The Third Good Thing
Leaving Santiago was all uphill, and we were in snow in about twenty minutes and at the parking lot at Valle Nevado after another fifteen or twenty hair-raising minutes on a winding and steep road. Ovidio wasn’t kidding when he said Lucero could drive. We went fast, and sometimes there were unprotected cliffs right beside the road, but in the car everything was serene. There were trail maps in the bundle Ovidio gave us the night before, and Dana had studied them. He decided that Valle Nevado was a good choice. Hector thought it would be wise for us to just ski for a day or two, to get our legs under us and familiarize ourselves with the new gear before we tried anything radical.
We agreed to spend at least the morning on intermediate and easy-expert slopes, then try a couple of trails off a couloir that looked good, and end up on a long and bumpy ride outside the boundaries of the area that we could take back to the base. Hector wanted us to hire a deep powder instructor for that, because I was the only one who’d skied real powder before, and I wasn’t proficient at it, much less able to give lessons.
Lucero left us off near the base lodge and went off to park the car. We locked our skis and went inside to get ready. Ovidio picked up pastries to bring with us, and we all went outside to get oriented. Tom was right about the lift system. We had to ski down a nearly flat trail to the first lift, and it took a total of four lifts to reach the top, with long and short trails between the lifts. We didn’t complain though, and didn’t make it to the top. I rode up with Tom, and the terrain below us alternated between alluring and frightening. We saw more than one place where, to catch a trail, you had to jump off a cliff and hope to find the narrow patch of snow that would lead you down the steepest parts of the mountain. In other spots we saw skiers who looked to be up to their chests in powder, and it was fun to listen when we could hear their various shouts and squeals.
We did our first real skiing from the top of the third lift to the bottom of the fourth. The trail was marked intermediate, probably only because it was steep. It wasn’t hard at all, but the snow was fast and it was fun. I had to get used to my skis. We all did. I thought Dana would have the most adjusting to do, given the ancient and floppy skis he was used to, but he was gone from sight before we figured out which trail we had to take.
I skied pretty fast too, having learned that from Dana. I used to find a poky trail for my first run, but no more. This trail’s name was Lazo, which means loop in Spanish, but it looks like lazy in English, and that’s what it was. It was wide, with a few long turns. It was steep in sections, but not continually steep, and I didn’t feel bad making a few quick stops near the trail’s edge to feel out the skis. On the next steep I tried some quick turns, and I was already in love with the skis. They were lightweight, easy to turn, and totally predictable. I skied straight down the fall line to gain some speed, and I had complete control when I turned out.
When I saw the sign for the next lift, I skied over and found Dana with his left ski still on his foot, but the tip was in the snow and he was trying to look at something. I stopped and asked, “Is something wrong?”
Dana the diplomat said, “It took you long enough. Look at this thing and tell me if I broke the binding or what. It started flopping all over the place just when I stopped here.”
I looked and didn’t see anything. “Put your foot down. I don’t see anything, but that doesn’t mean much.”
When he started to put his ski on the ground I thought I saw a gap form, and said, “I think I see it. It looks like your boot lifted up right there. Take the ski off so we can get a better look.”
Dana stepped out of the binding. I picked his ski up for a close look, picked snow off from around the binding, and it looked fine. While I was holding it, Dana lifted the back of the binding and it came up about a quarter of an inch. When he let it go I saw the problem and said, “Will you look at this?” The binding was held to the ski with two screws at the front and two at the back, and the two at the back had worked loose somehow.
Dana asked, “What do I do now? I can’t ski on that.”
I said, “Let me think. Somebody must have a screwdriver around here.”
Hector and Tom showed up right then, and Hector asked, “What’s wrong?”
I held Dana’s ski out and pulled up on the back of the binding. “The screws are loose, but that should never happen. I think some idiot put these bindings on, but I don’t know how someone could be that stupid.”
Hector took the ski and gave it a disgusted look and handed it back to me. He said, “I can screw that down, but it won’t hold.” He shook his head and sighed, “Let me get hold of Ovidio.”
He took his radio and spoke in Spanish. I only got the gist of it, but he basically asked what they could do to get Dana down the hill to rent a different pair of skis. I looked at Dana standing there, and he looked so forlorn that I pulled him into a hug. I said, “Don’t look so sad. They’ll get you down and you can get different skis. You’ll be back in the snow.”
Dana gave me a squeeze and backed off, his head down. “I know. I’m not worried about that. What if this happened an hour from now when we’re skiing the front? I’d be dead, I’d hit those rocks so fast you’d think I was painted on them.” His expression was fierce, “I want to know what kind of moron mounted racing skis with short screws! It must have been some kind of super dummy or a real psycho.”
Hector heard, and he said, “We’ll find out. Meanwhile there are two snowmobiles on their way for us. We’ll get you some new rentals from the mountain shop, and let Ovidio and Lucero take care of the rest. Okay? It’s the best I could get.”
Dana nodded and smiled, “Sorry.”
Hector turned to me and Tom and said, “You guys ski down to the hotel area, and we’ll start again once Dana has new skis. There’s no sense for you to wait up here.”
I looked at Dana and he said, “Go ahead. I’ll see you at the bottom.”
We heard the snowmobiles coming, and didn’t leave until Hector and Dana were on their way down. Then I pulled out my map and determined that we had to go up first in order to go down to the lodge, and I snickered at the names of the best trails down. I pointed them out to Tom and said, “That means high return, that means middle return, and the blue one means low return. It looks fun though; they all go down this long ridge.”
The lift we got on was a grudging old thing, but it got us there eventually. When we found the right trail it was a blast. The first section was a high ridge right down the fall line. It was wide enough to control your speed with easy turns, but mistakes would cause some unpleasant climbs at best, and who knows what if you managed to find the bottom of the ravine. From where the map ended, you’d probably land closer to Santiago than to the base.
The next section was shorter, but a little trickier than the first. It was less steep, but narrower, and the ridge took some turns. It was fun, and Tom and I were laughing and talking nonsense until we reached the next trail sign.
The last section was easy skiing, but tell that to your grandmother when a bad move to the left will pitch you over a sheer cliff that dropped to a place we couldn’t even see.
We stood around outside the front entrance, off to the side. I had no idea where the rental shop was and didn’t really want to go looking for it. I figured if we stayed around the front of the place, they’d look for us there no matter which way they came out. The sky had been gray when we got to the area, but it was fairly blue while we waited, and the area had definitely filled up with skiers. We enjoyed just hanging around people watching, and I had my eye on a group of girls around our age who had eyed us going by, and were now giggling hysterically while they put their skis on. Tom nudged me, and I turned to see Ovidio and Lucero coming toward us with scowls on their faces. Lucero had Dana’s skis with the loose binding in his hands. When they spotted us, Lucero kept walking and Ovidio stopped to talk.
“The owner of the ski shop is driving up to meet us, and we don’t want a scene in the hotel. There is a maintenance building in the lower parking area and we’ll meet him there. He is very upset about this and very apologetic. They will find who mounted these bindings and he will be dealt with. The shop is very computerized and they can trace the skis and bindings from when they entered their warehouse. Oscar, the owner, will speak with Dana when we stop there on the way back to the hotel. He wants to apologize and offer some kind of compensation.”
I said, “I think that’s smart. I’ve never seen Dana as angry as he was up on the hill.”
“I don’t blame him, but he’s calmed down now. They should be out any minute, and you can enjoy the rest of the day. I have to catch up with Lucero.”
Tom said, “Here they come now.”
I saw Dana and Hector coming, and waved to Ovidio, who was walking backwards. As soon as I did that, he hurried off.
Dana was carrying skis and grinning, and Hector was smiling behind him. As soon as they were close enough Dana cried, “Let’s get up there.” He held his skis up, “These won’t break.”
We followed the same flat trail down to the first lift, and when we reached it I remembered I had a pastry in my pocket and ate it on the chair. Hector and Tom were in the chair ahead of us, and Hector yelled back, “Stop when you get off the lift.”
I gave him a thumbs-up, and we met them at the bottom. I thought we’d go back to where we were the last time, but Hector wanted to go off to the right where there was a kind of mini-area of advanced skiing with three chairlifts servicing it. One of them rose up from a deep ravine, so there were a lot of options based on single rides.
