale. I give it a thumb's up," he added, hooking one thumb toward the heavens.

"Thank you," Goop said, a little flustered. "But you know I could have never done it without you," he gestured toward the lodge's guests, "and these fine folk. You made it all possible."

"Enough!"

It was Steve.

He yelled.

He had seen enough. Heard enough. He caught Paige's glance as she shook her head, but he wouldn't stop.

"What the hell are you doing?" Steve asked. "You want our money?" He reached into his pants pocket, pulled out his wallet, and flung it at Elliot, hitting him in the face. "You can have our fucking money."

Elliot shook his head sadly. Then walking up to Steve, he explained, "I don't want your money."

"Then what do you want?" Steve asked.

"For you to shush," Elliot said, raising his Beretta,

pressing it hard under Steve's chin, and pulling the trigger.


SNOW BLIND 2004 Gorman Bechard - All Rights Reserved