The Third Good Thing

Chapter  8


I went into the open elevator and Hector held the door.  “Get Ovidio down here, pronto.  Tell him which room we met the lawyer in.  You boys stay upstairs for awhile.  If you’re hungry you can eat down in the restaurant.  Call me if you decide to.  I have to catch Menendez before he leaves.”


I nodded dumbly and Hector let the doors close.  I pressed the button for our floor, but when the elevator started up the arrow was pointing down, and the button for the eighth floor was lit, but not the one for the tenth floor that I’d pressed.  It annoyed me that someone else summoned the elevator but there wasn’t anything I could do about it.  When the door opened I hurried out, forcing a startled couple to take a step back.  I ran for the stairs and put a coin in the door jamb in case I couldn’t get to a guest room floor from the stairs, and that turned out to be the case.


I called Ovidio and told him where Hector was, and that he wanted Ovidio to join him right away.  Before he could hang up I asked him to please open the fire exit door before he got on the elevator.


I didn’t have my phone back in its holster when the door was yanked open, and while Ovidio waited impatiently for the elevator I told him that we saw Detective Silva in the hall right after we left the lawyer.  He nodded, pulled out his phone, and rushed into the elevator when it opened.


I watched the door close, wishing I had some clue as to what was going on now.  I stood there looking dumbly at the elevator door as random questions tumbled through my head.  Did they suspect Attorney Menendez of something?  Did they just want to keep him away from Silva until they figured out what he was doing there?  What was Silva doing in our hotel in the first place?


My phone went off and it was Tommy.  “Where are you?  What’s going on?”


I said, “I’m admiring this elevator door.  They keep it really nice – no fingerprints on it or anything.”


Tom asked incredulously, “What the hell …”


I said, “Before you ask, yes, I have lost it; I’m hungry too, so meet me at the elevator.”


I closed my phone and continued staring at the elevator.  At least what I’d said was true, because there wasn’t a mark on it.


I heard doors close as Tom and Dana came out, and Tom said, “Look!  What did I tell you?”


Dana said, “Okay, I owe you a buck.” 


They reached me and Dana asked, “What the heck, Paul?  Since when do you like elevators?”


I said, “I never did before, but I like this one.  What do you suppose they call that finish?”


“Metal,” Tom said as he pressed the button to go down.  He looked at Dana, “He’s been brainwashed.”


Dana said, “About time,” and I laughed.


“Are you saying I had a dirty mind, but now it’s all better?  I got news for you, Dana.  Call Hector and tell him we’re going downstairs to dinner.”


The elevator opened and Dana asked, “Do you need help?”


Tom said, “Hold your foot against the door, Dana.  We’ll pull him in.”


I said, “Cut it out.  I know all about elevators, especially this one.  If we don’t get in right now, someone on a higher floor might lead us the wrong way.”


We got on, and sure enough, the lights for floors seventeen and eighteen were lit and the arrow pointed up.  I said, “See?  That’s what I meant,” as we were pulled upward.  “Never mind, though, because they’ll think we’re coming down from a higher floor.  Don’t be embarrassed.”


Dana’s expression was priceless, and Tommy looked like he might cry.  I’m sure they thought I’d lost my mind, and I suppose I had in a way.


When we stopped at the eighteenth floor, we stepped back politely as a couple got on, and did so again on the seventeenth where four men in business suits got on without a break in their conversation about what they’d seen and heard that day.  I couldn’t usually follow tech talk in English, but I heard enough even in Spanish to know that they’d been at some product demonstration.


The elevator was busy on the way down, and by the time we reached the lobby it was crowded.  Most people got off there, and we went to the lower level and the restaurant.


Once we were away from people Tom asked, “Okay, what’s going on?”


“I wish I knew.”  I looked around and we were alone enough.  “I met the lawyer, and he said I shouldn’t worry.  Hector said I shouldn’t worry, but when we left I saw that Detective Silva turning away and Hector saw him, too.”


We were at the host’s desk and didn’t talk until we were at a table.  I told Tom and Dana what transpired between the time I left Hector and the time we met at the elevator, and the thoughts I was having out there that made me seem like a loony.  I had a sudden thought and asked Dana, “Did you call Hector to say we’d be here?”


“I forgot.  I’ll call now.”


While he called I told Tom, “Screw this.  Let’s talk about skiing.  Do you think La Parva again tomorrow?”


I was suddenly afraid that there were ears everywhere, and didn’t want to walk into more trouble than we already had. 


Tom seemed surprised by the question.  “Uh, yeah, I guess so.  Did you see the weather report?  It’s supposed to snow tonight, and that bowl we were in at the end is a free-ski area.”


Dana was off the phone, “What are we talking about?”


Tom said, “Snow tonight, La Parva again tomorrow.”


“What did Hector say?” I asked.


“He said for us to have a good dinner; he’ll be busy for a few hours.”


“That’s all?  He didn’t say what’s going on?”


Dana just shook his head.


I couldn’t say anything because Tom and Dana were as helpless as I was.  I really didn’t like knowing that big things were going on that involved me in some way, and I didn’t even know what those things were.


I closed my eyes for a moment to block the bad out, and when I opened them the waiter was there offering me a menu.


I took it and looked, deciding right away on the seafood soup and the ‘colossal’ camarones with langostino stuffing.  In Boston that would translate to big shrimp with probably imitation crab stuffing and I’d usually look at it as something to be avoided.


I somehow trusted Chileans to deliver the real thing.  Dana ordered another steak dinner, only exchanging the fries for a baked potato.


Tom ordered a mind-boggling two of the half-pound hamburgers, both with lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, bacon, mushrooms, onions and cheese.


I said, “I’m warning you, Tom.  One of these days you’re just gonna explode.”


Tom smiled benignly and said, “I’ll have fun getting there.”


I asked, “How’s your leg after today?  I know I took a pounding.”


Tom said, “So far, so good.  It didn’t bother me at all and I skied hard, too.  I think I just need to loosen up first thing in the morning.”


I said, “I don’t mind.  What about you, Dana?”


Dana said, “It’s a good idea.  Even at the races we have to take a couple of easy runs to loosen up.”


Our soup came, and we shut up when we started eating.  Before the entrees came, Tom said, “You know it’s Thursday already.  Are we still going to go cat skiing?”


I said, “I want to,” and Dana nodded his agreement.


Tom said, “I’ve been looking and it has to be great skiing, but it’s not really a resort.  They have what they call a day hut, but it looks like all you can do in it is eat your lunch, maybe warm up, and use the bathroom.  It says you can buy snacks, but we should probably bring our own lunch.”


“How far is it?” Dana asked.


“It says about two hours from Santiago.  That’s why I’m thinking we should go up after we ski around here and get a place to stay.  That way we could ski a couple of days and sleep on the way back here.”


I took a deep breath and asked, “Is it expensive?”


Tom said, “It ain’t cheap.  In dollars it’s about two-sixty each for a day with four runs.  If there’s time, we can get extra runs for thirty-five bucks a pop.  We have to ski with a guide, and that’s included, and we’d each get an avalanche beacon.”


