Chapter Sixty-nine







"Die, you bastard! Die!"

It was her dream.

Her nightmare.

Her heart racing, as she ran to the window. The rapid thump-thump-thumping of her pulse, the steadiness, frantic and explosive, in her head.

Goddamnit all, he was gone. Not a trace. Not a . . .

Six AM.

The sun just beginning to yawn, to stretch, to pull the dark covers from its face.

And there was a trail. Footsteps. He couldn't hide his footsteps in this snow. She could make out the trace, the indentations, the . . .

Paige jumped. She couldn't wait, he'd be too far gone, too far . . . through the shattered window, landing on the porch, then over the railing.

Snow. Cold. But no sound.

The wind. Finally. It had died down to nothing, to less than nothing. It wasn't even a breeze.

And the snowfall, was it? Over? Flurries. No, not even flurries.

The storm was over.

And the day was beginning.

Except for Elliot. His day would be ending soon.

Paige trudged on, towards the mountains, the lift, following the footsteps, the path, like dragging a body through the snow.

Her heart beating, pounding so frantically, she thought it would break free of her ribs, of her leather bomber, and fly free into the stratosphere.

Her head, a throbbing just as frantic.

Paige pressed her hands to the side of her head, to her temples to rub away the beat. To her ears to drown out the sound of her own existence.

They were so cold. Her ears. Everything now. Her jacket on, why wasn't it zipped? Had she broken though the barrier of sanity when she stepped from the lodge?

"Elliot!" she screamed.

But everything was quiet . . . deadly silence. Except for the pounding in her head.

Paige looked back, the lodge, it seemed so far away.

And she was cold, frigid to the bone. Her gun. It was still aimed out.

The sun was rising. Faster.

She blinked once, then again, swearing she saw the sun blink back and smile.

The sun, it had Elliot's face. Paige raised her weapon, it weighed like forever in her hand. She was afraid the recoil would knock her on her ass, into purgatory, but still, she took her stance -- she could actually still remember the stance. Could she ever forget the Goddamn stance? -- and looked down the sight, squinting, aiming . . . but at what?

At Elliot's face on the fucking surface of the sun.

But it was white. White now. White everywhere. And the pounding. It was white-washed. Pure white. Snow white. Dwarfed seven times over, blinded and blinding, and binding as well.

Paige spun around, then back again.

Three hundred sixty degrees, to travel so far and be right back where she started. To travel so far and see nothing. Nothing but white.

The sun.

The blinding sun.

The Elliot-faced sun.

She focused on down the sight of her Smith & Wesson. Focus . . . focus . . . focus.

Shoot the bastard right between the eyes.

Shoot him . . . now.

Paige fired, again and again, squeezing the trigger, destroying Elliot, destroying Prince Charming, destroying the sonofabitch in his dad's Lexus, squeezing the trigger, their heads exploding . . .

Squeezing the trigger, their twisted grins fracturing into dust . . .

Squeezing the trigger, their bodies limp and lifeless . . .

Squeezing the trigger, until there were no rounds left in the cylinder . . .

Reaching into the inside pocket of her bomber for a box of bullets, Paige reloaded and fired . . .

Reloaded and fired . . .

Dropping to her knees . . .

Reloading . . .

Firing . . .

Reloading . . .

Firing . . .





Chapter Seventy







". . . all I ever wanted, all I ever wanted, all I ever wanted was to be your spine . . ."

Why was everything so cold? So goddamn cold?

Her ears had been cold, and her gun too . . . ice cold. So cold it stuck to the skin of her hand.

Paige took a few deep breaths, still squinting down the barrel . . . in case.

Just in case the sun had anything tricky up its sleeves.

She was singing out loud. Screaming the words, as she

struggled with the zipper of her jacket, but her fingers were numb.

She couldn't get a grip.

Paige rubbed at her legs, at her arms. What was she doing out there?

Then suddenly hands, touching her shoulders. She struggled to turn, but was frozen in place.

Frightened, and finally able to accept her fears, willing to accept death, welcome it, and . . .

"Wesley."

Paige was standing, falling into his arms.

There were FBI agents everywhere, as well as state troopers, and the local police.

And two helicopters. That sound. That throbbing, the blades beating against the sky. The engine's roar.

Special Agent Wesley Selden looked so good, felt so warm, even with a grungy five-o'clock shadow look that normally wouldn't have cut it on his stern forty-something face. His dark brown eyes seemed tired, sadder than usual. His breath was coffee stale. And the regulation dark blue suit seemed slept in, covered as it was with a dark blue parka, the letters "FBI" stenciled on the back, a foot high in white.

Selden shifted his weight from his left leg to his right and back again, as he always seemed to when tired. One of these days he'd get that hip replaced, perhaps when he could afford a couple of months off.

"From one intelligent lifeform to another," he whispered into Paige's ear. "It's good to see you."

