The Third Good Thing

Chapter 6



Let me just say that the next day belonged to Dana.  The ride to El Colorado seemed shorter, or at least faster.  As soon as we arrived, Dana was led off by Ovidio to talk to the people that Oscar, from the ski shop, had called on his behalf.  Before they left us, Ovidio spoke briefly to Hector.  I didn’t hear what was said, but he smiled and nodded.  Ovidio pointed the way to Dana and they left us.


Hector said, “We’ll meet Dana at lunch.  If you have everything, let’s get our boots on and get out of here.”


We followed Hector and Tom nudged me.  “Want an easy run first, or do you want to start with the good stuff?”


I was about to ask what he meant when Tom opened the trail map in front of me and pointed to a huge section of all black trails.  There were five trails, really, but they took up a big chunk of the mountain.  All I asked was, “How do we get there?”


Tom said, “Get ready first.  You might need boots.”




“Then we’ll go outside and see which lift is which.  It looks like a chair will get us there, but this isn’t the greatest map.”


Tom found the lift, which was a triple chair so we all rode up together, and then we had an almost flat traverse to the edge of a bowl.  The easy trail turned off, and we were looking at four black trail markers. There was a sign that told us none of the trails were groomed. At that elevation there was about four inches of new powder, and looking at the existing tracks we could tell that not many people had gone before us.


We took off carefully, feeling out the new powder.  There wasn’t much of it, though, and the going was easy.  When we got to the first of the downhill trails, it was steep and rocky enough to look scary, but not really intimidating.  There was a good and wide path down the middle, so I turned my skis downhill and took off.  That snow was fast, and I found myself checking my speed right away, and stopped for a look at the first lip.  Whoa!  It was steep and there was no trail, and I could tell from the tracks of whoever had gone down first that it was powder.


I braced for it and took off, and again was going too fast right away.  I managed to cut some turns, and in a few seconds I was laughing.  This part of the hill was way steeper than the first, but it was wide open and ungroomed.  I stayed close to the tracks already there, and crossed them a few times to slow down, but what a blast!  I never had that much fun in snow before.  I was alone in a snowfield, snow blowing up and behind me just because I was there.  That part of the mountain was steep enough to keep me sensible, but only just.


The trail ended at an intermediate run, and I waited for Hector and Tom.  Tom looked unhappy when he said, “I don’t think I can do this all day.  That’s just one run, and I already feel it in my knee.”


Hector said, “That’s not good, amigo.  Let’s take this trail down and find something that’s not so steep.”


I didn’t like hearing that, but I didn’t want Tom to get hurt, either, and a weak knee on a hill like that was an invitation to disaster.  I just said, “Sounds good.  An easy day won’t hurt us.  Maybe we can watch some of the Olympic training.”


We skied to the bottom of that trail and looked at the map. We were at the bottom of the lift we last rode up on, and it looked like our best bet.  Most of the trails up there were advanced and expert, but there were a handful of intermediate ones as well, and a smattering of easy trails.


We spent two hours exploring around there, and even that terrain proved to be too much for Tom.  At the base of the lift he started rubbing his right knee and moving it around like he was looking for a comfortable position.  He said, “I think I’ve had it, guys.  I’m going to the lodge.  Maybe they have a sauna or something.”


Hector said, “Let me call Ovidio,” and he walked away.  He came back shortly, “Can you make it down alright?  There is a clinic at the base and they can look at it.”


Tom said, “I can make it.  Where’s the clinic?”


I said, “We’re all going down, Tom.  We’ll find it.”  I looked at Hector and asked, “Can Ovidio or Lucero meet us?”


Hector was using his radio and I heard him ask Ovidio the question, and the reply came back as a squawk that I didn’t understand a word of.  Hector said, “We should be there in fifteen or twenty minutes.”


When he put the radio away he asked Tom for the map.  He traced around with his finger for a while, and asked Tom, “Where are we on this map?”


I shared Hector’s confusion because the map itself was confusing.  There were actually three maps on the page: the West face, the Southwest face, and the Southeast face.  We’d been skiing the Southwest face, but to see the bottom of the lift we were at you had to find it on the map of the West face.  Tom pointed and said, “We’re here.”


Hector said, “We have to get under that chair that comes up from the base.”  He looked up to see the trails, which were numbered and not named, and said, “This way.  If we don’t turn until we have to, we’ll get there,” and traced a potential route with his gloved finger.  He asked Tom, “Are you sure you’re up for this?”


Tom said, “No problem.  I’m really sorry about this.”


I said, “Don’t be.  You can’t ski with a bad leg; you’ll just make it worse.”


We took off, and the terrain to the base was very easy indeed.  We let Tom set the pace, but made good time because he didn’t really turn at all except to follow the trail.  Ovidio was waiting for us, and called out when we didn’t see him at first.  We pulled our skis off and walked over to him.  After our greeting, he eyed Tommy and said, “It’s a walk over to the clinic.  Are you up to that?”


Tom said, “I can walk.  It’s no problem.”


Ovidio led the way, Hector beside him, and in just a minute Tom stopped to rub the side of his leg, and he did it again after a few more minutes.  I called, “Hey!  Slow down, will you?”


Hector and Ovidio turned around and hurried back to fuss over Tommy while I asked, “What’s your hurry?  Tom said he could walk, not run a marathon.”


Ovidio patted Tom’s shoulder and said, “I’m sorry.  Here, let me carry your skis and you walk ahead.  We’re almost there.”  He slung Tom’s skis over his own shoulder and carried his poles.


Tom wasn’t limping, but he didn’t seem comfortable either.  He did manage an easy stride and followed Ovidio’s instructions.  There were wide steps up to the building the clinic was in, and they seemed to give Tom trouble.  It looked like he was trying to climb them without bending that one knee.  Hector was there in a flash and pulled Tom’s arm over his shoulder to help him up.


The people in the clinic were expecting him, so Tom saw someone right away, while Hector told the office person that he had authority to request treatment.  He offered to get the papers from the car, but she said that wasn’t necessary as long as he could produce them at some point, or just drop off a copy.


Ovidio called Lucero, and brought our skis outside to him to bring to the car.  I wondered while he was gone, and asked when he came back, “Where’s Dana?  Is he skiing by himself?”


“No he isn’t,” Ovidio smiled.  “He is out with a good ski trainer, watching your Olympians and trying each course when they’re done.  He’ll get timed runs and videos if he wants them.”


I looked at Hector and said, “That means he forgot all about us.  One less worry.”


Tom wasn’t in with the doc all that long, and when he came out he had a box of medication in one hand and some papers in the other.  He said, “I have a strained ligament.  It should be okay in a day or two.  Meanwhile, they want me to sit in the whirlpool bath for half an hour and in the sauna for another half hour.  Let me leave my boots here, and all the things from my pockets.  Somebody’s coming for me right now.”


He took everything from his pants pockets and put it all in his jacket pockets, which he zipped up and tossed on the chair beside me.  He sat on the edge of the same chair to pull his boots off, and an older man with a clipboard in his hand came in and asked for, “Tome Teemek?”


Tom said, “Right here!” and stood up.  He took one step toward the guy and said, “Oh, Jeez,” and stopped in his tracks.  He pulled his iPhone, holster and all, from the waistband of his pants and held it out to me.  “I don’t want to get that boiled or steamed.”


Hector jumped up and said, “Hold on!  Give me the key to your locker.  I can get your shoes.”


Tom said, “It’s in one of my jacket pockets,” and finally followed the old guy out of the room.


I sat back to wait, and Hector said, “Find that locker key and give me yours.  I’ll get our shoes.  Do you want to eat something?”


I was getting hungry, but I said, “I can wait for Tom.”


Hector stood up when I handed him both locker keys and he gave me an odd look.  “You’re taking this disruption pretty well.”


I replied, “I’m not, really, but Tommy is my best friend.  I can’t just leave him here.”


Hector said, “He’s the one with a hot tub and a sauna.”


I considered that and said, “That’s today.  It’s usually me with everything, you know.”


Hector nodded, smiled, and left to clean out our lockers.  I took my own boots off and sat there.  This was a waiting room with no amenities: no television, no magazines, not even a brochure.  There wasn’t a window to look out, either.  I eventually closed my eyes and wondered what we’d do if Tom’s knee wasn’t better by morning. What if it didn’t get better at all?  It would be the worst for Dana, because in a way this was his trip, his first time out of the US, and his first taste of high-mountain skiing, and I knew he was loving every minute of it.


I nodded off, and Hector woke me with a gentle poke to my shoulder and an almost whispered, “Wake up, amigo.”


I looked up surprised, and remembered where I was.  Hector said, “Tom is on his way back now.  We’re meeting Dana for lunch, and Lucero will run us back to town.  Dana can stay or come with us, it’s up to him.”


I asked, “What time is it?”


“It’s just after noon.  The restaurant is right upstairs so we don’t have far to go.  If Tom is still having trouble walking, I suggest you offer him your shoulder.  Put your shoes on and let’s get these things bagged up.”


I found my shoes and put them on, and tossed my hat and goggles onto the pile.  I pulled my boot bag out and put the boots in the bottom and the other things on top of them, and was doing the same with Tom’s stuff when he walked in.


He grinned and said, “Don’t stop on my account.  You’re doing fine.”


I grumbled and finished up by zipping his bag while he put his own shoes on.


“How was it?” I asked as we stood to go, taking both bags.


Tom said, “The whirlpool really felt good, but that sauna was heaven.  It’s not one of those electric ones, but wood-fired, and it’s hot!”