I stammered, “An avalanche beacon?  Does it say how many avalanches they have?”


Tom shook his head.  I looked at Dana, whose eyes were wide, and asked, “What do you think?”


“I think it sounds great.  When do we leave?”


The waiter showed up and I said, “I don’t know, but let’s eat.”


Tom and Dana were clearly as hungry as me, and we went through our meals in short order, and had room for more, so we looked at the dessert menu.  The only thing that seemed interesting was a flavor of ice cream called chirimoya, which they listed as an indigenous fruit.  I ordered a dish of that, while Tom asked for a piece of chocolate cake with raisins and nuts.  Dana got a hot fudge sundae with chocolate ice cream, and it arrived wearing what looked like a dunce hat of whipped cream topped off with a cherry.


The chirimoya had a taste somewhat like an apple, but as sweet as a kiwi. I loved it.


We had coffee with dessert, and I accepted another cup when the waiter came around.  I looked at Tom and Dana and asked, “When should we leave to go cat skiing?” I thought about that and said, “Let me call Hector to see if we can go at all.  I don’t know what’s going on with the police.  Can we just show up there, Tom?”


He said, “I doubt that.  Let me call and ask.  In fact, if we’re done let’s go upstairs so I can make notes.”


I said, “Go on ahead.  I’ll get the bill.”


“When should I say?”


“I guess you should find a place to stay first, and then call the cat place.”


“There’s a neat looking old bed and breakfast that’s the closest place to the area.  It’s a two hundred year old hacienda.”


I shrugged, “Check it out.  See if they have rooms for Saturday and Sunday nights, and then call the cat place about skiing Sunday and Monday.”


Tom said, “Can do.  You coming up, Dana?”


Dana yawned and said, “I’ll stay with Paul.  I need to digest a little.”


After Tom left, Dana asked in a low voice, “Do you think you’re in trouble?”


“I don’t know.  Nobody says I am, but that detective has me kind of spooked.  I freaked a little when I saw him down the hall from the room I met the lawyer in.”


The waiter came with the bill and asked, “Was everything satisfactory?”


I said, “Oh yeah, it was just ducky.”


“Pardon me, sir?”


I said, “Sorry.  Everything was just fine, thank you.”


He made a little bow and left, and I looked at the bill, wrote in a tip, and signed it.  “Ready?” I asked Dana, and we left to go upstairs.


In the elevator, Dana asked, “What do you think of Marco?”


“I don’t know; he’s like Lucero was at first.  Ovidio said he’s just a driver they hired, and maybe he is.”


The elevator opened and Dana followed me into my room.  “I guess he’s okay.  He just seems a little spooky.”


I said, “I thought Lucero was pretty spooky at first, but he was just wary.  Marco might be like that, or maybe he really doesn’t know English.  I’m not going to worry about it.”


“I didn’t say I was worried, it’s just that … I don’t know … he’s getting paid to drive us.  It seems like he could at least smile sometimes.”


I was sticking to everything I touched, probably from the ice cream.  I went into the bathroom to wash my hands, and when I left the door open Dana followed me in.  He sat on top of the toilet while I washed up.  He asked, “Are you excited about cat skiing?  You didn’t seem too thrilled when Tom was talking about it.”


I said, “I’m excited for sure.  If I didn’t seem like I was paying attention it’s because I was picturing it in my mind.  Just imagine having a mountain almost to ourselves.  It’s all powder and there aren’t trails.  We’ll just go where we go.”  I dried my hands and said, “Get off the toilet.  I have to go.”


Dana jumped up and saluted, “Yes, sir!”


I said, “Don’t be sarcastic.  I don’t take up your toilet when you have to go.  Why don’t you sit on Tom’s toilet?  I’ll be there in a minute.”


Dana stood up, took the washcloth I’d used and whapped the side of my head with it.  “Yes, Master.”


I snickered and did my business before going to Tom’s room where the door was now open.  Tom was still on the phone and Dana was flipping through brochures.  He looked pretty disinterested.


I sat on the floor with my back against Tom’s bed, and was falling asleep when he said, “It’s doable!  The hotel has a triple, a double and a single, and the cat place said no problem.  I said I’d try to call back tonight.  We probably have to ask Hector, right?”


I said, “For sure.  Let me call him.”


Hector picked up sounding kind of cheerful.  “I was about to call you, amigo.  We’re going to get something to eat.”


I asked, “You’re finished?”


“Yes, for tonight.  What do you need?”


“We want to go cat skiing.  Is it okay if we leave town for a couple of days?”


“Hold on.”


I could hear Hector talking and he was back very quickly.  “That’s good.  When do we leave?”


“How about Saturday after skiing?  Tom found rooms available, and there’s no problem with the cats.  We thought we could ski Sunday and Monday and come back here after skiing.”


Hector said, “Wait,” and talked to someone again.  He came back, “Can Tom find out if the rooms are available tomorrow night?  Then we can ski Saturday and Sunday and avoid the crowds here.  If you want to stay for Monday too, that’s fine.”


I said, “You’ll have to make the reservations.  They need a deposit or a credit card or something.”


“Ask Tom to come downstairs to the restaurant after he calls the place, and tell him to bring his notes.  I’ll call tonight.”


I said, “Okay.  It sounds like you really like this idea.”


“Don’t talk this up, Paul.  Just have Tom come down when he has the information.  You and Dana go to bed.  You need your rest.”


I looked at the phone and put it back to my ear.  “Okay, thanks.”


Hector closed the call, and I looked at Tom and Dana.  “Call the hotel back, Tom.  See if those rooms are available tomorrow night.  Are you guys up for cat skiing three days in a row?”


Dana’s eyes seemed to flash and his eyebrows went up.  “Really?  I’m ready!”


Tom said, “Me, too.  I need Hector to make the reservation, though.”


“He said to bring your notes down to the restaurant and he’ll do it from there.  It sounded like he really likes this idea.”


Dana and Tom grinned, but then Tom said, “Get lost, okay?  I’ll screw this up if you guys are staring at me and telling me what to say.”


I looked at Dana and said, “Boy, it’s nice to feel wanted.  Hector said we should go to bed, and I think I will.  I’ll see you guys in the morning.”


Dana stood and stretched.  “Good idea.”  He waved and said, “I’ll see you,” and went toward the door to his room.


I told Tom, “If you need me, I’ll be sleeping.”


Tom said, “Don’t worry about me.  The last thing I want is a nuclear explosion.”


I said, “I’ll give you a …” and the door closed behind me.


+ + + + + + + +


At breakfast I’d asked Hector about what went on the night before, and he said, “Oh, not a lot.  We just had some questions for Attorney Menendez.”  He picked up the napkin he’d been writing on and turned it to me.  It said ‘Shut up.  We’ll talk in the car’.  He crumpled it and put it in his pocket, and then told us to make sure we brought what we’d need with us.


Hector had told me to shut up many times, but never surreptitiously.  I was dying to learn what was going on, and wondered if our hasty departure from Santiago was more important as a good way to disappear from town for awhile than any great desire on his part to go cat skiing.


