We drove up the snowy, winding road towards the cozy A-frame cabin. It pained me, but I had to admit it looked nice. I let Val do the reservation this time and I wasn't sure it would work out since she has a record of dropping the ball.
She brought the black 2018 Ford to a stop and shut it off.
"See, I told you to trust me. It looks cute," she said getting out of the car. She didn't see my sneer as I did the same.
"Huh, that's weird," she said, "it doesn't look like anyone is here." Her breath fogged up the air. "The guy said he would meet us here to let us in."
"Maybe he's just running late," I suggested.
"Could be," she replied, glancing at her watch. 2:15.
"What time did he say he would be here?" I asked.
"He told me to let him know when we got into town and he would head over. That was 3o minutes ago and he said he is only 10 minutes away."
I looked around the property. The snow had blanketed the road and was still falling. The only tire tracks were the ones behind and leading up to our car. It had been snowing pretty lightly for some time, so a car that had driven by in the last half hour would definitely have left marks and they would not have been covered up yet. The driveway was untouched as well. There were no footprints on the ground or the steps leading up to the front door. There was what looked to be a snow blower and other yard equipment under a tarp to the side of the house. There was a fine layer of snow on top of it, but much less thick than everywhere else. The tarp lifted lightly in the wind and I saw some snow blow off of it into a pile. The only sign of human activity were the shouts coming from the ski lift that passed just over the road a few hundred feet back. From all I could tell, there had been nobody near the property all day.
Just then, I heard the crunch of an approaching car's tires on the road. A large, red Chevy chugged its way up the road and parked behind us, its exhaust creating a plume of smoke behind it.
"This must be him," Val said.
From the shroud a small woman emerged. She had thick glasses and was wearing a red scarf and matching hat. She had her checkered coat pulled up tight around her face and neck.
"Um, hi," said Val, "I'm confused. are you...Gene?"
"Gene? Ha! No, I'm Maureen," laughed the woman.
Val gave me a confused stare. "Ok, but I spoke with a Gene about renting this cabin. I confirmed with him via email and just spoke to him a few minutes ago that we were on our way. He was supposed to meet us here to give us the key and let us in."
"Yeah, no. He won't be coming," Maureen said. She started making her way towards the house and fidgeted with the key in her pocket, "but I'll let you in."
We followed her up the driveway and carefully over the snow-filled steps. She fiddled with the lock and finally threw the door open. "Watch your step," she said leading us in.
She flicked on the light and we were greeted by a cozy little living room.
"This is the living room. To your left is the bathroom. To the right is the door to the kitchen. In front of that are the stairs that lead up to the loft on the second floor. There's also a second tiny bathroom up there. The loft has a queen bed but the couch down here also unfolds into a full size, so it's up to you where you wanna sleep," Maureen explained. She unhooked two keys from her keyring and placed them on a little table to the right of the door. "These are your keys. When you leave you can just leave them on this same little table. If you have any questions you can call the number here," she pointed to a paper on the wall, "as well as any of the emergency services listed, if necessary. Unless you have any questions, I'll leave you two be."
I looked at Val and she looked back. I had plenty of questions, but perhaps this wasn't the time. "No, I think we're good. Thank you very much," I said.
"Alrighty, then. Thank you for choosing us. And enjoy your time in Beaver Springs," Maureen said as she stepped out and closed the door behind her. I watched her from the window as she struggled back across the snow and into her car. Once she pulled away Val asked me, "So what was that all about?"
"I don't know."
"Do you think something happened to Gene?"
"It's possible. But, whatever. We're here now, so let's just enjoy this vacation."
Val shrugged her shoulders and made her way to the stairs. "I wanna check out the loft," she said.
"Ok, I'll join you in a second, I hope they have some snacks in the kitchen. I'm starving."
I made my way to the kitchen and headed for the cabinets. I heard Val's footsteps up the stairs behind me, followed swiftly by a terrible scream. My heart skipped a beat and I turned to leave the kitchen. Val came rushing down the stairs.
"What is it?" I asked.
She sat down on the bottom step panting. "It's - a -" she struggled to speak between breaths, "You just - need to - to - see it."