I said acidly, “Next time invite a friend, why don’t you.”


“Full house,” Tom said.  “I wished you were there so you could tell these two old guys to stop perving on me.  Everyone else there was fine, but those two made me cover up with my towel, and kept trying to look under it anyhow.  Just picture a hairy, bareass fat guy pretending he dropped something so he could look up under my towel.  I have to learn Spanish!”


Hector and I were laughing.  I said, “Don’t forget this stuff.  Someday you can write a book.”


Hector said, “Your kicking foot knows every language there is.  This sounds harmless, but when it isn’t don’t forget that.”


Tom snickered and said, “I’m ready. Is anyone else hungry?”


Hector asked, “Can you manage a flight of stairs?  We’re eating on the next floor, and there’s no elevator.”


Tom said, “I can do it.” Hector paid the bill and we followed him up to the restaurant.  Tom had learned something.  On the stairs, he stepped up with his left foot and just pulled his right one into place beside the left, and insisted that it didn’t hurt a bit that way.


Dana, Ovidio and Lucero were sitting in a little waiting area near the top of the stairs, with another man in ski clothes who had to be Dana’s ski partner/trainer/instructor for the day.


Dana hurried to Tom and asked, “What did you do?”


“It’s nothing, really.  The better question is what did you do?”


“I was skiing all the time.  I only heard you got hurt when I came down here.”


Tommy said, “Would you expand on that, please?  Skiing where, on what, and who with?”


“I’m skiing with Roland Devenoge.  He’s Swiss, and he really helped me a lot with my slalom.  I’m way behind the Olympic guys, but with these skis and him helping I already shaved two seconds off my first time.”


“The skis are good?” Tom asked.


“Oh, night and day … um …”


Dana had noticed me, Hector, Ovidio, Lucero and Roland standing there with our hands on our hips glowering hungrily at them.


Tom turned around, had a little start when he saw us, and said, “Oh good; you’re here.  I’m about to faint from starvation.”


Tom was learning!  I just shook my head and followed Ovidio into the restaurant.  He led us to a nice table with a huge view of the ski area which, after the weekend, seemed almost empty, but there were short lines at the few lifts I could see, and the restaurant was doing a good business.


Dana introduced Tom to Roland, who I had met when they were talking to each other.  Roland looked to be around thirty, or nearly there.  He was barely taller than Dana, and had the same compact body style.  He spoke English with a heavy French accent and Spanish with the same French accent.


Dana led the conversation at first.  “Roland’s father skied in the first real World Cup race.  You should see Roland do the slalom course.”  Dana grinned, “He says those gates are just suggestions and you can elbow them out of the way.  I got a time today that would have won me regional the last time I tried.  I’m gonna decorate my wall with those old Stratos.”


I said, “So you’ve been doing slalom all day?  Do you get to try the downhill course?”


Dana shook his head, “Not till Wednesday.  I can’t wait.”


Roland said, “Dana has a winning style, one that I haven’t seen before.  I have read the history of Alpine skiing, which evolved in the early twentieth century.  There are many people, events and styles that have shaped the sport into what we know today, and I think Dana’s style may be a harbinger of what we’ll see in the future.  I haven’t put my finger on it yet, but it’s somewhere in the grace of his movements.  Whatever it is, he doesn’t lose much in turns as I witnessed on our first few runs, and he hardly looks like he’s trying.”  He looked at Dana and smiled, “You tease the mountain, going faster where others would slow down.  It’s exciting skiing.”


I said, “If you kept up with him, then he probably wasn’t trying very hard.”


Roland chuckled, “I saw that a few times too.  He always waited for me at the bottom.”


We all chuckled then, even Lucero.


The waiter came and took our orders.  I went light with a garlic-infused dorado fillet cooked over coals, and a salad.


We ate fairly quickly because we were all hungry, but managed to decide what to do.  Tom, Hector and I would ride back to the hotel with Lucero, and he’d come back for Dana and Ovidio later.


If Tom couldn’t ski the next day, Ovidio gave us suggestions both in and out of Santiago, including a visit to Valparaiso on the coast, or to a thermal spa south of the city.  He said the hotel should have brochures for a lot of activities.


When we were ready to leave, I faced Dana and said, “You better be careful.”


He said, “You don’t really have to leave, you know.  Tom said he’d be alright.”


“I know,” I said.  “If I stay here, then Hector will too.  What would Tom do in a strange city?”


Dana made a small, obscene gesture with his hand, and I snickered, “Well, there’s that, but what if today is the day it catches up with him and he goes blind?  Huh?  You want to be the one who looks after a lame and blind Tom?  Anyhow, what would he be like tomorrow if I’m not there to bug him today?”


Dana backed off laughing.  “Go then.  Damn!  You always have the answer.”


We went.  The parking lot was pretty far, but the walk was easy with just a gradual grade.  Lucero opened the tailgate and we put our bags in the back and climbed in.  When Lucero backed out of the parking spot there was a crunching, cracking noise, and he immediately pulled forward and got out.  He came back with the remains of some little kid’s ski helmet, which he dropped on the floor at Hector’s feet, and brought us back to the hotel. 


We thanked him, left our gear in the car, and went into the lobby.  I looked around for the brochures Ovidio mentioned, and there was a rack that said ‘Travel Information’ on it, and boy were there brochures.  There had to be a few hundred of them, and the three of us started pulling them out for a look.  A lot were for summer activities like beaches, boat rides, kayaking, whitewater rafting, fishing, and the like.  I found a few for Santiago, one for Valparaiso, and several for thermal spas, which seemed to abound in the area.


When we were upstairs Hector and I gave our brochures to Tom to look over.  I went to my room and got out of my ski clothes, thinking there was a lot I could do: things I should do, like call Mom, Dad, and Lisa, figure out the camera that had never left my pocket, maybe go to Hector’s room to see the pictures I took, write another letter of complaint to the Pope.  As usual, I turned the television on, found some cartoons in Spanish, and stretched out on the bed to decide on a plan of action. 


I fell asleep, of course, and didn’t wake up until Dana stormed into my room and yelled, “You idiot!  Tommy’s over there crying his eyes out and you’re in here sleeping!  I thought you were going to take care of him.”


“I did … I was.  He’s crying?”


Dana shook his head like he was looking at a bug and said, “See for yourself, brother!”


He marched out into the hall and gave my door a mighty slam, leaving me to feel like some kind of insect he’d just as soon stomp on.


That worried me, and I hurried over to Tom’s room.  At first I thought he wasn’t there, but then I heard water sloshing in the bathroom and peeked in the door.  Tom was in the bathtub in soapy water almost up to his neck, and he was reading brochures with interest, though most had been tossed on the floor.


He hadn’t seen me, so I backed away and went to my room, probably as red as a lobster.  Dana got me that time, and I smiled.  Turnabout is fair play after all, and I’d gotten him enough times.  But still, I called Dana on the hotel phone and said, “You didn’t tell me you wanted to get in the bathtub with Tom.  What is this, a joke?”


Dana was speechless for the moment before he laughed.  “Jesus, you’re good.  I did not want to get in the tub with Tom.”


“Is that the real reason he was crying?”


Dana made a very loud noise that I don’t think was a word, and he was gone.


In a minute my phone rang, and it was Dana laughing.  “Admit it.  I had you going there.  Are we even now?”


I said, “You got me, alright, and sure, we’re even.”


“Then why are we talking on the phone?”


I replied, “Because I’m politer than you and haven’t slammed the phone down yet.”


“I’ll be right there.  Bye.”


The next thing I knew, Dana tapped on my door.  I opened it and asked, “Why didn’t you come through the connecting door?”


“I was in Tom’s room and he was changing, so I told him to come here when he’s ready.  I didn’t think about where I was going and walked out into the hall.”


I asked, “If you just saw his skinny ass now, why wouldn’t you get in the tub with him before?”


“That’s not exactly what I saw, and he never asked me to get in the bathtub with him.  I sure didn’t ask him.”


I mumbled, “Learn to keep your story straight,” and sat in the one comfy chair. “So, how was skiing after we left?”


Dana sat on the bed and said, “Excellent.  I ran that slalom course three more times and got faster on every run.  I can do it.  I only won one slalom on those old Stratos, and that was because I like to ski ice and nobody else did.  Only a few people finished their first run.  Other people finished their second, but nobody made both, so I won by being on my feet the whole time.”


I asked, “How the hell did you decide to like ice?”


“I learned like the second year I skied.  I was at Killington, and everywhere I went was icy.  I was still learning and I spent two hours on my ass.  I figured that I’d try one more time to find some snow, so I got on the gondola to the top of and rode up with this old guy … real old, like your Grandpa.  He was all happy that I liked ice too, and I said I hated it; I was trying to find some snow.”


There was a tap on the connecting door and Tom came in.  “Some babysitter you are, Dunn.  You were asleep before I emptied my pockets.”


I said, “Sorry.  Worrying about people tires me out and you had me very worried.  Sit somewhere; Dana’s just telling me how to ski ice.”


Dana just looked at me sadly and said, “I was telling you how I learned to ski on ice.  You want me to keep going?”


“Of course.  I love a story.  Don’t you love a story, Tom?”


Tom had pulled a chair out from the table and turned it to face us.  When he sat he said, “I like Dana’s stories.  Yours I’m not always sure about.”  He looked at Dana and said, “This sounds good.  You really learned how to ski on ice?  I always try to just go over it and not kill myself.” 