The back of the vehicle was again full of luggage.  We were anticipating a good day of skiing at La Parva, followed by a sleepy drive to San Esteban where our lodging was located.  That would be followed by three days of high-mountain thrill skiing, where we’d make our own tracks.  We’d carry avalanche beacons, and I couldn’t wait to tell my mother and Lisa that one.


We were still in Santiago traffic waiting for Hector to get off the phone call to his local headquarters.  He and Ovidio were both speaking in rapid-fire Spanish, and I couldn’t hear well enough to make out anything they were saying.


I was excited, and every time I grinned at Tom and Dana they were already grinning back at me.  I said, “We better start talking, or we’re gonna get lockjaw or something.”


Tom asked, “Are we there yet?” and I laughed even though I wondered the same thing.


Tom did pull out the map of La Parva and we all looked to see if we’d missed anything.  The answer was yes and no.  There was a small expert area off lift eight, but we didn’t want to get stuck on that relic.  There were several advanced trails off the lift we’d used the morning before, and a few short expert runs that we’d missed.  There was a lot more to the bowl where we’d finished the day, and I was determined to find turn seven to see what I’d missed there.


We were soon out of the city traffic.  Ovidio was off the phone and Hector sounded like he was winding up to a goodbye, and he did finally close the phone and turn to Ovidio.  I was getting itchy to know what was happening, and Hector seemed to sense that.  He looked over the seatback and said, “We’re going to stop for a coffee at the first place we find.  We can talk there, okay?”


I nodded while Ovidio said something to Marco who replied.  I didn’t hear either of them, but Ovidio looked back and said, “There’s a place very soon, only about five kilometers.”


That wasn’t far.  I sat back and closed my eyes, still wondering what was going on, but mostly envisioning the skiing that lay ahead.


I opened my eyes after a few minutes when we slowed dramatically, and took a sharp right turn.  If there was a sign I hadn’t seen it, but we were parking by a low log building with big, smoking iron boxes in front of it.  When the vehicle stopped, Hector opened his door and said, “Bring your coats.  It’s cold outside.”


Funnily enough, it wasn’t very cold on my side of the car, and I was comfortable in my layers of ski clothes.  Hector was a Florida boy, though, and thought anything under eighty was nippy and seventy-five was sweater weather.  We all followed Marco in through the door.  The inside of the place was the other side of the logs the place was built with, but it was attractive enough, with everything made of stained and polished wood.  It was a little smoky, and that was coming from some kind of stone and metal appliance in the middle of the room that people were cooking on.  The base was made of cemented stone about four feet high with sides of about five feet by eight feet.  The top was metal, and there were a few pots and kettles steaming on it.  A black metal pipe went up from one end and through the roof.


The place had little windows with pale green and yellow checked curtains, and looked for all the world like a lot of places in Vermont and Maine.  A waitress brought us coffee and Marco said something to her before she left.


We fixed our coffees the way we liked and turned to Hector.  He sipped his coffee and fanned his mouth.  I’d just done the same thing because the coffee was super hot.  Hector said, seeming nervous, “Let me tell you about last night.  After Paul and I left our meeting with the lawyer, we both spied Detective Silva near our meeting room.  I hurried back and caught the lawyer before he left.  I asked him questions about points of law in Chile and wrote him a note that told him to keep talking, because I suspected the room had a listening device … a bug.  When Ovidio came down I handed him a note with my suspicions and had him call his people from out on the street.  When the technicians arrived I introduced them to Menendez as another attorney we engaged to help, and a private investigator.


Hector chuckled, “We all kept up this banter about the incident in the restaurant while they looked for a device, and they found three.”


“Three?” Dana, Tom and I asked in unison.


Hector smiled, “Yes, one for each of you.  Just hear me out, will you?”


I picked up my coffee, thinking a burnt tongue would keep me quiet.


“I had Ovidio get in touch with Detective Fuentes, who you met at the ski shop.  He tried to feel him out about Silva.  Fuentes doesn’t know him other than by reputation, which sounded mediocre.  Ovidio described the bugs in the room and asked if they were the type the Santiago police use, and they are.  Ovidio revealed our concern about Silva, and told him about the incident in the restaurant.  He spoke of Silva’s sudden change of heart about who the victim really was, and that Silva had been seen in the area of Paul’s meeting with the attorney.”


I said, “Jesus.  Is that guy out to get me for some reason?”


Hector said, “I don’t know what he’s up to. Fuentes promised to ask around, and he must have done it right away.  He called Ovidio back and said Silva was using some vacation days to visit a sick friend.  His visit to our hotel wasn’t police-related.  We decided to mess with him a little, and when Menendez said he really had to leave we said good bye, and the rest of us made like we had a good thing with the room rented for the night.  We called the bar for a pitcher of beer and a deck of cards, and we played poker for an hour.  When we left I broke the lock on the door and we closed it behind us, with the light still on inside.”


I felt a smile on my face and asked, “You broke the lock?  Does that mean anyone could open the door or it’s sealed for eternity?”


Hector just smiled, his eyebrows up a bit.  “I thought it would be a good idea to keep Silva busy for a few hours so we could have a meal and get some sleep.”


I wheezed out a laugh and held my hand out, and shook with Hector.  “Silva must have been really pissed off.”


Ovidio said, “Video at eleven.”


My eyes went wide, “You’re serious?”


“Absolutely.  The hotel has cameras in all the corridors, and Detective Fuentes commandeered a copy of the video from that conference room when he learned that someone had tried to force the door last night.”


I sat back and laughed, and I laughed hard.  When I caught my breath I wheezed out, “That’s beautiful.  Silva must be freaked out!”


Ovidio nodded and said, “Right now we’re worried about Fernando Ramirez.”


I said, “Freddie.  What about him?”


“Silva released him, just let him go.  He doesn’t have that authority, and we’ve learned that Ramirez is one mean and vindictive criminal.  Fuentes is talking to his higher-ups about the situation, and time will tell if they’ll look for Freddie, but we have some people on it, and they’re very good.  It’s clear that Ramirez isn’t a skier, so you’ll be safe today, and when we leave it will be in a different vehicle.  We have rented the other rooms in your casa for the next three nights, and will have someone posted outside.  Arca Cats has provided us with their own background checks of their employees, and our staff will do a double check.”


This was hard to believe, and I asked, “Are you confident that I won’t be murdered?”


Hector warned, “Paul, cut it out.”


I said, “I just want to know.  Isn’t it a lot more likely that I’ll bang my head on one of these rocks, or fall off a mountain altogether than get killed by a guy named Freddie?  I have you guys.  Does he have an army or something?”


Ovidio looked at me and smiled sadly.  “Did you miss it when I said Freddie is vindictive?  People who cross Freddie have a knack for ending up dead, usually gruesomely dead.”   His gaze became even sadder, “Most have been youngsters even younger than you.”  I started to say something, but he held up his hand, “He will want to kill you, Paul.  Pin that to your brain and don’t lose the thought while you’re in Chile.  Promise me.  Promise Hector.  Promise your father.  Give me that much.”


