The Third Good Thing
Lucero drove us to another small restaurant, though it wasn’t nearly as small as the last two, and it was downtown with a lit sign outside and a more conventional layout inside. A hostess seated us and gave us leather-bound menus, which were hand-labeled ‘Daily Menu’ with the date beneath it on the card inside.
The entire thing was hand-written in a kind of fancy cursive script, and it might as well have been in hieroglyphics. I couldn’t figure it out. I didn’t feel bad once I noticed both Ovidio and Lucero frowning at theirs.
Lucero finally put his menu down and said, “Never mind. We brought you here because they always have Pastel de Choclo. It is the most Chilean of all meals.”
Lucero hadn’t led us wrong yet and none of us even questioned the choice. Instead, Tom asked Dana, “Who is Alia, and why is Paul so lucky?”
Dana’s face took on a wistful look and he said, “Paul met her in the sauna today … naked.”
Tom’s jaw dropped as his eyes widened, and Hector, Ovidio and Lucero covered their amusement with their hands. Tom looked at me and asked, “Why was she naked?”
“It was a sauna, Tom. She was naked because everybody was. Well, everyone except Hector. There was Alia, and she was with older women, probably her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. Oh, and there was an old dead guy up on a shelf.”
Hector said, “He wasn’t dead, Paul. I saw him pick his nose when you weren’t looking.”
I made a face and said, “Oh gross! I think I liked him better dead.”
That went right by Tommy, who was staring at me, his index finger kind of circling around before he pointed at me. “What were you wearing?”
I said, “I was sitting on the biggest towel I ever saw in my life. Is that important?”
“I mean on your body, dammit.”
I said, “Oh, it was far too hot in there for clothes.”
“So you were naked and she was naked? How long were you in there?”
I shrugged, “I don’t know, maybe a half hour.”
Hector corrected me, “More like forty-five minutes, amigo.”
“That’s what I said. We didn’t talk until the end. Alia’s from Brazil and speaks better English than some of the kids in school.”
Tom stared and said, “You are the luckiest person I ever met.”
I laughed. “I don’t know about lucky. I’ll probably be blushing below the waist for the rest of the week.”
Hector said, “Let’s change the subject, please. Tell us about your day, Dana.”
That got my interest. It had been Dana’s day on the downhill and I never even mentioned it or asked about how he did.
We all turned to him and he hemmed and hawed for a while before he grinned, “It was fantastic! My first run I fell right at the bottom and went through the timer kind of upside-down. I still came through just a tenth off the slowest guy on the team. I know what I did, too. I was a half-second from the finish and I peeked at the clock. Stupid, stupid, stupid. It’s not a long course so you don’t get any really great speed going, and the next run I skidded a little on a gate. I know that cost me, but at the bottom I was mid-pack.”
“Mid-pack of the US Olympic team?” I asked in astonishment.
Dana said, “Oh no. These people are the hopefuls, training to try out for the team. Only a couple of them have even run a World Cup. Let me finish. It was already snowing at the end of my second run, and it was getting hard to see when I went back up, but damn, that little coat of new dry powder on top of the crust made that track into a dream. I really loosened up as soon as I left the gate. It was fun, and I wasn’t trying to beat the clock or anything, I just wanted to push those skis, and I ended up tied for third place.”
“Third?” I asked in surprise, and said, “Go Dana!” while clapping my hands.
Tom let out a whoop and started clapping, too, and we stood up and kept clapping. Hector, Lucero and Ovidio joined us, and Dana sat there embarrassed but beaming.
I think we all noticed at once that every eye in the place was on our table. I didn’t think the people looked angry, and Ovidio said, “I’ll fix this. Stand up, Dana.”
Dana stood cautiously, and Ovidio appeared behind him and got him standing straight while the rest of us sat down. He waved his hands and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, forgive us our excitement but remember this face. Today, this boy skied at El Colorado on the US Ski Team’s downhill run and tied for third place. In a few years you will see his face everywhere, but you are nearly the first to see it in Chile.”
There was some polite applause and everyone sat down, but not everyone stayed sitting. A stylish looking woman came over to the table and said, “We are not the first ones to see Dana. He is on the cover of the Healthy Woman magazine I bought just yesterday.” She pinched Dana’s cheek. “Sometimes we start to believe that all Americans are rich and arrogant, but your circumstances were humble indeed, no better than many poor
Chileans. I wish you well. Would I be too bold to ask you for a photo with my daughter?”
Ovidio had been translating quietly, and Dana smiled, “Sure. No problem.”
The woman beckoned, “Please, come to our table. It will be easier.”
Dana followed her, and Hector and Ovidio followed Dana while Lucero seemed to go on high alert. I didn’t see anything going on, and the woman’s young daughter, probably twelve, stood excitedly when Dana approached. The woman turned the girl’s chair so it was facing out, and the man next to her gave up his chair so Dana could use it, but Dana just stood behind the happy girl with his hands on her shoulders, and when the lady had snapped a few pictures Dana gave the beaming girl a peck on the cheek and came back to our table.
After that people lined up, and Ovidio explained that we were there to eat and if they stayed around Dana would be happy to accommodate them, but right now we were all hungry, which was the truth.
It was good timing. Just then the waiter brought a loaf of warm bread to each of us, and when I touched mine to pull off a hunk it was too hot to handle. I dropped it and dipped my singed fingers into my water to cool them off. Our salads came, and they were the smallest yet, served in what would have been custard dishes. Well, they were custard dishes, just repurposed ones.
There was a little lettuce in the bottom, tomato slices on that, and chopped onions, shredded cheese and croutons on top. Not being a real fan of greens, I liked the look of it. I took my bread-scorched hand from my water glass to sample the dressings in the little dish. There was a thin red one that didn’t taste like much of anything, a white one with green stuff in it that tasted kind of like mayonnaise, and an orange one that could have been thousand islands.
Just when I was wondering if they might have some flavor mixed together, the waiter came back with oil and vinegar. I put some oil on the salad, topped it off with pepper from the grinder, and it was delicious. I was just finishing it when the main dish came, and when the waiter took my salad dish he also took the little tray of oil and vinegar. I asked him to please leave the oil.
The main dish was pretty. It was a yellow concoction in a large oven crock that the waiter warned us not to touch. It wasn’t solid yellow. There were bits of other things showing in red and green, and the entire surface was golden brown on the little peaks from the oven.
It was steaming, so I watched Lucero to see what he would do. He pulled off a hunk of his bread and dipped it. It came out steaming and he just held it in his hand while he talked to Ovidio. I did the same, and when he ate his, I ate mine, but not before I positioned my water for easy access if it was still too hot. Nothing ruins a meal quicker than a burnt mouth.
It was yummy: corn, onion, ground meat, bits of red and green sweet peppers and some flavorful spices. I dipped another piece of bread and started turning the contents of the bowl with my spoon so it would cool down faster. When I finished the bread the casserole had cooled enough that I could eat the rest with the spoon. It was tasty in a no-surprises way, and very satisfying. Our dessert was flan made with honey instead of sugar and a brandy and nut sauce on top. Everyone loved it except Hector, who said, “They shouldn’t mess with flan.”
When our coffee was served, people began approaching shyly to see Dana. When he started to accommodate them by standing for pictures and signing autographs, more people were drawn to our table and the atmosphere was friendly but subdued, with little resemblance to Rhod’s American fans.
I had consumed a full liter of water, and when I pushed my chair back to go to the restroom people gave me plenty of space. Lucero pointed the way. The men’s room had two urinals with a divider between them, and I’d no sooner unzipped than a guy came in and stood beside me. “Hola,” he said.
I don’t know the Chilean lifestyle, but I know you don’t hold conversations with strangers in the toilets, so I spoke in English. “Hi.”
He asked, “¿Habla español?”
“Español? No, just English. Sorry.”
Dammit! He said in heavily accented English, “You’re young friend is a good athlete.”
I said, “Yes he is,” zipped up and moved to wash my hands. They guy backed up blocking my way to the sink.
I said, “Excuse me, can I get by?”
“What’s your hurry? Your friend likes to have his picture taken. Do you like that?”
“What I like is being left alone. Will you please let me by?”
