The bus skidded across the parking lot, wheels sliding sideways on the ice-coated blacktop. Inside the metal and glass leviathan, I braced an arm against the seat in front of me. The driver pumped the brakes, once, twice, the tires found a dry patch of ground, and we thumped to a stop against a snow-covered curb.
The passengers erupted with a cheer – and the driver, bald scalp flushed a bright red, pressed a button and his nasal voice filled the cabin.
“Last stop, Alpine Valley - ten inches of fresh snow!”
Next to me, Jimmy started a staccato chant, “Par-ty, par-ty, par-ty,” and every college buddy and co-ed on the bus joined him, rattling the glass and rocking the cabin.
Smiling, I rubbed a palm against the fogged window, clearing it for a better view.
Vanilla coated evergreens, A-shaped chalets, gleaming rivers of white rising sinuously through tree-lined slopes to meet the violet sky.
“Hey Jimmy,” I said, turning in my seat. “Check out the view.”
Jimmy’s eyes were focused across the aisle, concentrating on the curvaceous bottom of a ski-bunny bending to retrieve a carry-on.
“Already am, Ricky,” he said. “Already am.”
Skis and poles in one hand, bindings and traveling bags in the other, I fumbled with the lock to our room. “A little help?” I asked, raising my eyebrows.
Jimmy sighed, plucked the key from my fingers and opened the door. “That wasn’t so hard,” he said, curling his lower lip.
Single bag in hand, he shoved ahead of me and plopped onto the lone bed. “Ya know,” he said, patting the mattress, “if I get lucky, you’ll have to find another place to...”
Shaking my head, I set my skis and bindings against the wall and tossed my bag into a corner. I aimed a blue and green striped ski pole at his small carry-on. “That all you brought?”
Two rows of tiny teeth appeared in his pasty, round face. “Don’t need much for this hunting trip.”
I tilted my head and narrowed my eyes. “Hunting trip?”
“Think about it,” he said. “You’re here because you’re hunting for white powder and fast slopes. Me, Jimmy Bertucci, I’ve got other game in mind – and I’ve brought what I need to catch it. . . Camouflage . . .”
He touched his cashmere ski sweater.
“Bait. . . ”
Digging into his pocket, he produced a wad of greenbacks an inch thick.
“And, protection. . . “
He unzipped his overnight bag and retrieved a small, flat packet. Behind translucent cellophane, a thin rubber sheath floated in an oily liquid.
“. . . because if things go right,” he said, “I’ll end up in close contact with my quarry.”
I shook my head and covered my face with my hand. I knew I should’ve worked though winter break.
Grabbing the ski pole, he said. “Rent yourself another, I need this.”
“What for?” I said, my voice rising. “You’re obviously not here to ski.”
Jimmy slowly displayed a mouthful of teeth. “For the hunt, Ricky, for the hunt.”
Finishing my last run, I pushed gently with my poles and glided toward a crowd buzzing at the bottom of the hill. Inching next to a red-bearded skier in a down vest, I craned my neck to see what the fuss was about.
“Some goof buried a pole in the snow,” said red beard. “Woman hit it.”
Before I could ask how she was, the crowd parted – and my body went numb.
A pasty, barrel-chested figure emerged, cradling a dark-haired, delicate-faced woman in his arms.
He jostled a skier as he walked and the woman tightened her arms around his neck and quietly moaned.
“Don’t worry darlin’,” he said in a stage whisper. “I’m gonna take good care of that ankle – and you.”
He glared at the crowd. “Outta my way,” he shouted. “Got an emergency to handle.”
She buried her face in his chest and he swaggered down a path toward the first-aid building.
When the crowd dispersed and the sounds of excitement subsided, I glided over to inspect the cause of the accident, cracked and buried in the packed snow.
Kneeing next to it, I pulled off a glove and used two fingers to clear away the ice.
Blue and green stripes.