I stared, and felt tears trying to form in my eyes at the thought of someone actually wanting me dead.  Then I thought of that dirty, fat blob and he didn’t have the right to want that.  He was in one of the dirtiest businesses in the world, prostituting women and girls, and luring or maybe forcing kids into posing for dirty pictures, or even films.  I didn’t exactly want him to be sentenced to a death penalty because I don’t think that’s right.  This guy needed to die on the same streets where he ruined innocent lives, the streets where he played God with other people’s lives.


Hector said, “You’re thinking hard, Paul.  This isn’t on you to resolve.  Let me put it this way.  If Ramirez comes after you it will be the last mistake he ever makes.  We’re out of town for four days, so just have some fun.  Nobody will get close to you kids even if they figure out where we are.”


I took a sip of my coffee and looked up, “Like a James Bond movie?”


Hector grinned and said, “Yeah, like that.”


+ + + + + + + +


We had a great day at La Parva.  No accidents, no hissy fits, just a lot of great skiing.  When we were done for the day and back in the car, which wasn’t the car at all, because this was a black Land Rover with tan leather everywhere, we were headed to the Arpa Cats and not Santiago.  It seemed exciting, but after I warned Marco that Land Rovers don’t always start I fell asleep. 


The road became rough and I was bounced awake a few times, and at one point Marco pulled off so we could relieve ourselves.  We appeared to be far from everything.  The only thing visible was white snow.  Everything else was black except for the car lights and a glow in the sky some distance away in the direction we were headed.


I asked Marco in Spanish, “How far do we have to go?”


He replied, “It is about thirty more kilometers to the town of Los Andes, and I will stop for petrol there.  After that, it will be about fifteen more minutes to the lodge.”


I said, “Gracias,” and he nodded curtly.  I walked away thinking he just wasn’t a friendly person.  It didn’t matter; he was hired to be our driver, not our friend.


I closed my eyes when we started moving, but before long I sensed that we were passing lights and looked out.  There were a few houses near the road now, and the lights were coming from the windows.  The houses were low-slung with steeply pitched roofs, and from what I could see they were more-or-less similar to one another.  After a while they were closer together, and were soon almost side-by-side.


It wasn’t long before we were in a town of some size, and Marco pulled into a gas station called Copec.  When we stopped at the pumps Marco didn’t get out of the car.  Instead, he opened his window when a guy in a colorful blue and white uniform hurried over.  Marco said, “Llena con prima.”  I worked that one around in my head, and it came out as fill it with premium.


The attendant nodded and asked if he should check the oil or wash the windshield and Marco told him to do both.


I was amused.  When I was little and we had the house on Cape Cod, the gas station there filled your tank for you, and they’d automatically clean the windshield, offer to check the oil, and check the tires if you wanted..  Even that little gas station replaced the people with pumps that took credit cards, and you could clean your own windshield.  You had to pay for air if you had a soft tire, too. 


I wondered when Chile would catch up, and kind of hoped never.


Marco gave the guy a credit card, and when the tank was full, the window clean, and when he’d signed the receipt he handed it back with a one thousand peso note.  He did that with a smile, and I saw it.


When we were back on the road I said, “Marco, Te vi sonreír.”


He stiffened, “Es imposible.”


Still in Spanish I said, “Now that I know that you know how, you should know this; before this trip is over I will make you smile in front of everyone, maybe even laugh.”


“That will never happen.”


I mumbled, “Veremos,” and we drove back into the blackness.  I hoped I wasn’t making an enemy with Marco.  I just wanted him to lighten up a little.


We were at our place soon enough and it was pretty from the outside, with orangey lights reflecting off the snow from outside fixtures and from the windows inside.  It was probably more impressive during the day, because the darkness took away from what looked to be rooms on either side of the entry that mirrored each other.


We left our things in the car and went to register.  The lady there couldn’t have been more gracious, and said the rest of our party had already arrived.  I didn’t know who that would be but I did remember Hector saying he’d booked the empty rooms.


We sat down while Hector produced our passports and his own documents, and kind of marveled that this place, built for Spanish royalty while much of what is now the U.S. was still claimed by Spain.  Everything was stone, stucco, and wood except the glass in the windows and the ancient tiles on the floor.  We sat by a big fireplace, and there was a tray with a bottle of wine and some glasses.


I didn’t hesitate.  I poured wine into a glass and handed it to Tommy, another for Dana, and one for me.  I held mine up and said, “I guess this is a toast to getting here, and getting away from … I don’t know what the hell what.  Whatever, let’s have some fun!”


I took a sip and the wine caught me off guard.  It was wonderful … special.  I hadn’t even looked at the label before, but when I did I saw that this was a Pinot Noir from the local area.  I looked at Tom and Dana and asked, “Do you like this as much as I do?”


Tom looked at his glass and said, “Yeah.  This is the good stuff, right?”


I said, “It is in my book.  I want the label from that bottle when it’s empty.”


Dana said, “It tastes like wine to me.  I like this one too, but what’s the difference?”


I said, “If you want the technical answer, set two days aside and ask my mother.  You already like it, that’s all you need to know.”


Dana took a sip, smiled and said, “Okay.”


With that settled, we polished off the bottle before Hector was done with the paperwork, and he came back with a couple of hotel workers to get our things to our room.  That’s when we learned that Hector would be skiing with us after all.  He’d been reminded that he was in Chile as my guard, and other resources could be engaged to handle peripheral matters.  We could have carried our bags, but the hotel people wouldn’t hear of it, so I went to the car and showed them which bags, and they led me back inside, where Dana and Tom followed us to our room.


We stopped inside the door and stared.  The room was like a mini-mansion with a huge main room with a big bed, and a somewhat less-huge room with two twin beds set along a wall kind of foot to foot.  The dressers and tables were ancient looking, yet the bathroom was very modern and sleek looking, like you might find in a modern condo.


Everything was spotless and, despite the size, cozy feeling.  The walls were stucco painted a yellowy-tan color, and the lights were on tables, so didn’t throw much light upward.  The light pretty much made me focus on eye level and below, and it was a pleasant place to be.


We didn’t have a lot of time to look around, because we all needed showers after skiing, and dinner was in the saloon in just half an hour.  Tom and I let Dana shower first because we agreed he was the smelliest, then Tom went and I followed.  It had been a long day, and we had skied hard before the drive, so we all needed it, and it felt great to be clean and mellow from drinking wine.


When we were ready we went back to find the saloon, still paying attention to the wonders of the building we were in.  It really was beautifully restored, and so completely different from my mother’s place in Boston.  They were both built around the same time, but with completely different approaches.  Where the British favored bricks and fancy woodwork, the Spaniards knew stucco over rocks and seemed partial to ornate ironwork.  Both styles appealed to me, and this place already felt like home, like I fit in.


The saloon was easy to find, and we had a table with white linen, heavy utensils and crystal glassware.  The fireplace was big, the fire bright, and it was sending out a lot of heat. 


There were just six tables, all designed for four people.  Men showed up to take some of the other tables, and finally Hector came in with Ovidio and Marco and took the table beside us.


It was clear right away that we would get what they served, not some menu choice.  A guy came and plunked a bottle of the same wine we’d had earlier on the table.  He pulled the foil and uncorked it and filled our glasses.