The guy leered at me and started to reach in his pocket, so I gave him a non-denominational, multi-lingual kick where it hurts most. He folded but didn’t go down, and he caught my ankle just as I got my hand on the door handle. I went down hard, but the door had opened about four inches and I managed to yell “Hector!” before it shut.
Hector must have been right outside because he burst right in and growled, “I wouldn’t do that, amigo.”
The hand released my ankle and I had only made it to my knees when Lucero came in and produced a very large gun. I got to my feet a bit dizzily and turned around to look. The guy was down, Hector’s foot on his wrist and a knife lay on the floor a few inches from his hand. He’d been red-faced, leering and menacing with me, and now he looked pale and shaky on the floor. I made a move toward the sink, but Lucero said, “Go back to the table nice and calmly. Tell Ovidio to summon the police. You can wash up later.”
I didn’t say anything. I took another quick glance at the man on the floor, and did what I was told. I tried to smile as I walked back to the table, but I was pretty shaky myself. I stopped to whisper to Ovidio, “Lucero wants you to call the police.”
Ovidio nodded and asked, “Did he want me to call them or summon them?”
“He said to summon them.”
Ovidio said, “As I thought. Walk with me to the desk.” He stood and I walked beside him. “Tell me briefly what happened, Paul.”
I told him and he said, “Okay, let’s report it.”
He went to the reception and had them call the manager out. Ovidio told the guy very briefly what happened and asked him to call the police.
The manager left to do that, and I asked Ovidio, “Why didn’t you just call them yourself?”
He said simply, “There’s less to explain this way. We’re just citizens informing the restaurant about an incident.”
“How will you explain Lucero in there with a gun?”
“Lucero is our driver. He’s out there looking after the car. Nobody displayed a gun. The only weapon is your attacker’s knife, and that will be as it was when you got away.” He winked quickly, “Lucero prefers McDonalds.”
The waiter came with the bill. Ovidio took it and put it in his shirt pocket, handed the waiter a large sum of money and said, “Bring me a bill for five meals. I think you miscounted, but you may keep the change.”
The waiter seemed confused at first, but looked at the money in his hand and shrugged. He came back with a new bill and handed it to Ovidio with a smile. “I see, only five of you. Don’t worry.”
We sat down. Dana’s crowd had left and Tommy asked, “What’s going on?”
Ovidio leaned in close and whispered, “Lucero is our driver. He was outside with our car while we ate. Got that?”
They both nodded and Ovidio said, “Paul can explain what happened later. Right now the police are coming. They probably won’t ask you anything, but if they do, tell them the three of us were here entertaining Dana’s fans. All you know is that Paul left for the bathroom.”
Dana asked, “What happened?”
Tom slapped Dana’s shoulder lightly and said, “We don’t know. That’s the point I think.”
Dana nodded. I’d noticed some police entering a few minutes before, and now two of them came from the men’s room with my toilet buddy in handcuffs. In another minute a man in a suit approached our table and asked, “Which of you is Mr. Dunn?”
I put my hand up a little and said, “I am.”
He said, “I am detective Silva. Will you come with me please?”
I stood up nervously and he led me to a vacant table with no people close to it. “Sit down, sir.”
I sat. He took out a pad and asked me for all of my personal information.
I gave it to him and he said, “I will need to see your passport at some point, but that’s not important now. Tell me exactly what happened in the men’s room tonight.”
I told him as accurately as I could, only omitting Lucero’s appearance. As far as I was concerned it ended where Hector had his foot on the guy’s wrist and I first saw the knife.
He asked, “What about the man with a gun?”
“What are you saying? I don’t have a gun and Hector doesn’t have a gun.”
“There was a third man there, no?”
I said, “Yeah, but all I saw was his knife. If he had a gun I didn’t see it.”
are you here with? What’s the purpose of your trip?”
I said, “It’s a sixteenth birthday present for me and my brother. My best friend is with us, and our guardian. It’s a skiing vacation. Our guide is named Ovidio and we have a driver.”
“They are here with you?”
“Ovidio is the man at our table. The redhead is Tom, and the other is my brother, Dana. The driver is watching the vehicle.”
He looked at his notes, “And Hector Torres is?”
“Our guardian on this trip.”
“A family friend or what?”
I said, “No. He was hired for the job. He’s become a friend, but he still gets paid to look after us.”
Detective Silva smiled and said, “It looks like he earns his pay.” He held out his business card and said, “Our FAX number is on here. It’s not necessary for you to bring your documents in person. What I need from each of you is a copy of the first page of your passport and the page with your entry stamp. Your hotel will provide this service.” He stood and held his hand out, and we shook.
I went back to the table and everyone was there. Hector asked, “How did it go?”
I said, “Good, I guess. He gave me his card and said we can fax the first pages of our passports and the pages with the Chile stamp, and I think that’s it.”
“Excellent,” Ovidio said. “Let’s get going. It’s late, but you can sleep an extra hour or so in the morning to allow time for them to clear the roads.” He grinned, “You will see real powder snow tomorrow, perhaps thirty inches of it at the upper elevations.”
We all cooed at that and I asked, “Is there a place to get a magazine now?”
Ovidio frowned, “It’s best to ask Lucero. We’re downtown, so probably.”
Lucero was just down the street, leaning like a permanent fixture across the sidewalk from our vehicle. He snapped to when we approached, and the inside lit right up. We got buckled in and Ovidio asked about the magazines. Lucero didn’t even start the engine. He pointed at a shop two doors down and said, “Right there. They have the popular ones.”
I hopped out and went in the shop, where I snagged the three copies of Woman’s Health they had in the rack and asked if they had three more. The clerk gave me a bewildered look, but produced a stack of them, handing three to me and putting the rest in the rack. I paid for them, and when I went to pick them up they were slippery so I asked for a bag. She rolled her eyes like that was some alien request and put them in a bag for me anyhow.
I hurried back to the car, and when I got in I said, “I have presents.” I pulled out one magazine to show it around, and Dana took it to look for the story about him. He was rapt in two seconds. I put my hands next to my head and pulled them away jerkily like my swelling head was pushing them out. Everyone laughed except Dana, who was oblivious until the car moved and the interior lights faded out.
Back in the hotel I had to recount my men’s room experience to everyone in an otherwise vacant area of the lobby. Dana and Tom were awed, while Hector, Ovidio and Lucero looked almost appreciative that I got the guy attacking me down, and even more appreciative that I managed to convince the detective without outright lying to him. I told the men that I thought their moves were slick. First by having the restaurant call the police about an attack on a patron and then about making Lucero disappear from everyone’s memory and his dinner vanish from the bill.
We didn’t stay long. We all took copies of the magazine up to our rooms and agreed that we’d sleep until nine-thirty.
+ + + + + + + +
The next day, on the drive to the mountain, I grudgingly read the article about Dana out loud to him and Tommy. The translation in the magazine was fine, and when I read something in Spanish I usually sort it out in my own head. It was a lot harder trying to reverse it into the original English. After Tommy and Dana said, “Huh?” enough times I just closed it.
I said, “I’m getting a headache. I don’t like reading in a car, and I’m not a translator. Read the real thing when you get home.”
I cracked my window for some fresh air and looked out on a really beautiful winter vista. The sky was perfectly blue, the rest of the world a study in black and white, but mostly white that morning. It didn’t seem very windy, but snow was still blowing around, drifting up here, hollowing out there. The landscape changed as I watched, and it was fascinating. This Eskimo had his nose pressed to the window until we reached the parking lot.
It was going on eleven, but we were still early arrivals. Of course, I hadn’t taken all the mountainside hotels, lodges and condos into consideration, so there were a lot more skiers than the number of cars would suggest.
When we were ready, we took a poma up to an area of easy trails so Tom could test his leg. Tom did fine on his first run, but that poma was painfully slow so we skied over to the triple chair. There wasn’t much of a line, and I rode up with Hector while Tom and Dana were in the chair behind us. We took another easy run down and Tom was having no trouble, so we took a couple of good runs on intermediate trails. The beginner trails had been packed, and the intermediate ones less so. We kept going and tried a few advanced trails, one of which was ungroomed. The groomed one still had a lot of powder on it, so our next run was on ungroomed snow, and nearly five feet of it had piled up in the last two days. We stood at the top looking down. The trail was short and straight, and we guessed that the sheer steepness of it had earned the advanced rating. We didn’t have to turn down there because the trail we were on offered a lot of ways down.