The tip curled and looped, bleeding large red letters onto white plaster:
Eulalia - what a break the day I met you! Jimmy
Jimmy capped the felt marker and his eyes wandered from Eulalia’s ankle cast to her shapely calf. A pair of tight blue jeans, right leg fabric cut-off to accommodate her injury, concealed the rest of her well-formed curves. Two crutches lay on the floor in front of her.
“Isn’t he something,” she said, snuggling closer to Jimmy on the overstuffed sofa and gently placing her head on his shoulder. Behind them, the lodge fire sputtered and crackled and flannel-shirted waiters hurriedly delivered libations to the evening’s party guests.
“Yeah, something. . .” I said, sinking into my chair and swigging a glass of wine to keep from elaborating.
“Right there when I fell – like he knew it was going to happen - then gets my meds and waits on me the whole weekend. Doesn’t even bother to ski. I would’ve gone home if not for him.”
“You wouldn’t have broken your leg if not for. . . ” I started to say, but Jimmy shouted, “Waiter!” before I could finish.
“A bottle of your best red,” he ordered. “And keep it coming. It’s our last day here – and I mean to make it very, very special.”
The red arrived, Jimmy peeled greenbacks from his wad, and the party grew louder. Feeling guilty about almost ratting on him, then drinking his wine, I kept my mouth shut.
He filled Eulalia’s glass to the rim, then reached into his pocket and retrieved a prescription bottle.
“Time for pain meds,” he said, smiling. “Want to get you through the night feeling good.”
“Me too,” she said, running a tapered finger along Jimmy’s arm from his shoulder to his wrist, then resting her hand lightly on his. “A certain hero needs rewarding. . .”
She popped the pill into her mouth and chased it with a glass of red. Jimmy’s hand quivered excitedly as he replenished her drink. His eyes caressed her curves.
Finishing another glass, she placed a hand on Jimmy’s knee and squeezed. “Almost time . . .” she said, ivory skin flushed, voice husky.
Jimmy wrapped a sweaty hand around the neck of the bottle and tilted it toward her. “One last drink,” he said, “then nappy time for Eulalia. . . and Jimmy.”
He stared at me and narrowed his eyes. “Get lost,” he mouthed so only I could see.
My lips tightened, forming a gash in my face. This had gone far enough. Drinks and snuggling were one thing – but he had manipulated this girl – and me – long enough.
Pressing her lips to her glass, Eulalia drained the last of the wine.
“Listen,” I said, leaning toward her, “there’s something you should know. . .”
Jimmy’s eyes widened. He rapidly shook his head at me. Grabbing Eulalia’s arm, he yanked her toward him on the couch. “C’mon,” he said. “Enough talk, time to go.”
Grabbing her other arm, I tugged her toward me.
“Wait. . .” I began.
Her face blanched.
I stopped. Her skin had turned an odd shade of greenish-grey. Droplets of perspiration formed on her upper lip and forehead. She gagged, swallowed hard. I released my grasp and Jimmy pulled her into his arms.
She covered her mouth with her hand. Her body shuddered.
“Ohhhh,” she moaned, “I don’t feel...the wine . . .the pills... think I’m gonna...”
She clutched her stomach.
Jimmy tried to push her away, but she grabbed his sweater in both hands and doubled over. Her body heaved. Like chunky vegetable soup bursting from a fire hose, the contents of her stomach spewed from her mouth, drenching his pants, his camouflage - and his hunting plans - in dripping, stinking slime.
Her stomach emptied, she released her grip, retrieved her crutches and hobbled from the room.
Using his thumbs and index fingers, Jimmy plucked his sodden sweater away from his chest and pink and brown gunk oozed onto the couch.
“This mean she’s not gonna sleep with me?” he asked
The bus lurched from the curb and the snow covered hills dwindled in the back window. Jimmy sat next to me, double chin in his hand.
“Heard anything from her?” I asked.
He shook his head. There was a long pause. “You know,” he said looking at the seat in front of him, “I learned something this trip.”
“You mean that scheming doesn’t work - and you should treat woman with sincerity and respect?”
He rolled his eyes. “What – are you nuts? No, goofball, I learned that next time I’ll try marijuana instead of wine. Marijuana don’t make you puke.”