We had a lot of fun there, and stayed until we were both sore and hungry. The snow was in great shape, glazing over a little as the sun found the slopes. There were a few intermediate trails, but most of them were advanced and moderately challenging. It was while skiing there that I realized how much I had really learned from Dana. A year ago I would have been fully focused on the technical aspects of skiing that terrain. Now, for the most part anyhow, my focus was on enjoying the ride rather than thinking about it. Dana had advanced me to the point that the technical skiing was part of me, like walking. I could pay attention to where I was going and what I was passing to get there. I could stop when a particular vista caught my eye, and take a picture with my phone. Tommy invariably stopped where I was, and took far better pictures with the iPhone. At least, for once, we were remembering to take pictures. I decided to find a store in town and get an inexpensive digital camera so I could take decent pictures myself.
Hector was a better skier than he had let on, and had no trouble at all staying with us. For a big man, he had a good form on skis, too. He was more graceful, if you’ll forgive the word, than any of us.
We all fell, of course, and several times. There were a lot of causes, none of them serious … we caught edges, found a rut with one ski, or miscalculated something, usually fooling around. We were out of practice.
The trails were challenging and very steep in places, but I don’t remember ever having more fun skiing than we did that morning. We were going to meet the powder instructor in the on-mountain restaurant, and we had to find it on the map and figure out how to get there.
A novice trail led to it, and it looked like the fastest way, so we fooled around some more in the really easy stuff, enough that we all fell some more. The restaurant had a deck outside in the sun, and we were heated enough from exertion that it felt good there, and the sun felt hot.
While we waited for service, we pulled off hats and goggles and unzipped our parkas. Hector looked at me and Tom and asked, “Did you bring sun block. You’re both getting pretty red.”
I pulled a tube out of my pocket and held it up, and proceeded to apply it to my face after I squeezed some out and handed the tube to Tommy. When I noticed, I saw that Hector and Dana, though not burnt, looked like reverse raccoons. They’d both taken on color except where their goggles had been. I nudged Tom and we had a giggle.
A waiter brought menus and asked if we wanted drinks, which we ordered. The menu was sandwiches, burgers and barbecue. I looked around to see what other people were eating, but the few that I could see all had sandwiches: big, fat sandwiches. When I’m skiing, I usually default to the hamburger and fries, but I was in Chile and wanted to try something different. My Spanish isn’t bad, but menus tend to give me grief, and this one did a good job of it. English menus do, too. I mean, does anybody really understand what the heck a ‘confit’ is? That’s a chef’s affectation, just like ‘finished’ in most translations means dead but it’s a snot word that means ‘is buried in’ to American chefs.
Whoever wrote this menu was no different, and Hector didn’t have any better luck than me deciphering so we decided to just ask for what we wanted and hope they had it. Tom and Dana were easy because they both wanted cheeseburgers with lettuce, tomato, bacon, mayonnaise, and fries. The waiter understood their English and turned to me after he wrote it down. I ordered a ham and cheese with tomatoes, mustard, mayonnaise and fries, and Hector asked for a hamburger with just onion and tomato, and he also got fries.
When the waiter left our instructor approached us. “Excuse me, are you the Dunn party?”
I assured him that we were and he bowed slightly, “I am Neto Escondido. I have been engaged to help you with your skills in deep powder, and to guide you through some of our off-piste territory. May I sit down?”
I said, “Sure. We just ordered lunch. Are you hungry?”
He seemed to be a little cross when I asked, and said, “I’ve had my meal. Perhaps just some water.”
I handed him my bottle, which I hadn’t opened yet, and he relaxed after he took a swig. He looked around and said, “I would like each of you to tell me about your skiing ability and what you hope to learn from me.”
I said, “I’ll start,” and changed to Spanish. “I’m Paul Dunn, and this is my brother Dana, my best friend Tom Timek, and our guardian, Hector Torres. I’m the only one who has skied deep powder, and that was for just a week when I was twelve. Tom, Hector and I are expert skiers, at least in the technical sense of that. We can deal with steeps, ice, moguls, what have you and have fun and look good doing it. Dana is a champion skier. When he was fourteen he won his second Vermont downhill championship. That and his first one were on nineteen-sixties era Stratos – the red ones. His circumstances have improved since then and he can ski on anything he wants. What he hasn’t done, and none of them have, is ski in deep powder. I went that one time, but it was on rental skis, and now everything is fatties. We’ve had fun all morning on some steeps and now we want to learn the deep.”
That didn’t rhyme in Spanish, of course, but Neto smiled, and his smile turned into a gentle laugh. He said, “The rest of you are off the hook. Paul has told me what I need to know. I will shut up, and when we find some deep snow I’ll teach you the very slight difference there is from skiing hardpack. It’s mostly in your stance, your mind, and particularly in your vision.” He glanced left and said, “Here is your food.”
While we ate he said, “Before we go in search of powder, there are a couple of expert trails off the top of the lift. The one to the left of the lift is called Eclipse, and I’d like to see you ski down that so I can judge your ability and style. Where the trails converge, make sure you get on the red La Luna trail, and that will bring you right back to here. Please ski the Eclipse area about one minute apart to give me time to resister my thoughts. Now who will I look for first?”
Dana had just taken a bite of his cheeseburger, so he held up his hand until he could chew it, and swallowed hard. “I better go first. If I don’t, I’ll crash into the slowpoke ahead of me.”
Tom and I groaned while Hector moaned, and Neto laughed. “You sound pretty sure of yourself.”
I said, “Oh, he’s sure of himself alright, not to mention full of himself, and full of another substance that I won’t mention while we eat.”
Tom and Hector both turned their heads away from Dana to laugh, and Neto laughed out loud. “Spoken like a true brother,” and his comment made Dana smile a little.
When we finished eating, Hector added ten percent to the total, and asked us each for a fourth of it. He watched me as I counted out my share like he thought I’d not know what to do. I guess that was reasonable, because usually when he was with us my family was paying for everything. That was still technically true here, but at home in Brattleboro I was used to paying just my own way when it was coming out of my allowance.
We all used the toilets and washed up in the men’s room, straightened out our ski clothes, and picked up our gear. We walked over near the lift and put our skis on, and got in the short lift line. The lift was a quad, and I was left standing there alone, and the attendant made me stand off to the side while skiers got on two pairs at a time, until there was another single and two other people, so we shared a ride. I said, “Hola,” and they returned the greeting, but the ride up was silent.
When we got off the lift, only Tom was waiting for me, and he pointed to his right. “The top of the trail is right over there.”
I looked, and it was steep just getting there, but we came upon Hector and Dana. When I stopped, Dana said, “Look down to that lip. It’s rock face right under there and Neto said to get some air for about thirty feet when you go over that ‘cause the snow’s pretty thin on the rocks. I’ll see you down below.”
He turned, pulled his goggles down and adjusted his hat, and pushed off, dropping into a tuck almost immediately. When he went over the edge, it looked like he cleared it by ten or more feet. That would give him a whole lot more than thirty feet of air. I went next and followed Dana’s track. I didn’t get nearly the air Dana did, but I landed well and checked my speed right away. The trail was difficult as well as steep, kind of hollowed out in the middle which made turning tricky, and that was followed by snow blown into a washboard surface, some bumps, and what turned out to be the last turn was banked wrong, and I had to use the bottom of a cliff to turn or the trail would have led me right into that cliff. The bottom evened out, and I saw Dana way downhill waiting.
When I skied over and stopped he grinned, “Nice, huh?”
“I’ll say. How much air did you get back there at the beginning?”
Dana grinned helplessly, “Oh, that. I had to be over a hundred feet down before I touched the snow, and I almost lost it when I landed in soft stuff.”
“But you didn’t.”
“I’m here, so you know I didn’t. I wouldn’t dare wreck on a hill like that one, but I’ve had some good crashes. You might think I’m Superman, but I’m not. I can screw up as well as anybody.”
“Hey, I never said that. I think you’re a superhero for sure, but I had Wonder Woman in mind.”
Dana got red in the face, but Tom skied up to us right then, and I asked, “How’d you do?”
Tom shrugged, “How long have you been here?”
“I don’t know, about a minute.”
Tommy smiled, “Then I did as well as you, because I left a minute after you.”
Dana took his skis off and sat on the snow, and we followed suit. The sun was on us now. I know I felt overheated and I’m sure Tom and Dana felt the same way. Hats came off and zippers came down, and I took my parka off altogether. Lord knows I had enough on underneath: thermal underwear, a silk turtleneck and a sweater, all designed to keep the heat in right when I needed to get some out. Just pulling the necks out gave me some relief.
Hector skied up shortly and sat beside us. He was sweating, too, and said, “I’m glad you’re all here. Nothing broken?”
I said, “We’re fine. How about you?”
He was looking through his inside pockets and finally came up with a handkerchief. He pulled his hat and goggles off and wiped his sweaty face. “I have never skied anything so steep, to be honest.”