Dana and I would be up to our chins in snow if we didn’t ride it right. Hector and Tom would be up to their shoulders. Dana shrugged and said, “It’s just snow. It’s probably a good idea to zip our phones up in inside pockets. Just picture a big, fat, juicy hamburger at the end down there. Let’s go for it!”
He turned down and sank down, and started skiing away, and he wasn’t going as fast as I expected him to. Well, he was only up to his waist, so I guess the snow he was compressing underfoot, coupled with what was still up to his waist absorbed a lot of the inertia. He was almost to the bottom when I started a new track beside his, and the next thing I knew I was at the bottom, laughing like a hyena. That was fun! We watched Tom come down, and could see his grin when he was still a hundred feet up from us, and he was also laughing when he reached us.
We looked up so see that Hector was still there, and I wondered if he was having second thoughts. Then I realized he was on the damn phone again. We were ready to start jeering him, but he put his phone away, pulled down his goggles, and skied down to us as easily as we’d all done.
“Whoo! That’s a good run.” He looked back uphill and said, “Look at that. Four identical tracks. Get those cameras out and take pictures.”
Dana and I used our phones, while Tom used the iPhone. Then I took the little camera out and took more. There was more than the tracks; there was more of the mountain visible above and behind the top of that run and about the deepest blue sky I ever saw. I said, “Look at that contrast. It’s beautiful.”
We decided to go to the lodge to use the toilets and have a quick lunch. We still wanted to try Dana’s downhill run and maybe find more powder.
There was a cafeteria. They didn’t have pre-made sandwiches, so I ordered for all of us, knowing it would go faster. I didn’t ask what they wanted; I just ordered four ham and cheese sandwiches with mayo, lettuce, tomato and mustard on white bread, and told the others to get chips or something, and a drink. I stood aside to wait for the sandwiches. And when they were ready they were presented in a labeled, stapled bag. The bag had a satisfying heft to it. I took a bottle of water from the cooler and a small bag of what I hoped were real potato chips. I went over to the checkout and Hector was there. He said, “I have this, amigo. Just give the nice lady the items.”
She scanned the things and I went to where Tom and Dana were waiting. “I hope you like ham and cheese because that’s what you’re getting.” Hector joined us and we decided to eat outside in the sun.
We found a bench and ate quickly. Nobody was full, but the area would be shutting down in a few hours and we’d be in some restaurant two hours after that. Dana wasn’t sure the downhill run would be available, but we could look and see. The women were using the timed runs the day after the men’s team. Because of the new snow, it had to be groomed and they may still be doing their runs. If not, we could try it. Otherwise there were lots of trails we hadn’t been on.
We got rid of our trash, used the toilets again, and found the first chair on our way to the downhill run. It was the same double-chair, triple-chair combination that we’d taken on Monday in order to ruin Tom’s knee. We skied off to the left this time, and the downhill run was right there. Trail number ten. Dana said, “They must be done. The starting gate was right here.” Dana was dressed like the rest of us, without his robot helmet and drag-resistant suit on, and he’d brought the giant slalom skis instead of the downhillers.
He said, “When I take off, come after me on count of three spacing.”
Tom asked, “Like you go, and I count to three and go, Paul counts to three and goes?”
Dana said, “Yeah, like that. Get ready side-by-side though, so you’re already in position. Okay?”
I said, “Hector, why don’t you go first after Dana. Then you can really see him ski. Tom can go next, and I’ll go last. Follow his track, though; watch how he attacks those turns.”
Hector said, “Good deal,” and got in position beside Dana. Tom lined up on his left, and I went on Dana’s right.
“Here we go!” Dana cried, and he skated off before dropping into a tuck. Hector went behind him, and Dana was already out of sight by the time he got into his tuck.
Tom went, and I silently thought,”… two, three,” and almost dove off that mountain. A few quick skate steps and I ducked into the tuck Dana had shown me, with my wrists on my knees, my forearms parallel to the slope, and my head down low peering forward. I picked up speed at an alarming rate, and I saw Tom in front of me before long. Now we were all skiing at speed. There was a long steep that went straight down for a bit and I could see Hector in front of Tom, but no Dana.
The speed was exhilarating, though, and I strove to go faster, remembering Dana crying, “Unweight, Unweight!” when a sharp turn was coming up, meaning I should get my skis to change direction when just the front edges were in any meaningful contact with the snow. You have to be going really fast to even try that, and when I did I rocketed past Tom. Hector was right in front of me. The next turn was a wide sweep to the left, and I knew to steer my left ski with the toe of my right one. Zoom! I was right past Hector and a jump was coming up. I couldn’t match Dana’s screech, but I did tip my body to the right, and was halfway into the next turn when I landed. There was a steep after that, and I could see Dana far below. I gained speed again on the steep, and I could see them taking down the course from there. There was safety fencing on both sides of the track and a finish line still in place. There was one gate left, too, on the right side, and I went around it more-or-less on my ski’s tips, and then I was down.
I had to really screech to a stop because there were all kinds of advertisements around the small turnaround area at the end, and I fell over. Dana came running over yelling, “Holy shit!” He helped me to my feet. “I think you matched my time. Where’d you learn to ski like that, brother?”
I grinned and touched my nose to his. “The Dana University of Secret Ski Moves, man. I get it together sometimes.”
I think we wondered at the same time where Tom and Hector were, and we looked up the hill. There was nobody, and right then my phone started ringing in my inside pocket. By the time I got to it the call had dropped, but it had been from Tom.
I said, “Shit. Something happened. I called back and when Tom picked up I asked, “What’s wrong? Is it your leg again?”
Tommy said, “No, it’s Hector. He fell hard. He says he’s okay, but he wants to count his parts to make sure none fell off. I think he had the wind knocked out of him.”
“Did you call Ovidio?”
“No. Should I?”
I said, “I’ll call him. Make Hector show you that he can feel and move all his limbs. You do that and I’ll call you back.”
I called Ovidio and told him what happened and what Tom was doing, and that he should call Tom because we couldn’t really get there. He agreed and thanked me, and I sat down on the snow.
sat beside me and asked, “You think it’s bad?
I said, “I don’t know. Hector says he’s okay so he probably is. Tom says he fell hard, whatever that means. It’s just that this trip is all up and down. I mean, the hotel is nice, the food here is great, the skiing is great. Then someone doctors skis to hurt somebody, probably anybody, but you end up with them. Tom hurts his knee, some weirdo wants to scare me with a knife, maybe even stick me, and now Hector. I nudged Dana with my elbow, “And you. You have these little Chilean girls swooning at your feet. If they weren’t with their mothers they’d probably be begging you to father their children.”
Dana said, “You think? I should be glad the mothers are there. The last, last, last thing I want in life is to have some kid of mine growing up like I did, wondering why he doesn’t have a father like everyone else.”
I put my arm around him and said, “Don’t ever lose that thought.”
My phone went off and it was Tom. “We’re okay. We’ll be down in a few minutes.”
I said, “Thanks. We’ll be here.”
I fell back in the snow and said, “They’re skiing down. I think they’re closing the lifts, so our day is done.”
Dana stretched out beside me and said, “That’s okay. It was the best one yet.”
I asked, “Where to tomorrow?”
“I don’t care. Wherever map man tells us. I sure liked that deep powder; it was like totally different and way fun.”
I said, “Yeah, it was. We should have done that a few more times. I never thought about powder being like that, like if you’re the first one down, you kind of mold the mountain.”
Just then we heard a whoop from uphill, and looked just in time to see Tom landing the last jump. If he saw the gate he didn’t bother with it, and his grinning stop showered us in snow. Hector did do the gate, and nicely, and he stopped behind us to spare us another face full of snow.
I asked, “Are you alright?”
Hector said, “I’m fine, amigo. I just went down too fast to brace myself.”
Tom said, “It looks like they’re shutting the lifts down.”
Dana said, “They are. We got here pretty late. Where do you want to go tomorrow?”
Tom said, “I was thinking we should try La Parva after all. We were probably there the first day when we had our deep snow lesson. The lift system doesn’t look great, but almost everything is advanced and expert. It goes right up to twelve thousand feet and the runs look longer than here.”