I helped her to her feet and slowly made my way up the stairs. Midway, I turned to look back at Val and she nodded me on. I took a deep breath and continued. At the top was a nice large triangular window overlooking the back deck and snow covered woods beyond. On the opposite side of the room was the same type of window overlooking the street and in the distance the small town at the bottom of the ridge. The ski lifts were just visible over the crest of the hill. The carpet was a dark green with flecks of red throughout and the overhead lights were off, having not yet been turned on. The only light was that which was provided by the big open windows and reflection of the snow. In the center of the room was a queen bed with nicely pressed blankets. Instantly, I realized what had caused Val to scream. It was a ghastly sight.
"How - how long do you think he's been there?" I stuttered.
"I don't know," she replied in a shuttered whisper.
"Do you think it's Gene?" I asked.
"I have no idea. I've never met the guy. I don't know what he looks like."
I tried to take it all in. The body was laid perfectly centered on the bed. It's white, wiry hair drooping fragilely around it's head. It was dressed in a patterned brown vest, brown slacks, and loafers, the snow still dripping off its soles. I wouldn't have even been confident that it was dead were it not for the gash on its head and the pool of blood slowly oozing into the comforter.
"What do we do?" asked Val.
"I don't know," I said, "but I suppose we should start by calling Maureen."
Val nodded her agreement and we headed back down stairs. Val called the number that was listed on the wall and we waited. The phone rang for what felt like several minutes. Finally, a robotic voice came on and said, "Sorry, the number you are trying to reach is not valid or has been disconnected. Please try again," followed by a loud beep. Val hung up the phone, mouth hanging open.
"I suppose it'll be the police, then," I said.
Val dialed the number listed. We waited. Finally a man's voice answered. "Hello?" it said.
"Hi," answered Val, "we are um, calling to report a death. A - a crime, I think. A murder."
"Ok, ok toots, slow down. Give me the details," said the voice.
"We just arrived. We are renting this property for the weekend. We don't know how it got here. It's upstairs in the bed.We just went up there to look and he was lying there."
"Ok, hold on, hold on. Where are you?"
"I don't remember the address. We are renting it for the weekend. We just -"
The voice cut her off. "Are you in the cabin? At the top of the hill?"
There was a loud shuffle on the other end of the phone and some muffled voices. Eventually, the voice returned, "Hey, uh, sorry about that, but we can't help you." There was an abrupt click.
"What do we do now?" Val asked.
Giving the only answer I could think of, "I guess we take it into our own hands."
I went back up the stairs with Val following swiftly behind. "What are you going to do?" she inquired.
"First thing is, I'll check him for ID. Maybe that'll help get us somewhere."
I searched the body until I found a wallet in his right pocket. I opened it up to reveal only a few cards. One was an expired Fountain of Food card, another was a punch card for a local ice cream store and the last was a credit card. Engraved in fading silver letters was the name Eugene A. Lister. I turned to Val and showed her the card. "I think we found your friend."
She read the card and let out a series of shuttering gasps. "But how did he - we just - and I - "
Looking back at the body I tried to find clues as to what happened. He was obviously hit over the head, hence the large gash in his skull. But how? There was no blood anywhere else in the house which means it must have happened here.
The thing was, there were no footprints outside. Maybe that meant he had been inside the house since before it started snowing this morning. But, he talked to Val less than an hour ago when we got into town and said he would head over with the key.
I noticed his shoes again. They were still wet with snow, the ice starting to melt and drip to the floor.
"That's fresh snow," I pointed out to Val, "there's no way that this could be several hours old. It is pretty warm in here so that snow would be melting quick." I stopped as the bitter reality hit me. "That means he must have been killed and brought up here only minutes before we arrived."
I heard the thud as Val's ass hit the ground. "It can't be," she stammered, "It's not possible. I spoke to him in the car. Plus there was nobody here when we got here. And no footprints." She swallowed as she calculated everything. "Maureen pulled up in a car from down the road, so she was obviously not here either."
My mind was racing. What were we to do? How were we supposed to enjoy a vacation with a dead body in our cabin? And how did it get here?
"Val," I asked gently, "I know you were really looking forward to staying here. But, is there anywhere else you might enjoy as well?"
"What are you saying?"
"I'm just suggesting that maybe we don't stay here."
"But we paid a lot of money. And it's non-refundable. So now we are just going to blow more money on a hotel?"