I asked, “Where did you learn to ski anyhow?”
“New Mexico. When we hire on we have to have six months training, and three of those months are in New Mexico. That’s because of the varied terrain. They have high and low deserts, mountains, deep forests … just about everything but water and big cities. The ski training program there was extensive. We learned to ski downhill and cross country, to drive snowmobiles and snow cats, snowshoeing, even tobogganing.”
I was about to ask where he learned how to disappear when Neto showed up. He looked at us sitting on the ground and unzipped his parka, taking the time to point at Dana and smile. “You, sir, are a madman! I’m really glad you survived, because now I can see you ski again.”
Dana blushed with a wide grin on his face.
Neto plopped down on the snow facing us and said, “You won’t have a bit of trouble skiing in powder. The only real difference in technique is that you have to adjust your stance a little bit to lighten the tips of your skis. The rest is your vision and your way of thinking, because you won’t see your skis, and you’ll have to use your sense of direction and just common sense to control your path. We won’t find virgin powder today because there was no snow to speak of last night. What’s on the ground has been there for a day, so it has sunk in on itself somewhat and is heavier. That’s fine to learn on because it’s a bit slower, and you’ll get to feel and think about what’s going on with the legs and skis you can’t see.”
Tom asked, “When will we see new powder?”
Neto shrugged. “I can’t tell you that. The higher up you are the more likely you’ll find new snow. August is one of our snowiest months, so you’ll have at least a few mornings that will make the difficult drive from town worth leaving early. Any Santiago television station will have a ski report in the morning.”
Hector leaned forward and said, “If you’ve cooled off, let’s get going.”
Neto said, “Don’t get up yet. I want to show you on this snow what I mean by a slight difference in stance. If you exaggerate it, you’ll keep falling, so just watch me.”
He stood up and turned sideways to us without putting his skis on. Then he bent his knees a little bit and said, “This is your position on a baby hill. You can see that my shins are perpendicular to the hill and my shoulders are directly over my feet.” He bent his knees some more, “This is what you do when it gets steeper. This is wrong for here because the hill didn’t get any steeper. No matter how steep the slope, for Alpine skiing you want to keep your shins perpendicular to the hill and your shoulders in a straight line up from your boots. Now watch this.”
He moved his head back, using his whole body to do it, maybe an inch. He turned and asked, “Did you see that? People tell you to sit back to ski powder, but that’s wrong. You want to tilt back, just marginally, just enough to unweight your ski tips so they can ride through the powder and not dig into it.” He smiled, “It’s a beginner trail back to the lift, so we can practice some. If you ski for powder on this trail, you’ll be uncomfortable, but you only have to do it until you find the right difference. Then you can just ski down. Be careful, because it’s a popular trail with young kids and today is Saturday.”
We fixed up our clothes, got into our skis, and followed Neto down a broad steep slope, and he turned into a little chute that had a green trail marker, but was still fairly steep. It opened almost immediately onto a really wide slope that was exactly the kind of place I sought out when I was younger and just learning. Neto led us to the high side and stopped. “Okay, now I’ll show you what you have to change to ski powder. This is just the physical part; don’t forget your eyes and your sense of direction.”
He started with Dana, asked him to show the position he’d be in if he was skiing on this hill. Dana did, and Neto coaxed him into the right position for powder. It really was a subtle change, but when Neto told Dana to ski away like that and then get comfortable, Dana skied off very awkwardly. When he got the message he stopped for a second and took off again, this time with his little wiggle, and then he disappeared down the hill with the grace of a ballet dancer.
I was next, and I fell when I was in the powder position. I didn’t think I would forget it. When I got up I hurried down the hill and caught up with Dana outside the lift line.
I asked, “What do you think of Neto?”
“He’s pretty fun. He called me sir.”
“Dana, he called you a madman, too.”
Dana raised his eyebrows, “I noticed that, too. He’s a nice guy. I know what he meant.”
We were joined by the others, and went into the restaurant to buy some water bottles and use the rest rooms. Neto said our off-piste run would take until after the lifts closed, and that caused Hector to go off and talk on his radio. We each got two half-liter bottles of water and a couple of chocolate bars to keep us hydrated and energized, and Neto passed around a bag of potato chips, saying we needed the salt, too.
Then we took the lift back up and headed down the to the last place we’d started, the Eclipse, because that was the way to the off-piste where we’d find some powder. When we were at the top, Neto said, “Don’t get cocky because you made it once. We’re in shadow now, so there may be ice, and the sun was bright so there’s probably even less snow on the rocks. Take it easy, and follow me.”
He skied down and went off the lip with about five feet of air, so that was my goal. We went in reverse order, Hector next, then Tom, me and Dana.
I landed very close to the first spot, and it had a little crunchy bit of ice, but I crashed right through that, and did a more dramatic speed check because Tom was skiing very carefully ahead of me. I heard Dana come over with a “Woo-woo-woo Ow!”
God, he landed almost beside me and I stopped short to see if he was hurt. He didn’t seem to be, and he asked, “Why are you going so slow?”
“I don’t know for sure, but I think there are enemy spies up ahead. Hector is sneaking up on them. They didn’t start shooting when you came screaming in, so maybe Hector took care of them already.”
Dana eyed me and said, “Maybe you’re full of it.”
I snickered, “Oh, I am, I am. It might just be icy, or our leader could be hunting for the secret passage to the open snow.”
We skied ahead to Tom and I asked, “Do you know what’s going on?”
Tom was a little steamed, too. “All I can see is Hector’s back. Let’s ask him.”
The three of us skied up to Hector, and we could see the holdup. The trail that led out to the off-piste area was being covered with snow by four guys who were doing it by hand. Two guys were on a very steep hill beside the trail pushing snow down, and two other guys on the trail were spreading and smoothing it out. The two on the hill climbed down while I watched, and went to work on the trail.
I pulled a water bottle out and took a sip. I spit it out immediately and looked at the bottle. Sure enough, in white letters small enough on clear plastic to guarantee you couldn’t see them, it said con gas – carbonated. It’s not that I hate carbonated water. I would never knowingly choose it, but the surprise made me cough it up.
Hector looked at me and said, “You choked on water? Is something wrong, amigo?”
“I didn’t know it was carbonated. It just surprised me.”
Neto shouted, “We can go now!”
I dropped the water bottle back into my pocket, pulled my pole from the snow and followed the others out of the ski area property, and it was a world of snow. It wasn’t quite what I had pictured, though. We were on a ridge with deep ravines on either side. I didn’t see how we could go any way but forward like on any ski trail. This track wasn’t groomed, but it had been skied on and there wasn’t any powder, and when I looked to the left and right I just saw more of the same. From the distance, it did look un-skied, but it was one ridge after another with ravines between them.
After we had skied a few minutes we grouped up where Neto was stopped. He pointed to the right and said, “We go here. This is steep right at the top, so remember the proper stance. It’s less steep after about fifty meters, so you’ll have to adjust, and that’s where you’ll enter deeper powder. You won’t be able to see your skis, but don’t forget; you have to turn them to control your speed, and you have to pick your line without knowing exactly what’s under you. I’ll lead and you follow me, but everyone pick your own track beside each other. Ready?”
We each mumbled something like ‘ready as I’ll ever be’ and Neto took off. The rest of us went over the edge together. Tom and Dana fell right away, but I couldn’t help that. I’d skied powder before, and spent more time on my nose than my skis the first morning. I didn’t have any trouble at first, but when we reached the deeper snow I made the mistake of believing my eyes rather than my feet. The snow made it look like the hill leveled off some, but it was the snow that leveled off; the hill kept going down while I followed the snow, and when I fell I ate snow for about fifty feet before I came to a stop. When I finally got back up I couldn’t see a thing until I lifted my goggles, and what I saw made me laugh. Tom and Dana were face down in the snow almost beside me. I looked downhill and saw Neto waving. He was a long way off.
I didn’t see Hector, though, and I looked back uphill and saw how his track paralleled Neto’s before they both disappeared behind a drift. Neto was far enough away that I couldn’t tell if he was looking our way or not, so I waved. When he waved back, I made a helpless gesture with my forearms and hands on each side of my face in a vee. He pointed, so I pointed back, and he waved his arms across each other as if he meant no, no, no.
By then Tommy was up and helping Dana. He asked, “What are you doing?”
“Trying to find Hector. Neto is down there. Can you see him?” I pointed, “Way down there, and then look left and he’s there. Not right there; he’s about a hundred yards down on the left.”
Dana finally extricated himself, pulled his goggles up, and asked, “What’s going on?”