I said, “Sounds good to me. Let’s get going, we can talk about it in the car.”
There was an easy path to the base, which wasn’t far, and we had something of a routine worked out by then. We were in the car about fifteen minutes after we left the base of the downhill run, and at our hotel in another half-hour. The light on my room phone was blinking, but I got out of my ski things, took a shower and shaved, and dressed in street clothes before I checked the message.
When I was comfortable I listened, fully expecting it to be some kind of hotel survey that they like to annoy their guests with. This time, it was Detective Silva of the Santiago Police, and he had a few more questions for me. He left a number, which I wrote down, and I called Hector.
When he picked up I said, “The detective wants me to call him. He says he has more questions.”
Hector said, “Sit tight, I’ll be right there.”
Hector brought new meaning to the words ‘right there’ and burst through the door in less than ten seconds. “Let me hear the call. You didn’t erase it, did you?”
I said, “I don’t think so. I just hung it up.”
Hector picked up the phone and pressed the button for message pick up and listened. He hung it up and said, “Give me a few minutes. I have to speak with Ovidio.”
I nodded, but I was getting nervous. I thought the events of the night before were done with, but I guess they weren’t.
Dana and Tom came in and asked, “What’s going on?”
I sat on the bed and said, “I don’t know. The police want to talk to me again about last night.”
Tom said, “Maybe it’s nothing.”
I replied, “Last night that detective was all friendly and saying I did the right thing. You can listen to his message if you want, but it’s not friendly sounding.”
Dana asked, “Did you lie?”
I said, “Only that I didn’t see a gun or Lucero. I didn’t lie at all about what that guy did or what I did.”
Tom said cheerfully, “You better hope he’s not the mayor’s brother, or worse yet, the mayor.”
I said, “Thanks.”
Hector came back and asked if I wrote Silva’s number down, and I gave him the paper. He said, “Stay right here, all of you. Don’t answer that phone. I’ll be back in a bit.”
Tommy said, “This doesn’t sound good,” and turned the desk chair around and sat in it.
Dana looked at the armchair across the room and decided on the floor where we wouldn’t have our backs to him. He had his back against the wall by the door, and I dislodged a bed pillow from the covers and tossed it to him.
We were silent until Tom’s cell rang. He looked at it and stood up, “My father.”
I said, “Don’t tell him anything,” and he shook his head, answered the phone and went into the bathroom.
Dana asked, “Can you turn on the TV?”
I said, “I can, but I bet I get the sportscast.”
I was wrong. I’d come in on CNN International’s excellent news program. You’d only hear about the US if something huge was happening. Otherwise we got what my father called ‘news the way it should be’ reports from all over creation, and they weren’t the little blurbs you get on American television. These went into some depth and they were interesting, and often they were parts of ongoing reports.
Hector tapped on my door after a few minutes, and I didn’t have to get up. Dana just reached over to turn the knob
Hector looked around quickly and asked, “Where’s Tom?”
“He’s in the bathroom talking to his father.”
Hector sat in the chair Tommy had been in and said, “I hate to do this, but can you call him out?”
I looked at Hector and went to the bathroom door. I tapped on it and opened it. Tom was sitting on top of the toilet having what seemed like a happy conversation. I whispered, “You’re needed out here.” He nodded, and I backed off.
Tom was out of there before I sat back down asking, “What? Is something wrong?”
Hector said, “We’re not sure, but we need to take precautions. Listen to me carefully, okay?”
We mumbled that we would.
“Our driver’s name is Marco. He works for a regular car service. He looks a bit like Lucero, but knows absolutely nothing about guns, and is in fact afraid of them. He was hired for this assignment just as I was as your guardian, and as Ovidio was as our guide. Can you keep all this straight?”
We all nodded, although none of us had a grasp on what was happening.
Hector said, “It was Marco who picked us up at the airport, Marco who drove us everywhere we went, Marco who took us to those great little places to eat where we didn’t even know where we were. Do you get what I’m saying?”
Dana ventured, “No Lucero? It was Marco all this time?”
Hector nodded. “When Marco sees you he will know you and greet you by name, and you just stick with your casual American greetings, as if he’s the driver you’ve had for the last five days. Understood?”
I asked, “What’s going on?”
Hector said, “We’re covering our butts, basically. For all I know Silva may ask you to send his kid baseball cards or something, but for now we’re thinking a security camera on the street may have picked something up. There are none in the restaurant.”
I asked, “Now what?”
“Turn off the television and don’t say a word. I’ll call Silva from here. Put your cell phones in the bathroom and close the door. Here, take mine, too.”
He called the number on the hotel phone and asked for Detective Silva, explained who he was and why he was calling, and was put on hold.
He was connected in just a few seconds, and we could obviously only hear Hector. “Hello detective. You left a message for Paul Dunn to call you, and since he is my charge I have to ask you what this is about.” There was a long pause, and Hector said, “As long as we’re in Chile I am his legal guardian, and I have the documents to substantiate that.” Pause. “Yes, I’d be glad to, but I won’t let you interrogate Paul unless you give me good reason. I believe he was the intended victim here.”
Hector rolled his eyes, and then yelled, “What? That is lunacy. That man had a knife in his hand when I came into the room, and he was ready to use it on Paul. Yes I’m sure! He had it in position to stab, and that’s why I stepped on his arm. It was to stop him, nothing else.”
Hector listened some more, bristling at what he was hearing. “That is insane! What other defense does a sixteen-year old boy have against a man twice his size? Come on, be serious. Who is that guy?”
He listened some more. “I won’t authorize that before I talk to the boy’s family. I’m sorry, but if you continue to insist that Paul committed some crime I’ll refer you to the family’s attorney. Listen, detective, you have to see that this is bogus. Just because Paul found an advantage on someone whose intentions we still don’t know, doesn’t change the fact that he acted in self-defense and legitimate fear for his own well-being.”
After listening to the detective he said, “I’ll await your call, and I’ll get those passport pages faxed to you right off. Yes, sir, you too. Goodnight.”
When he hung up he shook his head and said, “I don’t believe this. The idiot with the knife claims it was you who assaulted him. He says you kicked him in the nuts and he got pissed and wanted to scare you.”
“Asshole,” I muttered. “What’s next?”
Hector said, “I need some legal advice. I don’t know where we stand.”
I said, “Call Bernie. He’ll find somebody for us.”
Hector said, “Yeah, yeah. God, we thought it was Lucero and the gun for sure, not that fat piece of shit trying to turn everything around.” He looked at me and said, “I can’t let you go there alone Paul. This is Chile and they have a reputation for doing things differently. If they want to talk to you it will be here in the hotel, and I’ll be with you.”
Hector looked troubled, “Do you have Mr. Sutton’s phone number?”
I smiled, “My phone is in the bathroom. If it was here I’d have his number.”
Hector smiled and seemed to loosen up. He said, “Good, I could really use the toilet. I’ll be back.”
Tom and Dana rushed into the bathroom to get their own phones, and came out laughing when Hector went in. Dana looked at me and grinned, “Sounds like you’re in deep doo-doo. It serves you right, you violent brute.”
I grumbled, “It’s not funny.”
Tom said, “It is funny. Saint Paul, up to his ears in trouble with the Santiago cops, when Paul did the right thing for once. I’ve heard that the prisons here aren’t too nice, and sometimes people just disappear.”
“Thanks, Tom. I appreciate your confidence. I’m just wondering what you’ll do here when the plane doesn’t come back for us.”
Tom said, “I’ll probably just stay, teach English maybe, with common sense lessons mixed in. Oh, and courses on creating homemade UFOs. I’ll do okay, and I’ll petition for your release from prison every time it comes up.”
I wheezed out a laugh and said, “That’s what best friends are for.”
“That’s the way I figure it.”
Dana cried, “Will you two cut it out? This is serious sounding.”
I looked at him and said, “Dana, maybe this will go down wrong and be serious, but right now it’s ridiculous. A two hundred-fifty pound weirdo tried to play with me in a toilet, so I kicked him in the nuts. What would you have done? What would anyone have done? What? Say, Okay, have at me?”