He had hardly left when another waiter brought us a plate of things that could have been some kind of chips, but maybe crackers.  If they were chips they were fat chips, and if they were crackers they were funny shaped ones.  With his other hand he delivered a bowl of I didn’t know what.  It looked a little like guacamole, but it was more white than green.


I scooped some up on a fat chip or thin cracker and flew right to the ceiling.  Good grief!  It was lemony, garlicky, hot, and was clearly made with avocado and mayonnaise, like guacamole on the wild side.  I took another big scoop and before I put it in my mouth I looked at Tom and Dana said, “Don’t just sit there.  You gotta try this!”


After they did, I was lucky when I got a chip anywhere near that bowl because there were always two hands in the way.


When the meal came, we each had a platter full of meats and sausages with rice, and a tomato cut in wedges.  The waiter announced that it was Parrillada, which meant nothing to me.  I asked, “Barbacoa?”




I looked at the Tom and Dana and said, “It’s barbecue.”


My plate looked very full, but it was good and disappeared easily enough, and the dessert and coffee that followed were wonderful.  I didn’t know what the dessert was called, but it was delicious and served hot.  It was some kind of crispy biscuit or bread soaked in a super-sweet brown sauce with pieces of orange mixed in.  I loved it and Dana loved it, while Tom had the look on his face that he got after inhaling a quart of Cheez-Whiz.  We polished off the wine with our coffee, and were ready for bed.


It had been a long day and we were weary, and sleepy from all the wine, which easily overwhelmed the strong coffee.  We stood and said goodnight to Hector, Ovidio and Marco.  I knew the men at the other tables were from Ovidio’s company, but he made no effort to introduce them so I didn’t ask.


We went to our room, let Tom use the big bed because he was the tallest, and didn’t last long other than to make a few wisecracks.


In the morning we went back to the saloon for breakfast, and could see there was some new snow outside, which was exciting.  While we were eating Ovidio came over and said, “I won’t be going with you today.  I have things to do here and there is no cell phone coverage on the mountain.  The people from Arpa Cats will be here at about nine to take you skiing, so have your things ready out front.  The kitchen is preparing box lunches for you, and they will be waiting at the desk.  You may as well charge up your phones unless you use them as cameras.”


I had questions to ask, but I swallowed them.  Let Ovidio and his band of dour-faced merry men do what they would.  I was excited about cat skiing and new snow, and I had almost an hour to kill.  I told Dana and Tom that I was going to sit in the lobby and call Lisa, and that’s what I did.


Lisa wasn’t committed to slave labor at eight-fifteen in the morning, and I did have a lot to tell her.  I tried to play the incident in the men’s room down, but it was hard to phrase my thoughts about Detective Silva in a way that would sound non-threatening.


“Are you in real trouble?”


“I don’t know.  The lawyer said not to worry, and Hector says not to worry so I don’t dwell on it.  We’re out of town for a few days now, but we’ll be back Monday night.  I don’t have to think about it till then.”  I thought to ask, “How’s everything there?”


“Busy, mostly.  We’re making tiles, and we all know our part so it’s easier.  My father thinks he’ll have to find a bigger place pretty soon because we can’t really keep up, but that takes money we don’t have.  Dad says he expected this, but we’ll need a good six months of sales like we have now to get a bank to even think about a loan.”


I said, “Screw that, Lisa.  Tell your father to call Dad or Bernie Sutton.  They can smooth the way, or even find investors so you don’t have to borrow.”


She said, “I don’t know.  Dad’s pretty proud and I think he wants to keep it close.”


“Even proud men ask for expert advice.  I don’t know what Dad or Bernie will say, but it can’t hurt to ask.  Did your father ever get his patent on his process?”


“Yes.  Yes he did, and that was on advice from Mr. Sutton.  I’ll suggest it when my mother is there, and she won’t let him forget to call.”


I snickered at that.  “Don’t go starting a family war.  I think your father knows what he’s doing.  What about that distribution thing?  Won’t those people cough up some money?”


“Daddy backed out of that.  He said those people wanted too much and didn’t really offer a lot in return.  Oh, I hope he can make this work.  He has his whole life in it right now.”


I said, “Have faith, Lisa.  Your dad is a smart guy, and if he wants to do this by himself he’ll find a way.”


She said, “I hope you’re right.”


“Lisa, my father started out teaching people how to use personal computers.  Your father makes something a lot of people will want.  He’ll make it happen.”


Lisa said, “I guess he will.  I’m sure he will.  I’ll just be glad when he can hire people and pay for air conditioning.”


“Your dad said the tiles can crack if they hit cold air right out of the kiln.”


Lisa sighed, “You’re right.  Can we talk about something else?”


“Only if you tell me you love me.”


The edge came off Lisa’s voice, “I do.  Oh, you know I do, and I’m afraid for you skiing those high mountains in a foreign place.  Now there’s a policeman trying to get you in trouble, and he released a criminal who wants to hurt you.  Why don’t you just come home?”


“The detective could keep me here, Lisa.  You know, I’ve been going places since I was little, and this is the first time anything bad ever happened.  It was Dana’s skis at first, then Tommy’s leg, and now me for assaulting a known criminal who intended to kill me.  I’ll have stories to tell for sure, but the skiing is great and the people are wonderful.  So is the food.  This trip is my birthday present, and Dana’s. Even when I’m old and senile, I’ll be remembering every minute of it.”


Lisa said, “I know all your grandparents.  I don’t think senility runs in your family.”


I smiled to myself and said, “They’re not old enough yet.  Don’t worry, they’ll be drooling and asking if you know where they left their pants before you know it.”


“Aaah!  You can be really awful sometimes.”


I said, “I try.  Do you think I’m getting better at it?”




“A simple yes or no would be easier for me to comprehend.”


“Okay, yes you are a master of impossibility, maybe even the master!”


I said, “That’s why I love you. I think I should get my things ready.  The car from the mountain should be here pretty soon.”


We made verbal love for a few minutes before we hung up.  I went back to the room and connected the phone to its charger and made sure I had what I needed for the camera.  I opened my boot bag and pulled my gloves out, and brought everything to the lobby, where I asked for my box lunch.  The guy there handed me a plain brown bag and said, “The vehicle from Arpa Cats just pulled in.”


I thanked him, put my lunch in the boot bag, pulled my coat and gloves on and went outside.  Our ride was a big, four-wheel-drive pickup with a four-door cab, and Marco was walking toward it with two sets of our skis and poles.  The driver was standing beside the truck.  He was a big man with an almost-beard and a wicked grin.  When he saw me coming he hurried over and took my bag, which he put up against the cab in the bed of the pickup.  While he was doing that he said, “My papers say four passengers.”


I said, “I’ll go in and find them,” but I shouldn’t have bothered.  Hector, Dana and Tom were at the desk getting their lunches,   I went back outside, and they followed.  Ovidio walked with Hector while they talked about something.


Marco had all the skis at the truck, and handed them to the driver, who didn’t do anything special with them.  He just laid them in the bed of the truck, took the other guys’ bags and said, “Let’s go.  He looked at Hector and said, “You sit in front.”