Agents were helping Alison and Peter from the Lodge, his left hand bandaged, like her's. They seemed so dazed, limping, almost lifelessly toward one of the helicopters, a Medivac. As if they'd survived a holocaust, their own personal Auschwitz, and now, it was over.

At least for them, over.

Paige was sure that Alison caught her eye before stepping into the machine, before the door slid shut, and a medic attended to their wounds, and the chopper flew away. But there was no sign, no recognition. They both pressed their heads back against the seats, and closed their eyes. Her right hand in his. They'd both need time. Lots of time.

"He got away, Wesley," Paige said, staring at helicopter cutting through the dawn, looking about at the rush of federal agents, this way and that. The automatic weapons, the exposed shields. "The sonofabitch got away."

"We'll find him," Selden said, trying to turn her toward the other chopper. "Now, let's get you warmed up."

But Paige pulled away from him.

She began walking in circles.

"No," she said, twisting her neck, stretching, her arms, her fingers, feeling the rage come surging back, the life, the force driving her.

"He's out here," Paige said, pointing toward Lambert Peak. "Somewhere."

She looked at Selden. Hard, her eyes so Goddamn focused. "I can smell his fear. I can . . ."

Paige turned again, shaking her head, looking up . . . back toward the mountain . . .

"Sonofabitch."





Chapter Seventy-one







"Adieu."

Elliot glanced down at Paige. Her eyes were on fire. He found them quite beautiful, so green with rage.

But it was a little too late for romance, and really, now, they had gotten off on the wrong foot.

The tram moved slowly, but steadily toward the top of the mountain. Elliot had taken some cross-country skis from the quaint pro shop, along with poles, goggles, all the necessary gear, then entered the tram, and waited.

The second hand on his watch, sweeping, moving, racing, along with his heart.

It was his salvation.

His snow-covered path to freedom.

Now, six-fifty-one, and counting.

"Perfect."

He watched Paige as she pulled away from the special agent, the tall one, with the limp. There was chemistry there, Elliot thought, wondering if some romance had stewed, will brew, might at some point boil over.

Not likely, he thought, adding, "You have to be alive to fuck."

The tall agent tried to stop her, but Paige was running now, toward the lodge.

The back door of the lodge.

Less then ten seconds, the Swiss-made second hand sweeping.

But the door was locked.

Paige pushed her elbow through the pane glass window, then reached in and turned the deadbolt.

Five seconds.

Opening the door, she disappeared inside . . .

"Four . . .," Elliot counted off, grinning wildly, ". . . three . . . two . . . "

Paige was still inside.

". . . one . . ."

And . . . nothing.

Except the sight of Paige moving, rushing, running out of the lodge.

The bazooka.

It was in her hands.

Elliot tapped on the crystal of his watch. His smile disappeared.

Paige dropped to one knee.

Elliot looked up.

The tall agent was running toward her. He held out his hands, trying to stop her.

Ten seconds had passed.

Where was the big bang? The bang that would save him? The bang that would obliterate everything on the ground, the lodge, the agents, the helicopters, Paige?

Elliot wanted to scream.

He watched as Paige positioned the bazooka onto her shoulder, and took aim.

He tapped at his watch again. Twenty seconds late. What was going on? Gasping, Elliot pressed his real hand to his face.

That smell.

What was that smell?

Fear.

His own Goddamn fear.

Elliot looked up again.

He was in her sights.

He could tell, the smile. Just a trace of a Goddamn smile, on her lips now.

And then, the words.

Paige was saying something to him.

He read her lips . . .

"Good . . . bye."

Elliot could see the rocket soaring, wavering, speeding through the sky. He dug the fingers of both his hands into the rail, holding on, praying, crying, wishing that . . . she . . . might . . . miss . . .

The sound, all white noise, then static . . .

The flames, ripping at his body like lava . . .

The drop, he moved his arms, but he couldn't fly, he couldn't fly . . .

Elliot just . . . could . . . not . . . fly.





Chapter Seventy-two







"See you in hell."

Paige was standing now, whispering, the small smile becoming a satisfied grin on her otherwise exhausted features.

She was watching, following the fiery debris, what little remained of Elliot Haring, as it flitted to the snow-covered ground.

Ashes on a blanket of white.

Static to the snow blind.

Paige lowered the bazooka, and tossed it aside. It sunk into the snow. Disappearing, as if it never existed to begin with.

Selden stood back, staring at her, waiting. Probably still wondering: what's a girl like you doing in a place like this?

Vacationing, Wesley, was how Paige would answer in her head.

He approached finally, saying nothing, just appraising, just as another agent, Jeff Coviello, his badge said, came trudging over.

He was young, a rookie, but built tall and strong. Yet he looked pale, as white as the everything that surrounded him. As if he were about to faint. And he was out of breath.

"We've found something, sir," Coviello said to Selden, blowing into his ungloved hands, then pressing his fingers under his arm pits to keep them warm.

"What?" Selden asked, looking not at the agent, but at Paige, who was watching Coviello.

She sensed something, a horror, danger, evil was lurking near, lurking still . . .

