Chapter Thirty-two

"I don't hate you because you're beautiful."

Goop was seated on the floor behind Greta, one leg around either side of her. He was whispering into her ear, playing with her hair, running his fingers through it as he sang or paraphrased the tag lines for every hair product commercial on TV in the past twenty years.

Greta was frozen in fear, her eyes puffed from the tears, tears that had long since run out. She couldn't move, or perhaps she wouldn't. She just sat there, letting him touch her hair, letting him do whatever it was that he wanted. Thinking about her sister, wondering what might have happened? Tasting the gun still, seeing that look in Elliot's eyes. She was going to die, she was sure of it. Sure of it. And right now, she wished she had.

The others sat. Not that far away. But lost, too scared to speak, or even look around . . . for fear of locking eyes with the devil himself.

Half-way across the room, Elliot lifted his feet up onto the coffee table. He was resting, his head back, but his eyes were open. Rubbing a hand over the stubble that covered the top of his head, he stared up at the ceiling, silently.

Lauren moved over to the chair, her Stickley chair, and sat, glancing back and forth between the others in the room, avoiding Goop, if at all possible, wishing she could will him and his kind into oblivion. Avoiding the windows as well, and the never-ending snowfall. The never-ending cold.

"A penny for your thoughts," Lauren said, softly.

"I doubt they're worth even that," Elliot said, snapping his head forward, rubbing at his eyes, then looking at her.

"I'm willing to over-pay," she said, smiling seductively, "as long as the money goes to a worthwhile cause."

Elliot nodded, then returned her smile. "Remember that weekend we spent Christmas shopping in Paris?" he asked, his voice distant, a little perturbed.

Lauren nodded, how could she forget?

It was 1992, they were coming off their biggest score yet. The Cartier store in Chicago. Eight million in cash and jewels, and with the insider, the sixty-two year old guard who had worked for the company for some thirty odd years, and was about to retire with a pension that could barely keep him in Coors Extra Gold, as the only casualty.

The only casualty, that phrase now burned a hole in her heart.

Just as the cash back then burned a hole in Elliot's pocket.

He had suggested, no insisted, that the three of them, his crew, fly to Paris for a shopping spree to end all.

Elliot bought her a Chanel suit, a mink coat that she didn't want, and would never wear, the finest lace lingerie, perfumes, and jewels.

They stayed at the Ritz, in one of the Presidential suites, living like royalty.

They ate, drank, in style. The three of them, that Saturday night. Hopping from one fabulous nightclub to the next.

Goop had hooked up with a young French woman, named Jolie, who explained that her name meant "pretty" in her native language. It was an appropriate moniker. But she was a rarity for Goop. Usually he preferred the company of professional -- as if there were such a thing as amateurs -- escorts. Or at least that's how Lauren remembered it.

The two couples partied long into the night, drinking heavily, spending lavishly, making like world was their's and their's alone, and the evening would never end.

But it did end.

And the next morning, as Lauren and Elliot ate croissants with their morning coffee, a knock came to their door.

It was Goop.

He was covered in blood, and crying. He said there'd been an accident. But in Lauren's opinion, it wasn't an accident. She was there, she saw, caught a glimpse of what was left of Jolie, a pretty French girl who was pretty no more, alive no more.

That flash still haunted Lauren, still made her clamp her eyes shut, as it did then, to this very day.

It made her cry. Made her nauseous. Made her loathe the muscular man which Elliot considered an equal partner.

Made her agree rapidly and easily, when Goop was otherwise engaged, and Elliot suggested replacing him on an upcoming job with Chuck V-man Vincenzo.

She had to laugh.

Thinking back.

That Sunday morning in Paris.

The differences. Then: Goop blubbering like an infant. Muttering how he loved her, how things had gotten out of hand, how scared he was. Now: him stuffing his face, eating breakfast, as if his actions the night before were the most natural in the world.

The similarities. Then: It was snowing. Eight inches accumulated that day . . . that fucked-up day. Now: well . . .

why did it always seem to be snowing?

"I'll never forget Paris," Lauren said, finally.

Elliot nodded, lost in his memory. He glanced over at Goop. He was still toying with Greta. Whispering sweet nothings into her ear.

Elliot shook his head, sadly.

"What?" Lauren asked.

She was gazing at the four guests now, trying to figure out what was running through their minds. Would any of them be brave, attempt what Paige had tried? What about you Bob? Or Alison, or Vivian? Or Peter, poor Peter. She remembered Alison telling her his only trepidation was moving to a state where the guns outnumbered the population. Peter didn't believe in guns, in violence. What could he be thinking now? Was he, or any of them, willing to risk it all for freedom? Lauren wondered.

