Twenty minutes later, we arrived at our destination, high up in the mountains where the fluffy white powder exposed its remaining reflective power. Not more than ten minutes later, darkness settled in accompanied by a natural, yet mysterious silence.
“Sure is quiet here,” I reflected as we trudged through the snow, skis in-hand and Allison carrying a backpack. The warm yellow glow from atop the hill guided us to our destination.
“I think this should do it,” she said and dropped the backpack into a white blanket. She pulled out a lightweight pair of binoculars and peered at the house on the hill. “Let’s move closer, but first take a look and let me know what you think.”
I took a turn spying on the modern, cantilevered mansion made of dark wood and large stone blocks. The outside of the home was as quiet as a mouse, while the inside was warming up with guests and a cheerful atmosphere. I lowered the lenses and scanned ahead fifty feet.
“I think you’re right. Let’s move up to that tree.”
Allison picked up her bag and we climbed twenty yards up the hill.
“Must be nice to have a ski slope as your backyard,” Allison said. “Check and see if you can see our guest of honor.”
I scanned the first floor again and noticed the crowd had grown. I could almost hear the classical music as I skirted my eyes from person to person, the men dressed in tuxedos and the women in elegant gowns. Then something distinctive caught my attention away from the crowd. On the second floor, a shadowy figure moved within an expansive and otherwise dark room that was momentarily lit when the door opened. The figure closed the door just as quickly and moved to the far end of the room.
“I think our man’s in action already.”
“Wow, talk about crashing the party early. What’s he doing?”
“Examining the wall ... and removing a painting.”
“He’s stealing a painting?”
“Nope, he’s got his ear pressed to the wall and ... it’s a safe. Now he’s placing a small device next to it … he’s in!”
“Good, let’s hope the manuscript’s in there.”
Crimson rearranged a few items hidden inside until a slight grin surfaced and he removed an aged, leather-bound book.
“I think he’s got it,” I said. After a few seconds, Allison asked what the holdup was. “He’s leafing through the manuscript ... it looks like he’s reading passages spread throughout the book.”
“That’s weird … wait, a light just appeared.”
“It must’ve been the door. Who is it?”
She was right. Another figure emerged from the doorway. Crimson glanced at his foe, snapped the manuscript shut and tucked it in his bag, which was strapped across his shoulder and chest.
“It’s Dimitri, isn’t it?” Allison asked, the disappointment evident.
“And he’s reaching into his jacket…”
However, before Dimitri could retrieve what I presumed was a gun, Crimson charged and delivered a front kick to his mid-section, pinning Dimitri’s forearm to his stomach.
Dimitri, undeterred and most likely used to this sort of dance, punched Crimson in the neck just as Crimson’s blow to Dimitri’s ear connected. The two men staggered back and reassessed.
Dimitri acted first and again reached into his jacket believing the distance between the two would give him enough time to finish the job this time. However, Crimson simultaneously stepped forward and grabbed the ornamental vase resting on a nearby table. He then struck Dimitri across the head and watched the man drop, dazed and confused.
Crimson didn’t waste any time and darted out of the large, double doors, slid across the patio slickened by a layer of ice and nearly doubled over the stone railing. He caught himself, though and with a calculated thrust, leaped over the railing and landed in a deep snow bank at the top of the ski hill.
Crimson, obviously having thought tonight’s job through, locked his feet into the snowboard resting against the patio wall. I glanced back to the second floor and saw Dimitri falling from the terrace, his snowboard waiting as well.
“Here they come,” I exclaimed, my heart racing as if I were the one being chased. “Get into your skis.” For some reason, we didn’t have snowboards, rather short skis that were apparently becoming the rage in these times. They had an electronic gizmo embedded near the heel that generated a short boost of momentum to help the skier get started. Allison had also explained that it was a way to combine downhill and cross-country skiing without having to have two separate types of skis.
“I can hear them, but I can’t see them,” Allison said as I struggled to secure my right foot into the ski. “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know. I can’t get my foot locked in.”