Dana backed up to where his elderly lift mate told him he liked ice.  “He said, ‘Ski with me.  If you don’t appreciate ice by lunchtime, I’ll buy your lunch.’”


“So I went, kinda thinking I would never like ice, but lunch sounded good.  We went down Goat Path.  That’s about the easiest trail anywhere, and it was kind of slow up top, but down a ways it started to ice over.  It was just on one side at first, but then there was ice everywhere.  The old man, his name was Rolf, told me to ski ahead of him and I didn’t want to, so he skied down probably a couple hundred feet just like he was on hardpack, and yelled for me to come down, so I tried.  I couldn’t turn on that stuff, and I went sideways most of the way till he caught me.”


Dana looked up and asked, “Am I boring you?”


“No!” Tom and I said together.


Dana looked a bit suspicious, but went on.  “Rolf told me I was doing what everybody did wrong on ice: too much edge.  It’s just different than snow.  You can’t set an edge, because it just skids over the ice.  You have to get up on it just a little where it can hold a bite, put your feet into it, and let the skis make the turn.”  He smiled, “It’s not like I figured it out that day, ‘cause I was still on my ass most of the time.”  He smirked, “I got a nice lunch, though, and after that any time I saw ice I tried to ski it.  The skiing got easy enough, but I had to learn how to fix my own ski bottoms and edges because ice can really tear them up.”


I stared at Dana and said, “My God!  You’re a self-sufficient unit, aren’t you?”


Dana laughed and looked at Tom, “Does he ever let up?”


Tom said, quite seriously, “Not that I’ve ever noticed.  Just be glad that he sleeps more than anyone else you know.”  A concerned look appeared on his face, and he said to nobody in particular, “Oh no!  That means he has a clear conscience, and he shouldn’t, not with his daily list of crimes.”  He looked at Dana and said, “He’s probably a psychopath.  Keep a count of the kitchen knives and lock your door at night.”


Dana looked at Tom, then me, and said, “I don’t know who’s worse.  You’re both nuts.  Are we going somewhere to eat, or eat here, or room service, or what?”


“I don’t know,” I said. “Let’s go see Hector.  I don’t really want to eat in the hotel when we’re in a big city.”


We went through the other rooms and tapped on Hector’s door from Dana’s room.


“It’s open.”


We went through and Hector was at his laptop.  He said, “Give me a second to finish this email.”


We stood there for the minute it took Hector to finish what he was doing, and after he sent the mail he asked, “What’s up?”


I said, “Dana’s hungry,” and Tom held up his hand, “Just like Tom.  I’m hungry too.  What are we doing?”


Hector said, “I don’t know, amigo.  Ovidio is our local guide.  Tell him what you want and he’ll find it, if it exists.”


I shrugged, “I don’t know.  What do you guys want?  Maybe we can find another little family place like last night.”


Dana and Tom both licked their lips in anticipation, and I went across the hall to see Ovidio.  When I told him what we wanted he thought for a minute, talked with Lucero, and it looked like the proverbial light bulb lit in Ovidio’s eyes when Lucero suggested something.  He patted Lucero’s shoulder and turned to me.  “We know a place.  Are you ready now?”


I said, “We can be in just a few minutes.  We’re hungry.”


“Go then.  Lucero will pick us up at the front drive in ten minutes.”


I went back to Hector’s room, and when he opened the door I went in and said, “Get ready.  We leave in ten minutes.”


“Where are we going?”  Tom asked.


“They didn’t say, but we’re going.  I’ll meet you downstairs.  How’s the leg?”


“Hungry,” Tom replied, and that evoked a snort from Hector.


Forty minutes later we pulled up to a building in a run-down part of town.  A group of tough looking guys approached us slowly, and I had an ‘uh-oh’ in my mind.  Lucero called out the biggest and brawniest of the kids – I don’t think any of them were over twenty – and apparently made a deal with him to guard the car.  The guy shooed the others in his group away and leaned against the wall where he could keep an eye out in all directions.  When we walked away, Hector mumbled, “Imagine that: a human parking meter.”


Lucero led us to a wooden door in a yellow-painted stucco wall and pressed a buzzer.  A little window in the door opened and an old face peered out.  The door was pulled open immediately and we piled in.  Lucero was hugging a short old man while a short old lady who I supposed was his wife took our hands in turn between both of hers and welcomed us to their humble casa.


It was amazing.  There was no signage outside to indicate this was a restaurant.  Nothing.  Yet, when she led us inside, three of the eight tables were occupied, and the other five had folded cards that said ‘reservado’ on them.  That didn’t seem strictly necessary, given the limited access from the outside, but I didn’t know Chilean customs yet.


I got a glance at the other people there.  There was one middle-aged couple alone at one table.  Another table had a younger family – a couple with two little girls, and two elderly couples sat at the third.  For the first time, both Ovidio and Lucero sat with us, and Lucero seemed much friendlier at the table.


He said, in English that was only slightly accented, “Let me apologize for my attitude until now.  I have to admit to a dread of Americans.  We provide service to many, and most are arrogant, superior, and dismissive of our culture.  That is the reason, the only reason, for the existence of a Ruby Tuesday restaurant near your hotel.  I have to drive the people the company assigns me to, but I wait with Americans to view their behavior before I will be sociable with them.”


“We passed your test?” Tommy asked.


Lucero smiled, “You can say it that way, yes.  You’re nice boys, and when Hector said something about your behavior the first night you adjusted right away.  Last night convinced me.  You enjoyed a meal in a little place that nobody ever heard of, and asked for another tonight.  Welcome to Santiago!”


I reached across the empty table and shook hands with Lucero.  Tom, Dana and Hector followed suit, and a girl that I had to do a double-take on came with a tray to set our table.  She was my age or really close to it, and nearly perfect in every way I could measure.  She wasn’t really very tall, but her perfect posture made her look like she was.  She had caramel skin, hair that was somewhere between brown and blonde, and blue eyes, and I would learn that coloring was fairly common in Chile.  None of that was important.  She was a beautiful girl, plain and simple.  She had a pretty face, not adorned with makeup, and a beautiful smile where both her eyes and teeth seemed to sparkle.  I thought her body was as good as they come: not skinny, but slender, perfect little boobs, a nice rounded butt.  She was showing it off, too, in faded jeans and something like a tee shirt that ended at her belly button and didn’t have any sleeves.


She also didn’t have any bra, and when she set Hector’s place opposite me her nipples were right there, and seemed to be coming closer.  I was beginning to like these little family-run places for a second reason


I wanted to call God in to help me out at the moment, but I didn’t want to blaspheme in the presence of Lucero and change his mind again, so I sat back and looked at Tom and Dana.  They were clearly as entranced as I was, and trying not to show it. 


When she left, Lucero leaned in closer and whispered, “Her name is Pia, and she is smart as well as beautiful.  She is also deeply religious and plans to become a nun so you can just forget whatever you have in mind.”


Dana put his elbows on the table, his head in his hands and groaned, “A nun?  That’s not right.  That’s just not right,” and we all laughed quietly.


Nobody had come to take our orders, though two more tables were now occupied, and I mentioned it to Lucero.  He said, “I already ordered.  They make sopa Marina and empanadas, and our ceviche should be here very soon.  The empanadas are very large, so I ordered three with seafood and three with beef so we can share.  You’ll get a salad and some rice as well.  Just be patient.”


Pia came back with water glasses and a pitcher of ice water.  When she left I watched her walk, and said, “She should at least do a cover of the swimsuit issue before she joins the order.  She could be a rich nun.”


Hector said, “That’s enough.  You all have girlfriends; Lucero and Ovidio are married with children.  Try to keep your lurid thoughts to yourself for once.”


I blushed a little and Tom started snickering and whispered in my ear, “Remember what you were thinking.  I want to hear those lurid thoughts of yours later.”


I elbowed him, and Pia came with a big bowl of ceviche and small plates for each of us.  She rushed off and came back with a basket full of little toast rounds, smiled and left.


We took turns scooping ceviche onto our plates, and this one was beautiful.  The fish was sliced thin and a piece fit perfectly on a piece of toast.  I used a spoon because the marinade contained finely chopped peppers and onions along with paper-thin slices of cantaloupe.  The marinade was lime juice and garlic, and the combined flavor was out of this world.


Tom and Dana were eating as eagerly as I was, and when I found myself without a mouthful I asked, “What kind of fish is this?”


Hector, Ovidio and Lucero all had their mouths full, and the first one able to speak was Hector.  “It’s tuna.”


“Really?  It sure isn’t Chicken of the Sea.”


We emptied that bowl of ceviche, picking out every last sliver of melon and the tiniest bits of onion and pepper.  The only thing left in the bowl was a thin coating of the marinade, and I could tell that if any one of us was left alone with that bowl for just thirty seconds it would have been licked clean.


Our seafood soup came next, and after the ceviche it was honestly all we needed.  The soup came in big bowls, and it seemed like the whole sea was contained in the heady broth.  Once again, our bowls were as spotless as we could politely make them, and we still hadn’t seen the main course.


When the empanadas came we ate every crumb, despite how full we felt.  The meat empanadas were baked, the filling basically hamburger, raisins and chopped onions with other things.  The seafood ones had been fried, and were filled with chunks of shrimp, scallops, octopus, squid, abalones, clams and mussels.  They were spiced up more than the meat, but just tongue-teasingly hot, and there was an avocado cream cheese sauce to ease the bite.


