Chapter Sixty-two







"To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven . . ."

It was his favorite Biblical passage, and Elliot was feeling pious.

The death of someone close could bring that out.

His mom: how he cried and prayed for her soul for weeks. His dad: how he spit on the bastard's grave.

He shouted out the words, words the Goddamn St. Anne nuns had hammered into his impressionable head, words he'd never forget.

He could still feel the slap of the ruler against knuckles of a hand that was no longer there.

". . . a time to be born, and a time to die. You hear that, Paige, a time to die? . . ."

Elliot was on the third floor.

He stepped off the landing, and sprayed the small hallway with a shower of bullets. He was laughing, his eyes wide and wild, his eyebrows arched.

He remembered the children on that Christmas Eve. The sounds of the bullets as they pierced the soft skulls.

Well, Merry fucking Christmas!

". . . a time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted. Did I say, pluck? I meant, a time to fuck what is planted . . ."

Elliot walked into what had been Peter's room, and opened fire, splintering and shattering and destroying everything in sight, and not.

". . . a time to kill, mother-fucking kill! And a time to laugh . . ."

Elliot mimicked Goop's dastardly titter, throwing his head back like a lion in mid-roar.

". . . a time to mourn, and a time to dance . . ."

He kicked the next door open, did a fancy-footworked two-step into the room, and blasted away.

Elliot liked the sound the bullets made as they popped into the mattress. Little farts of air, so final, nothing peaceful, or beauty-restful about it.

". . . a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones. Well, fuck the stones. A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing . . ."

Elliot smiled wickedly, and in a little sing-songy voice, added a verse.

". . . a time for blowjobs, and a time to refrain from blowjobs. Never! Ha-ha! . . ."

He kicked open the lone bathroom, and demolished the porcelain.

Miniature waterfalls erupted from broken pipes and the cracked toilet bowl. Old Faithful. Natural wonders of the fucking free world.

But no Paige Turner.

". . . a time to gain, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away . . ."

Elliot was rapping now. Providing the backbeat was a solid barrage of bullets.

He hit the third room, then the fourth.

Nothing.

But he knew Paige was somewhere, she had to be somewhere, she would not give up, she would not permit his escape. She was in the lodge, not that far away at all.

". . . a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak . . ."

Elliot descended the stairs, down toward the second floor. Two steps at a time. Jumping, watching, all in time to the psycho Bible rap.

The brothers at the Facility would be proud, he thought. I learned something from them, after all.

". . . a time to love, and a time to hate . . ."

Jumping off the final step, and turning down the second floor hallway, Elliot switched to love song mode, and repeated the line as a country-western crooner, singing to the girl who got away.

No, make that the girl who wouldn't live to see another day.

". . . a time of war . . ."

That's when he spotted her.







Chapter Sixty-three







". . . but really now, this is no time for peace."

Paige was standing before the open door to the honeymoon suite.

She had headed back there, from Elliot's room, when she heard his tirade, his systematic annihilation of everything on the third floor, and knew he'd be moving down, and soon.

But opening the door, stepping one foot inside the room, Paige was frozen in pain.

The lump formed in her throat, and fell, ricocheting off her heart, bouncing onto her stomach, and landing somewhere south of there.

Tears sprouted, so fast she could never have seen them coming.

They caught in her throat, flooding her head.

"Steve," Paige said softly, unable to move an inch farther into the room.

They had sat him up in bed, leaning against the head board. Dressed in those green flannel shorts. His legs crossed at the knees, his face twisted into some sort of sick grin, as if they'd worked it like clay. He had a hat on, an Artic Cat baseball cap, to cover what was missing from his head, and his eyes, they were open.

They were staring at her.

And everything came crashing down. Suddenly Paige couldn't stand, she couldn't breath, breathing hurt too damn much.

Living hurt too damn much . . .

"Focus," Paige muttered, dropping to her knees in the doorway. "For Christ's sake, focus."

Then she heard the sound, a sound unlike any other in the world, so distinguished, so sharp, so final.

She turned.

Elliot had popped a fresh magazine into the Uzi, that first round clicking into the chamber.

He was smiling, that sick sonofabitch.

Paige wanted to work his face like clay. She wanted to push his eyes back into the soft sponginess of his brain. She wanted to squeeze the life from him with her naked hands.

Elliot took a step toward her, and raised his gun.

She was crouched down now, and turned around. The Smith & Wesson was in her hand, pressed against the floor.

Elliot could cut her in half by the time she spun, and raised it high enough to get off a decent shot.

He had her.

She knew it.

He knew it.

Soon he could pose her body, like Steve's. Life-sized Barbie and Ken dolls, she couldn't even imagine the poses.

Elliot took another step toward her.

"Sleep is lovely," he said, his tone sarcastically soft and romantic, as he quoted the German poet Heine. "Death is better still. Not to have been born is of course the miracle."

