Chapter Forty-one







"You have quite the appetite."

"Need the energy, Elliot. I'm a little weak, thanks to you."

"Don't thank me, it was Lauren's doing."

"I'll take full responsibility, Goop. Though honestly I'm surprised."

"That she got away."

"That you're alive."

"They're only flesh wounds, Lauren. They only look nasty, and I've got plenty of blood left. Paige didn't have the balls to kill an unarmed man. That's against their rules, y'know?"

"Too bad, but it is nice to know someone has rules."

"We all have rules, darling. You mean, it's nice to know someone who actually follows them."

"And come on, Lauren. What would the Caymans be without me to liven things up?"

"Goop has a point there."

"Really. I didn't know he was coming."

"What did you think I'd do? Stay in Montana?"

"Elliot?"

"I meant to tell you."

"When?"

"Lauren, for this to work, we all need to disappear. No trails leading all over the place. Just one quick route out."

"Of course."

"With no witnesses."

"Speaking of which. Look at them. They know they're going to die. Why don't we just put them out of their misery?"

"Because Lauren doesn't want them to suffer."

"But they are suffering, and I feel sooo bad about it."

"I'm sure. And besides, we need Peter to be alive when leave."

"Do you really think you'll get away with this?"

"Ah, they can speak."

"Going to shoot me now?"

"No, later. Right now I'm curious as to why you think our plan will fail?"

"They'll realize it's not your body. That it's Peter's, and Mark's, and Steve's, and mine. And they'll put it all together."

"Eventually, yes. But that'll take months. And in the meantime we'll have new identities, new lives, new looks even. Elliot Haring, Lauren Devereaux, and Harvey Goopowski will cease to exist."

"And what about Paige? What if she makes it . . ."

"Well, let's see. The next sign of civilization is fifteen miles to the southwest. I sincerely doubt that Paige has the stamina to make it fifteen miles in four feet of snow . . . and rising . . . with a wind chill factor that's taking the temperature down to, oh, around minus eighty, I believe the forecasters predicted."

"But there's a chance."

"There is no chance!"

"I detect uncertainty in your voice, darling."

"You detect exasperation with these ridiculous theories. No one could make it out there!"

"What if the bitch finds our Cats?"

"Goop. She'll freeze to death first."

"You sure?"

"Twenty minutes."

"What's that?"

"That, my friend, is the amount of time that passed before she experienced the first signs of frostbite. Her toes, fingers, nose, and, excuse me, ears, lost sensitivity. Yet there was a sharp, stinging sensation, as if she were being pricked by a hundred little needles."

"Like getting a tattoo."

"Exactly. Then the hypothermia set in. Everything slowed. Poor Paige probably wasn't even aware at first that she was dying."







Chapter Forty-two







"What laundry chute?"

Dinner was over.

Paige and Shane listened as the remaining eight filed back into the great room. Following their footsteps, she imagined they assembled near the sofa, in the center of the room.

"I need to get up there," Paige whispered to Shane.

He told her about the stairs leading up in the laundry room, "to probably the kitchen," and when Paige told him to take her there, Shane mentioned his flight down the laundry chute.

To Paige that sounded most promising.

Shane led her back to the makeshift wooden-slat door, and cautiously slid it open.

Once inside the laundry room, Paige went right to the chute, opening it, sticking her head in, looking up.

"Figure it's about twenty-five feet to the second floor," Shane said. "If it hadn't been for those sheets," he motioned towards the dirty sheets piled at the bottom of the chute, "I'd'a probably broken my neck."

Nodding, barely listening, Paige pulled her Pocketlite from the waist band of her leggings, and placed it into one of the interior breast pockets of her bomber.

Then she took the Smith & Wesson, which Shane had been holding limply in one hand, made sure the safety was on, then holstered it in one of the jacket's deep side pockets.

"Wish me luck," Paige said, raising one leg high, and scrunching her body so that it'd fit into the narrow opening.

"Where are you going?" Shane asked.

"Up," she said, pulling her other leg into the chute.

"I gathered that."

"I've got a hunch," Paige said, not bothering to explain.

"But . . .," Shane mumbled, shining the light up the chute, searching for words.