Our dessert, which came with strong coffee, was a type of powdered cake with a filling of honey, nuts and cheese.  It was as sweet as baklava, and though we were completely full by then we ate it all.


When our bill came I saw Hector count out what amounted to seventy-eight dollars, and I asked incredulously, “Aren’t you going to leave a tip?”


He looked at me in surprise and said, “There’s a nice tip in there, amigo.”


I shut up.  Our meal had been a genuine feast and the cost was just over ten bucks each, just like the night before.


Ovidio had a second coffee, and while he sipped it Hector looked at Tom.  “How’s that knee, amigo?”


Tom said, “Better, but I still feel it.  I’ll be okay tomorrow.”


Hector said, “Take the day off.  The hotel has a spa with a sauna.  You can’t ski while that ligament is still tender.  I’ll stay with you if you want.”


I said, “I’ll stay with Tom.  We can ski the next day.”


Tom said, “Paul, don’t …”


I smiled and said, “I’m going to.  We can sleep late and have a great breakfast.  You can go get all your parts massaged and I can go back to bed.  Maybe later we can walk around town and see things.”


Dana said, “My only chance at the giant slalom is tomorrow.”


I said, “I don’t want you to miss that.  Nobody does.  You don’t need us there.”


He said, “I need someone to ski with.”


That was a dilemma and we all looked at each other.  I asked, “What about that guy you skied with today … Roland?”


Dana said glumly, “He’s booked tomorrow and Wednesday.  I guess I could see if he can take me too.  I think his other customer would have to say okay.”


Ovidio said, “Let me make some calls.  Lucero will take you back to the hotel and I can get a cab later.  I should be able to find someone who … what race is it?”


Everyone but Dana and Lucero said, “Giant slalom.”


“Oh yes,” Ovidio said.  “Why do I always think that is a big fish?  Don’t worry, I’ll find someone.  A lot of good trainers follow the American team hoping to find a position or some private work.  Leave it to me.”


Dana said, “If you find someone, tell him my problem was always my skis.  They were always a foot too long and kind of worn out.  I know how to ski, I just never had a lot of luck with gates.”


Ovidio nodded, and Hector said, “Let’s get going,” so we stood to leave, and said goodbye to Ovidio.  On our way out, the entire family who had hosted us came running out to thank us and say goodnight. 


A haze had developed, and the courtyard seemed both pretty and mysterious in the dim light from the lamps.  I stumbled twice on the stone path, and Lucero had trouble opening the gate, but he managed once he found the latch.


The car was still there, and the human parking meter was standing in the same spot we left him in smoking a cigarette.  Lucero unlocked the car for us and he went and handed the kid some money and patted him on the shoulder.  When he got into the driver’s seat I asked from the back, “What did that cost?”


He started the car and said, “Two thousand pesos … about four US dollars.”


That was a bargain, I thought.  In Boston it cost about thirteen bucks just to drive into a garage, and you won’t get it back if you learn that you’re in the wrong area.  This guy had cleared the street of even his own friends, stood there for all the time we spent in the restaurant, and accepted four bucks and a pat on the shoulder for payment.  It didn’t look like being a street thug in Chile was a paying proposition.


Back at the hotel we sat in the lobby for awhile trying to convince Dana that he could have a good time for one day if Tom and I weren’t there.  Dana was being stubborn, though, and I finally said, “You’re whining, Dana, and that’s my job.  Tom got hurt skiing with us, and we probably shouldn’t have tried a run like that first thing.  It’s nobody’s fault, but his knee is still messed and he can’t ski.  Do you really want me to leave him here by himself tomorrow?”


Tom said, “That might not be so awful.”


“Shut up, Tom.  Is that what you want me to do, Dana, so I can see you do the GS?  I can watch the video.  Tom can put in on You Tube, and I’m gonna spend the next half of my life watching you on ESPN anyhow.”  Wow!  I took a breath and quieted down. “I don’t want to get down on you, Dana.  You’re my brother and I love you, but please leave being impossible and childish to me.  It’s the only thing I have left.”


Dana had a tear in his eye, but he turned to me and said, “Pardon?  Were you talking to me?”


“Nice try,” I said as I reached over and touched the tear off his cheek.  “You heard me.”  I needed new moves because Dana was learning all my old ones.


He said, “I was just thinking … since Tom hurt his leg and I want to spend the day on the giant slalom course anyhow, why don’t you stay here with Tom and make sure his leg is better by Wednesday … because we’re all doing that downhill, even if Tom has to go down in a pail.”  He looked at Tom, “It’s kind of fun.  Don’t worry.”


Tom cried, “Time out!  Knock it off.   What if I want to go to the mountain tomorrow?  If I can’t ski I can sit in the lodge and, I don’t know, drink cocoa or coffee, eat donuts, talk to people, and watch the skiers outside.”


I said, “I don’t think so, Tom.”


Tom said, “Thanks.  I don’t either.”


Dana burst out laughing, the tears and snot kind of laugh, and finally managed, “You guys are really nuts!  Come, go, do what you want.  I’m going to bed.”


Hector had been silent all through this, texting I thought, and when Dana stood he said, “Stay here, Dana.”


Dana stopped and looked at Hector, who was busy with his thumbs on the phone.  Dammit!  He was texting with thumbs the size of my big toe, and he was going a mile a minute.


My mother had to have the dominant genes.  All the tech things my father took for granted either escaped me or were a chore to learn.  It’s more likely that I was adopted, because I don’t easily catch onto the things my mother can do, either.


Hector texting was a sight, and when he finished he looked for Dana, who was standing by then, and said, “Roland will ski with you tomorrow, and you don’t have to share him.”


Dana asked happily, “How did you manage that?”


Hector said, “Ask Ovidio.  We have our ways.”  When Dana stared, open mouthed, Hector grinned and said, “Just go to bed.  You’re all set for the morning.  Oh wait!  Do you have enough money left?”


Dana said, “Yeah, I’m good.”  He turned to me and Tom, “Have fun with your day off.  If you buy anything good, get me one.  See you tomorrow night.”


We followed him, our reason for being in the lobby done with.  In the elevator I asked Tom if he’d called his parents and he said no, he’d wait for the next day so he could make his pulled ligament past-tense.


I said, “You should call when you’re getting a massage so it sounds like you’re having sex.”


The doors opened then and we walked out.  Tom thought that was funny and Hector said, “You never do give up, do you?”


My door was first, so I said good night while I unlocked it, and just before it closed behind me I heard Hector’s voice from down the hall saying, “Wake up call is at six.”  The door clicked shut and I thought he’s kidding.


Still, I plugged the cell phone charger into the bathroom outlet, attached the phone, made sure it was charging, and powered it off.  When I was done in the bathroom I looked at the phone on the nightstand, and pulled out the little plug.  I turned the TV to the CNN English channel, shucked my clothes and got into bed.  I’d hit a bad time when the sports report was on, so I turned the TV off, turned out the light and went to sleep.


+ + + + + + + +


I didn’t sleep in.  I woke up just after eight feeling good.  I figured out the little coffee machine in the bathroom and made coffee while I was in the shower.  When I was done cleaning up, I poured myself a cup and brought it in the other room to drink while I got dressed.  I turned the television on again and, as luck would have it, the sports show was just beginning.  I remembered what Ovidio said about ski reports, read the channel listing to find a local station, and turned to one to wait for the weather and ski report.


I found clothes for town wear, sipped my coffee, looked longingly out at the mountains, and the weather finally came on.  Santiago is much warmer than the mountains.  The few days we’d been there it hadn’t gotten below thirty-five F during the day, although it was colder overnight.  It was much colder on the mountains, of course, and the higher you went, the colder it got.


I finally heard a weatherman, and sat on the bed to watch.  The guy was as theatrical as any US weatherman and just as banal.  He joked with the newsman, winked at the camera, and told about yesterday’s weather, and would be back with a forecast after commercials.


After the break he came back on and promised another day just like yesterday in as many words as humanly possible.  Only his last words interested me.  “Our mist last night was good news for skiers.  I’ll be right back with the mountain report.”


More commercials were played while I poured the second cup of coffee the little machine made, and my timing was just right.


“There was snow everywhere last night, and significant amounts at the higher elevations, anywhere from fifteen centimeters at Valle Nevado to thirty eight centimeters for the Arpa cats.  We expect similar amounts tonight.”


The report ended, but was followed by a scrolling ski report of the new snow amounts and the conditions at all the areas.  I thought it was exciting.  That meant six to fifteen inches of new snow last night, and something similar would fall again overnight.


I went to the window to look at the mountains again, and I could barely see them through the brownish fog, which I realized was smog..


I thought of calling Dana to ask what it was like and realized my phone was in the bathroom turned off.  I got it, put the charger away, and turned the phone on.  That took a long time at home, but across a border it took a very long time while it decided where it was.  I dropped it on the desk while it looked for a signal, turned the television off, and looked in Tom’s room.  I wasn’t surprised to find him there, but he was at the desk writing something.


I said, “Boo.  Want me to come back later?”


He shook his head and said, “I’m almost done.  Have a seat.  It’s just a note to Bridgette.  She wants a letter from Chile.”


I said, “That’s a good idea.  I should send one to Lisa.  Did you eat yet?”


Tom shook his head, and I could see that I was annoying him, so I picked up the stack of brochures and looked through some.  One caught my eye.  It was for Cerro San Cristobal, a mountain in the middle of Santiago in a park that you reach by funicular or cable car.  There was a big-ass religious statue up there, and even that looked impressive.   I set that one aside and tried to figure out how to get there.  We had a metro map, but no information on the bus system.  I knew there were buses because I’d already seen a million of them and was well on my way to the second million, but I had no idea how the system worked.  I was certain that it was easy, but that only applies when it’s been explained to you.