"Considering the alternative?" I shrugged my shoulders and indicated the room with my hand, "I'm not so comfortable staying for a weekend with a dead body in the house. There's no way I'm sleeping tonight. Plus, the number she gave us is not working and the police seem to have no interest in helping us."
She began to nod with understanding. "No, no, I suppose you're right," she said, "it's probably best to go. It just sucks that we can't even contact her. Like what the hell? I guess we'll just have to eat that deposit."
I nodded my agreement and we made our way back down the stairs. We placed the keys on the table by the door, locked it behind us and left. We sloshed our way back to the car and Val pulled up a map on her phone. We found a little place nearby and booked a reservation. As we pulled away, I noticed that the snow was coming down harder and our footprints were nearly erased already.
Maureen sipped her coffee. "Another fine day," she said to the man next to her at the table, "you ready?"
"Ready as I'll ever be," he said, standing up.
"They'll be here a little after 2 so make sure you're done by then."
"I will. Please, I've done this a million times. No need to worry." The man stepped out into the cold winter air. The snow was just starting to come down. He knew it would start accumulating soon. The weather report predicted 3-4 inches. Not that it mattered to him anyway, because he could do it even without snow.
He made his way to the edge of the resort and waited in line for the ski lift. Once a seat came around he hopped on, but left the bar open. The lift passed it's way over the town below and eventually into the trees. After a few moments a road slowly came up from below him. He waited for the opportune moment then quickly jumped out, being careful to land on the pad just beyond the grove of trees on the far side of the road. He hopped off the pad and into the snow below, checking to make sure he left no traces of impact or footprints visible from the road behind him. Flawless as usual, he thought.
He made his way through the thickly packed grove of trees until he came upon the cabin. He checked his watch. 1:30. Plenty of time.
He walked over to a tarp on the side of the house and threw it open. Underneath was a snow blower, snow shovels, salt, and a few more pieces of large machinery. However, he located the large crate and removed a bottle of red liquid from it. He replaced the tarp and made his way over to the cabin door. He knocked and a few seconds later a small man answered, his wiry, grey hair flowing down past his ears.
"Calvin, hey kiddo. Nice of you to drop by," he said, then after a moment, "Haha, just kidding. Come on, let's do this." He handed Calvin a pair of brown loafers that were then placed in the snow.
Calvin removed his boots, grabbed the loafers, and stepped inside. He followed the man up the stairs. As he did, the old man spoke, "Oh, my old bones can't handle this like they used to. I may have to give this up soon. Plus we've been real busy this year, so I'm getting a good workout." The older man made his way onto the large bed in the middle of the room and laid down in the center. "What do you think? Should I retire from this? Move on to bigger and better things?" Calvin shrugged. The old man continued. "Can you believe I've been running this operation for 10 years already? 10! Haha! Maybe it is time to hang up the skates, as they say."
Calvin shrugged again as he helped the old man adjust the adhesive material on his head, then carefully placed the loafers on his feet.
"Ok, hit me," the old man said as he laid down. Calvin opened the jar of red liquid and poured a liberal amount over the man's face and head. He made sure to pour enough for it to start dripping onto the comforter.
"How does it look?" the old man asked.
"Perfect,"said Calvin, "I'll finish up and head back. They should be here any minute."
With that, Calvin headed back down the stairs. He put his boots back on and locked the door behind him. He made his way back over to the tarp. He removed it once again and placed the half empty jug back in the crate with the rest.
He then pulled out a large fan attached to a tank filled with a mixture of water and other chemicals. The Beaver Springs Ski Resort label was faded almost beyond legibility. He turned it on and in seconds, clouds of artificial snow began to rain down around him. He rolled the fan out and blasted it onto the steps and along his path to cover his tracks. When he was sufficiently satisfied, he turned the fan off and returned it to its place. He replaced the tarp and sprinkled a small amount of snow on top of it.
He trekked back through the grove of trees, dragging his opposite foot behind him as he did so to expertly cover his tracks. With the snow coming down, no one will know the difference in a few minutes, he knew.
He got back to the small clearing housing his landing pad and makeshift tower. He climbed the ladder and waited in a crouched position on top until the next empty ski lift passed by. Once he located it, he waited for the right moment then jumped in the air, grabbing onto it with his hands and pulling himself up. He adjusted himself in the seat and looked down to the snow covered trees below. He craned his neck behind him and saw the headlights of a black 2018 Ford making its way up the road.