Dana shook his head and said, “I guess not. Why are the cops listening to him?”
I looked at Dana and said, “I don’t know, but I can guess. He’s local and I’m not. He probably pays his bills and all that, but I don’t think this was the first time he tried to stick some kid in a toilet. I don’t know why I think that, except he had it down. He had to be watching us, because he talked about Dana being an athlete and liking his picture taken, and it was too weird when he asked me if I liked that. He blocked my way when I wanted to go, and I told him to let me out and he didn’t. That’s when I kicked him. Now I wish I had a ski boot on.”
Hector came out of the bathroom and gave me my phone. “Go downstairs and eat in one of the hotel restaurants. And before you ask, don’t ask me; just go. I’ll be in my room.”
He walked out through the rooms and a mood of gloom descended on us. I said, “This is getting serious. Let’s go eat and we can think there.”
We took the elevator down to the restaurant level and were again seated by a window overlooking the terrace area. That looked even nicer at night with all the hidden lights out there. I was a bit surprised at the menu pricing, but I guess we’d been spoiled by the low prices where we’d been eating. These were big city prices, and in that context I guess they weren’t bad. It was pretty much a standard ‘international’ menu, and the choices didn’t sound very inspired. I hoped the waiter would come with specials, but when he came it was to take our orders. I asked about specials and he said they had prime rib, but only on the weekend.
I ended up with a small Caesar salad and veal picatta, which came on a bed of linguini. Tom and Dana both ordered steaks with fries and house salads.
The high point of the meal was the bread, which was wonderful. The meals were good, too. The steaks were a good size, and Tom and Dana said they were nice and tender and cooked just right. I had a lot of pieces of veal, too, and it sat in a tasty pool of wine, lemon, garlic and oil.
When we were done we declined dessert and ordered coffees.
Tom looked at me and asked, “What do you think will happen?”
I said, “I don’t know, Tom. I’ll be really pissed if I get charged with something for defending myself. That just sounds so far-fetched. I wish Lucero was here to talk to. He seems to know the city better than Ovidio.”
Tom muttered, “Yeah, he does. Let’s think about this. You kicked the guy before he pulled the knife, right?”
“Then he grabbed your leg and pulled you back from the door?”
“That’s how it happened. Then Hector came in and yelled and the guy let me go. It might have been when he stepped on his arm, too, and Lucero was there in a second with a gun. I didn’t really see what Hector did because it was behind me, and when Lucero came in all I saw was that gun. He told me to get out and I went.”
Tommy started to say something but my phone rang, and I held up a finger so he’d wait.
It was my father. “Dad!”
“Are you okay, Paul? What’s going on there?”
I said, “I’m fine, and I don’t know what the heck is going on. We were in a restaurant downtown last night. When I went to the men’s room some big guy followed me in. He started talking to me. Who talks to strangers in bathrooms? I made believe I only spoke English, then he changed to English, and he said something about Dana being a good athlete. Before our food came Dana told us he matched the third-place downhill skier and we made some noise, so Ovidio explained it to everyone else. It’s rude to have a noisy table here. Anyhow, then people were coming over to take pictures with Dana and I had to go, so I left.”
I told my father the rest of the story and how I thought it was over and done with, but now the detective wanted to talk to me again and didn’t sound very friendly this time.
“Bernie called me. He’s getting you a local lawyer. He’s a money guy like Bernie is; not a defense lawyer, but he knows the law there. Also, Bernie told Hector to contact the detective who is investigating those skis that Dana rented so you’ll have a friendly face in the police department. You should also know that the security team is looking into this Detective Silva to learn what’s known about him, and also trying to learn what they can about the man who accosted you.”
“Wow,” I grinned. “You work fast; no wonder we hardly ever have a problem paying the rent.”
Dad sighed, “Only you, Paul. What’s the skiing like?”
I said, “Today was the best. Between last night and the night before, there’s like five feet of new powder, and I think an acre of it weighs about an ounce. We went down this really steep run this morning, first ones on it, and it was almost like skiing on a cloud, like totally effortless. Then our last run was on the downhill course. The ski team was done with it, so they were taking it down. There was only one gate at the bottom. I tried these turns that Dana showed me. I started last but ended up second. I never went so fast in my life!”
“I hope you’re not being reckless.”
I said, “I never felt reckless, not even a little. I mean, if I fell I wouldn’t get hurt – the trail was wide and not like expert terrain. It was just a big cruiser.”
Dad said, “Well, just be careful, all of you. Enjoy the skiing and let the pros deal with that incident last night. If you do have to talk to Detective Silva it will be at your convenience and you’ll have counsel with you.”
I said, “I won’t worry if you say so. Is there any news on that principal?”
“Not really, and just what I read in the papers. It’s still in the news because the defense and the prosecution are filing petitions with the court all the time. Bernie says the defense is fishing for a plea offer, but they won’t likely get one. The guy murdered two families, killed a young mother and a policeman, and damn near killed Russ. He shot another mother because her kid might have seen him. They have the evidence, and a solid witness with Russ. I don’t think they have to give on anything.”
“I hope not. We’re kind of tired here. I’ll call you if anything else happens.”
“I hear you, Paul. If you do have to talk to that detective again, please don’t bring on the comedy act. That could rightfully get you thrown in the can until you’re thirty, and there’s no defense.”
I laughed, “Yuk, yuk; look who’s talking. I love you anyhow, Dad.”
Dad said gently, “And I love you. Give my love to Dana and Tommy and I’ll be gone.”
“I will. Bye.”
I closed the phone and looked at Dana and Tom’s questioning faces. “Dad says hi, and I’ll have a lawyer. Let’s go up to bed because we are skiing tomorrow!”
Dana said, “The bill?”
“Oh, yeah. You can sign it, and get in some practice with that movie star signature of yours.”
Dana looked steamed, but it was true. With Rhod’s expert help, Dana had developed a signature that was designer perfect: bold, legible and distinctive, and he had put it to use the night before. When the waiter brought our bill Dana said, “I’ll take this.” He opened the little booklet and said, “It’s just over forty-seven thousand pesos. What should I leave for a tip?”
I asked, “Is there a tip included?”
“I don’t think so. There’s a box that says ‘gratificación’, does that mean tip? It’s empty.”
I looked at the paper, and Dana had it right. “Write five thousand in there, and add it up. That’s a good tip here.”
Dana said, “You’re the boss,” and filled in the space.
I said, “I’m not anybody’s boss. What I am is tired, so let’s go upstairs. We have a new hill to look at tomorrow.”
Tom yawned large, so Dana asked, “Can I just leave this here?”
I said, “Yes. Let’s go.”
In the elevator I said, “I have a lawyer here now. I don’t know who it is, but it’s someone Bernie does business with. I hope you can stay out of this.”
“Me, too,” Tom mumbled. When the elevator opened on our floor we said goodnight and went to our own rooms. There was a knock on my door before I had the top button of my shirt undone. It was Ovidio, and he said, “We have an idea of what is going on.”
I was interested, but continued unbuttoning my shirt. I sat on the bed, pulled the laces on my shoes and started kicking them off. “What is it?” I asked.
Ovidio sat in the armchair and said, “The man who assaulted you last night is Fernando Ramirez, who is also known as Freddie. He has a long sheet with the local police for promoting prostitution, and has been suspected by the Federal government for some time of being a producer or distributor of child pornography. I think that, by the words he used last night, he was trying to lure you to a place I know you wouldn’t go. I believe that, if you had responded favorably when he asked if you liked to have your picture taken, he would have offered you access to pretty young girls in exchange for photographing, and perhaps filming, your activities.”
“That’s sick,” I said.
“It is. Grown men, me included, can appreciate the beauty of young girls, but it ends there. They are children and will develop sexually soon enough. I know this. My oldest daughter is thirteen now, and already the boys are sniffing around.” He smiled suddenly, “I don’t like it, but that is perfectly normal. They’re boys, not grown men. Ana is allowed to sit with them in the courtyard, but no more. I saw pictures of Ramirez and it hurts me to even think of that pig with my Ana.”
I said, “I don’t know why he tried with me. I don’t think I give out signals. I have a girlfriend and I’m still trying to figure her out, but I love her. I heard that I’m a hero to one little kid, but all I did was try to keep him happy when his life was tough. I want him to stay happy too, but far from guys like Mr. Freddie.”