Then Paige heard the shot, it rang out so crystal clean, so sharp, so true . . .

But she felt no pain, no sudden rush, no heat, the warmth of the blood seeping from the wound to wherever.

The same could not be said for Elliot.

He howled.

And squeezed the trigger.

Paige lunged into the suite, slamming the door shut with her foot, away from his line of fire, just barely, the 9mm slugs shattering everything in their path.

Then Elliot turned to face down the shooter.

It was Peter, standing at the base of the grand staircase.

He held Goop's gun in his hand. The one Paige had knocked away. Using one of those pro shop ski poles, he had been able to get to it under the huge armoire.

Peter had it still aimed at Elliot. And this time there was no mistake about the safety. If only he could bring himself to squeeze the trigger again. If only he could . . .

"Bastard," Elliot said, clasping his real hand to the wound in his thigh. The pain was exquisite. Lovely even. The blood so warm. It took his breath away.

He could have cut Peter in half with the Uzi, but instead of destroying him, Elliot took careful aim, and shot the Beretta right out of Peter's hand.

Peter stood there, helpless, not sure which way to turn, as he watched Elliot descend the staircase toward him.

Elliot was limping, laughing.

He looked almost as if were glad to see him.

And in truth, he was.







Chapter Sixty-four







"I'm sorry."

Paige was seated on the edge of the bed.

She reached out to touch Steve's hands, but they were so cold, so . . .

Paige pulled away immediately. She couldn't touch him. She couldn't protect him. Not now.

Burying her face in her hands, she began to weep. And as hard as she tried, Paige couldn't help but remember . . .

It was April, and summer had come early to Florida. It was in the low nineties and Paige was feeling tired, frustrated. She was hitting her head against the proverbial stone wall on the Sleeping Beauty case.

Just one dead end leading to another dead body. Mazes of confusion and lapses of memory. Pubic hearts and a non-ending supply of Veronol. Prince Charming didn't really exist. The Sleeping Beauties just willed themselves to death.

Paige was sitting at the bar in Tobacco Road, over on Miami Avenue.

The place was famous because it held the town's oldest liquor license, and was a hot speakeasy during the Prohibition era.

It was a Friday night, about dinner time, and the bar was packed with South Floridians who wanted to forget about the week that had just ended, wanted to forget that another, a brand new five days of misery, would start in about sixty hours.

But, unlike them, Paige was working -- another Prince Charming stakeout.

She was waiting, hoping that the sonofabitch would seek her out. She was edgy. Paige had the feeling she was being watched. Especially since she'd seen the last victim, been there in the bar with her -- probably the last person to remember seeing her alive.

Was it a little message to Paige from the Prince? I know who you are, Paige Turner. I know what you look like, and I know you're following me.

"Jane?"

There was a soft tapping at her elbow. And the hand that was doing the tapping was attached to an arm, that was attached to a strong shoulder, that was attached to a very fine-looking man.

Paige smiled.

"Jane Flaherty?"

What the hell? she thought, and nodded.

The man touched a hand to his chest. "Steve McRae. I'm a little early."

"I wanted to get a head start," Paige said, playing the game, wondering, could Prince Charming feasibly look like this?

"So did I," Steve said. "I was never very good at this blind date thing?"

"It can be uncomfortable," Paige said. "You never know what to expect."

"Tell me about it," Steve said. "Matt certainly had you all wrong."

"Why?" Paige asked, taking a sip from her drink, wondering who the hell Matt was. "What'd he say about me?"

"He described your red hair and green eyes all right, and, well, he said you were cute."

"What's wrong with cute?"

"Nothing," Steve said. "But you're," he was at a loss for words as he stared into her eyes, ". . . devastating."

She didn't hesitate for a second.

Paige pushed her drink aside, stood, and grabbed Steve's arm. "Let's get out of here," she said, daring to risk everything, sure that this man was a Prince Charming, though not certain he was the one she'd been searching for.

But as they were leaving Tobacco Road, Paige noticed a another redhead entering the bar.

In her late twenties, she appeared lost, as if she were looking for someone.

And, yes, the real Jane Flaherty was cute.

Paige called the shots that night, what restaurant, which bar afterwards.

And Steve gladly obliged.

She made up a life for herself, a new life. Probing him a little, or waiting.

"Matt said you were in insurance," he'd say.

And she'd flub her way through it, or say, "Work's the last thing I want to talk about, after the week I've had."

And when the subject turned to fellow sports writer, Matt, or his insurance-selling wife, Carol, Paige would say, "Forget about Matt, let's talk about you."

They covered every subject that normally wouldn't matter. He talked sports, she talked music. They laughed when they discovered they had both been Brady Bunch fanatics as kids. Though he also liked a show called Land of the Giants, which she had never heard of.

They joked about Pat Buchanan, discussed what could be done to limit the migration of Supermodels into the South Beach area,

and finally wondered what the hell was wrong with David Letterman's hair?