I said, “Hey sleepyhead. We lost Hector.”
“How the hell could you lose Hector? He shows up on satellite maps.”
I laughed at the thought and said, “You’re probably right. The problem is this; he’s not here, he’s not down there with Neto, and he’s not behind us.”
Tommy said, “Tweet-tweet, birdbrain. Hector isn’t where you say he isn’t, so oh-my, where could he be? Why, I’ll bet he’s somewhere between us and Neto. You always said he could disappear, so what better place to put on a show than when I’m up to my belly button in snow?”
I said, “Sarcasm isn’t your style, Tom. What can we use for a Hector detector? Infra-red? A differential magnetometer?”
Dana said, “Try your ears,” and pointed toward the large drift downhill and to our left. “I can hear him cussing over there. Hector?”
“Dana? Where are you?” Hector sounded far away.
Dana hollered, “We’re uphill. I don’t think we can ski right to you; there’s a big drift in the way. Give us a minute to get ready and we’ll ski down in front of you. Yell when you see us.”
I took my goggles off and poured carbonated water on the front to clear them, and passed the bottle to Tom. I had a wad of paper towels in my inside pocket for just this purpose, so I wiped mine dry, handed a towel to Tom when he gave Dana the water, and gave Dana a dry one. I checked to be sure that I had two poles and two skis, and the skis were still attached to my feet. When we were all ready, we skied with no drama until we heard Hector’s shout, and he joined us right away.
“Is everybody okay, amigos?”
Tommy said, “We’re all good. I think we have the hang of this powder skiing now.”
I looked at Hector and asked, “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. I believed my eyes when I should have believed my feet.”
“Tell me about it. I think we all did the same thing. Let’s go see Neto before he turns into an ice sculpture.”
Surprisingly, Tom’s crack about us having the hang of powder skiing wasn’t inaccurate. We all still fell, but for more normal reasons like crossing the tips we couldn’t see, or clipping under-snow branches. We had the hang of it for sure; we just had to finesse it, and Neto helped with that.
By the time we got all the way down and out of our skis, we were all dragging, and I was asleep before Lucero got the car out of the parking lot.
I was sore, too, and bumps in the road almost woke me up. They disturbed my nap. My legs weren’t the sore things, but rather my neck and shoulders. I could figure out the reasons for that, but my fatigue was due to anxiety that day, starting with Dana’s bum skis in the morning and culminating with our difficulties in the deep snow. None of us were hurt, but the last thing you need on vacation is anxiety.
I conked back out until we got down into Santiago when Hector’s voice woke me. He repeated, “Wake up, guys. We’re here.”
I was expecting to find us in the hotel garage, but we were once again outside of Xscape. It took me a moment before my mind picked up on the process. They rented Dana skis that could have killed him and wanted to apologize. How nice of them.
What if Dana had gone up one more lift into extreme conditions? What then? Thankfully, my fatigue took over and I fell back asleep. Lucero kept the heater on for me. I don’t know how long I dozed, but it couldn’t have been a lot of time when Hector climbed into the back seat and shook me awake.
“You’d better come inside, Paul. The police are coming.”
“Why?” I asked.
Hector said, “I’ll give you the two-cent version. The skis that Dana rented from here, the ones with the loose bindings, are stolen skis.”
“Stolen?” I yawned. “How could they be stolen? They look brand new.”
“They are new. Just listen, alright?” On my nod, Hector went on, “They were stolen from here the night they arrived. They were scanned into the computer system with several other skis from the same supplier, and that scan is the last record of them in their system. The theft was reported, but they never really expected to see the skis again, so you can imagine their surprise when they inspected Dana’s skis. Whoever took them brought them back and replaced an identical pair with the ones Dana had. They switched the scan tag from the other pair. Otherwise the switch would have been noticed when Dana rented them.”
I was confused. I said, “That’s all intriguing and everything, but why do we have to stay for the police?”
Hector said, “Let’s go inside. Dana has to give them a statement, that’s all, and he’ll want you to corroborate because you saw the problem first.”
I think my brain was in neutral, but I said, “Alright,” and got out of the vehicle. I noticed that as soon as I closed the door Lucero turned the engine off and followed us into the store. I said, “I’m thirsty. Do they have water in there?”
Hector said, “Someone started coffee, so there must be water.”
There were other customers in the store when I went in: people returning rentals, trying clothing on, looking at new equipment. Hector led me out of the retail area into a hall with open offices on each side, and we stopped in a small conference room. That’s where Dana and Tom were, with Ovidio and two other men. I was introduced to Oscar Flores, the owner, and Matias Araya, the manager. They were both clearly confused and upset, but both took the time to offer me the gracious welcome that is so typical in the Spanish-speaking world.
Oscar said, “Oh Paul, it is so nice to meet you, and I apologize for the circumstances. This is a confusing situation for us, but I will reward your patience in some way.”
Matias took my hand and said, “Please accept my apology for this disturbance in your vacation. This should not have happened, and as Oscar said, the circumstances confuse us.”
I was awake enough to remember my manners, and smiled. I spoke in Spanish, hoping I got it right. “You don’t have to apologize, there’s no need. It’s probably good that we missed our first run because the last one was disastrous enough.”
Matias looked at me with surprise, and glanced at Oscar before asking, “Hablas español?”
“Sí, un poco. Te voy a entender si se habla despacio.”
He grinned, “Speak slowly? My English is that bad?”
I just shook my head. “Your English is fine. It’s my Spanish that needs help.”
“You are very kind. Can I get you a coffee or a soft drink?”
I said, “I’d like a glass of water, please.”
When Matias left, I asked Oscar, “What do you think happened here? This sounds very strange.”
The poor guy looked so sad right then. I really felt for him. “This is most unusual. Not the theft, really, we have had things go missing from the loading dock before, but nothing has ever been returned. Whoever did this knew how to properly attach bindings to skis, and was careful enough to use a binding model that we use on our high-end skis. Those weren’t stolen from here; all of our bindings are accounted for. We can’t figure out what was intended by the perpetrator. Did he want to embarrass us by renting faulty skis? Did he intend to rent that pair himself and sue us? The larger question is …”
He didn’t get to finish, because Matias came back with a bottle of water for me, along with a policeman in uniform and another in a suit. He introduced them to Oscar as Detective Fuentes and Officer Sandoval, and then introduced the policemen to us.
He summarized the theft and reappearance of the skis, and led us into their shop where a technician explained what had been done to the skis to make this a criminal case. He had the skis they rented to Dana on a table with some bright red tape around them, along with an identical pair that had seen some use.
The detective moved in close to get a look at the skis and, in Spanish, said “You will have to explain everything to me. I don’t ski.”
The mechanic did a good job of explaining the purpose of bindings, and demonstrated how modern safety bindings work. After that he removed a screw from the back end of one of the bindings on the older skis and said, “The screws should be like this. When we mount bindings on performance skis, we screw them clear through the ski bottoms, grind off the protuberance and repair the bottom. It is standard practice, and should guarantee the binding will never move.
Detective Fuentes took the screw and examined it before looking at the bottom of the ski it had been removed from, which looked perfect from where I was standing. He handed the screw around so we could all have a look, but it was just a screw.
Next, the technician pulled a screw from the ski Dana had trouble with, and the difference was obvious. Where the back plate of the binding attached to the ski, the ski appeared to be nearly an inch thick, and the screw he removed was no more than a half-inch long. He showed us the bottoms of both screws, and the good one had clearly been ground off while the short screw had been cut with something like metal shears.
Matias spoke up then. “This binding had just enough contact to survive the fitting this morning, and a few very flat runs between lifts. After it was stressed for just a few minutes, it separated from the ski.” He moved over and put his hand on Dana’s shoulder. “I understand that this young man is beyond an expert on skis, and is in fact an aspiring Olympian. If he had taken the summit lift and attempted the very steep conditions there, the way this binding was attached would have been disastrous, and quite possibly fatal.”
I winced hearing that. Both officers were looking at Dana and apparently liked what they saw. Officer Sandoval offered up a sad smile, while Detective Fuentes’ face became animated. His eyebrows went up, then down where he nearly squinted, and back up again, where he smiled sadly just like Officer Sandoval had. He said softly, “I’m glad we don’t have that to deal with.”
It was clear that there would be an investigation and a million questions, but they only needed a statement of the facts from Dana. Hector interrupted them to say that we were tired and hungry, and the police took Dana to Oscar’s office to get his statement. That didn’t take long, and they called me in next.
They were polite but brusque. There was a tiny recorder on the desk and they told me they would be recording my statement, and that I was honor bound to tell the truth.