“That’s Ian?” Ovidio asked.
“You heard about that? Yeah, Ian. He’s a pretty neat kid.”
Ovidio looked at me and said, “You told me you have a girlfriend. What’s her name, and how long have you been involved?”
I asked, “Are you the police now? I saw Lisa when we first moved to Brattleboro. I thought she was cute. I was too shy to say anything. I hope you get this, because I don’t want to tell the whole story. It’s embarrassing.”
“Don’t tell it then. I have my suspicions about Silva. Hector has been promised that a lawyer will be found for you tonight and he will be given our room numbers and cell phone numbers. He will attempt to contact me first because you will be skiing, and I will arrange for him to meet with you when we are back in Santiago. Have you decided where we will be going tomorrow?”
“La Parva,” I said.
“Good. It is close to the city. I may have to ask you to shorten your day depending when the new attorney can meet with you. I’ll try to arrange it for as late as possible.”
He caught me in the middle of a yawn, and I said, “That sounds good. Tell me what you’re thinking about Silva.”
Ovidio said, “I have to verify some things before I can voice that opinion, because right now it’s an opinion not based on anything I can prove. Sorry.”
I yawned again and said, “It doesn’t matter. I probably wouldn’t remember if you told me now.”
Ovidio patted my shoulder and said, “Get some sleep and don’t worry.”
I mumbled, “I’m too tired to worry.”
Ovidio smiled, “I’ll leave you alone. Sleep well, and I’ll see you in the morning.”
I said, “G’night,” and stepped out of my pants as soon as the door closed behind him.
* * * * * * * *
We met Marco in the morning, and as promised he’d done his homework and greeted us like he’d spent five days driving us around. He did resemble Lucero, although I doubted anybody would mistake one for the other. It was like they might have shared some native heritage. One other thing he had in common was that he was clearly not there to make new friends.
La Parva wasn’t what we expected. Although it was smaller than Valle Nevado and far smaller than La Colorado, it had the most lodging by far, and the longest runs because the terrain was better suited to them. There were a handful of easy and intermediate trails, but lots of advanced and expert, and there was a large, lift-serviced off-piste area off to the right when looking up from the base. It looked pointless to look for an easy run to start off with.
The map was kind of disconcerting. This little place had no less than five on-mountain clinics and another at the base. Between Tom and Hector they found a lift to an easy trail that led to a summit lift, off of which there was a single intermediate trail, and that led to a sea of advanced trails.
Tommy said it was better than no warm up at all, so we headed out to find the number 2 lift, which took us to a beginner trail that we had to ski down to. It was really an easy trail and we had to look at the map again to determine which way was supposed to be down. We headed off to our right, and the trail did begin to descend after the first turn, and it was pleasant enough down to the summit lift. From the lift, we could see what we’d be skiing, and it looked awesome. The super-steeps were on our left while the mere very-steeps were on the right, and as we got up higher things got even steeper. We found the one intermediate trail, and it was a nice ride, but pretty short.
From there, there was one road down to where we wanted to be, so we took it, and that was where our fun began. The snow was loosely packed and very fast, but also easy to turn on. It crossed several trails, and ended on a straight chute down to the lift. Dana hadn’t waited for us and yelled from the lift, “I’ll wait up top!”
Tom and Hector pulled up a second after I did, and we rode up in one chair. I said, “I loved that run. Man, this snow is perfect.”
They agreed, and Dana was talking to another skier when we got off the lift at the top. When he saw us, he said something to the guy and waved, then skied over to us. “That guy skis here all the time. He says if we go over here it’s the toughest trail in any area in the Andes, and we’ll just waste money heli-skiing. He says the cats are a way better deal and they take you higher and to steeper stuff.” He grinned, “Ready?”
Well, it was still early, and how tough could the toughest trail in the Andes be anyhow?
We followed Dana, and at the top of the trail he said, “Take the seventh turn. If you miss it you’ll still end up at the same place.”
He pulled his goggles down, and skied off with his little wiggle. I went after him. The first drop was steep, but the trail was wide and there weren’t many bumps. Other trails branched off, all to the left, and the one I was on got steeper and narrower at the same time so I checked my speed a bit. The trail continued on a fairly straight path, but became steeper and steeper along the way, and I was suddenly looking at a sharp turn to the left. I had just enough warning to kill some speed, and whoa! After I made the turn the trail turned into air and I was on a near-vertical drop of about two hundred feet. I was going way too fast at the bottom, but I was in a bowl where the trail was just a bunch of skier’s track. I did what others clearly had done before me and skied off into the deep powder to get some control back. I don’t think I would have been hurt if I fell, but I might have been buried for a long time.
I was going across the mountain and it was still steep descending into the bowl, but the trail turned to the right up ahead and I was heading straight downhill again in about a ten foot wide chasm between high walls of snow. It was kind of frightening because the world of white didn’t give me perspective. The trail was barely wide enough to let me keep my speed under control and I was approaching a turn to the left. I made the turn easily enough, but it led uphill and out of the tunnel, looking at sky and ski area once again, but I was still going fast, and when I reached the high point I was airborne and must have gone fifty feet in the air before I touched down. After that, it was an easy ski over to the lift and a laughing Dana.
“You didn’t take turn seven. What was it like?”
“I didn’t even see turn seven. What was this one like?” I shrugged, “I don’t know … just another mountain I guess.”
Dana grinned, “Just another mountain, huh? I just came down the longest really steep hill I ever heard of. If that’s just another mountain, I’ll trade you my balls for yours.” He snorted, “Amigo!”
I laughed and socked his arm. “Think Hector and Tom will make it?”
“Make it? I think they’ll get here. I don’t know if they’ll still have their skis, but they’ll get here.”
Tom and Hector did show up in a minute. Both looked like snowmen, but they were up on their skis and smiling. Tom said, “Holy cow! I never saw anything so steep, much less skied on it. I lost it there in the chute and started sliding down. I couldn’t stop, and Hector couldn’t get around me, so he went shitface right over me. We must’a slid five hundred feet!”
Dana put on a seriously concerned expression and looked each of them up and down. The question came out of his mouth this way: “Was it fun?”
Tom gaped at Dana for a second, then snickered, “Yeah, it was fun. God, I beat out death and all I have to show for it is a nose full of snow and …and shit, I think everything is full of snow.”
He pulled the hood of his parka off and snow flew everywhere, and when he unzipped the front, the inside of it, and his sweater, were coated in snow. When he saw me with my phone out, looking for the camera button, he pulled the parka closed and said, “No. Don’t you dare!”
Dana said, “Too late,” He showed Tom the two pictures he’d snapped, and then the rest of us. They were in the ‘you had to be there’ category, and nothing for Tom to be ashamed or embarrassed about, but I knew we would still get a laugh from them fifty-some years hence when we were living in the Golden Garden mobile home park.
We decided to try the same thing again, me taking turn seven and them going the way I did. I fell on the first steep and didn’t know why. That happens: no crossed skis, no snag down in the snow, no sneeze, no loose binding. You just fall over, and for the first two hundred yards of the hill I slid on my side a lot more than I’d skied. Hopelessly behind the others, I shaved some speed in order to notice turn seven.
I must have missed turns two through six in my fall, because I counted and right after turn one I was in the chute where I’d gone before, and I made a better job of it knowing where I was and what was coming up. I went over the last rise with some control, and landed at the lift line with something like style if not grace.
Nobody was there to appreciate it. Dana wouldn’t have waited for anyone, and he probably convinced Hector and Tom that I made it down first and didn’t wait for them, so they went back up, but I doubted they wanted to try the same trail a third time.
I pulled out my cell to call Dana, but I had a no-signal thing blinking. I didn’t know what to do because I didn’t know where they might be. I decided to wait a few minutes on the off-chance that one of them had fallen.
After a while, I decided I should ski down to the base to see if they’d gone that way, or if I could find a phone signal. I didn’t have a trail map, so I skied over to look at the one posted near the lift and I heard Tom’s laugh there, or thought I did. I took my skis off and walked to where I thought I heard it from, and they were there. Hector, Dana and Tom, having a good old time betting on when I’d show up.