And when it was all over, Paige asked Steve to take her back to his place. It was a little precaution, a little just in case. All of the Sleeping Beauties had been murdered in their own homes.

Once inside his small, but clean, bachelor apartment, he moved into the kitchen, to the refrigerator, to see what he could offer her to drink.

He suggested some white wine, or a beer.

But when Steve looked up, Paige was standing right beside him, her hands already wrapping around his neck, pulling him close, his mouth onto hers. She wanted him, she needed him, right then, right there.

And that's when she knew for certain that Steve might have been a Prince, but he was hardly a murderer.

They made love that first time, on the floor in front of the open refrigerator door. The heat, the cold, and a bottle of beer as an immediate refresher.

The second time was in bed, and after they fell asleep in one another's arms.

For Paige it had been the most relaxing sleep in years. Deep, dreamless -- no nightmares to wake her with screams and cold sweats. There was something warm and familiar about Steve. Something she could easily grow to love.

Still, the next morning, she awoke long before he did.

Paige watched Steve as he slept, knowing she should grab her clothes and run. Sneak away with the dawn, but . . . damn, it had been a long time since she felt this way.

Soon he began to stir. To stretch and moan and generally return to life.

"Morning," Steve said, smiling.

How that smile made her weak in the knees. Paige could feel it, and she wasn't even standing.

But instead of answering, instead of kissing him to welcome the new day, another day, Paige pulled her bureau identification from her purse, and flashed her badge only inches his face.

"Morning," she said finally.

Steve looked wide eyed and in disbelief between the badge and her face. "Am I under arrest?" he asked.

Paige laughed. "No," she said. "You're not under arrest."

"And you're not Jane Flaherty?"

She shook her head. "Paige Turner." She offered her hand, and he shook it. "Glad to meet you."

"Yeah," he said, still a little shell-shocked. Then his brow crinkled, and he gave her the most inquisitive of looks. "Paige Turner?" he said.

"My mother's a big mystery fan," Paige said, straight-faced, as if she'd explained it a million times before.

It certainly felt that way.

"But . . ."

She held up her hand, to stop him from talking.

"You were cute," Paige said, then smiling, blushing, turning away for a moment, she changed her story. "You were devastating."

She looked at him again. Could she have ever seriously believed Steve to be Prince Charming? Yes, she answered herself. She could believe anything at this point. "And I took advantage of you."

Steve nodded a few times, then sat up. He looked around as if the right words were painted on his bedroom walls.

"One question," he said, when nothing brilliant came to mind.

"Shoot," Paige said.

"Can I see you again?"

She answered him with a kiss.

But later that Saturday afternoon, alone and back at her apartment, Paige received the call. Wesley Selden's familiar voice. "We've found number six," he said.

A little panicked, Paige hurried to the address. But the feelings of nausea, of anxiety, of dread, doubled as she pulled up the victim's modest ranch-style home.

The name on the mailbox out front: Flaherty.

Paige met Selden at the front door. No greetings, no handshake, not even a warm smile.

"Is her name Jane Flaherty?" Paige asked.

Selden blanched. "How do you know that?"

Paige told him the story. The Prince must have been there. At Tobacco Road. Listening. So close. Watching her, waiting for her, wanting to take Paige home. But when Steve McRae stepped in, the Prince settled for second best.

Selden was livid, at first. He threatened to pull Paige from the case. How could she have left the scene when the Price was due?

"I thought that Steve McRae might have been Prince Charming," she argued.

"You were wrong," Selden screamed, feeling the anger quickly dissipate.

It wasn't her fault, he told himself, the image of Paige lying dead instead of Jane Flaherty suddenly rushing though his mind like an out-of-control Amtrak express. It wasn't her fault, and Paige dying could never be an option.

The tear started then. Tear for all six victims, tears for Steve, for herself.

"You don't think I know that now," Paige screamed, not taking her eyes off her superior. Not backing down. Selden had taught her to never back down.

And yet, at first, Paige did.

She couldn't face Steve. She felt the relationship doomed, tainted. As if, in a way, there was blood on both their hands. And how could a love develop, flourish, how could love survive this?

It was as if Prince Charming had snatched away not her life, but a chance -- a damn good chance -- at some happiness, at some companionship. At love.

He was depriving Paige of love.

But when Steve showed up at her door, and told her that he hadn't been able to stop thinking about her -- "We'll get through this," he said. "We have to get through this together." -- Paige pushed all such sentiments aside. She pushed the violence, the depravity, not only of the Prince, but of the world, aside, took Steve into her arms, and held him all of that day, and into the night.

Long into the night . . .

That was the beginning.

Paige lifted her face and looked at him now.

Those eyes. Once so beautiful, so full of life.

And now . . . reaching out, and with her fingertip, she gently closed them.

Then leaning forward, Paige kissed Steve once, softly on the lips, and whispered, "Goodbye."

SNOW BLIND 2004 Gorman Bechard - All Rights Reserved