The truck started out, and the driver turned his head to ask, “Is this your first time cat skiing?”


We all mumbled the affirmative, and he said, “You picked a good day.  There are about twelve centimeters of new snow down here, but over twenty-five up top, and it’s been a snowy week already.”


I wondered about the guy, and almost asked if he could tell where he was going by looking at where he’d been.  We went through the village and onto a paved road, and eventually turned into what appeared to be a farm.  The guy had only looked forward a few times, and now we were bouncing around while he faced us and told us that we’d soon be through the vineyard and on the road to the mountain.  If the road through the vineyard was bad, the road that led uphill was worse, and seemed to consist of tire tracks, just two ruts.  There snow got deeper as we ascended, and the drop off on the left side looked steeper and steeper, yet he rarely looked ahead..


After what seemed like a lot of questions to satisfy his curiosity about us, he finally turned around and said, “Now we go up a steep hill and we’re there.”


He wasn’t kidding about steep, not to mention scary.  The drop-off on our left side had to go down a thousand feet or more, and there was no guard rail of any kind, just the same tire tracks.  They looked deep enough there that I thought the bottom of the truck had to be flattening the snow between them.


The ride took about forty-five minutes in all, and we stopped at the hut where we could put our boots on and stow our things.  They also sold coffee, bottled water, and various little snacks that would fit easily into pockets.  There were about twelve other people there, and most seemed friendly.  There were four youngish boarders from New Zealand, three Canadians, two French guys, a German traveling alone, and two Americans from California.  Except for the Canadians, who were staying in Los Andes and taking a day away from Portillo, they were all day-trippers up from Santiago.  We were the youngest by probably six to forty years.


We had to sit and sign forms giving Arpa Cats every right in the world to kill us, maim us, disfigure us, or simply lose us.  That would be our problem, not theirs, but they were friendly about it, and smiled brightly as they picked up the forms  We had a little fun when Dana and I named each other as next-of-kin, and Tom and Hector did the same and we put ‘location’ as right beside me.


We got our avalanche beacons, which looked more-or-less like remotes, and were shown how to activate and attach them.  When we were all ready we went outside to the cats, found our skis on the rack, and met the guides.  One raised his hand high and cried, “If you are expert or better, come with me.  Only come with me if you are willing to hike, and are able to safely ski a chute where there is no possibility of traversing and no run-out.  It is steep, fast, and you’ll have to quickly judge where to go between the rocks.”


The other guide raised his hand and said, “If you want a fun day, come with me.  Boarders must come with me.”


We lined up at the first guide, along with the two Californians and one Frenchman.  All of them were looking at us with that ‘these kids have a death wish’ expression, but they didn’t bitch to the guide.


Our guide said, “My name is Enrico, but please call me Eric.”  He looked specifically at us and said, “If anyone has second thoughts, you can easily catch the other group.  No?  We have to walk about fifteen minutes, but I promise that it’s worth it.  Let’s go.”


With skis over our shoulders and poles in our other hands, we followed him.  The air was thin, but not bad.  Everyone in the group, our guide included, stopped a few times to catch some air and scoop up a mouthful of snow, and the walk didn’t really feel like it took fifteen minutes.


When we got to where we were going, we were at the top of a precipice.  The mountain disappeared below us at an ungodly angle, but it looked like the thrill of a lifetime.  The guide said, “If this is too much, you can ski back beside our boot tracks and easily catch the others.  “No?  Please follow me the first time.”


Dana was closest to him, the French guy next, and he pointed at us in turn to establish the order we’d follow in.  I ended up last.


The guide skied off, and we all watched.  That first drop had to be some of the steepest skiable terrain in the world, and he went down checking his speed like crazy.  When Dana took off behind him he let off the best yell yet, kind of, “Waaah-hoo-hoo-hoo-eee!” and it faded as he descended.  He didn’t check his speed once until he was almost on top of the guide.


The Californian behind him said, “That kid is crazy.”


Hector corrected him, “No he’s not.  He just likes to go fast.  He’s a racer and has the skills to enjoy skiing like that.”


The man from France went down much like the instructor had, controlling his speed all the way, and skiing with great form.


The California guy who said Dana was crazy hesitated before he skied off, tried to check his speed right away, and caught an edge instead.  He slid about half the distance on his side before he managed to get a ski far enough into the snow to help him stop.


The guy he was with laughed, “Who’s crazy now, Billy?” and skied down with careful, technically correct perfection.


Tom was next, and he skied off a little to the right to avoid the Californians, but only checked his speed after he passed them.  Hector did the same thing, and when it was my turn the guys from California were both down, so I just went straight until I had to slow down or hit someone, but I skied past the guide to another precipice.  This wasn’t as steep as the first, but it was a narrow chute between rocks, and it appeared to end at rocks.


Eric slid over and everyone gathered around him.  He said, “You have to follow my line here.  It’s just a short section, but you can see the rocks you have to deal with.  You can’t see from here, but you can turn to the right just before the rocks, and there is another chute just beyond.  Don’t kill yourselves on the rocks, because that chute is my favorite part of the mountain.  It ends in a snowfield that you won’t believe, and we have first tracks this morning.  Stay to the right at the bottom and you’ll see the cats.  Questions?”


Nobody asked anything, and he skied off carefully, making an abrupt turn at the bottom of the little chute.  He disappeared from view, and Dana followed him, taking the sharp turn at the bottom with just the tip of his left ski in the snow.


The Californian who had been snide before said, “Did you see that?  That kid’s some kind of skier.”  He looked back and asked, “Where’s he from?  Up East, right?”


Tom said, “Vermont.”


The Frenchman again skied just like the guide, but with a classier style that I liked.  I figured I’d talk to him when I got a chance.


The Californian made it down okay, but couldn’t negotiate the turn and he fell.  Fortunately for him he fell uphill and didn’t hit the rocks.  The rest of us had to wait until he was out of the way, and we went down with no problem.  The guide and Dana weren’t there, but everyone else was.  I skied up to Tom and looked down on a skier’s dream.  Maybe a nightmare, but those are dreams, too.


I was looking at a long chute, maybe a quarter mile, and it ran between rocks that gave you possibly twenty feet in places, and only room for your feet in other places: heady stuff.  Everyone else was looking, so I took off.


It wasn’t bad once I got going.  The narrow spots were so narrow I had to lift my poles up to get through, but they weren’t long, and the wider spots were plenty big enough that I could take off some speed.  That was until I got to the final part of the chute that led to the snowfield.  It was good enough at the top, but narrowed down and stayed narrow, leaving me with only two to three feet of space on either side, and it became steeper as I went down.  Scary!  I was unable to control my increasing speed, and I was just feet away from jagged rocks on both sides.


I had really learned from Dana.  I dropped into a tuck and grinned, thinking the faster I went the sooner I’d be on safe snow.


I have no idea what my speed was when I exited that chute, but I ran directly into deep new snow that knocked me on my butt, and I sat there laughing.  What a thrill!