When Tom finished his note, I held up the brochure for Cerro San Cristobal.  “Ready to meet Santiago?”


Tom flipped through the brochure and said, “I saw this yesterday.  I’ll go.  Where is it?”


“I have no idea.  We’ll find it, but let’s eat first.  Are you up for a hotel breakfast?”


Tom said, “I don’t care.  I’m ready for food no matter where I get it.”


I said, “Let’s see Hector,” and we went through Dana’s room and knocked on Hec’s door.


He said, “Come on in,” from the other side, and the remains of his room service breakfast were on the dresser.


I said, “We’re going down to eat.  I held out the brochure and said, “We want to go here.  Is that okay?”


Hector looked and asked, “Do you know where it is?”


“I’ll find out,” I said. “Do you want to come down with us?”


“I already ate, amigo.  Stop back here when you’re done and I’ll go with you.”


I asked at the desk if they had a bus map, and the guy there said, “That is impossible, Senor.  The entire system is in a state of change and things are different every week.  Tell me where you want to go, and I can give you directions.”


I said, “I’ll stop back.  We’re hungry right now.  Which restaurant has breakfast?”


He told us, and we took the elevator down to the pool level, and the restaurant was down a short corridor.  The place was crowded and the maitre’d told us a table was just being cleared so it would be a moment.


I said to Tom, “They’re clearing a table for us now.”


Tom snickered, “Makes me feel like an airliner coming in for a landing.”


I said, “After that meal last night, you qualify as an Airbus.”


Tom shoved me, and a waiter said, “This way, please.”


We followed him from the entry alcove into a typical hotel restaurant.  Above us, the ceiling was semi-pyramidal, made of slatted wood.  It was interrupted by the usual recessed lights, air vents and sprinkler heads.  We were walking on standard-issue hotel carpet, all swirls of dark red, green and blue.  Things got more interesting when we reached our table, where we had a perfect view of the vast pool area outside, and the great landscaping incorporated into it.


The table was set with white linen, the water glasses were full, and before we’d even adjusted to our chairs a guy in a white jacket was there with a coffee pot.  We both accepted his offer, and there was a cream pitcher right there.  Beside it was a sugar bowl full of real sugar.  If you wanted the artificial stuff you’d have to ask for it.


The waiter was back with menus, and handed us each big ones, and added, “And here is our buffet menu,” as he handed us laminated cards the size of legal paper.  When he left, I looked at the buffet menu and decided on that.


Tom was staring at it in confusion and looked up, “What’s a h-u-e-v-o?  This is all in Spanish.  How do I pronounce that?”


I said, “It sounds like wave-o.  Why don’t you look at the other side?  It’s in English.”


Tom turned the menu over and his ears turned pink.  “Oh, I see.  Just like the McDonalds in Florida, huh?”


“Probably,” I said.  “Just get the buffet and we can eat what we want.”


Tom said, “Okay.”


“Let’s go.”


We walked to the buffet table, and it was a long one.  It started with cut up fruit, juices, the usual scrambled eggs and meats, and then there was fish, and after the fish there were beans, followed by a custom omelet station.  After that, there were twenty feet of breads and pastries and an area of goodies like whipped cream, sprinkles and nuts to juice up your sweets.


We went back to the beginning and filled small plates with modest amounts of fruit, and glasses with juice.  On the way back to the table, Tom said, “We never told the waiter.”


I mumbled, “He knows,” and we proceeded to eat for the next forty minutes.  Everything was good except, oddly, the fish.  When I’d asked the omelet guy what it was, he said ‘bream’.  I never had any, but I’d heard the word.


Tom said it best when he tasted it.  “Shit, that’s sunfish!  Bleh, we’re gonna die.”


We managed not to die, or even get sick.  We were stuffed, though, and Tom went upstairs to his room while I sought directions once again to the bus system.  The guy at the desk was infuriating.  “Where do you want to go?  I can give you directions.”


I said, for about the ninth time, “I don’t want to go anywhere right now. I want to know what the bus system is like so I can use it if I want.”


He gave me a cross look and said, “Let me find someone who can help you.” 


I sat down in a chair facing the desk, and shortly a woman approached and sat beside me.  “Do you speak Spanish?  I can explain the bus system.”


I sighed and said, “Muchas gracias señora.”


She spent ten minutes explaining the bus system to me, and as I expected it was simple.  The buses were marked with a bus number, the two extremes of their route, the major streets they took, and the fare.  We had to get bus cards, which cost money just to have, and we could add fare money in any amount.  The blue buses were run by Metro, and the fare was good to anywhere in the city.  The yellow buses were independent and the fares were controlled, but higher than the Metro.  There were white buses with blue and green designs painted on, but they were replacing the yellow ones so the rules were the same.


I only had one question.  “Is there a bus from here to the nearest Metro station?”


“Oh yes, it stops right here about every twenty minutes.  You can buy Metro passes in the gift shop.”


Armed with information, thinking I had a grasp of the transportation in Santiago, I went upstairs to my room and went into Tom’s.  He was on the phone, clearly talking to one of his parents, and I backed out and called Lisa.


That was becoming pointless during the day.  Nobody answered, so I left a message saying I’d call back around five.  I called my father.


“Hey, Paul!  Having fun in the snow?”


I said, “Not today,” and told him about Tom’s little injury.  “We’re taking the day off, me and Tom.  Dana found this trainer from Switzerland and the guy is helping him with his racing moves.  Dana says he is, but the guy, Roland, thinks Dana’s style could be the next big thing in skiing.”


“Really?  Tom sent a video of Dana on a downhill and it’s really unbelievable.”


“Dana says it’s the skis, like he can do no wrong.”


Dad laughed, “I think I’ve heard that before.  Tell Dana I said to be careful.”


I snickered, “I told him last night, but I think he confuses careful with carefree.”


Dad laughed, “I think you’re right.  Listen, I’d love to talk more but I have to get going here.  You know, places to go, people to see, and you have the same.”


I did.  We said goodbye, I talked to Hector and Tom, and we met at the gift shop to get tickets.  The ticket itself cost twelve hundred pesos, and we each bought five thousand pesos worth of rides.  If we needed more we could recharge the tickets almost anywhere.


We walked out to the bus stop just as the blue Metro bus was leaving, so we had twenty minutes to walk around.  The hotel was in a modern part of town, so there wasn’t much of interest other than some modern architecture and nice landscaping.  When the area was built up they could have changed the name to Los Condos because that’s what most of the buildings appeared to be.


The streets were wide and the traffic, still rush-hour heavy, seemed civilized, even the buses.  We decided to return to the bus stop and just wait.  When we got there I saw a Metro bus stopped across the street, and asked the woman next to me if the metro bus on this side of the street would take us to the Metro Red Line.  She seemed a bit confused by my accent, and it was probably ten seconds or more before she said, “Oh, yes.  The Red Line is this way,” she said, pointing in the right direction.  “Where are you going?”


“Cerro San Cristobal, the funicular.”


“Very nice.  It will be ten stops on the Red line.  Transfer to the Green Line and go only three stops, where you transfer to the Orange Line.  Exit at the third stop and there are signs you can follow to the train.”  She stood and said, “Enjoy your visit in Santiago.  I must go now.”


I thanked her and watched her get in line for her own bus.  Tom asked, “Are we on the right path?”


“Yup.  Remember this: ten stops on the red line, three on the green line, and three on the orange line.  That’s where we get off.”  I glanced around and asked, “Where’s Hector?”


Tom pointed and Hector was talking on his phone.  I saw the blue Metro bus down the road and said, “Here comes our bus.  I’ll get Hector.”


I went over to Hector and pointed at the approaching bus, and he said to the person he was talking to, “I’ll call you back when we get to the park.”


He said, “That was Oscar from Xscape.  He has news on the case, and will meet us for lunch to inform us.”


I was excited for two reasons.  Our bus was stopped and we weren’t very close to it, and anything that could explain the faulty skis rented to Dana was important to learn.  We hurried down to the Metro bus and stood behind a few people.  I was peering in to see what they did with their cards.  The reader was right next to the driver, and I looked at my card and held it with the arrow on top and pointed forward, which was perfectly logical but not always the way those things work.  There was only one seat available and Hector and I moved back so Tom could sit but he stood and offered it to a lady who got on after him.


The bus was new, clean and quiet, and the pavement was smooth enough that we weren’t pitched around like we would have been on a Boston bus.  The train system was sleek, too, and some of the stations were pretty wild looking bits of modern architecture.  We were at our final stop shortly, and looked around for signs to the funicular.  Not finding any, we thought we went out the wrong exit, but while we were looking for another one Tom said, “What’s that?” and pointed to a graphic sign on a metal light pole.


It was white on green, and pictured a stylized train going up a steep stylized track.  On the post beneath it there was a smaller sign with an arrow that pointed the direction we were already going.  I had been looking for a sign with the word funicular on it, and hadn’t paid attention to much else.  From there it was easy to find, and not a very long walk.  If we had only looked up the direction would have been obvious.  It was a real mountain in the middle of town.


The terminal was made of stone and looked like a small castle. Inside the terminal we had to use our cards again to join a line that didn’t seem to be moving.