"Don't worry about it," Paige said. "There's strength in these legs that even I don't know about."

"That wasn't what I was worried about," Shane said, softly.

Paige pressed the soles of her boots flat against one wall, and her arched back against the opposite wall. Then pushing her elbows out, the leather of her bomber giving her a suction of sorts against the smooth wood walls of the chute, she began the long, slow shimmy up.

"Are you sure about this?" Shane asked, sticking his head in as soon as she cleared the chute's slide-up door.

"Pack the bottom with more sheets, blankets, whatever you can find," Paige said. "And keep the flashlight aimed up."

"Oh, right," he said, shining the beam up the chute.

"I need light on the walls," she said. "Not my ass."

Shane glanced up, and sighed. "Sorry," he muttered. Though considering the view, he really wasn't. Considering the view, well, Shane couldn't, not just at this moment.

Paige worked her way up, a few inches at a time.

Keeping her muscles taunt, tight, it was easier actually than not waking Steve. Easier, but not nearly as much fun. Easier, but . . .

"No," she murmured.

She couldn't think of Steve. Not now.

Later, yes. Later, Paige could mourn.

But not now.

There was too much to do. Much too much. Retribution. Personal. Just three shots.

Paige took a deep breath, a work-out breath -- Yoga, she'd study Yoga when she got home. The relaxation techniques, the stretching, the breathing. Where were those Kathy Smith workout videos when you really needed them?

Up . . . slowly.

She was at the first floor level now, and wondered what condition Goop was in. Paige figured him to be a survivor, a quick healer, that she'd probably done more damage to his ego than anything else.

And that would only make him mad, edgy, off-balance.

"An easy target," Paige whispered.

She liked the sound of that one, but had to wonder why hadn't she killed Goop when she had the chance. Was it her respect for life? Or that to slit a Goop's throat only brought her down to his level of savagery? Where did the fine line dividing the barbaric and the need for self-preservation begin and end?

They never answered that question at Quantico.

"Are you okay?" Shane asked, as he pulled some towels from a laundry cart, and began stuffing them through the chute door.

"Ssshhh!"

"Sorry," Shane said, so softly that he knew she could never hear. He didn't want to anger her.

Paige stopped for a moment to catch her breath.

She had worked up quite a sweat, but probably couldn't have made it without her old bomber. The cow hide provided friction that a sweater never would have.

Paige took another step up, having worked out a rhythm: left foot, right shoulder and elbow, right foot, left shoulder and elbow, etcetera and so on.

The light danced against the walls making her shadows long and spooky, sort of how Paige imagined she looked to everyone else as a young girl, as a preteen.

An inch shy of six feet in fifth grade, an inch taller in the sixth.

All legs, "spider legs," the other children used to call her, frightening Little Miss Muffet away.

Then her left shoulder slipped.

Paige could feel herself falling.

She jammed out her legs as straight as could be, and clawed at the walls with her hands. Paige made herself large, wide, expanding from every side, with every appendage.

She lost maybe a yard or so, but not everything. At least she didn't end up crashing down fifteen or so feet onto her back.

"You okay?" Shane said, breaking the ordered silence.

"Yeah," Paige said, catching whatever breath she could, ordering herself to concentrate, to drain every thought from her mind except one.

Up.

Focus on up.

"Keep clear," Paige said, "Just in case."

Whatever you say, Shane thought, pulling his head out of the laundry chute opening, keeping only his flashlight-armed hand inside.

He took a few deep breaths, attempted to calm his racing heart, and began to think about Felicity. Wondering why he hadn't stayed with her the night before?

She had snuck up on him as he lay dreaming. Wide awake in fantasy land. Such personal thoughts that he was embarrassed, as if Felicity could read his mind.

And because of it, because he couldn't recover fast enough, switch gears at least in his head, Felicity had to die.

It pained Shane greatly to think of what that sick tattooed bastard had done to her.

All that blood, all that suffering . . . how could anyone?

And all because Shane had wanted someone else.

He should have just spent the night with her, he now realized, held her close . . . his eyes closed the whole while . . . back in dreamland . . . thinking of the only woman he really desired.