I had to help them with their questions, because they didn’t always know what to ask, but it was pretty simple. I just told them what I saw that morning and that was it. They didn’t ask for opinions or anything, so we were done after a few minutes. It took longer to identify myself and my citizenship, and help with the spelling of Brattleboro when they asked my address.
The shop gave Dana another pair of giant slalom skis, and also inspected the downhill skis he hadn’t used yet.
When we were back in the car I asked, “Is anybody else hungry?”
Everyone was, and I asked Ovidio if there was a good place to eat between us and the hotel. He thought for a moment and asked, “Do you like beef?”
Tom said, “Do you have to ask?”
Ovidio snickered. “Okay, there is a very fine steak restaurant with Uruguayan beef. It’s not far,” and he spoke to Lucero in rapid Spanish. Lucero turned shortly, and after a minute we pulled into the parking area of a huge looking restaurant with a gaudy sign out front.
When we were walking in, I said to Ovidio, “I thought Argentinean beef was the best.”
He said, “Argentine beef is fine, and what most people eat. It can be chewy though. I don’t know what they do differently in Uruguay, but their beef is never tough, and it has as much flavor as any you’ve ever had.” He bopped my shoulder, “You’ll see.”
The place was as big inside as it looked from the outside, and very busy. Well, it was Saturday night and a lot of vehicles in the lot had skis in racks. A side benefit of that was that we were dressed appropriately.
Ovidio was right about the steaks. They were huge like you’d get in a Boston steakhouse, and as good as American Prime. They didn’t charge Boston prices though, not even close. We all ate well for less than Dana and I paid for similar steaks in Boston, just the two of us, and there we had to pay separately for salads, potatoes and the like. Here, it seemed that you bought your steak and whatever else you wanted was included. The only extra would have been dessert, but we were too stuffed to think about that. And it occurred to me that I had been right the night before. The thought of having some wine never crossed my mind, and nobody else mentioned it.
It wasn’t far back to the hotel, but I really had to force my eyes to stay open to enjoy the impressive view of Santiago from on high, all lit up for a Saturday night. It wasn’t nine o’clock when we got back to the hotel, but I joked that maybe we could get a bellman to carry us upstairs in his cart. It was only funny until Tom, Dana and Hector considered the possibility. That actually made it seem funnier to me, but when I got to my room I looked longingly at the bed, and noticed that my phone was blinking.
It was the bathroom that I needed right then, and I stayed in there to take a quick shower so I wouldn’t have to get up early. I went back into the room intending to ignore the blinking phone, but I couldn’t. I picked the handset up with the intent to call the desk, but there was a recorded voice saying I had three messages. I pressed the buttons to retrieve them, and the first was a welcoming message from the hotel. I didn’t know how to get out of it, so I hung up the phone and waited a few seconds before picking it up again, and the same voice said I had two messages.
The first was Dad. “Hi, Paul. You don’t have to call me if you’re tired. I can understand that, but call when you have a chance and let me know how things are going. Bye now.”
The next message was from Lisa, and I was dialing her on my cell phone while I listened. She was worried because I hadn’t called her, and I honestly thought I did. I hadn’t called her, though, and I misdialed three times before I hung up the hotel phone and used both hands on my cell. Everyone I knew could pop their phone open and dial with one thumb, but I couldn’t. I had a hard enough time using two hands, but I got through, and Lisa’s father asked how I was enjoying the trip before he called Lisa to the phone.
She made me feel good just saying hello. I wanted to talk to her and not recap the day, so all I said when she asked about the day was that it had been intriguing, not to mention tiring.
Lisa said, “Oh, poor you. How is the skiing, anyhow? Are you too tired to tell me?”
I didn’t want to get into Dana’s troubles with the skis, so said, “It was good. We’re on rental equipment, and it’s been a few months since we went skiing. We took it easy this morning, and had a deep powder lesson this afternoon. We all had trouble with that, but did okay at the end.”
Lisa sounded amused, “What kind of trouble?”
I snickered, “Nothing major. It’s just that when you fall, you disappear. We completely lost Hector for a good five minutes!”
“Hector skied with you? What does he use for skis, railroad tracks?”
I laughed, “He’s very good, actually. He kept up with us all day.”
“What is it like there in Chile?”
“So far we’ve seen this hotel, a bit of downtown last night, and a ski area. I think it’s nice. From the mountain you can see right over the city to the sea. It’s not far away at all.”
Lisa said, “I looked at a map when Daddy said if I went due south from Brattleboro, the first ocean I would see is the Pacific. I didn’t believe him, but it’s true. I did see Chile, though, and it’s really a long snake of a country. You’re in Santiago and the Andes are right there?”
“Right here,” I said. “We drove right uphill to the ski area in under an hour, and the road isn’t straight at all. It’s kind of scary, really.”
“Yeah, steep, no guard rail, really sharp turns. This guy, Lucero, that’s driving us makes it comfortable but I think I’d be scared to death going up or down.”
Lisa was good with irony, or possibly sarcasm. “Oh, my. Was it even more scary than Mr. Bilger’s corn field?”
That got me laughing, which made Lisa laugh. I said, “I don’t want to get in the habit of swearing at you, but right now I’d like you to form a mental picture of two words. The first is a verb, and the next is a personal pronoun.”
Lisa laughed harder, which got me going and she said, “I know you’re a gentleman and would never say this, but I’m not a man at all. Fuck you, too!”
I laughed as quietly as I could, my hand over the part of the phone you talk into. I finally calmed down enough to say, “Lisa, I’m shocked! What a nice sentiment. When do we start?”
It was her turn to laugh again, and she kind of giggled out, “When you’re thirty and a productive member of society.”
“When I’m thirty? If we start now we could have fourteen young ‘uns by the time we’re thirty. What could be more productive than that?”
Lisa sounded like she was lost in hysteria for a minute, and finally said, “You’re awful. If you want fourteen kids you should buy some baby goats.”
I said, not joking, “You can say that. You have brothers and sisters. It’s not that great being an only.”
Lisa hesitated. “I guess you’re right about that. We want to kill each other a lot of the time, but when things go wrong we’re all there. We share our problems is what I’m saying.” She snickered, “That drives out the murderous tendencies for a few minutes.”
I said, “I never knew what that was like before Dana showed up. I know what you mean, I think. He’s not me and I’m not him, and sometimes we fight and argue. We never had this before, though, and every time we get upset we end up… I don’t know … closer, like we learn something. I know it must be different than growing up together, but we’re doing it now.”
Lisa was silent for a bit before she said, “When you first introduced Dana you said he was your brother. I had no reason to doubt that. Your parents were divorced and I didn’t think it was weird for one kid to go with each parent. You got along like brothers, too, kind of like puppies. You nipped at each other but didn’t really bite. You don’t look like each other, but we have Lou, and he looks about as Italian as Dana looks Irish.”
I smiled at her words, but my eyelids felt heavy. “I think I have to sleep now, Lisa. While I’m still awake I want you to know that I love you a lot.”
“I love you, too. Get some sleep and call me tomorrow. I’ll be thinking of you.”
After I put the phone in its charger I brushed my teeth and crawled into bed.
+ + + + + + + +
We had a better time of it the next day. We went directly to the mid-mountain area we’d skied on the morning before and played around there for an hour before we took the Tres Puntas lift to the top. That lift is what is called a j-bar, basically a cable with j-shaped hooks that pull you uphill while your feet are still on the ground. It was clunky and slow, but the expanding vista made up for it, and when we reached the top a lot of mountains came into view. We were at twelve thousand feet looking up at other mountains. The one directly across from us was named Bismark, which is where the helicopter tours took you. The summit is fifteen thousand five hundred feet, and it looked incredibly steep. Beside it was El Plomo, nearly eighteen thousand feet high.
We should have been skiing but we were ogling instead, and using up our phone batteries taking pictures. I asked a stranger to take our picture using Tom’s phone and Tom, surprised by a strong signal where we were, sent it to his parents, Dad, Ally, Lisa, Bridgette, and one to Gretchen in Germany. Tommy seemed a bit awestruck, and when he was putting his phone away he said, “Wow! My first world photo.”
There were three trails off that lift, an intermediate one that swept around a ridge back to the bottom of the lift, and two expert trails, Twist and Shake, which dropped steeply into a couloir and ended at the intermediate trail about halfway down. Twist and Shake were thrillers at the top, bringing real meaning to the term fall line, skinny paths of snow between rock faces. There was no way to control speed at the very top, and we were practically flying by the time we could execute any turns at all. Both trails widened soon enough. Shake had a little mogul field before it ended, and I hit it not realizing how fast I was going and took the best crapper of my skiing life. I wasn’t hurt, but spent a good ten minutes locating my skis, my poles, and my hat.