Well, har, har, har. I took the lift up alone and skied off to the right on the intermediate trail we’d used earlier, but took a different trail down to the mid-mountain snack bar. I had a signal there and called Ovidio. “If anyone is looking for me, I’m at the restaurant at the top of lift eight on the map. Did you hear from that lawyer?”
He said, “Yes. He will be at the hotel at four-thirty and will wait if necessary. Where is everyone else?”
“They’re hiding from me, and the cell phone doesn’t work over that way.”
“Hiding from you? I doubt that. How did you get separated?”
“I fell. I slid a long way. I thought they went up the mountain without me and I tried to call, but there was no reception. When I was looking at the map I heard Tom, and they were sitting there where I wouldn’t see them. They were making bets on me, so I came over here for lunch.”
Ovidio said politely, “Paul, your behavior seems a bit juvenile to me.”
I said, “Sue me. I’m not exactly a senior citizen.”
Ovidio said calmly, “Paul, stop and think. Dana is your brother and Tom is your friend. Hector is your guard, but I can see you’ve developed a close bond. Not everyone ever gets friends like you have. Don’t be an idiot and lose all that for pride, especially silly pride.”
I was ready to argue, but hung my head instead, even though Ovidio couldn’t see me.
I said, “You’re right. I’m being a jerk about nothing. Maybe it’s not for nothing, because I am worried about the police, but that’s my own fault.”
Ovidio said, “Paul, none of you are at fault. You got caught up with a local creep, and it appears that he has some influence somewhere. Whatever happens, don’t blame it on yourself or your friends.”
I was quiet while I thought about things. I was being a brat; I could see that, but not really a rich brat. I was being selfish, like, ‘Okay, you won’t play with me and want to joke behind my back, then I’ll just go off by myself to sulk.’
Even I didn’t like myself when I did that, and this was hardly the first time. I could get my own way and I knew it, but I really hated being ignored, especially in the middle of the party.
Those guys would never ignore me though, and they had probably been joking because they were worrying when they didn’t want to. They’d be worried by now, though, and that’s not what I wanted, so I finally responded to Ovidio, “I can’t call them where they are. Is there a way to get a message to them?”
Ovidio said, “Hector has a radio. Let me try him. How about it Hector, do you still have a battery?”
I heard the static I usually heard from those radios, and wondered how those guys ever understood what was being said. Hector apparently knew nothing of my whereabouts and I heard Ovidio telling him, with the usual static for a response. “Hector said to stay where you are. They’ll be there when they find their way.”
“What did you tell them?”
“I told them that you called me to see if I knew where they were.”
I thanked Ovidio and went to the front of the building to wait. I waited what seemed to be a long time, and my phone rang. It was Hector saying, “We’re almost there. This is an old poma that’s slow like molasses, and they keep shutting it down. When people fall asleep they also fall off.”
I laughed, “Okay. I’ll be right inside the building. I’m getting cold standing here.”
I locked my skis in the rack and went inside. It felt overheated but probably wasn’t. The men’s room was right there, so I went in, unzipped enough layers and did my business. Then I unzipped some more so I could cool off., and washed up a little. I went back into the entrance and waited another five minutes before the guys showed up, and they were all grousing about the slow lift. They said hello quickly and rushed into the men’s room, so I waited some more.
Dana finally came out and said, “That felt good. What happened to you before?”
“I forget. That was a long time ago.”
“Don’t be a bastard.”
I could have told Dana that was his job, but I didn’t. I said, “I might have crashed. Yeah, that’s it. I fell right at the top and made it halfway down on my butt.”
“Why’d you fall?”
“You tell me. I don’t have any idea why; I just did.”
Dana nodded knowingly, “Oh … one of those.”
Tom and Hector showed up and Hector asked, “Who’s hungry?”
Tom said, “I’m so hungry I could eat a whole egg, beak and all.”
Dana made a face at Tom and said, “I might still be hungry.”
I said, “It’s unanimous. Cafeteria or restaurant?”
Hector said, “I think we lost enough time. Let’s get something in the cafeteria.”
We headed that way and I said, “We’re going to lose even more time. I have to meet a lawyer at four-thirty in the hotel. We’ll probably have to quit around three, or not a lot after.”
The three of them grimaced, and we stopped to read the board over the cafeteria counter. Fortunately, each selection had the English translation right under the Spanish so neither Hector or I had to translate. To save time, we all ordered things that were already prepared, and my chicken sandwich was seasoned with tarragon, the flavor I hate most on Earth. I pushed it aside and went back for a ham and cheese, and back again for some mustard. That wasn’t great, but it was edible. The bean and tomato soup was good, and I wished I’d gotten a bowl instead of a cup. I’d survive, even with the taste of tarragon in my mouth.
Tom had the map out and was looking at it while we ate. After he swallowed his last bite, he folded the map and held it out so we could see. He had to look around it and put his finger on a spot. “We’re here,” he said, and looked at the map again before he moved his finger, “And right down here is the chair that services this whole orangy area.”
“Why’s it orange, “Dana asked. “I mean, I know what yellow snow is but …”
“It’s off-piste, Dana, not part of the trail system. It’s a free-skiing area, and it looks like a big bowl that should have lots of powder.”
Dana lifted his eyebrows and lowered them quickly and looked around, “Ready?”
The cafeteria had people cleaning the tables, so we got up and walked toward the outside, pulling our gloves and hats from pockets and zipping the vents in our ski clothes. When we were in our skis, Tom found the trail we needed. It started out as advanced, and pretty steep, and we had to turn off almost immediately on an easier trail down to the lift. It was a two-person chair, and Tom and Dana got on first, so I rode up with Hector eyeing the untrammeled snow beneath us. There was nobody off to our left, but lots of tracks on the right. There were quite a few people skiing there. From the angle of the lift, the tracks looked similar, but they differed in length because there was a trail that ran around the basin that collected everyone up and led back to the lift.
I pointed that out to Hector and said, “We should try to ski close to the lift. The trails are a lot longer here.”
Hector looked over and then behind us. “You’re right, amigo. Oh, skis up! We’re here.”
We slid down the ramp from the lift and met with Tom and Dana just off to the right of the lift. Tom was looking at his map and Dana was looking down the mountain making a noise like, “Wssssh.”
I asked, “What?”
Dana said, “I’m going down right here.”
Tom cried, “Dana, don’t! There’s a marked route right ahead.”
Dana backed up and looked at the map. “Show me where we are.”
Tom did, and Dana said, “I’ll ski under the lift till I get to this trail. I can see it, it’s right down there. Then I’ll catch the first marked trail. Look how long it is compared to the rest.”
Tom skied to the precipice and looked over. “Okay, but just to there. There’s some reason this place isn’t marked, and I bet it’s fear of starting an avalanche.”
Dana said, “Other people went down here. I’m going.”
He went, and he was on the cross trail, which wasn’t much more than a hundred feet away from us, in a few seconds. I followed, with Tom and Hector right behind, and we skied to the first marked route. It hadn’t snowed the night before, so the powder was a day old and already compressed and crusted a little, easier even than at El Colorado. The trail wasn’t as steep either, but it was much longer and had things like rock outcroppings and cliffs to avoid, so it was even more fun. At the bottom, we picked up the loop trail, which brought us back to the chair we’d just ridden on in no time.
Dana missed it, and I screamed, “Dana!” just in time for him to ski down to the lift. Another fifty feet would have forced him to ski to lift eight. He heard me and stopped, and I pointed down to the chair. He looked that way and lifted a pole in acknowledgement and this time I rode up with him.
We had barely sat down when my phone went off, and it was Bernie Sutton calling me. After greetings, he said, “Two things, Paul. I know you’re still skiing, but I want to give you a heads up about the attorney you’ll be meeting later. His name is Paul, too, Pablo down that way. Paul Menendez. He’s top shelf in the financial world but not a criminal lawyer. He will talk to the police with you to determine if you’re in some kind of trouble, which we both doubt is the case. If it turns out that you are he’ll find you another attorney better suited to defend against whatever charges they bring. We have to trust Pablo’s judgment here.”
I said, “Okay. Hold on, I have to get off this lift.”
I put the phone between my teeth, lifted my feet, and skied off the ramp.