Touching Felicity, but feeling for Paige.







Chapter Forty-three







"We can have some fun. Kill some time."

His tone was so soft, so soothing, that Greta thought for a moment she was dreaming, this time for real, lost in a phantom world. That this, everything, was all one big mother of a nightmare. And the sickest part was that the bastard who killed Felicity and Mark was actually trying to seduce her with words.

Goop lovingly pushed back Greta's hair from her face. "You really are quite a looker," he said, in that same seductive tone. "A beautiful mouth. Great cheek bones." And then, "I saved your life before, y'know? I didn't allow Elliot to kill you."

A few dozen snappy retorts flew through Greta's head. But why bother, she thought. She'd get slapped, or raped, or worse. So instead, Greta answered him in an even tone, void of emotion.

"Can I take a shower first?" she asked, adding, "I'd really like to take a shower."

Goop smiled. "Of course," he said, nodding, standing aside as Greta stood, allowing her to pass.

Alison, who stood nearby watching, went to speak. She held up a hesitant hand.

But Greta stopped her. "It's okay," she said, her voice sharp, almost angry. "I really need to take a shower."

Greta just wanted to bathe one last time. She knew she was going to die, she'd given up on all hope when Elliot jammed his pistol under Steve's chin. There was the anger, the fear, the denial, than finally the acceptance, all the appropriate emotions snowballing by in order. And Greta didn't want to die with her lover's blood caked in her hair.

Everyone stared at the young woman as she headed for and marched up the stairs.

Goop couldn't take his eyes off her.

Greta reminded him of Liverpool, England.

His home.

The home of his love.

Goop was eighteen, she was two years his senior.

Her name, Matilda . . .

They studied together at the University. He was a science wizard, of all things. She was majoring in economics. They were unified by the changing world around them, lead by the Sex Pistols, the Clash, and Elvis Costello. Britain was exploding, morphing. It was bursting apart at its seams. And they were part of its new generation, they were its new leaders.

They were in love.

And, at least to Goop, at least as he remembered it now, it seemed as if they could not get enough of one another. Eating, drinking from each others' flesh.

Their desire knew no bounds, no intimacy, it was raw, uninhibited. As they each pushed the other further and further over the edge of bliss, in and out of consciousness, always ending up in one another's arms.

But then, one afternoon, Matilda disappeared. No note. Not a word to anyone. She left class, and evaporated into the rainy English afternoon, like the mist off a cup of steaming tea.

Goop was frantic. He notified the authorities, her parents, anyone who might be able to help locate the woman he so loved. He plastered posters with her photograph on every telephone pole. He ran an ad in the school newspaper.

Then he waited.

And wondered.

His mind working overtime, was she alright? Was she alive? Had she found someone else? What could he have possibly done wrong, done to prevent this, done to help her?

The answer came a few weeks later when a detective from Scotland Yard showed up at Goop's door, informing him that Matilda had been found, and would Goop come identify the body?

Later that evening, driving straight from the morgue to Heathrow Airport, Goop purchase a one-way ticket on the first available flight to America. He never returned to his flat. He picked up none of his possessions. Called none of his friends or family. He never returned to England again.

Like Matilda, he just disappeared, alive in body, but his spirit, his heart, the walking dead, forever haunted by what he'd seen in the morgue. Forever haunted because of what they'd done to her. What had become of his beloved.

Felicity, in a way, was like Matilda.

A nice girl obsessed with going over the edge. One who liked playing with fire. But unlike Matilda, Felicity cried if there was chance at getting burned.

Greta was probably the same.

They all were, every woman he'd met since, Goop thought, staring at Greta now, hypnotized by the globes of her behind as she ascended the stairs.

He loved the mechanics of those cheek bones, that sleek artistic shimmy, the geometric perfection, the boom-chick-a-boom, don't you just love it?

He viewed them as silk basketballs, juggled in the hands of Air Jordan.

Yes, he thought, all the same.

"Sure you're up to it, my friend," Elliot whispered, pulling Goop aside, slapping a hand on the squat man's shoulders, dragging him back to the realities of Montana.