We did each trail twice, and then took the intermediate trail from the top. That was a nice run, and Dana wanted to spend the afternoon there with the downhill skis because it was a trail made for speed.
We found our way to the on-mountain restaurant again, and this time there was a board listing specials. One of the items was curanto, a word I didn’t know. I pointed it out to Hector and asked, “Do you know this word?”
He looked, sounded it out, and said, “No. It must be a local term, probably a native dish.”
That intrigued me, so when we sat down, outside again, I asked the waiter about it.
“Oh, curanto is a traditional meal in Chile. It’s a stew. Ours is made with: white fish, clams, scallops, chicken, pork, beef, lamb, vegetables, and potatoes cloaked in flour. There is no specific recipe; you just want a little of everything in it.”
I grinned, “I’ll have that, and some crusty bread if you have it.”
“And to drink?”
I was surprised when everyone ordered the same meal, although I probably shouldn’t have been. Who doesn’t like stew? And there was nothing weird in this one, just an odd jumble of things.
It was delicious, too, and we all used the bread to sop up the last bits of gravy. There was nothing left when the waiter brought the bill, which we again divided. A meal like that would have cost fifteen or twenty dollars at an American ski area, but it came out to roughly seven dollars each with tip.
We sat for a while talking about how to spend the afternoon, and Dana was adamant that he wanted to try the downhill skis on that slope. Tom was indifferent and I knew Hector had to go with me. I really wanted to get some more time in on deep powder, but learning something about downhill racing was intriguing too, so I agreed to stick with Dana.
We skied down to the base to find Lucero, who had the keys to the ski rack, and ended up having to phone Ovidio. We met them in the parking lot and Dana got his downhillers. He asked Hector to check them one more time, so Hector gave each binding a mighty tug and said they were safe.
Dana looked at him, “How can you tell with just two fingers?”
Hector took the back of Dana’s parka between two fingers and lifted him clear off the ground. Dana’s face was priceless, “Okay, okay! I get it!” Lucero had to turn away to hide his smile, but I was glad to see that he had one.
We took the same myriad of lifts to get back to Tres Puntas, and Dana pretty much fooled around on our first run. He was just getting used to the skis, seeing what they could do, and what he could do with them. He took the next run faster, about as fast as I could keep up with him, and he was grinning at the bottom. “Did you see that? These skis are awesome! Are you ready to see race speed?”
“Uh, see it is okay. I don’t know about trying it.”
He laughed, “Okay, you watch. I can murder this hill with these things.”
We took the slow lift back up and waited for Hector and Tom. I said, “Dana’s going to race himself down the hill. Let’s go to the bottom of that long straight to watch.”
They agreed and I told Dana to give us five minutes. We skied off, and I could see why Dana liked this run so much. It looked like a downhill course. There was that one gradual ninety degree turn, and a long, steep run down the fall-line, and a thirty-degree turn to another long run down to the lift. We stopped there. We wouldn’t see Dana at the top, but he came into view soon enough, and he was skiing with real intent. I hadn’t seen that before. Dana was always whooping and yelling when he skied with us before, and now he was racing. He was down that long steep and out of sight around the bend in just seconds. We looked at each other wide-eyed, and skied down, only to see Dana already partway up the hill.
I looked at Hector and asked, “How fast do you think he was going?”
“I don’t know amigo. Very fast.”
I looked at Tommy and he said, “Faster than that. I’d say very, very fast.”
I grumbled, “I could see that. Anyone want to put a miles-per-hour guess in there?”
“Lots,” Hector said.
Tom said, “Faster than that, it was lots and lots.”
I laughed silently, knowing it was a lost cause. “Should we go up or wait for him to come back down?”
Hector pointed at a small building between lifts and said, “Let’s take turns in the men’s room and trap Dana here before we lose track of him entirely.”
Tommy put his hand up and said, “Me first!”
Hector and I chuckled when Tom hurried off, and Hector said, “You have good friends, amigo. Has it always been like that?”
I said, “I guess. I got picked on by the older guys when I went to private school, but everybody did. When we moved to Brattleboro I met Tommy the first day, and we’ve been friends ever since. Other people, well you know, you meet here and there. Sometimes you pick up a friend. This last year at school I joined some things and made a lot of friends.”
Hector eyed me, “Lisa?”
I said, “Yeah. She’s the reason I joined something, a dance committee, and I ended up being the fundraiser. Half the people I know I met by asking them for money or trying to sell them pencils.”
Hector snickered, “Pencils. I won’t even ask.”
When Tom came back I ran to the men’s room, and when I walked out, Hector and Dana were just approaching. I asked Dana, “Why aren’t you smiling?”
“I gotta go. I’ll smile after.”
I laughed as I walked away. I found Tommy sitting in the snow beside our equipment. When I got closer I could see that he was talking on the phone. That seemed like a good idea, so I pulled mine out and called my father. It rang enough times that I thought it would go to voice mail, but I suddenly heard, “Paul! How are things? I got that picture and it looks fantastic.”
“It’s beautiful, Dad. We’re at a place called Valle Nevado. Dana rented some real downhill racing skis and he’s just been trying them out. I’ve seen him ski fast, but he’s like a rocket on those skis. It’s incredible. He’s incredible. You should have seen him; it was like he was a hundred percent focused. He didn’t even see us watching and we were right there.”
“Get a video if you can. I’d love to see it.”
“There’s a place near here called Colorado something, and the U.S. Olympic team is training there. Dana can get timed runs and maybe we can get a good video there. Tommy’s iPhone can take hi-def video. I don’t know how much.”
“You have the same phone don’t you?”
I said, “Oh, I guess I forgot to tell you. I gave my iPhone to Russ Glover as my penance for driving in corn. I got a cheapo that I bought with my own money.”
Dad was silent for a moment, then he snickered and … I could picture him …laughing his mostly silent laugh. His face would contort, his eyes would tear up, and the only sound he made was these little breathy wheezes.
“Are you okay, Dad? You sound like you’re choking on something.”
He managed to squeak out, “Wait …” and I didn’t. It was kind of pointless because he wouldn’t be able to speak coherently for five or ten minutes.
I said, “Dad, why don’t you call me after about four-thirty. We should be in the car on the way back to Santiago then”
He laughed, “I’ll do that. Have fun.”
Tom and I took turns making videos with his iPhone after that. The best one was me flying down the steepest part of the hill at a speed that was almost reckless, when Dana zoomed by me so fast that I might have been pushing a shopping cart in the grocery store. Tom tried to follow Dana with the camera, but had to twist around so fast that he fell down. Of course, we ran out of memory soon enough, and everyone but Dana was so tired from the fast runs that we left him to make two on his own before heading down the mountain.
When we were getting out of our ski gear, Dana was so excited that he never shut up. “I wish I had skis like this at State. I bet I could beat my best run by three seconds! I can’t believe I won anything with those wrecks I have. Holy cow! I need to get some slalom skis and see what I can do. Can we go to El Colorado tomorrow? Can I get some slalom skis on the way back? That’s my worst race and I want to see what I can do with the right skis. God, I’m never gonna sleep tonight!”
Dana had us all grinning at his excitement; even Lucero was shaking his head. Ovidio said, “I’ll call the ski shop and have them get a pair of slalom skis ready, but please calm down. If you don’t sleep tonight you won’t ski well tomorrow.”
I looked at Tom and grinned. Ovidio didn’t know Dana yet.
We walked out to the car, loaded our equipment, and Lucero took off toward town. Ovidio looked back at us and asked, “Want to try a little local seafood place tonight? You said you liked funky little places. I’m thinking of a hole-in-the-wall. It’s family owned and they have their own boat over in Valparaiso. They get shellfish off the docks, so what you eat tonight came out of the sea early this morning. Most things are grilled over coals, but a few things are pan fried.”
I wanted to go, but I waited for someone else to say something. Tom said, “It sounds great to me.” Hector agreed and Dana looked at me.
When I didn’t say anything he said, “Yeah, lets.”
I said, “Me four. Is there a place where I can get a little digital camera tonight? My phone takes crappy pictures.”
Ovidio frowned and said, “Hmm. It’s Sunday night. I don’t think so; not now. Maybe in a mall; we can ask at the ski shop.” He thought some more, “Actually, our office has some digital cameras. I’ll pick up one of those for you to use. How much memory will you need? I can have someone run out to a store and pick some up before they close.”