The line wasn’t moving as it turned out, and it didn’t until a lot of people came out by the opposite wall and walked directly out of the terminal.  Our line moved quickly all of a sudden, and stopped moving again just as suddenly.  We didn’t really know what was happening until another group of people came out along the opposite wall.  We got inside that time, and I was expecting to get on the train and go to the top.  Instead, we sat in seats like church pews to watch the train go uphill without us.  Then it made sense.  One pew galley of passengers would fill a train, and any pushing and shoving would be left outside.  There was a man inside with a guitar and pan flutes, and his music was eerily beautiful.  I went over and dropped a thousand pesos in his case.


When our ride arrived I was surprised about a few things.  First, it was built so the passengers stayed pretty much level while going up the steep hill.  Next, I was disappointed at how slow it went.  Third, the condition of the tracks was frightening – not the tracks per se, but the trestles and things we went over.  It looked like there was a hole about every ten feet or so, and the trestles were missing timbers at a similar interval.  I was happy to reach the top and get off the thing.


We ended up in a bit of woods and just followed the crowd from there.  When we broke out into the sunlight, the park was beautiful, but we had our first encounter with smog.  Santiago is one of the smoggiest cities in the world, especially in winter.  We had escaped it our first few days, but now it lay across the city looking to be in layers, like the rings of Saturn.  It was disgusting to see, but the city was pretty much surrounded by mountains and winter wasn’t their windy season so the stuff usually had no place to go.


We sat on a bench when Hector said he had to call Oscar, and if we wanted we could go up to the statue and he’d find us.  I looked at Tom and he looked at the steep hill and shook his head.  I said, “Show me how that iPhone works again.  I’ll go and get some pictures and come back here.”


After a quick phone lesson, I followed the signs out into the park, where I snapped a lot of photos.  When I looked up I could see the statue of La Virgen de la Inmaculada Concepción – The Virgin Mary.


God, it was massive even in the distance above me.  I had misread something, and had it in my head that it was something over twenty-two feet high, but it was twenty-two meters high, over seventy feet, and sat on a platform of about twenty feet.


I had a good view from where I was and took some pictures, and took more on my way up every time I had a clear view.  When I was up to the statue I couldn’t fit it in the view finder without falling off the mountain.  I felt stupid suddenly, realizing I had the camera Ovidio obtained for me in my pocket.  I had never quite gotten around to looking at the manual, but it was a point-and-shoot.  I looked at the buttons, turned a dial to ‘manual’ and turned it on and the display screen came on.  It let me take a picture of the whole statue when I turned it up on its end.  It looked like it might run off at the top and bottom, but I took the picture and the image was a little smaller, enough that I could see the whole thing in the one shot.


My phone rang and I had to put the camera away to get it loose.  It was Hector, and he asked, “Can you see the Teleferico from there?”


I said, “Probably.  Tell me what I’m looking for.”


Hector said, “And you a skier:  It’s a gondola.”


“I’ve never skied in Spanish before, you know.  Is it a red one?”


“I don’t know, amigo.  Do you see a gondola?”


“I think so, but it’s down in the smog.  It looked red there for a second.”


There was a silence and I said, “Wait a minute.  I see some signs.  I have to go look, so do you want to wait or should I call you back?”


“I’ll wait.”


I said, “I’ll put the phone in my pocket.  I can’t walk and talk at the same time.” 


I did that, not closing the phone.  The signs were a couple hundred feet from me, and there were a lot of people in-between so it took me longer than it should have.  There was sign that said the Teleferico was five hundred meters to my right, and downhill from there.  I fished the phone out and said, “It’s here.  Are we going somewhere?”


“Yes.  Tell me how to get to where you are.”


I said, “Ask down there.  When I left the glade there was a trail up to here, but there was another one that went off to the right.  That might be the one I’m standing at.  It looks like it might go to the same place.”


“How long did it take?”


I said, exasperated, “Hector, I don’t know.  I kind of wandered up.  I was taking pictures and looking around.  I guess it would have been ten minutes if I came straight up.  Don’t make Tommy hurry up or we’ll miss another day of skiing.”  


“Don’t worry; we’ll be there as fast as I can carry him.”  He broke the connection.


I sat on a low stone wall to wait, and realized how pretty things looked from there, so I took more pictures of the different trails that headed into the woods, and the people coming and going.  Most seemed to be tourists, and their reactions were hilarious when Hector appeared with a very irate Tommy slung over his shoulder like a sack of … whatever you put in sacks.


I stood, Hector put Tom down on his feet and winked at me, and asked Tom how his knee felt.  Tom was sputtering in anger and embarrassment.  “My knee is fine.  I could have walked myself, you know.”


Hector asked, “How would your knee feel if you did?  That was a steep path.  Would you be able to ski tomorrow?”


Tom took a deep breath and seemed to calm down.  “I don’t know.  How would you like it if somebody carried you past people you don’t know like you’re a two-year-old, or … or a sack of pudadahs?” 


I laughed, and Hector asked, “A sack of what?”


I said, “Get used to it, Hector.  That’s Vermont and Maine speak for potatoes.”


Hector said, “Whatever.  Let’s go find this gondola.  Oscar will be waiting for us.”


I handed Tom’s phone back to him, and he looked at the pictures I’d taken while we walked down the easy grade to the gondola.  He commented on a few, and mentioned that he thought I was becoming a bit more capable every year since I met him.  I noted in turn that I thought Tom was intelligent, but his brain had never properly connected with his body, which was the real reason he needed big men like Hector to carry him up hills when he forgot where his feet belonged.


Hector was laughing, and said, “Will you two just knock it off!  I don’t want to laugh too hard and fall off this mountain.”


I laughed and said, “That’s Tommy’s job.”


Hector said, “Can it, Paul.”


Tom repeated that.  I asked, “Where would I find a can up here?  I don’t want to toss Tommy out, anyhow.  He might be useful in the future when I need a spare brain. He’s my best friend, Hector.  We make beautiful music together…all that jazz.”  I looked at Tom and said, “Maybe some night Hector could see one of the UFOs over Brattleboro.  Then he’ll know.”


Hector glanced at me and said, “Don’t give me any UFO talk.”


I said, “We have to, Hector.  How else could you describe Brattleboro to someone?  UFOs are there in the sky a lot of times, and they must land because they change people.  It’s the only explanation for a girl like Arizona, Can you explain her?  She’s a girl that tried to make my hair behave, and last year she was hanging around outside the book shop all naked.”


Tom piped up, “That was no earthly phenomenon.  It went on all summer, too … bareass people all around the square.  Need proof?  Somebody on the town council tried to make it illegal, and the rest of the council told him to take a hike.  Where else do you hear something like that?”


Hector laughed, “Ari told me about her part, but thanks for filling me in.”


The funicular tickets weren’t good on the gondola, so we had to buy round-trip tickets on it to get down.  There was nobody in line, so we got on the first car to come around once we were inside the terminal.  The views were probably spectacular on a clear day, but the smog only allowed us glimpses of the city below.  The lower gondola station was in the middle of a city block, and the incongruity of that made me laugh.  We got on the thing on a mountaintop, and I expected to get off at the mountain bottom.  Riding through the smog was like going through clouds in an airplane, but in an airplane you expect to eventually see blue sky on ascent, and a runway on the descent, and you’d be very disturbed to see buildings there instead.


All was well, though, and Oscar was waiting for use when we got outside.  He greeted us warmly and made small talk for a few minutes.  Then he asked, “Have you been enjoying our local cuisine?”


I said an emphatic, “Yes!” and both Tom and Hector agreed.


Oscar smiled, “Wonderful.  My favorite place in all of Chile is but two blocks from here.”


As we started walking, Oscar said, “This neighborhood is called Bella Vista.  It is full of shops, cafes, restaurants, bars, clubs and beautiful old homes.  The place I’m bringing you to has grown by expansion in the last few years, but has been operated by the same family for over ninety years.  The menu has two sections:  clásico and moderno.  The clásico is as it sounds.  The moderno offers various fusions.  They are very good, but I urge you to select from the clásico to learn the reason for their long existence.  Everything is wonderful, I assure you.


I said, “Everything we’ve had has been terrific.  The last two nights we ate at really little family places that were out of this world.”


Oscar said, “You must have a very good guide.  Hotels try to get you to eat in their own restaurants, and a lot of guides lead you to places that pay them a fee.”  He pointed, “Here we are.”


There was a sign on the front with the day’s specials, and Oscar said, “Forget what I said about the menu today.  They have roasted lamb chops with myrtle berry sauce.  Let’s go in before they run out of it.”


While we waited inside, Oscar explained that the myrtle berry is a tiny thing grown at high elevations.  Even when ripe they are very hard and sour, so they cook them for a long time and add sugar.  “It is wonderful.”


I asked, “How do they roast a lamb chop?”


“Ah!  Good question.  They roast the whole rib section, much like roast rib of beef. They are cooked in traditional earthen ovens and pick up a wonderful smoky flavor.  Here is the Captain.”


The maitre’d came over and apologized for making us wait, and led us into the restaurant proper, which was built like a hacienda with a large inner courtyard.  It was closed to the elements, but must be a great place to eat in the warmer months.  The place was really attractive, too, with lots of arches separating the rooms, ancient looking tiles on the floor, everything in varying shades of terra-cotta color.


When we sat down, a waiter came with a basket of warm bread and filled our water glasses.  He took drink orders and Oscar ordered a beer while the rest of us were fine with water.