Coviello looked first at Paige, into her eyes, trying to steady himself, borrow some of her strength, then back at Selden, before finally saying, "I think you should come see for yourself."





Chapter Seventy-three







"In there."

Agent Coviello pointed at a doorway.

It was to a barn, the barn, half-built into the side of the mountain. The brown-painted front mostly covered in snow, it sticking, crawling up the walls, a white runner to the heavens.

Both doors had been shoveled out and pried open.

A few agents were visible inside. But Coviello moved no further. He stepped back out of the path, so that Paige and Selden could pass, then he turned back, so that he'd be facing the lodge, facing away when he broke down. Sobbing now, uncontrollably, like a newborn, or a rookie who had just experienced his first real nightmare.

Paige took a few tentative steps toward the barn, then stopped and turned to Selden.

"Where are Greta and Shane?" she asked.

Selden just shook his head.

"They called you last night," Paige said.

"It was an anonymous tip from a pay phone in Libby," Selden explained. "The caller never identified himself."

"Himself?"

"That's what I said."

And it all caved in.

The air constricting, her lungs, not able to breath, her heartbeat again, and that pounding in her head. Paige ran toward the barn, pushing through the doorway.

It was warm inside. A gas heater had been going all night. Keeping the air toasty, a little toxic.

The agents present were all blank faces, that rigid nothingness forced into their features. Turning, shuffling, not able to face one another, certainly not able to face Paige

And there, in the center of the room, lying naked on a bed of snow.

Her body so eternally white. The pose so serene.

Greta.

She was beautiful, like the six others, maybe more so.

So innocent.

She really looked as if she were sleeping.

The red rose, held in her hands, between her breasts. The few droplets of blood where the thorns had been pressed against her skin, the only color to the otherwise perfect pale picture.

Everything else was as Paige would have expected it. There was the heart, so perfectly shaped, so meticulously groomed. And her hair, spread out, brushed, and . . . but something was wrong.

Paige touched the ends of the hair.

It wasn't Greta's.

Her hair was blonde.

This hair was red . . . this was . . . Shane's hair . . . a wig . . . brushed out, halo-like, a red silky dome encircling the young woman's face.

Paige gasped.

Looking closer, standing by Greta's side, circling her corpse, there on the back of one of her hands, so light, Shane must have tried wiping it off, she spotted the words: "Wesley Selden, Denver, 5/22/92."

"He came after me," Paige said, softly, thinking that could have been her, lying there, so peaceful, evermore, nevermore, she could almost feel the prick of the thorns on the flesh between her breasts, and on her palms and fingertips.

It should have been her, goddamnit. That was the ending, the perfect fuck-it-all finale to this weekend of perdition.

"Prince Charming wanted me as his next Sleeping Beauty."

"But he got her instead," Selden said, matter-of-factly.

Paige turned and looked at her mentor. Her face was flushed with rage now. Rage and dread and the knowledge that she had let him slip away. And now the Prince would find another Beauty. Another innocent.

At least if it had been her lying there, she'd never know of the others, of the next, and the next after that. She was shaking, the cold, the fury, the fear.

He had been so close, so . . . he was in her arms. "I handed her over to him. I . . ."

"You didn't know," Selden said.

"But I know now," Paige yelled.

She turned back and looked at Greta. Remembering. When Shane had saved her life, pulled her from Elliot's barrage of bullets. Worried about her. Helped her. Flirted with her at the dinner table. Warned her of the impending danger by leading her to Felicity, and . . . he even delivered to her the guns.

And why? What the hell for?

Only so that he could kill her . . . his way.

Was that it? Was that the plan that had driven him this far from home? Had he carried the Veronol in that backpack of his? Had he carried the rose? The hairbrush? The passion for her demise?

"He saved my life, for Christ's sake," Paige muttered, so angered that the tears which trickled from her eyes were warmed with hatred, and the longing to see Shane suffer.

Wanting to calm her racing heart, to bully it into submission, Paige pressed her hand against her chest, and suddenly felt the cross, Greta's cross, Greta's good-luck charm, still hanging between her breasts, over her heart.

"I've got to get out of here," Paige said, suddenly stepping away from Selden, suddenly unable to breath, unable to think, just wanting to hand grenade all of humanity.

But Selden grabbed her arm. He pulled her back just before she reached the door, just before she made it outside, just before the time on Goop's cheap Korean clock reached six-fifty-two AM and the Lambert Ski Lodge, and all that surrounded it, were reduced to burning cinders and bad memories.

Ashes to ashes.

Dust to dust.







August 6, 1994



From the bottom on my heart . . .

To break my heart.

At heart.

By heart.

With heart.

Cross my heart.

Eat my heart out.

Take heart.

Have a heart.

Heart and soul.

To my heart's content.

Wear my heart on my sleeve.

Set my heart against.

With all my heart.



I believe I know now what went wrong tonight.

 

SNOW BLIND 2004 Gorman Bechard - All Rights Reserved