Tom thought and said, “We blew through eight gigs this afternoon, so maybe a sixteen gig card. Is there a place we can write to DVDs?”
“I’m sure you can do that in the hotel. Okay, we’ll get a camera and sixteen gigs of memory, a package of DVDs. Anything else?”
Hector said, “Just get a USB adaptor for whatever format the memory card is. I can make DVDs with my computer.”
Ovidio said, “Done,” and got on his cell phone.
There was a beautiful sunset beginning, and we got an on-and-off view of it. Tom’s phone just read ‘no memory’ when he tried to get a picture but I thought the sunset was beautiful enough to look good even in the two pixels of my phone. Dana and Hector tried with their phones, too. The sea was about sixty miles from us and the sun was setting over the far horizon. Bands of vivid red, yellow and orange stretched out right over our heads, and above that the sky was a very translucent dark blue. I’d seen some spectacular sunsets before, and this one was right up with the most wondrously beautiful of them all.
We stopped at the ski shop and only Dana and Ovidio went in. They weren’t long inside, and when they came out Dana had yet another pair of skis and different poles. There was no room for them in the ski rack, so Lucero made room between the seats, and they weren’t intrusive at all.
We stopped on a residential street in an old neighborhood and walked about a hundred feet where Ovidio knocked on a door. It opened almost immediately, and a woman probably around forty years old smiled, bowed, and gestured for us to come inside. Talk about a family restaurant, this place was the ground floor of their house, and there were quite a few other people, mostly families, seated and eating in various rooms.
The aromas were heady, and people were chattering softly; when they laughed it was in the quiet way that seemed to be a Chilean trait. We were seated at a table where I could see into the kitchen. An older man and woman were doing the cooking, young kids were busing the tables, and a guy about our age came over to take our drink orders. I asked what he had, and he said “Everything. Coca Cola, red wine, white wine, green wine, chica, pisco … “ and his eyebrows went up hopefully.
“Green wine?” I asked.
He said, “If you’re skiing tomorrow I don’t recommend it.” He made a goofy face and pointed at his head, saying, “It causes the bad hangover. It’s the booze mixed with pineapple ice and cream. They call it earthquake down south, tsunami around here.”
I laughed and said, “I think I’ll have water,” and realized that Tom and Dana didn’t have a clue. I turned to them and said, “Beer, wine, Coke and water. I ordered water.”
Tom asked “I can get a beer?”
Dana said, “I’ll take water”
I told Dana, “Water is agua fria, a-g-u-a f-r-i-a, but pronounce it kind of without the ‘g’ like awa fria.”
Dana looked at the kid and said, “Awa fria,” and the boy nodded and wrote it down.
Tom asked, “How do you say beer?”
Tin looked up and said, “Cervesa, please.”
The waiter wanted to know what kind, so I looked at Ovidio and Lucero and asked what a good beer was.
Ovidio said, “If you’re used to American beer, then order a lager. Everything else is better, but that’s a personal thing.”
Tom asked, “How do I say that so he’ll understand?” indicating the waiter.
Ovidio turned to the kid and said, “Almacenaje de la cerveza, por favor.”
Tom looked at Ovidio and asked, “Did you just order a lager beer? That was a whole lot of syllables.”
Ovidio said, “Yes, yes,” and asked for the night’s menu
A young girl brought that over and bowed shyly as she handed it to Ovidio. It was in a leather folder, but just a handwritten page. Rather than pass it around, Ovidio translated it for us.
“There are three appetizers: raw clams with lemon juice, ceviche, and eel soup. That is delicious. Their special is sea trout fillet grilled with garlic; it’s also very delicious. Your other seafood choice is ostiones. That is … let me think … sea scallops, and they’re served with butter and parmesan. The other is a stew of beans, corn and pumpkin.” He looked around and smiled, “I know this place. They’ll always put a spicy half chicken on the grill for you.”
I smiled at Ovidio and said, “I love this kind of place. I guess it’s the grandparents cooking, their son does the fishing, his wife greeted us, and their kids are waiting tables. Am I right?”
Ovidio said, “Indeed you are, and here comes the loveliest and most nubile of the younger generation.”
He wasn’t kidding. Our waitress looked to be about sixteen or seventeen, and she was drop-dead gorgeous. Her skin was light and her hair was brown and pulled into a ponytail, but there were strands dangling on the sides of her face, just like Lisa most days. Her eyes were big and bright, and her smile perfect.
What was really perfect was her body in snug jeans and a blindingly white tee shirt. Her boobs weren’t huge, but they were firm-looking and pointed straight ahead. I briefly thought that if she ever accidentally bumped into a pin she might deflate like a balloon.
She shared a glance with Ovidio and I got the idea that she might be the reason for our visit more than the food.
Maybe I was wrong about that. Our meals were wonderful, and exactly the reason I like that kind of place. I knew what I ordered, but the things that came with it were a surprise. There was a mound of peppers, onions and tomatoes that had been cooked on the grill until they were a bit blackened, with shredded potatoes grilled with garlic and onion, along with a few big slices of a fresh tomato.
When I eat like that in a little place, and for a small price, I always have the thought that you can take your Cordon Bleu and shove it. It’s the way my mother cooks, the way my grandmothers cook. Fresh food, cooked quick and simple … that’s the best. I’d rarely turn down a meal in a good Boston pub or steakhouse, but will every time when my option is home-cooking.
Hector paid the bill with cash and left a big tip, hoping it would be spread among everyone who helped to serve us. Ovidio said that was probably wishful thinking, but spoke with the owner to express Hector’s wish.
On our way out, Ovidio said, “He told me he would apportion the tip. Perhaps he will, but I wouldn’t count on it.”
At the hotel, Ovidio stopped at the front desk while the rest of us took the elevator upstairs. I was in the bathroom getting ready to take a shower when there was a knock on the door. I pulled my pants back on and hurried to the door.
Ovidio held out a small box and said, “Here is a camera for you to use. The instruction booklet is in the case, and there are spare batteries and an extra charger for use in the vehicle. There are two sixteen gigabyte memory cards and a USB adaptor. The last thing is a package of twenty-five recordable DVDs. Can you think of anything else?”
I smiled, “Do they make anything more? This ought to do it. Thanks a lot!”
Ovidio nodded and said, “Good night, then,” and walked across the hall to his room. I put the box on the dresser and returned to the shower, where I lingered after I cleaned up. The shower head had a pulsating setting that felt good on my shoulders and upper back. I’d really worked my muscles on the steep terrain, but felt good that I hadn’t yet encountered anything that intimidated me. I was also thrilled to have seen Dana going full blast on real downhill skis, and it was fun to see him so truly excited.
When I was done in the bathroom I sat on the bed to make three calls. Ally was first because she’d talk the least. She and Mom were at dinner, so it was a very short call. She said they were having a good trip, and I said we were having a good trip, too. I said hi to Mom and their appetizers came, so we hung up. That was good, because I just wanted them to know that I hadn’t killed myself yet.
I called Dad next, and he had just talked to Dana so he knew what we’d been up to. I just gave him my take on things and asked what was happening there. He surprised me by saying Russ Glover was coming back to work the coffee bar in the morning for a couple of weeks, and that Heinrich had already run out of things to teach Mr. Glover, who was a quick study. Mr. Glover was going to Boston the following Saturday to meet Mr. Spalding’s amazing machine, and the whole family was leaving for ten days on Cape Cod the day after we’d get home from Chile.
Then he brought me down by saying, “Schiffer’s lawyer is trying to get the case thrown out based on diminished capacity. Bernie doesn’t think that will happen because temporary insanity usually applies to spur-of-the-moment things and not a multi-day murder spree. He tried to cover his tracks, too, and almost succeeded. I think anyone would agree that it takes a sick mind to do what the man did, but it seems clear that he knew what he was doing and why.”
“Wow,” I said. “What’s the difference in court?”
“I don’t know, Paul. If the defense puts up a strong argument, the prosecution will have to build a stronger one, and they have girls and young women coming out of the woodwork to claim that they were molested or raped by Schiffer. They’re filing complaints, but nobody knows who might be willing to testify in court. The trial will probably be televised, and if is, it will be almost impossible to protect their identities. Most are still minors so their parents have the final say, and I’m not convinced that I’d even allow you to go through that, regardless of the importance.”
“I never thought of that. You’re right. Those kids are probably screwed up already from what happened, but they’d never get away from it.”
Dad said, “There’s a little bit of good news. Schiffer has a public defender now, but he’s been ordered to find his own attorney. He owns a home, has money in the bank, and believe it or not is on paid leave right now.”
“Why paid leave? That’s sick.”