"I was thinking about our two missing guests," Elliot said, then called out, "Goop. Whatever became of Mark?"

"Couldn't find the professor," Goop said, reaching a hand under Greta's dress, and fingering the lace-sides of her panties.

He'd done a less-than-thorough sweep of the second and third floor bedroom, which amounted to Goop opening each door, glancing around, and deciding that the room was empty. He figured Mark presented little threat to their crew, and just didn't take the search all that seriously.

"He's probably in one of the bedrooms," Goop continued, shrugging, "somewhere, plotting his strategy, how he's going to save his friends, and make us bad guys pay for our sins." He shuddered loudly, a gross exaggeration, then yelled so that all could hear. "I'm so scared."

"And Shane?" Elliot asked, amused by his partner's unruffled psyche.

"He's the one that got away," Goop said, reluctantly turning away from Greta for a moment. "He was gone by the time I got up stairs. Out the window. But don't worry. All the out buildings are secure, as are the first-floor doors and windows. There's no way in other than the front door. And there's no place else out there to hide."

"You think he can survive outside?"

"Yeah," and Goop began to laugh. "For about a half hour."

"And then?" Elliot asked.

"Break out the ice pick," Goop said, "And you can chip away whatever parts you want."

Chapter Thirty-three

"Mother of God."

Shane muttered the phrase, but had it not come from his mouth, initiated from his head, he'd have never understood it.

He leaned into the side of the lodge's gas burning furnace, pressing his hands, his face, his chest against the warm blue-painted metal, and swore he could hear his blood defrosting. Shane would have crawled inside the unit if he could, become one with the flames.

Anything to get warm.

The basement of the Lambert Ski Lodge was as good a place, as any.

Once Goop led Paige downstairs, Shane dragged himself to his feet, then carefully tiptoed his way from room to room, picking up the pieces he'd need to survive.

Then while in his room, he pushed open the lone window.

The storm fought to get in, gripping Shane, and everything that surrounded him, with an instant frosting. It roared, it shook the room, filling it with flakes, like in one of those glass snow balls that you only have to shake.

From there, the route had been pretty damn direct.

Not out the window, but back down the hall, and down, his knapsack in hand. A twenty-five, or so, foot fall, from the laundry chute at the end of the second floor hallway, straight down to the Lambert's basement laundry room.

A six-by-ten foot room with two heavy-duty industrial washers, and two matching heavy-duty industrial dryers. Maytags. Someone had once paid for the best.

From that room there were two escapes. A narrow stairwell that led upstairs, into a hallway that ran alongside the kitchen. And a makeshift wooden-slat door, that opened onto the rest of the dimly-lit basement.

Luckily, someone, probably the original owner of those Maytags, had seen fit to mount a rechargeable flashlight on the wall by the makeshift door.

Its absence now was the only sign of Shane's intrusion into this below-ground space.

There was one other way out . . .

At the far end, a door opened onto a tool shed built under the wrap-around porch. It was filled: a riding lawnmower, rakes, a snow-blower, shovels, ice picks, a weed-whacker, and other assorted garden-variety/snow removal tools.

At the opposite end of the shed was a sliding door which opened onto the world.

Freedom was only a heat wave away.

Shane had figured that it would take him twenty minutes, give or take, to make it to his old Ski-doo.

There was a chance he could get the thing started. A small chance. But with it, he might save Paige, and the others . . . but mainly Paige.

How beautiful he found her. How completely bewitching. Paige took his breath away. She gave him the strength he needed out there, to keep warm, to stay alive.

Shane knew exactly where he'd left the snowmobile, but when he got to it, most of the three or so feet of snow that had fallen since, was frozen solid.

It would take him hours to chip through the ice, and by that time, he'd have died from exposure.

So, he returned, made it back, just barely, and now he had to thaw out all over again.

Thaw out and try to find a way to survive. To possibly help those that remained alive. To help Paige.

Shane wondered if there had been additional murders since he left. He wondered, but after seeing what Goop had done to Felicity, he didn't want to know.

Pulling out the Colt Mustang Pocketlite from his jacket pocket, he moved away from the furnace, and retrieved the Smith & Wesson 9mm from under the brightly-colored wooden crate where he had hid it.

Examining the two weapons, the safeties, the clips, peering down their sights, Shane wondered also if perhaps he should have left Paige one of her guns.

No, he thought.

They'd have found them.

And though he barely knew how to shoot, Shane felt a little more confident, that he might survive this ordeal, if armed.