After we got comfortable, Oscar folded his hands in front of him like he planned to pray, but said, “Let me tell you what we have found out so far, and it is intriguing to us but not substantial enough to make accusations.  I have a friendly competitor in a place called Advanced Sport.  I say friendly because we are.  We compete with each other at the high end of the market and there is plenty to support both of us without us having to spend heavily to expand.  For a long time, we have been the only two shops to sell and rent good racing gear.  There are many other shops, of course, many much larger than ours, who deal with the middle and low end of the market.  By that I mean recreational skiers, skiing families, and beginning skiers.  We both deal with advanced skiers right up to serious racers.  I spoke with the owner of Advanced Sport, Anthony Valdez, and told him the story of those giant slalom skis you rented and how they had been tampered with.”


He looked at us in turn and said, “The same thing happened there.”


We all expressed our shock and the waiter came.  Oscar asked, “Lamb for everyone?  It’s a rare treat, and you won’t be sorry.”


I asked, “Will I be able to get it on the rare side?”


“It’s all cooked to the rare side of medium rare.  Don’t worry, you won’t be disappointed.”


“I think I’ll have the lamb special then.”


Tom and Hector said the same and the waiter walked away.  I guessed that the sides were included since they hadn’t been mentioned.


“As I was saying,” Oscar said, “Anthony had an almost identical incident. – a pair of stolen skis that mysteriously appeared in his rental area, and giant slalom skis once again.  He was a bit luckier because the technician who was going to fit them to a customer noticed some of the drilling fragments poking out under the binding and set them aside.  It was strictly an aesthetic thing to him.  A pair of expensive skis with very expensive racing bindings shouldn’t look like an amateur mounted them.  When the morning rental rush was over he took them to his bench to correct the problem and he discovered the short screws.”


“What do you think this means?” Hector asked.


Oscar looked sad and said, “What I think it means, what Anthony thinks it means, is that another shop that has been trying to move upscale is trying to discredit us.  This is their first season renting racers, and both Anthony and I have noticed a much greater number of negative reviews of our shops on websites like Trip Advisor since last season ended.  I thought the style of complaints sounded eerily similar, and I responded offering refunds and the like, but there were just more complaints.  Anthony was getting the same, and when we put the complaints together they were identical, like cut and paste.”


Hector looked at Oscar and said, “That’s all you have?  I agree; it’s not very substantial.”


Oscar said, “Our clientele is very much international:  Americans, Canadians, Europeans, Asians … we’ve had the odd complaint in the past and a huge number of compliments and recommendations.  They were generally written in the native language of the sender.  These recent complaints are all in Spanish … Chilean Spanish.”


Tommy grinned, “There’s a clue for you.  Good one!”


Oscar smiled at Tom.  “Under Chilean law, we can get certain information from international companies doing business in Chile.  That information can include the URLs where derogatory information originates.  We have engaged a solicitor who is well versed in the law to advise Trip Advisor of this transgression, and he is confident that he can get the information.”  His smile went away.  “Unfortunately, that can take several months.  In the meantime, one of our clever technicians has developed a simple device to test for loose bindings before they go out the door, and we and Advanced are using it on every rental.”


I asked, “What other trick could they have?”


Oscar said, “I can’t imagine.  I have been unable to determine how someone got in to insert the skis into our rental stock. There has been no hint of a break-in.  The police suspect an employee did it, or at least an experienced locksmith who opened a lock without leaving signs of tampering.  I refuse to believe it was an employee because that would install a level of distrust that I can’t afford to have.  A commercial locksmith has to be licensed and bonded, so the police are reviewing files of locksmiths with a history of committing crimes.”


Oscar looked at us and shrugged, “This is my cross to bear, I’m sorry.  Let’s enjoy our meal now, and I hope you are back on the mountains tomorrow.  They are expecting a large snowfall tonight.  I’ll be out there with you in spirit if not in person.”


The waiter was there with our soup, which was pumpkin and camarones.  It was very nice to look at, with a creamy faded orange broth, pink-and-white striped shrimps, and a sprinkle of fresh green parsley on top.  I spooned out a shrimp first, and right then I would bet that they were added at the last minute and cooked in the broth on the way to the table.  The broth was sweet and a little peppery, the shrimp tender and delicious.  I pulled off a hunk of the still-warm bread to mop up my bowl when it was as empty as I could get it with my spoon.


Next up was a salad I would have made myself; it was just juicy fresh tomato slices with thinly cut onion and some cilantro.  I buttered another hunk of bread to go with it, and saved some to go with the lamb chops.


Everyone was commenting on how good the food was so far, and Oscar was beaming.  When the lamb came, the presentation was beautiful.  We each had two double chops on a large plate with little potatoes that appeared to have been boiled in butter and carrot chunks that must have been cooked in a hot oven.  They were done through and slightly blackened, and looked perfect in front of me.


When everyone had their food, I dug in.  I tried the lamb first, and oh God it was wonderful.  That berry sauce added a wonderful flavor and a great texture.  I knew I had a lot of living to do, or hoped I did, but if I dropped dead right there I wouldn’t have minded, and I don’t think anyone at our table would either.  If there’s an afterlife, which I doubt, we would have been the smilingest guys there.


Except for lamb bones, our plates were clean when the waiter came for our dessert order.  I was stuffed, but Oscar said, “Try the lemon pie.  It is like no other.”


We all ordered lemon pie and coffee, and it was as wonderful as everything else.  The pie was tart and sweet and had crumblies on top, the coffee was good, and it all went down with surprising ease.  Lord help me, I was turning into Dana!


Oscar offered to drive us back to the hotel, but we all wanted to look around the Bella Vista neighborhood.  When we said goodbye to Oscar he told Tommy, “Mind the sidewalks around here.  The main roads are fine, but the cross streets are treacherous.”


Tom thanked him kind of worriedly, and when we went to look around he looked down the first cross street.  We all looked, and it was hard to believe that a downtown sidewalk anywhere could be in such sad repair.  There were broken and missing pieces, and wherever a tree grew, three slabs of concrete were pulled up toward the tree.  I suppose that if you live somewhere you get used to anything, but I really doubted the shops on that street got much tourist business.  Nobody would ever notice the stores because they’d be measuring every step they took and scanning the walk in front of them for upcoming hazards.


The area really was nice.  Tom’s leg was behaving but he didn’t want to push it.  After a half hour Hector stopped at a cab stand and asked us, “Are you about ready to go back to the hotel.”


I looked at Tom and he nodded, so I did too.


Hector got in line after two other people, and when the cab pulled up we went and got in the back while Hector sat in front.  The driver got on a highway and we were back at the hotel quickly.  We could have done that in the morning, but I was glad we used the bus and subway in the morning.  Figuring out the local transit, whatever form it takes, is one key to really enjoying a new place.


I guess that’s one of the benefits of growing up in a city.  I had my own Metro pass when I was eight.  If I went out alone I had to wear a leather necklace that I complained was a dog collar, but it had my house key and a tag that gave my name, my address, and who I belonged to.  When we traveled my parents made up similar tags in the local language, and replaced the house key with a hotel key.  At age nine I was set free first in Rome, and later in Istanbul, and it’s been that way since.


I feel safer in a bus or on a train than alone in a cab, and when I was younger I could never get a cab anyhow.  My dad may be rich, but I don’t look the part.  I wear plain clothes, never went for high-end sneakers, and my hair makes me look more like a refugee than a rich kid. I keep only coins in my pants pockets, my bills in a pouch around my neck, with some in my shirt pocket for easy access.  I’ve been aware of people trying to pick my pockets a couple of times, but they went hungry.


I saw that Tommy, and even Hector to an extent, were edgy when we took the bus and had to use three trains to get where we were going, but I was in my element.


Back at the hotel, Tom wanted to go to the spa when he learned there was a therapeutic massage.  Hector and I decided to go and use the sauna, mostly because it was there.  We didn’t have bathing suits and Hector called to make sure that was alright, and he was told we didn’t need anything at all.


The spa was in a separate building by the pool, and the man at the desk was very accommodating.  Tom explained his problem and the guy recommended hot stone therapy, saying what it relieved and what it stimulated.  Tom was sold, and told he’d have to wait a short while.  Hector said we just wanted to use the sauna.  The attendant handed us locker keys, two fat towels, and gave us directions.


The locker room was small and we had it to ourselves.  The lockers were half-size, one atop another, and Hectors was over mine, so I undressed on a bench while he had the luxury of just tossing his clothes in the locker.


The towels we had were ridiculously large.  I rolled mine three times over at the waist just to clear the floor, and it went almost twice around me.  When Hector got out of the way, I tossed my clothes into the locker and we went to the sauna room.


Oh, it’s a good thing we wore the towels in.  There was another man in there, one of the ancients, and he was prone on a bench either sleeping or dead.  He was also naked.  That wasn’t the worse.  There were naked women on other benches, five of them.  They might have been from one family, like great-grandma, grandma, a couple of daughters, and a girl around my age.


I’m not used to being embarrassed being nude around people.  I did go to an all-boy school for a lot of years, and the toilets and showers were always common areas.  In the lower grades we were four to a room, and graduated to double rooms, but you just get used to it.  You see guys naked, they see you, and duh.  Who cares?


This was different.  The sauna was hot, and I would have loved to pull off that giant towel, but not with her there.  It probably wouldn’t have mattered what I did.  The girl and her ancestors all had their eyes on Hector, who was blushing from the toes up, and already sweating.


He said timidly, “Buenas tardes.”


Poor Hector.  They cooed, “Buenas tardes,” almost in unison, and I had all I could do to keep from laughing.