I was still snickering and getting to my feet when Hector skied up with Tommy right behind him.  I must have collected a lot of snow because they both started brushing it off me.  We were all laughing, so nobody asked anything, and when I got to my feet we made new tracks in a wonderful snowfield that was wide, steep, and easy.


We found Eric and Dana, both with coffees, waiting at the cat, and they were talking and laughing together.  The coffee smelled great and I went inside to get a cup for myself.


When I came back with it, I asked Dana, “Did you do the bottom of that last chute in a tuck?   I couldn’t think of what else to do.”


Dana pounded my shoulder and said, “That’s all you can do.  Did you shit can when you hit that powder?  I sure did.”


I laughed, “I don’t know how fast I was going, but that snow felt like a sand dune when I hit it.  I just went straight down.”


Dana looked at me and said, “If that’s what a dune feels like you did it right.  A tuck was the only safe way down that.”  He looked at Eric and said, “Right?”


Eric looked at us kind of meekly and said, “You have the cojones of tigers.  I was back on my skis trying to go slower.”  He looked around and said, “I think we’ve lost more of our group.”


He was right.  The only one still with us was the Frenchman, and he was smiling.  I asked, in what I hoped was good enough French, “Will you stay with us?  I love to watch you ski.”


“Really?  I learned in a different age, when style was everything.  I understand racing, but wedeln is such an easy thing to master, and works well on all terrain.  If you have to go fast it won’t work well, but if you are in moguls or just want to have fun, or do steeps like we just did, it’s a comfortable way to go.  The hill and the snow don’t matter, it becomes all the same.  You can do it on hard pack, in deep snow, crust, it doesn’t matter, and you hardly notice a difference.”


He grinned and said, “And always, at the bottom of the hill someone like you will ask someone like me how I did it, and we’ll have this same conversation.”


“So you could mail me instructions?  I want to learn wedeln.”


He smiled and held out his hand.  “My name is Paul.  You’re a good skier.  I can have you wedeln by the end of the day.  It’s not difficult.”


I said, “I’m Paul, too,” as I shook his hand.  “I’m with Dana, the fast one, Tom, the tall guy with red hair, and Hector.”


Paul grinned, “And Hector is the man who carried this mountain here just in time for us to ski on it?”


I laughed, “That’s him. Do you mind giving me a lesson?”


“Not at all, but not on that cliff we just came down.  I’ll ask Enrico to direct us to a good slope.  You might have trouble with those wide skis, but maybe not.”


I hadn’t noticed his skis, but they were more traditional, like Dana’s old Stratos.  That had to be part of the reason he looked so good, because he could keep his feet and knees really close together, which made him seem to be almost dancing down the mountain.  Just the side cut of my skis would keep my feet about five inches apart, and that would make the knees-together approach both painful and awkward looking.  I still wanted to understand the technique because it looked so comfortable and effortless.


When we approached Eric and Tom heard us, he said he wanted to learn wedeln too, and Hector was kind of bound to me.


Dana didn’t mind even a little bit. If we took off to learn wedeln, he could have his own private guide and learn an entire mountain.


We rode the cat back up, and Eric said we could follow the ski tracks down the way the others went, and gave us a hint to a back bowl that hadn’t been skied yet.


When they started climbing, Paul looked at us and asked, “Was the snowplow your first turn on skis?”


I translated for Hector and Tom, and they said yes.


I said, “In French, yes is ‘we’ phonetically, and spelled o-u-i.”


Hector said, “I know that, amigo.”


Tom said, “So do I.”


I smiled, “So say it.  We don’t have all day.”


I turned to Paul, who seemed to be enjoying this, and he said, “I can speak English.  Can we get on with this?”


I said, “Yes we can.  Dana and Hector, you behave.”


Paul smiled wryly.  “Thank you.  After you learned the snowplow turn, did you learn the stem christie, or simply the stem turn?”


Paul talked us through the learning progression, and convinced us that we already had the basics of wedeln, so it was a simple matter of putting it all together.  We followed him across the hill, doing first a snowplow turn, where you get knock-kneed, ski tips together and tails apart, and put weight on the right ski to make a left turn, and the opposite for a right turn.  Then we did a stem turn, where you did the same thing with the foot making the turn, but just took the weight off the other ski so all it had to do was follow.  Then you progressed to the parallel turn, where you did the same thing except you turned the following ski, still unweighted, along with the working ski so it would be a simple matter of shifting your weight to the other foot to turn the other way.


Usually when you’re skiing, you turn to change direction and you turn to check your speed.  You pick a line down the hill and ski it until you’re going too fast, have to avoid someone or something, or the trail heads off another way.


With wedeln, you turn all the time.  You go the speed of the slope you’re on, but you go straight down the fall line linking these quick turns.  The shifting of weight from one ski to another makes you look like you’re bouncing, and the knees-together, skis-together thing makes you, at least the bottom half of you, look almost like a dolphin when they dance up on the water.  The nice thing about it is that it’s effortless, just like the French Paul had said.


We all picked it up in no time, though our skis kept us from having anything like his form.


Going down the hill was a blast, and it was time to eat lunch when we reached the hut.  Paul had a lunch, and we had our own.  Hector got us all bottles of water and we talked while we ate.


I asked Paul, “What does ‘wedeln’ mean?”


Before he could swallow, Tom asked, “How do you spell that?  He leaned close to me and said, “Don’t you dare say t-h-a-t.  I mean wedeln.”


I asked, “How would you spell it?”


“Um, vaydeling … v-a-y-d-e-l-i-n-g.  Is that it?


I looked at Hector and said, “You want to try?”


He looked up, down, around, and back at me.  “I’ll go with Tommy’s spelling.”


I said, “It’s either German or Austrian.  It’s w-e-d-e-l-n.”  I turned to Paul and asked again, “What does it mean, exactly?”


He said mirthfully, “It’s a German word.  If any of you are gay, forgive me.  I mean no offense.  It translates specifically to wag your tail, and more generally to wiggle your ass.”


My last sip of water went directly out my nose, and if it hit anyone I’ll never know because I was blind with tears for two minutes.  Just in time, I heard Dana ski up and ask, “What’s so funny?” and that sent me into hysteria for another few minutes.


When I was back together, Dana had gone inside and was back with his lunch.


I said, “Dana,” and he looked up.  “Did you meet Paul?  He’s from France and he just taught us wedeln.  Someday when you want to look good on skis, I’ll show you how.”


Dana looked up and said, over a mouthful of sandwich, “Ook good?  I’nt care ut I ook ike.”  He swallowed and said, “I just want to win races.”


I put my chin against my hand and smiled, “You don’t get it.  You already know wedeln.  You do it all the time.  Tell him what it means, somebody.  He didn’t hear it.”


Hector said, “You better be the one to tell him, Paul.”


I shook my head, “I can’t.  He’s my brother.”


That set Tommy to laughing, and the other Paul finally said, “Tell him.”


Instead, I looked at Eric and asked, pointing at Dana, “Is he any good?”


Eric looked tired, and he pointed to Dana and asked, “Him?”


I said, “Yeah, that’s the one I mean.  He’s my brother.”