Chapter Thirty-four

"Where's a gun, when you really need one?"

Mark was in the kitchen, standing by the stove. He'd been though every drawer, every cabinet. And the most dangerous weapons thus far were frying pans and skewers, and an oversized whisk that look as if it could do some damage.

But Mark opted instead for the knives, pulling one, then another from the wooden chef's block, then one more for good measure. He'd have taken the block along too, if he thought it would help.

These were his only hope . . . their only hope . . . Greta's only . . .

They were talking about him now, making fun. The words loud and circus like, coming to his ears in waves. How he had a plan, how he'd save his friends.

Well, Goddamnit, Mark did have a plan . . . sort of.

Taking a long, steadying breath, Mark stepped cautiously from the kitchen and into the dining room. Staying low, against the wall. Hiding behind the large table.

He took another long breath and wondered how Shakespeare would handle this situation. How Hamlet or Othello might prevail? Would they outwit their opponent with savage tongue, or brandish their swords, and duel until the mighty prevailed?

And what did it really matter. The bad guys didn't have automatic weapons in Shakespeare's day. Okay, Mark thought, what would Bruce Willis or Mel Gibson do? They'd run into that living room, guns blaring, and take out the villains with perfectly executed shots. And they'd look so damn cool doing it, maybe taking a stray bullet in the shoulder or leg, to prove they weren't superhuman.

"Shit!" Mark muttered, stepping a little farther into the room, lifting his head over the table, peeking. He could see them. Elliot and Lauren on the sofa, and . . .

A knot exploded in his throat. Greta. The tattooed sonofabitch was all over her. He had his hands on her thighs, up her dress.

And that look in her face. Anesthetized and spooky. Greta had given up hope.

That look . . .

It broke Mark's heart. It drove him forward, fast, seething power. Taking long angry steps toward Greta and Goop, he flung one of the kitchen knives at the tattooed-man's head.

The knife missed taking off Goop's ear by a fraction of an inch. It was imbedded into the wainscoting behind where he sat, vibrating, a vicious whoop of a sound, and then the sudden jab.

Goop stared at the English professor in amused wonder. "Well, well, well," he said. "I was just about to go looking for you again.

Over on the sofa, Elliot began to laugh.

Lauren called Mark's name, in hopes of stopping him. But he was too far gone. His anger had taken him over the edge, pushed him, watched with mild disinterest as he plummeted and crashed on the rocky shores below.

"Get your hands off her," Mark yelled, tears coming to his eyes. Tears of rage. He was spitting out words that never came. Foaming. Rabid. So breathlessly scared.

He held another knife now in his hand, and was aiming it at Goop. His jugular, just one shot to the jugular was all Mark wanted.

Greta looked up into his face. His kind, caring eyes. She fell for those eyes the first time she ever saw them. Mark was introducing himself to the class, warning them that once the semester was over, they'd either adore him, or shudder at the mention of his name. And they'd feel even stronger, one way or another, about Shakespeare.

The young woman shook her head, just the slightest. No. Please. Don't do this for me. Stop, Mark. Please. It doesn't matter.

All eyes were on him as he stepped up to them. But instead of slashing away at Goop, Mark reached down for Greta's hand, then pulled her to him. He wrapped his arms around her, as if they were bulletproof and heated, gates of steel that could protect, provide even.

Greta sobbed openly. She whispered, "I love you. Really, Mark. I love you, so much."

"I love you too, kid," Mark said, burning his face into the softness of her hair, then, "I'm sorry. I'm so eternally sorry."

Goop looked over at Elliot. He hooked a thumb in Mark's direction. "Get a load of this," he said.

"I think it's romantic," Elliot said, the melody of a Cole Porter song running through his head. Then, turning to face Lauren, he asked, "Wouldn't you say?"

"Yes," Lauren said, the word choked with emotion.

She nodded, and wondered, if the situations were reversed, would Elliot place his life on the line to save her?

"And dumb," Elliot added.

"Please, Elliot," Lauren said softly, conceding to herself that he most definitely would not. "Don't."

But Elliot had turned away from her to face Goop.

"We need this guy?" Goop asked. He was pretty sure Mark was one of the expendable ones, but he wanted to make sure.

Elliot shook his head, then answered in a whispered, "No."

"Good," Goop said, and in one swift motion, he stood, walked over to the loving couple, raised his pistol, and placed it against the side of Mark's head.

He fired once.

The gun shot rocked Greta. She held on to her lover, pressing her face against him. She felt the warmth of his blood dripping down into her eyes, mixing with her tears.

