Paige was attempting to stand, to pull herself from the three, maybe four, foot thick blanket of snow which broke her fall.
It was quicksand-like, just as wet, but cold, softie-freeze without any flavoring.
Paige pulled her feet under her, and pushed up, arms moving as if she were trying to swim. The first time she fell back down on her ass, yelled, "Shit!" then tried it all over again.
But even at her height, and at her minimal weight, she had trouble not drowning in the drifts that surrounded the rear of the lodge.
It took many moments for her to wade a dozen or so feet. The motion so slow that Page felt as if she weren't moving at all, and if it wasn't for the tracks she left in her wake, she could have never been convinced otherwise.
The sun, or more appropriately, the light above the storm was fading rapidly, as dinner time approached. Which, combined with the frantic blowing sleet and snow, made finding the trail left by Shane all the more difficult.
But Paige felt remnants, imprints and empty snow holes, what could have been footsteps, or a body pulling itself through the drifts,
She looked back toward the house.
There was her open window, the only open window, drapes flapping in the wind. The deck, a huge half-covered porch with encircled the lodge.
There seemed to be a shed underneath, it's fiberboard walls covered in cedar lattice.
The trail, or what was left of it, led right to the shed, but in this storm, it was impossible to tell from any distance. Visibility was zero, possibly less than that.
Was there a door, an opening. Paige could only trudge on and pray.
The motion was slow. The snow restraining every muscle, a new sort of resistance workout. Like running in tapioca pudding, and freezing to death at the same time.
If only I had a hat, she thought.
A foot closer . . . a few inches . . . anything . . . the snow higher . . . mounds as tall as she was . . . .crawling up the walls of the lodge . . .
And Paige found the door.
Her hands could barely clench the door handle, she couldn't make a fist. But still she nudged it aside, siding it with great effort, open a foot, maybe less, but enough for her to squeeze inside.
Paige could sense the warmth immediately. Not coming from the riding mower, the snowblower, or any of the rakes and shovels, but from the other side of a door, clear on the other side of the shed.
She was drawn to it, her hands out in front of her, stealing the rays of heat that managed to escape.
Paige pushed open the door and spotted the source. A huge furnace. Painted blue, with flames lighting its side and bottom.
She rushed over to it, pressing her hands against the heat, sighing.
"Never again," Paige repeated over and over. Never again would she venture north of the Mason-Dixon line.
"Ah, screw that," she said, taking deep breaths, trying to will the heat into her frigid bones. "Tallahassee. That's as far north as this girl needs to go."
Paige closed her eyes and pressed her chest to the furnace. She was thinking, recouping, trying to get rid of a headache that resembled the ones you got when you ate ice cream too fast.
When suddenly, a sound, barely a scrape, sent currents rushing down her spine. She opened her eyes, imperceptibly lowered one hand into her pocket, and grabbing hold of the razor, froze.
Paige heard it again. The lightest of footsteps, coming from another part of the basement.
Hunched down low, Paige turned, the razor open, and ready. She stepped away from the light of the furnace's flame, and into the shadows.
Then she stopped, and listened.
Her heart was beating so fast, Paige swore it sounded like Notre Dame's cathedral bells, ringing during high mass.
Then she heard the footsteps again, a number of them, heading toward the furnace.
Paige caught sight of the beam of light first, then of a figure, moving slowly, against the wall.
They, whoever it was, was using the sort of crouch that a bad TV cop might, with a flashlight in one hand, and a pistol aimed outward, unsteady but ready to fire, in the other.
Then a little light fell on the face, and Paige had to smile.
That omnipresent knapsack slung over his shoulder. Did he ever go anywhere without it?
"Know how to use that?"
Shane gasped, turning, aiming the gun this way and that. The color draining from his face.
"Identify yourself," Shane said, trying to sound all officious and deadly.
"It's Paige," she said, quickly and evenly.
"Let me see you."
Paige moved the razor behind her back, and stepped toward the furnace.
Shane aimed the flashlight, shining its beam on her. He took a step in her direction, then another. But the gun was still out, still aimed at her.
Paige backed up at little, then more, so that she was pressed against the furnace. She tensed her grip on the razor, as Shane stepped closer and closer, a yard away, a step, until finally he was right up against her, taking her into his arms, wrapping his arms around her, squeezing her tight, holding onto her as if he might never let go.
"Thank God," he said, burying his face into the softness of her hair. "Thank God."
Slowly, the color returned to her own face, the breath to her lungs, Paige raised her arms around his back, and hugged back. He felt so warm, so alive.
"I heard some shots," Shane said.
"Steve," she said, her voice as void of emotion as she could make it. "And Mark."
"I'm sorry," he said. "Are you okay?"