“Sorry about this. Am I gonna like this guy?”
Bernie said, “I do. He might come across as a bit stiff, but I know he’ll look out for your best interests.”
“Okay. I should just do what he says?”
“Absolutely. If he has a sense of humor I haven’t seen it yet, but we only talk about investments. He has sure helped your father’s fortunes over the years. Listen, I know you want to ski, so just one question. Did you tell a kid named Andrews to write to me about this scholarship thing?”
I said, “Yeah. Actually I told his brother, but I’m glad he did it.”
“Explain, please,” Bernie said. “Aren’t you jumping the gun a little? We haven’t even announced the idea yet.”
I said, “Sorry. It’s just that Dad told Gary that this program was starting up, and Gary asked me about it after all that mess in Boston. I’m sorry if I was out of line.”
“No, no. Have I met this kid? He sounds sincere in his letter.”
I said, “You met Gary, his brother. He was up to Stockton in the spring. I think we talked about his ataxia.”
Bernie said, “Ah, I do remember. I wondered if we were being scammed before things even started. I’ll send a letter back tomorrow to send me the details of the program, and a letter to the school requesting information about their licenses, qualifications, all that. Surveying, just imagine! That’s one we didn’t think of, isn’t it?”
I said, “It is. Thanks, Bernie, but I’m full of eye daggers already, and I have to cut the day short on everyone because of the lawyer.”
“Got it. Call me if you need anything.”
We said goodbye, and I turned around. I smiled, “You guys are still here? Oh, good. Are we taking the same trail?”
They were staring at me. “What?” I looked behind myself to see if there was something there. There was nothing, and I said, “See you,” and turned around and skied off, yelling, “I’ll be at the bottom!” I headed straight down to the cross-trail, onto that, and dropped into the valley, feeling like an escaped criminal with storm troopers on my tail. When I heard Dana behind me, I cut sharply to my right, and Tom was uphill close behind. I turned straight down to pick up some speed and then made a series of quick turns that I would have liked to see, and I was down on the trail back to the lift. I skied down a bit to see what time it was, and we had a good half hour to play with.
I turned to the guys and asked, “Now what?”
Tom said, “Let’s get machine guns and we can try that chase again. Man, that was just like the movies!”
Dana cried, “I know! We can get jocks and do it with bows and arrows. We might hit something with a machine gun.”
Hector said, “You wear a jock if you want. I’m cold enough as it is. I think we should go back up and take this trail all the way around the rim of the bowl and down to the base.” He looked at me and added, “At least nobody will get lost.”
We all agreed that was a wonderful idea, mostly because it came from Hector and I think we’d given him a hard enough day already.
It turned out to be a happy choice. That trail wasn’t hard, but it was beautiful and satisfyingly long, running along about three-quarters of the bowl’s rim.
We were all pretty quiet at the bottom while we shoved boots, hats, gloves, goggles and ski pants into our bags. I always feel funny during the walk to the parking lot. It’s like going from ski boots and skis to just Reeboks gives me twinkle toes and makes me top heavy.
Back at the hotel I had time to clean up before I met Attorney Menendez, and when I was in the shower I wondered how much I should tell him. Nobody told me anything, so I rushed through my cleanup, got dressed, and went to Hector’s room. He didn’t answer his door so I went across to Ovidio’s room, and Hector was there with him.
I asked breathlessly, “What do I tell him about Lucero and the gun?”
Ovidio said, “Tell him the truth, Paul. There was no gun, and no Lucero. Make that your truth. Marco works for a limousine company and knows nothing of guns. If Silva has found people with pictures they took and Lucero is in one at the table, tell him lots of people sat there while their wives and daughters met Dana, and this is only assuming that Silva would provide your attorney with such pictures. You did nothing wrong Paul, but you may have to deny some truths to prove that. Stay with the assault on you, the insinuating words. The police know who they’re dealing with, so just reinforce that, and ask why all this talk about a gun.”
Hector said, “I don’t know what they’re trying to do yet, Paul, but don’t let them do it.”
Ovidio picked his room phone up when it rang, listened and spoke briefly. When he hung up he said, “Mr. Menendez is here, and he has a small conference room off the lobby. Let me know when you’re back, and we can all go to dinner.”
I looked at Hector nervously and asked, “You’re coming with me?”
He stood and smiled, his hand out to me. “I wouldn’t miss it. It’s your ass on the line, not mine.” He pulled me to my feet and said, “My ass would take a whole lot of lines.”
I snickered and felt better. I was going to meet my own lawyer, who Dad and Bernie both knew and trusted, and Hector was beside me. I was pretty sure I could skirt around lying to the lawyer, and I had to trust him to face up to the police.
We found the right room, and the door was open when we got there. I hadn’t thought for a moment what Mr. Menendez would look like, but his size, shape and nearly bald head were close to identical to Bernie Sutton, and he was just as well dressed. His skin was darker and he had really thick eyebrows, a good smile when he greeted us.
He came to me with his hand out to shake and said, “Hello, Paul. I know you must be Paul because you look so much like your father,” and made it clear that he was looking at my hair.
He turned to Hector and said, “And you are Mr. Torres. I’ve heard a brief description of you, too.” His eyes twinkled, “It’s good that some are so good with words, isn’t it? I would have a very difficult time describing you in a short sentence.”
Hector laughed, I laughed and my lawyer laughed, “Ha. I thought that was funny. Let’s sit and get into this business.” He looked at me and said, “Tell me what happened in the restaurant the other night, Paul. Do you know the name of the place?”
I said, “No. It was on the sign outside, like Don something, but I didn’t pay attention.”
“Your mind was on eating?”
“It sure was.”
“Do you remember what you had to eat?”
“Yes. It was pastel de … choco? Cocoa? I’m not sure, but it was like a corn casserole with peppers and onions and meat in it.”
Menendez smiled, “You enjoyed it?”
“Oh yeah. Everything we’ve had here was good. We ate in the hotel last night and it was good food, just kind of boring.”
“I guess so. They call it Continental.”
“Can you tell me about the events after you ate?”
I did, and led him right through the events in the men’s room.”
“Why did you kick that man?”
I said, “He was talking kind of dirty and he wouldn’t let me out. I didn’t know what else to do. He’s as big as Hector, only all fat.”
“So you kicked him where it hurts?”
“That’s what I’ve been told to do all my life. They even taught it in this school I went to.”
“Oh? What school is that?”
I told him about Barents, how to get in touch with them, and who to ask about their single lesson on self-defense. I was sure they’d be thrilled by a verification call from another country, even Chile, though places with Kings and Sultans would be more to their liking.
Mr. Menendez looked at me and said, “There is talk about a gun.”
I said, trying to sound exasperated, “The detective told me that, and the only guy who said anything about a gun was the one who tried to stab me. I never saw his gun. He never said he had one. Hector was there by then. Ask him.”
Hector said, “I didn’t see him with a gun either, sir; I thought he had just the knife.”
Menendez said, “The police seem to think there was a fourth man in that toilet.”
I just looked dumb and said, “No way.”
Hector said, “It didn’t happen. If you see that place you’ll know that there isn’t room for a fourth man when I’m in there with a man about my size and Paul squeezed up between the sink and the wall.”
Menendez said, “I’m satisfied. Detective Silva does want to interview you again, Paul. He hasn’t made any charges, so right now it’s your choice. I would suggest that you agree to a meeting tomorrow evening. You can have your dinner first, and I’ll go with you, and Hector of course. You seem nervous; is something wrong?”
I shook my head and looked at the floor, “I just don’t understand why. I didn’t do anything. Some fat guy wants to take pictures of me, and then won’t let me out of the men’s room. I had a chance to kick him and I did. Who would do anything different?”
Menendez shook his head and said, “I only hope my boy will keep his head if it ever comes to something like this.” He brightened a little, “Don’t worry. We’ll talk to detective Silva tomorrow, and I’m sure it will be over with.”
I looked at him for a long moment before I asked, “How sure are you?”
Menendez smiled. I looked at Hector and he shrugged. He wasn’t worried, and we walked out into the lobby and toward the elevators. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a man who I could have sworn was detective Silva turning down a hallway, and looked pleadingly at Hector.
He said, “I saw. Get in the elevator.”