Eric eyed me and said, “You must know how good he is.  Dana is a world-class skier,”


I grinned, “Watch out what you say.  He’ll have to buy a new hat for tomorrow.  This one won’t fit his head anymore.”


Dana gave me a shove, and I asked Eric, “Are there trails we haven’t seen yet?”


He smiled, “You already made it down our Entrance Exam, so why don’t we relax in a huge bowl with fantastic views of Aconcagua?”


“Is it a long trail?” Dana asked.


“It can be very long if you like to traverse and look at scenery.  Not so much if you go straight down.”


Dana looked a bit disappointed, and Tom said, “Aconcagua’s the highest mountain in the Americas, Dana.  It’s worth a run just to see it, and we’ll have time for another.  Maybe you can take the Final Exam afterwards.”


Eric shook his head and said, “Oh, no.  We never use the word final around here, or any other word with the same meaning – bad karma you know.”


We chuckled at that, gathered up our trash, and brought it into the hut, which was probably a bad term.  It was more like a bunker, and I mentioned that to Tom.


He said, “I think it was probably built like this to make it avalanche-proof.  If you look at it from the outside, the back end is built right up to the mountain, and all the windows are in front where an avalanche would go over them.”


That made sense, and I took a look when we were back outside and it made perfect sense, except the structure didn’t look like it would survive a good kick from Hector.  When we were getting back on the cat to go uphill I said, “I wonder what it’s like if you’re in there with a coffee and an avalanche goes right over your head.”


The afternoon was really beautiful.  The sun was full, the sky deep blue with only a scattering of high up little clouds.  From the cat, we had an even longer hike to the bowl Eric told us about, but it was twenty-five minutes well invested.  The view of Aconcagua was spectacular, looking at the high peak from the narrowest angle.  It was kind of right there, too, across the valley from us.  Only

some high ridges on the mountain we were on obstructed a truly panoramic view.  The view of the summit, at just under twenty-three thousand feet, was what impressed, especially on such a clear and bright day.


I had the only camera because nobody wanted to risk their cell phone ‘just’ to take pictures.  We tried to get pictures of each other, but had to keep our goggles on to avoid the brightness of the sun on the snow, so we looked like a number of colorful bugs in the pictures.


After we ogled the scenery for too long, we took off.  Dana wanted to go straight down.  Eric and French Paul skied with him, and the rest of us traversed the top of the bowl, and zigged and zagged our way down in big, wide sweeps of the bowl.  We didn’t have the velocity to ski over the ridge back to the cat and only made it about halfway up.  We had to take our skis off and hike over.  When I had my skis off, I turned to look at the bowl from there.  I said, “Look at our tracks!”


They were perfect, like a precision ski team had cut them, with leaving pretty tracks the first and only thing on their minds.  I took the camera back out, but the light was fading.  It would be day for a few more hours, but we’d need a west-facing slope to see any more sun.


When Dana saw us coming over the ridge, he started jumping and waving both arms, and that alarmed me.  Something was wrong.  We got back into our skis and skied over, even though it was only about five hundred feet.


“What happened?”  I asked when I got to Dana.


“Nothing happened.  Get in the cat.  We can get to a hill that’s in the sun, but we have to hurry!”


I said, “Calm down.  I’m getting on the cat now.”


I did, and we all went.  The cat took us right over a ridge, and we were in the sun again.  The cat operator dropped us off, and Eric said we had to wait.  Meanwhile I looked down the hill and liked what I saw.  It looked like a big, wide cruising trail with changes in direction and pitch.  There were rock formations here and there, but nothing threatening that I could see.


After a while Dana asked Eric, “What are we waiting for?”


“We’re waiting for the cat’s horn to sound.  The driver is trying to find the longest run for us.”


He took a few steps back and said, “Listen.  You can see the tracks the cat leaves.  Stay well to the right of them, but keep them in view.  There is plenty of skiing here, and if a path looks safe, it is.  There are some steep drops; just be aware of that.  When you get to the cat, please don’t ski beyond it.  The vehicle will be parked where it is for a reason.”


We stood around restless for several more minutes and finally heard the faint sound of the cat’s horn from below.  Eric cried, “Do it to it!” and we were on our way.


Oh my God, this was the best hill I’d ever skied on.  It invited me to do everything I knew how to at one point or another.  I’d be wedeln, and see a jump somewhere and hit it from a tuck.  I was using the rocks like course markers, going around some in different directions, right between them sometimes, and using them as jumps when they had enough snow on them.  We weren’t skiing together really, but we were all whooping and hollering.


We had a good run, too.  It had to be almost two miles long, and when I saw the snow cat I headed over that way and found myself right behind Dana.  He went to do his signature tip-roll to stop, which I hadn’t seen him do all week, and he realized too late that these skis didn’t actually have tips.


It would have been his finest effort ever if he’d managed not to land flat on his face.  In a traditional tip-roll, you stop by planting your poles in front of you and using your momentum to bring the tails of the skis as close to vertical as you can, and spin around once, landing on your skis and giving a bright smile to your appreciative audience.


Dana got into it with some good speed, but without tips on his skis he looked kind of a child’s pinwheel going down.  I could swear he went around twice, and I saw the tops and bottoms of his skis flying by more than once, and then there was a soft ‘woomph’ sound and a grunt when he landed.


I aside, “You okay?”


His voice was muffled by ten inches of snow, but I heard him.  “No, I’m not okay.  I’m dead, alright?  Just leave me here.  I’ll crawl away and nobody will know.”


“I’m the only one here, Dana.”


His head lifted, but not quite out of the snow.  “Really?  Why didn’t you say so?  Help me up.”


I kicked off my skis and got Dana’s hand to help him up just when Tom skied in.  “What happened?”


“Nothing, Tom.  Dana fell asleep when we took so long.”


“Oh.  Need help?”


“Yeah, get his other hand.”


We got Dana to his feet, and for Tom’s benefit he yawned large and almost reeled forward again.  He yawned again and said, “Wow, tired!”


Tom seemed to buy it, but maybe he just pretended to.  We got our equipment into the cat, and sat in one of the remaining spots of sunlight until Paul showed up, followed shortly by Hector and Eric.  I looked at Hector and said, “Maybe you should take the bus next time.”


He came close and pointed at me.  “So sue me for stopping to take in the view.  Why is Dana all covered in snow?”


I said, “You could ask Dana.  I pointed to the left and said, “It looked like there was a good jump over there, but it was a drift.”


Dana and Tom snickered, because that one was pretty good, and Hector said, “I get the drift.  Let’s not hold these nice people up any longer.”


We checked to see that we had all our things before we climbed back in the cat, and it was a long ride.  We had to go up and over and back to the avalanche-proof resort lodge, say goodbye to Paul from France, and ride the pickup back to the inn.  The ride down in the gathering darkness was far more hair-raising than the ride up because it always seemed the driver was heading right to the ledge.  The switchbacks seemed sharper and steeper, and it was all narrowed to the field of view the headlights provided.  I couldn’t even remember the words to my Hail Mary.  She was full of something, but the word wouldn’t come to me.


I just closed my eyes, and that made things better.


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