She held on, as his arms finally let go, brushing down her back, his hand dropping the knife. She began falling with him, down to their knees, the dead weight. But she couldn't look up. She didn't want to see the deadness in his eyes, or worse.

Greta just wanted to die now. In his arms. Choking on his blood.

"Please," she cried.

They were on the floor. Mark lying on his back, Greta over him, pressing her face to his chest.

"Just kill me now," she pleaded. "Please."

Goop ignored her completely, as if she were homeless on a New York City sidewalk, as if she were less. He walked over to the sofa, and sat down across from it, on top of the coffee table, directly in front of Elliot.

Placing his pistol down on the table, Goop gave it a spin. When it stopped it was aimed right at back at him.

"I wanna get out of here," Goop said, his voice soft, and antsy.

"Soon, my friend," Elliot said. "It needs to stop snowing first, otherwise . . ."

"Yeah, yeah," Goop said. "I know. Tomorrow morning. Six o'clock."

"Go," Elliot said, "Amuse yourself."

Goop nodded, then turned, avoiding Lauren's scowl, he looked over at Greta, shook his head, then stood, and headed for the stairs.

Once Goop was out of earshot, well up the stairs, Elliot turned to Lauren. He could feel the heat radiated by her anger.

"Why do you put up with it?" Lauren asked.

"Because, when it comes to work," Elliot explained, "He's the best there is." His voice rose slightly in anger. "And if you were ever in a situation where your life was at stake, who better to be watching your back?"

"Personally," Lauren said. "I'd take my chances, rather than living with the fact that that sick sonofabitch had saved my life."

"What a man does behind closed doors . . ."

"Come off it, Elliot. You don't really believe that."

"Yes, Lauren. I do."

Lauren shot him a look as if she didn't know him anymore. "You've changed so," she said.

Elliot shook his head. "Not really," he said. "Only my will to survive."

"We all have to go sometime, Elliot," Lauren said, turning away, not wanting to look at him.

"So I've heard."

Chapter Thirty-five

"I'm going to be sick."

Elliot shot Vivian an annoyed glance.

She did look rather pale, and was sweating. Must be the sight of blood, after Steve, Elliot would have thought they'd be used to it.

He wiggled his hand in the direction of the closest of the many downstairs bathrooms.

It was a half-bath, really, located between the great room and the small library.

"Go," Elliot said.

"May I . . . go with her?" Bob's voice was so tentative it hurt.

"Whatever," Elliot said, smiling like the king of practical jokers. "Just hurry before she throws up in here."

Bob helped Vivian to her feet, and led her toward the small, tiled room.

It was no larger than a closet, with a white pedestal sink, and an old American Standard. The walls were papered, a lavender print, and brass provided the accents: a brass-framed mirror over the sink, a brass soap dish, as well as a brass and ceramic toilet paper holder and towel ring. Some potpourri that smelled of cinnamon provided the windowless room its air freshening.

As Vivian headed right to the sink, and splashed some cold water onto her face, Bob locked the door, lowered the cover of the toilet, and took a seat.

"I'm glad we were so concerned with civilian causalities. At least three of them are dead. Shane probably is, and Paige soon will be."

"Think we can we help her?"

"How? There's still three of them."

"And two of us."

"For how long?" Vivian asked. "How long before Haring, or that other one, gets itchy, before something, anything, pisses them off enough to shoot another person dead? Christ!"

Vivian could picture her sister Shelley, the gun pressed to her head . . . falling . . . arms out-stretched . . . sailing . . . only to crash and burn on the snow-covered lawn . . .

"Someone sneezes, or maybe coughs."

"Look," Bob said. "As long as we keep our cool . . .," he shrugged. "You've still got your weapon."

Vivian nodded.

"Are you good with it?"

Vivian reach behind her, and pulled the Colt Detective Special from where it was tucked, behind the waistband of her jeans, well-hidden under an oversized sweater. Her movements were clumsy, tentative. Her hands glistening with sweat.

"That answer your question?"

Bob nodded. "Nervous?" he asked.

"Scared to death," Vivian said. "Otherwise, I'd probably have shot my way out of here by now."

"And you'd be faced with another predicament."

"What's that?"

"What to do once you make it through the door?" Bob said, watching Vivian as she tucked the gun away, and checked herself in the small mirror to make sure there was no tell-tale bulge under her sweater.

"Out there," Bob continued, "death is absolute. In here, at least there's a chance."

"A small chance."

"Better than none at all."

SNOW BLIND 2004 Gorman Bechard - All Rights Reserved