"I'll survive," Paige said.
Nodding, breaking from the hug, Shane handed her the gun.
"My pocketlite," Paige said. "I thought they'd . . ."
"I thought the same thing. So I beat 'em to the punch."
"Where's the 9mm?" Paige asked.
Shane turned, stepped into the corner, bent down, and pulled the Smith & Wesson from under the brightly-colored crate.
Standing, a relieved smile on his face, he handed it to her, but Paige didn't take it.
Instead, she stepped forward, pushed past Shane, and bent toward the crate.
"Could I see that flashlight?" Paige said.
Shane handed it to her.
Paige shined the light onto the side of the crate, then muttered, "Oh, God."
"What?" Shane asked.
"Plastiques," Paige explained. "Enough to level this place."
"In that crate."
"At one time," Paige said. "Why?"
"'Cause there're stacks of 'em," Shane said, pointing over toward another part of the vast cellar. "Right over there."
"Gotta hand it to you, Goop. You know how to throw a party."
Elliot followed the trail of blood back to the honeymoon suite. It was a smear of darkened red, brown almost. And a chill could be felt as he approached the open door.
Inside, the room was frosty and frigid, a winter wonderland topping for a carnage sundae. All that was missing was a cherry.
Elliot rushed to the window. But it was now too dark outside, at least to make out tracks, or white against white, or joyfully, Paige's body, broken and frozen after the fall.
Elliot slammed the window shut, then turned toward the bed. Bloodied hand prints covered the pastel-colored blankets and sheets. And the matching throw run, was hardly pastel-colored any more. A red so deep that it was almost brown had seeped into the fibers, spilled out onto the floor. It was sort of like abstract expressionism meet Stephen King.
He moved over toward the bed.
Paige's pocketbook was on one of the nighttables. Elliot spilled its guts onto the blanket, much like he wanted to spill Paige's at the moment.
There was only one item which he cared about. But it was missing. Her badge.
She took her badge with her, Elliot thought, as if she actually planned on surviving out there, making it to some civilization where she could phone the proper authorities, and those authorities could sweep in and whisk the bad guys away.
"No such luck, darling," Elliot whispered.
He recalled that Christmas Eve night, in Bedford Falls. The authorities, so many proper authorities, assembled on the lawn, surrounding -- "You're surrounded, Elliot. There's no way out!" -- aiming their high powered weapons, helpless.
As helpless as the family inside.
Elliot could sense the fear from the second floor window. He could smell it.
As frightened as the family inside.
"This ain't right," the V-man protested. "They're kids, Elliot. Just kids."
We're going to die anyway, Elliot thought at the time. Might as well have some company on the other side. But instead of explaining, instead of putting Vincenzo out of his misery, he chose little Paul as the first to go.
Lucky child, Elliot thought now, wondering how Paige might have handled that situation. Would she have snuck into the house, taken him down before any others had the opportunity to die?
Or would she have waited, negotiated.
What was there to negotiate, Elliot thought at the time and now, when they can only execute you once?
Turning finally, heading back to rejoin the group, Elliot spotted a lump of flesh on the floor by the foot of the bed.
Bending to examine it, there was no doubt in Elliot's mind that this was his friend's ear. Could it be saved? He shook his head in answer to his own question.
Not a chance.
Though Goop would try. Of that, Elliot was certain. So, to save time, and keep everyone centered, to try and nudge his partners back on course, he picked up the ear, brought it into the suite's bathroom, and murmured, "Hail Mary, Full of Grace. The Lord is with Thee. Hallowed be thy Name. Yada-yada-yada," before dropping it into the toilet.
Elliot flushed, washed his hands, then headed out of the room, back down the hall.
He remembered the first time he'd ever laid eyes on Goop. They'd bumped into one another outside a small jewelry store in the downtown shopping area of Wichita, Kansas. They were both casing the place. Watching the movements of the workers, the manager, the store's owner. Sheer coincidence.
How could they not become partners?
How could they not become friends?
Shaking his head sadly at the memory -- so many years back, such an innocent time -- Elliot recalled the look on Lauren's face when he first introduced them. She was appalled at Goop's rough-around-the-edges, rough-in-the-middle as well, appearance. Goop was so unlike Lauren and Elliot.
Perhaps that was the key.
Or perhaps, he was more like Elliot that Lauren could concede . . . that's what appalled her.
Elliot shrugged. Who knew?
He turned off the hallway, onto the landing. It was almost dinner time. And suddenly, he was hungry.
"Y'know," Elliot said, as he descended the staircase, walked right up to Lauren, and lovingly stroked the side of her face. "Something I've just now realized."
"What's that?" Lauren asked, as a chill crept down her spine.