"I could be dead for a week and still make wood," Goop answered back, cocky and brash, then added in a softer voice, "It'll calm me down, Elliot. I'll take it slow. Really. I'll be nice this time."

"I don't care whether or not you're nice," Elliot said. "I only care that you survive."

"Really?" Goop asked. There was a catch in his voice, a little choke of emotion.

"Yes," Elliot said, nodding. "What are friends for?"







Chapter Forty-four







"Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name . . ."

Greta entered her bedroom, shut the door, but didn't lock it. Why bother?

She pulled the mostly-blood-soaked dress over her head, as she walked to the bathroom. Hiking down her panties, she sat on the toilet and peed, while kicking off her shoes, her panties, and rolling down and removing her stockings. She stood, wiped, flushed, then lastly took off her bra.

". . . thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven . . ."

Naked, except for the cross which hung still between her breasts -- her good luck charm, perhaps it had brought good fortune to her great-grandmother -- Greta leaned into the shower, and turned on the water. Hot, so very hot.

She waited, her right hand under the stream of water, feeling as it changed from icy to chilly to moderate to luke-warm and finally to hot, her left hand caressing the cross, memorizing its details one last time with her fingertips: the face of Christ, his eyes all teary and frightened, the thorny crown atop his head, the minute nails in his palms and feet, the muscles in his biceps and thighs as they strained against the pain, the loin cloth covering his privates, and those cherubs, six in all, a half-dozen, climbing over the Savior, over the cross, hanging from his limbs, pointing, wide-eyed and mischievous, wearing their own little crowns, crowns of ivy and rose petals, but naked otherwise, smiling down, laughing . . . were they protectors or detractors . . . ridiculing or adoring?

". . . Give us this day, our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us . . ."

Greta pulled back the see-through plastic curtain, and stepped inside. Her eyes closed, she pressed herself under the jets, which cleansed Mark's blood from her hair, from her face, her ears, from her pores. If only she could cleanse the weekend from her life, to start over again, in Madison. Perhaps go to one of those parties with Felicity.

Or to go home, and spend some time with one of her other sisters. Her five older sisters: Abigail, Bernice, Clarissa, Danielle, and Eunice.

They were the alphabetical seven. Her father so wanted a son -- his name would have been either: Avery, Byron, Christian, Desmond, Efrem, Frasier, or Grant, depending upon where his birth fell -- that he continually talked her mother into "trying again." Six times he convinced her. On the seventh time, she threatened to leave, and Greta's dad backed down. A hysterectomy was performed on her mom's tired uterus, and the birthing process came to a blessed halt.

A blessed halt . . .

The water felt pure, divine even, as if the answers to all prayers could be found in this hot shower . . . as if the heartbreak her parents would soon enough suffer could be steam-cleaned away.

If only it were that easy, she though, turning, running her fingers through her hair, her mouth open, the water running in and out.

". . . And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen."

She almost had to shake her head and laugh.

There were too many evils in the world now. In the two thousand years, give or take, since the Lord's Prayer was composed, sin had become a Fortune 500 corporation, with the Devil himself as president and C.E.O.

God needed a new prayer. Something a little more kick-ass. Something to rattle the sinners to their very bones, to make them think not twice, but a dozen times, and forever.

To make them do otherwise. To fear the fires of hell.

She repeated the phrase, "Deliver us from evil," then did laugh, this time, loud and for real.

"With your help I can."

The voice almost shocked Greta out of her skin.

Gasping, she opened her eyes and turned, expecting to see her sister, all zombie-like, back from the dead, or worse.

She expected Goop. There to take her life away, but not before . . . not before what?

Greta could barely imagine.

But what she saw, clear as the blizzard which continued to rattle and hum outside, when she opened her eyes, was Paige, standing on the other side of the shower curtain.

"But I thought . . ."

Paige held up a hand to stop her from asking questions. "No time," she said in a voice just barely audible above the gushing of the shower.

Already turning to take inventory of the items in Greta's medicine cabinet, and her cosmetic bag, Paige retrieved or tossed away whatever she felt she might be able to use, whatever she could carry.

There was still so much to do.

Paige began to explain, starting with two simple words.

"Just listen," she said.




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