“The district has a contract with the union, Paul. I learned that teachers are often subject to false allegations, and the agreement is that until an allegation is proven to be true, a teacher can’t be fired outright, so they’re placed on paid leave. It’s unfortunate in a case like this, but it gives protection to the majority, who are truly falsely accused of misbehavior.”
I asked, “Why is this good news?”
“Whatever happens in court, Schiffer will be impoverished by this. His attorney will want to be paid. He’ll go after the income first, the bank accounts next, and then the personal property, his pension after that. The defense won’t be cheap. They’ll have to pay for experts to counter the state’s evidence, for doctors to examine the guy and come up with alternative opinions to the state’s own psychiatrists. It’s just expensive no matter how you look at it, and the state won’t pay any more until he’s really and truly broke.”
I said, “I guess that’s a little bit of justice right there, but I hope he gets a way bigger dose of it.”
“Everyone does, Paul. The man shouldn’t see daylight again, ever.”
After a moment, I said, “This is too sour a note to end a call on. I love you, Dad, and Elenora, too. What are the wedding plans?”
Dad said, “We don’t know yet. We thought next year at first, but why wait? Now we’re looking for a place in foliage season, probably early October. I never intended a big fuss, but there are three women involved here. I’m outnumbered.”
“Is that why Mom and Ally are in Seneca Falls?”
“No, not at all. Gay weddings are only possible in Massachusetts and Connecticut around here, and I think they’d prefer Massachusetts because they live there. We all just want something nice but simple; just family and close friends.”
I said, “Good luck with that. There’s nothing simple about your families, much less your friends!”
“True,” Dad said, and chuckled over that.
I said, “I have to call Lisa,” and hung up on him in mid-chuckle.
I called Lisa and Aldo answered. He asked how I liked Brazil and I said I hadn’t made it there yet, but Chile is nice.
“Oh yeah, that’s right. Lisa’s babysitting, but she left a number you can call.”
“Hold on,” I said while I took the pad and pen beside my bed. “Okay, I’m ready.”
He gave me the number and I wrote it down and repeated it back to him. I thanked him, hung up and started to dial Lisa, but Tom walked in so I closed the phone. He said, “Oh, sorry.”
I was sitting on my bed in just underpants. Tom had seen me like that a hundred times, so I wasn’t sure what he was sorry about. “What’s up?” I asked. “I was just calling Lisa.”
Tom seemed surprised. “You call her when you’re naked? That’s kind of kinky, isn’t it?”
“I’m not naked, and why is that kinky? She can’t see what I’m wearing.”
“You don’t tell her?”
“No, I don’t tell her! Do you want something?”
Tom said, “Wire down. I was just gonna ask if you wanted to download your phone pics to Hector’s computer. Since you’re talking on it, I’ll take that as a no.”
I said, “I’ll do it after,” and pointed to the box that Ovidio left. There are DVDs in there if you want to save your pictures. Let me call Lisa and I’ll come over after, okay?”
Tom nodded, took the box back to his room and closed the door. I called Lisa, and we talked for about forty minutes when one of the little ones she was watching came and said, “I had an accident.”
I said, “More power to you. I love you, and I hope you know that.”
“I love you too. Gotta go.”
I tapped on the door to Tom’s room and went in, but the room was empty, and the bathroom door was open with the light off. I went through to Dana’s room and kept going to Hector’s when Dana wasn’t there either. I knocked on Hector’s door, and I knocked a second time when there was no response.
I called Tom’s phone and asked, “Where are you?” when he answered.
“We’re down in the lobby bar. Come and join us.”
“What are you doing down there?”
“What do you usually do in a bar? We’re having drinks.”
I said, “Yeah, sure: sody-pop. I don’t have any clothes on. How long will you be there?”
I heard, “About thirty …” and lost the signal. I just shrugged and went back to my room to get dressed, though it seemed like a waste of time. It was already after nine, and I’d be in bed before long. I no sooner had socks, a tee shirt and a jersey on when there was a commotion next door, and Hector, Dana and Tom burst into my room laughing.
Dana pointed and said, “You forgot pants.”
I said indignantly, “I did not forget pants, but I’ll be happy to forget them if you’re done boozing.”
Hector said, “We weren’t really at the bar, amigo. We were waiting for the elevator when you called. We went outside to walk around the pool area. It’s beautiful, but it’s too cold out.”
I asked, “Is this a social call then?”
Hector said, “No. Bring your phone to my room and I’ll put your pictures on the same DVD as Tom’s.”
“Oh. Okay, I’ll be right there.” I pulled on the pair of sweatpants that I’d brought to sleep in and walked through the rooms. Hector was sitting at the laptop on his desk while Dana and Tom knelt on either side of him. They were looking at the pictures Tom had taken with his iPhone, and the quality of them was surprisingly good. There were some flubs that Hector deleted: shots where Tom moved or his subject did, and some that weren’t really pictures at all, and I guessed that he got a gloved finger in front of the lens. What struck me most was the color in them. The mountains themselves may as well have been filmed in black and white, because that’s what they were, just white snow with black and gray rocks poking out. The sky, though, came out a deep, deep blue in most of the shots, and ski wear is generally brightly colored. The photos of us standing on snow with mountains rising behind us and that beautiful sky above were really colorful.
When we got to the videos of Dana skiing on his self-proclaimed downhill slope, I drew in a sharp breath. I think Hector and Tom did, too, but a quick glance at Dana had him looking almost enchanted. It was when he passed right in front of Tom that we got the feeling of real speed. Dana flew through the field of view in a blink, and by the time Tom turned the camera Dana was disappearing down a hill.
The next video was shot at the bottom of the longest steep on the run, and Dana had asked for it to be shot there. He showed us where to put a couple of poles into the snow to simulate a gate and to stay way back from it. He told Tom, “I’ll yell when I’m coming. You can film till I’m about halfway down the big hill, but then put the camera here. I’ll be going about as fast as I ever went, and I want to see how I take this turn.”
Watching it on video we didn’t pick up Dana’s screech, but Tom did catch him coming over the lip at the top of the steep and catching air. Then he dropped into a tight tuck to gain velocity, and Tom barely had time to turn the camera, but he managed. Dana was close to us when he went around the poles, and he disappeared into a dot in two seconds.
Watching it, he was positively rapt. “Did you see that? Back it up, Hector. Look at the snow under the skis. I hardly moved any. Can you do slow motion?”
“I think so. Want me to back it up again?”
“Please! I can’t believe I nailed it like that on the first try. Can it go slower?”
We watched that few seconds of skiing a whole lot of times, and Dana’s excitement never ebbed. Hector finally said, “That’s it! Go to bed, guys. Dana, let me get Paul’s pictures unloaded from his phone and get all of them on disk. Then you can take this computer to your room and watch yourself all night.”
Dana looked like he realized he’d been pushing it and said, “Sorry. I’m tired, too. Let’s just go to bed.”
I handed Hector my phone and the special USB cable that came with it. The cable was coiled and wrapped in its original plastic. Hector just took it and nodded, and I followed Dana and Tom out of his room.
I put my hand on Dana’s shoulder and said, “You’re good, brother. Maybe tomorrow you can show them Olympian guys something about racing.”
He looked down and snickered, “Thanks. I think I’ll be happy if I can get close to the worst time they post in downhill. I want to spend my time on the slalom to see if it’s really my skis, or if it’s just me. Slalom really isn’t a lot of fun; it’s all technique and no speed.”
I patted his shoulder and said, “It’s still about being fastest, and you’re good at that. Are those skis really that different?”
Dana said, “Oh,” in a husky voice. “They’re different alright. The GS skis are like cruisers. They don’t make you turn, but they help out when you have to. Downhillers want to go straight, but they won’t stop you from turning a little. I’ll tell you about slalom skis after I try them tomorrow. They’re short and supposed to make turning real easy, but I think it’s mostly the short part that keeps you on your feet in a race.”
I said, “I just thought of something. Isn’t Ally posting videos of you on her website?”
“She said that. I don’t know when.”
“Next time I talk to her I’ll tell her about Tom’s videos. They came out really good, and she wouldn’t have to worry about copyrights or anything.”
Dana stepped behind me and said, “Good idea,” and pushed me toward Tom’s door. “Now get! I need some sleep and I don’t want to see a grumpy you in the morning.”
I turned around, “What? No kiss goodnight?”
Dana pointed at the door and said, “I’ll give you something to kiss! Go to bed.”
I opened the door to Tom’s room and said, “No, you can’t kiss me there,” to Dana before I walked out.
Tom asked idly, “Trouble in paradise?”