His tone was a little too calm, a little too rational. All anger drained somehow.
Lauren was looking not at Elliot, but watching Alison as she gently wound some gauze around Goop's injured hand.
"It's almost over," Elliot said, beaming.
Lauren nodded a few times, then looked finally into Elliot's eyes. How right you are, she thought.
"There won't be anything left."
Paige standing in front of the empty crates, letting the flashlight's beam dance along the warnings: "Explosives. Extremely Dangerous."
She counted twenty crates in all, including the one over by the furnace. Enough to level a high-rise, or a small mountain. Enough to start an avalanche which could bury the place for months.
"Maybe that's their plan," Shane said.
"Are you guessing?"
Shane shook his head ever so slightly. "Right after Goop dragged you upstairs . . ."
"You heard that?"
He led her through a maze of half-built walls -- frame work actually, as if at one time, someone planned on finishing the space off, adding a recreation room -- to another portion of the basement, toward the front part of the lodge.
The spaced was filled with lifetime's worth of junk. Old bicycles and sleds, Paige thought for a moment that Rosebud itself might be down here. There were boxes of jelly jars, some exercise equipment, and even an old pool table, its green felt top long ago rotted away.
"Before I went to check on my ride," Shane said, "I was looking around, to see if there was something I could use, when I got to about here."
Shane stopped walking and looked up at the cellar's ceiling, the crossbeams, and above them the long wide planks of pine that made up the floor to the great room.
There were no sounds now. Not even a squeak from one of those floorboards.
Everything was still.
Where are they, Paige wondered, looking up, thinking they were watching her, feeling as if they were looking back. It was that same Prince Charming feeling times three. That constant awareness of being surveyed.
Then they heard some loud shuffling sounds, and followed.
"The dining room?" Shane asked.
"Yes," Paige said, leading the way.
She could picture it now. The last supper. Elliot, Lauren, and Goop shoveling food into their faces, as the others stared on in horror, wondering which would be the next to die.
She was right under them now. Wishing she could see through walls. Three shots and it would be over.
They were talking, Elliot leading the pack. Small talk, really. Strange considering.
Turning, Paige retraced her footsteps, walking back to the space under the great room. She ran the beam of light over the underside of the floor boards, and found the large aluminum air duct which ran from the furnace to cut away vents in the floor.
There were an even four, running into the great room, two against each of exposed walls. In a number of places the ducts fell open, in need of repair. This helped heat the basement space. Helped the sound reach their ears.
Paige walked to the edge of the cellar, and began shining the light into every possibly nook along the perimeter.
"What are we looking for?" Shane asked.
He was following her like a puppy dog, his face so close, his tone so earnest, that she almost wanted to tell him to go wait by the furnace.
It didn't take long for Paige to get the answer she was looking for.
She stopped the movement of the beam. It was aimed into one of the farthest corners of the cellar. Where the overhang of the porch jutted out beyond the construction of the lodge.
Paige took a few steps forward, getting close, but not too close.
The wires caught her attention first.
Barely visible, but tucked into the crevices of the crossbeams, and stapled in place.
Then Paige sniffed the air.
And the beige-colored putty-like substance -- there was no hiding it from someone who knew what they were looking for.
And after the anti-terrorism studies -- anti-terrorism was a major focus at Quantico after what happened at the World Trade Center and in Oklahoma City -- the endless repetition, the faces, the substances, the detonators, fuses . . . the smells.
"That," she said finally.
"Looks like silly putty," Shane said, almost wishing he hadn't.
"Except you can't copy the Sunday funnies with this," Paige said, shining the flashlight beam along the outer edges of the lodge.
The entire perimeter was packed with plastiques. Almost as if Elliot had planned to launch the Lambert Ski Lodge into space. A probe, a way station, an intergalactic ski lodge for the real stars.
"Tell me what you heard?" Paige asked.
"Elliot and Lauren," Shane said. "The only way they can escape is for the authorities to think they're dead."
"As if we'd really stop looking just because this place was blown to hell."
"What if you found his prosthetic hand?"
Paige took a moment to consider this.
"I'm not sure," Paige said, finally.
"What if you found the remains of a one-handed man with the same physical build of Elliot?" Shane asked.
"But," Paige said, the light suddenly dawning. The physical resemblance, the ruse disguised as a contest.
It had nothing to do with his essay, nothing at all to do with destiny.
Paige covered her mouth with her hand. then looking into Shane's eyes, she said, "Peter."
And the realization of what Elliot Haring had in store for Peter D'Angelo flashed in Paige's mind.
"Oh, my God," she said.
SNOW BLIND ©2004 Gorman Bechard - All Rights Reserved