I smiled at the ladies, “Este es mi amigo, Héctor.  Él es grande, pero es muy tímida”


That got the ladies squealing.  “Oh Hector, how can one so big be bashful?  You have such big muscles.”


They went on and on, and Hector said from the side of his mouth, “You’re gonna get it this time.”


The women went on and on, and I slid down the bench away from Hector. My towel fell open and I just left it.  The women were begging to see the muscles hidden by his towel, while Hector explained that he was Panamanian, not Chilean, and was raised to a different standard.  I just sat there enjoying the sauna and laughing while I wished they’d leave.


They did get up and leave after awhile, and I watched the girl all the time.  I’d seen all the parts before in pictures from Playboy and Hustler, but these parts were moving and right in front of me, which was a first.  The girl was some racial mix, possibly black, Indian and Spanish, or who knows.  Who cares?  Her skin was a beautiful light brown all over, and it was tight on her body.


I had to at least say something to her, so when she took a step my way I stood up, and didn’t worry when my towel stayed behind.  I said, “Hola.”


She smiled and said, “Hi,” in English.


I said, “I’m Paul. I’m from the U.S.  Vermont, if you know the states.”


“I am Alia.  BrazilBahia if you know the states.”


I said, “Sorry.  I didn’t mean anything snobby.  Bahia – so you do have some black in you.”


“African slave, if that’s what you mean.  I have a lot of bloodlines in me, but today I’m just Brazilian.  You are?”


“I’m Boston Irish, mostly.”


She seemed startled.  “Surely not!  You don’t have freckles or beautiful wavy hair.  Your eyes aren’t blue or green.  Are you really Irish?”


I sighed and said, “Ireland had its invaders.”  No matter what people claim, the only possibly pure-blooded people on the planet are the ones who haven’t been discovered by someone else yet.  I guess some of those are in Brazil, but that’s it.  Everyone else that’s not inbred is a blend of races and nationalities.


Someone called, “Alia?” and Alia excused herself to leave. Her rear was as perfect as her front, and I felt strange while I picked up my towel.  Alia was a pretty girl with a great shape, and I’d just had a short conversation with her when my own towel was on the bench.  I hadn’t been embarrassed at all, nor had I been turned on really.  We had a nice little talk while we were both bareass.


I’d done that with guys dozens of times, so why not with a girl?  I didn’t feel embarrassed until she walked away, her perfect little bottom striking a rhythm I agreed with.  I picked up my gigantic towel and slung it over my shoulder to walk back to the locker room.


Hector was surprised when I came in.  “You stayed and talked to that girl like that?”


“Yeh,” I said as I bent down and realized I didn’t have a clue where the key to the locker was. 


To make things worse, the locker started ringing.  I looked around in mild desperation and Hector asked, “Don’t you hear your phone ringing?”


I said, “I hear it.  I just don’t know where I put the key.”


Hector said, “Oh, no.  What do we do now?”


I said, “If I could get my clothes I’d go ask for another one.”


Hector asked, “Do you know what I’d do if I had that problem?”


I shook my head, and he said, “I’d look at my left wrist.  That’s what I’d do.”  He started snickering and it turned to outright laughter when I saw the key on it’s green dangly thing right on my arm.


I probably did a full-body blush, and I took that key and shoved it into the lock and gave an angry twist to the left.  That did nothing, so I turned it gently to the right and opened the locker.  The phone had stopped ringing, of course, so I got dressed before I looked to see who had called.  I got worried because there had been four calls from Dana and I’d missed them all.  Hoping nothing was wrong, I called back and went to voice mail.  I left a message that we were in the spa and we were going back to the room.


I looked at Hector and said, “Dana called four times and I don’t get an answer from him.  Can you call Ovidio and see if everything is okay?”


Hector pulled his phone out and whacked his forehead.  “It’s not on.  I hope it’s still charged.”  He looked at it and said, “What the heck?  It was coming on and it’s back off.”  He pressed a button and held it down until the screen lit up, and it went off again.  “Damn.”  He tried once again and the same thing happened.  He held his hand out and said, “Let me use your phone.”


I handed it to him and he said, “I hope you added Ovidio’s number.”


I said, “I think Tom put it in there.”


Hector walked out with the phone, and I hurriedly finished dressing and put our towels in the bin.  When I caught up with Hector he was just closing the phone.  I asked, “Did you get him?”


“Yes, calm down.  They’re in the hotel. The mountain closed early because of whiteout conditions.  Dana’s fine.”


That was a relief.  I asked, “Can you wait for Tom and I’ll go see Dana?”


Hector said, “Let’s leave a message for Tom and both go back.  I’ll need your phone until I can find out what’s going on with mine.”


We dropped our keys off with the attendant and went down to the main desk and left a message for Tommy, and went back to our rooms. I looked in on Dana and he was stretched out on the bed talking on the phone.  He looked up and I mouthed, “I’m back,” and went to my room when he nodded his acknowledgment. I turned the television on, hoping to get a weather report when Hector tapped on my door.


He handed me my phone when I opened it, and said, “I’m going with Lucero to get a new phone, amigo.  Mine is messed up inside.  Ovidio is in his room if you need anything.  We shouldn’t be gone long.” 


I said, “Okay, we’ll be fine.”


I sat down and ran through the channels, but nothing looked like a weather report, so I turned it back off and called Lisa.  She had a smile in her voice when she answered.  “How is the skiing?”


I told her about Tom, and that he was over in the spa and probably getting off his rocks as we spoke.


She said sternly, “Paul!”


“I’m serious.  He went for a hot rocks treatment.  He had to wait to get in.  I went to the sauna with Hector and a bunch of naked ladies tried to steal his towel.”


“Will you stop it?”


“I’m not kidding.  That’s what happened, and I talked to a naked girl from Brazil.  She’s about our age.  She spoke good English.”


“I thought you spoke Spanish.”


“I do.  I did, but they don’t speak Spanish in Brazil.  When I said hi to her she answered in English.  That’s really the reason we talked.”


Lisa thought I was kidding her.  “And she was naked?”


“Totally.  Well, she was carrying a towel, so if she had a glove on I wouldn’t know.  My towel was on the bench, so it didn’t matter.”


“I hope this is one big tall tale.”


I said, “Lisa, I talked to her for maybe a minute and she had to leave.  She was with three generations of her family … all women and all dressed just like her.”


“Paul, bear with me here.  What does ‘dressed like her’ mean if she was naked?  Oh God, don’t answer that.”


“Well, undressed like her, then.  It was a sauna, Lisa.  There was a naked dead guy in there, too.  Everybody was naked.  This isn’t Utah or Texas.  People take all their clothes off to take baths and … do … other things.  It’s just like Vermont except everyone is Catholic.”


Lisa started giggling and said, “You have a way with words.  Was this girl pretty?”


I said, “Yes, she was really pretty.  I asked if she was part black, and she is, and part a lot of things, I think.”


“You asked her if she was part black?  Whatever brought that question on?”


“Lisa, I thought she might be, and when she said she was from Bahia state I just made a guess.  It wasn’t an insult or anything, I just wanted to know.  Bahia was a slave state once; that’s why I asked, and she said she had African slave blood in her.  She said I looked as Irish as Christopher Columbus, and then she had to go.  Don’t try to put meaning in this; it was just an encounter.”


“But you were both naked.”


I said, “I couldn’t do that with you.”


Lisa asked quietly, “Why not?”


“I just couldn’t.  Alia – that was the girl’s name – was pretty and had a nice body, and I definitely saw all of it, but she’s not you.  She probably thinks I’m gay because I didn’t try to make a date and, um, I didn’t …”


“Oh.  I should have asked earlier because that’s what I wanted to know.”


I said, “Lisa, listen.  You could put me in a room full of naked girls and not worry even if they were all funny and intelligent.  If you walked in my … ah … compass would find a direction to point.  They’d all disappear and you’d be the one in trouble.”


Lisa started to ask, “Trouble, what kind of AAAAAH!  Lou, you little worm, I’m gonna rip your head off!”  I heard some noise, a door slam, and then silence until the connection dropped.  Luigi strikes again.


Dana’s voice said, “Tell me more about Alia.”


I whipped around and he was standing in the doorway.  “How long have you been there?”


“Long enough.  I didn’t want to bust in on your call.  I want to hear about this naked exotic girl.  Do you know what room she’s in?”


I said, “I don’t know anything.  I don’t even know if they’re staying here, but they probably are.  All I know is her first name and … what she looks like.”


Dana grinned and sat on the edge of the bed.  “It sounds like you know everything about how she looks. Tell me that, then.”


Dana was funny.  He hadn’t listened so closely to what I was saying since I’ve known him, nor had he ever asked so many questions.  I had to expound on all the main details while he drew a mental picture of Alia, and probably wished he hadn’t gone skiing.


Ovidio called the room and said it was time for dinner, so we hurried to be downstairs in ten minutes, collecting Tom and Hector on our way.


When we were downstairs I saw Alia in the lobby with a little bag from the gift shop.  I introduced Dana as my brother, Tom as my best friend, Hector as our guardian and Ovidio as our guide, and said we were on our way to dinner.  She was on her way to eat with her family in one of the hotel restaurants, so we didn’t linger.  Tom, Dana and I stayed to watch while she walked out of view.  She was wearing a turtleneck jersey like Danskins and nice winter slacks.  Her posture was perfect and her walk was confident and purposeful.


Dana couldn’t stop saying, “You are so lucky,” on the way out to the vehicle.