I pushed down hard with another attempt, but that only sent my ski sliding several feet into the main ski path. I instinctively rushed to get it but fell over, having been tripped up by the other ski that was in place. Just then I heard the swooshing sound of an oncoming skier that sounded like a large vibrating belt whipping back and forth. Another snap of the whip and a shadowy figure appeared ... and crashed right into me.
The force of impact was strong and we tumbled over several times with me taking the brunt of the impact. As we rolled, the oddest sensation poured through my body like water flowing through a strainer. The tingling and tunnel vision that usually accompanied this sensation accelerated its cycle at warp speed. Fortunately, as had been happening lately, I didn’t pass out. Instead, I was suddenly aware of another presence, but this presence wasn’t outside, it was happening inside my body and felt as if I were living two lives at the same time or occupying two bodies concurrently with another consciousness crystal clear in my mind.
We stopped rolling and by the look on his face, I figured the same thing had happened to Crimson as we exchanged odd glances for several seconds. Unfortunately, the swooshing snake announced its impending presence and Crimson, well aware of Dimitri’s intent, hopped up and pushed off down the hill.
I grabbed my skis and crawled back toward Allison. A moment later, Dimitri’s ghostly shadow flew by, apparently unaware of our presence. His goal was Crimson and he was steadily closing the gap thanks to our enlightening little brush up.
“Are you okay?” she asked sincerely and quickly followed with, “What happened? Did the trigger-effect work?”
I half-heard her, still trying to digest what had just happened between Crimson and me.
Allison, in no mood for my elusive behavior, snapped, “Come on, we have to help Crimson before that maniac kills him. We need to get the theory one way or another.”
“One way or another … what does that mean?”
“It means we have to stop Dimitri and question Crimson, if it comes down to it; that is, unless something revealed itself to you during that collision?”
Strange, I thought, as a flood of cryptic information washed into my brain like a dam being broken. It was as though a large and unique puzzle, specifically designed for me, was being haphazardly clipped together. However, as this was happening, the double occupancy that had so overwhelmed me a few minutes ago, gradually began to fade like a distinct snowflake shifting in the wind.
“Allison,” I said calmly, grabbing her arm gently, “the wormhole theory is tucked inside the Austen manuscript.”
“What do you mean?”
“I can’t explain. I just know.”
“It must be. Anyway, I think I know the formula ... or at least a key part of it. That must explain why he was flipping through the book up there – why it looked like he was reading it.”
“Are you sure, Trenton?”
“Absolutely. It’s like it’s a part of me.” Things were becoming clearer now. “Yes, that’s it – Crimson had hidden the formula for the theory in the manuscript by using a coded system of letters, numbers and pages. He needed to work it out later and figured that was the safest place for it. However, he never anticipated it being stolen.”
“I hate to say it, Allison, but we no longer need Crimson.”
“But we have to help him.”
“We should let it play out the way it was intended without interfering.”
“No, Trenton. You’ve already interfered by getting run over by him. For all we know, that could’ve changed the way things originally worked out.”
“Good point,” I said, reluctantly.
“Come on,” she encouraged, standing up, “he needs our help.”
We pushed off in tandem and streamed down the hillside, focusing on the two silhouetted figures in the distance entangled in a downhill death roll with their ski poles being used as weapons. Their constant jockeying allowed us to close the gap. I tried to think of a plan, but only one came to mind.
“I’ll tackle Dimitri,” I shouted to Allison, who nodded.
Our speed was intensifying at an alarming rate and I wondered if my electronic momentum gizmo was malfunctioning because I wasn’t sure I would be able to stop on my own. Fifty feet away, I readied myself into a crouching position, but was unprepared for what happened next. Entangled in battle like two great rams locking horns, Crimson and Dimitri disappeared and completely fell off the radar.
“Trenton, it’s a cliff,” Allison shouted.
I turned to my left and dropped to the ground, my second act at tumbling that night in full display. When I finally stopped, I immediately scanned the hill above for Allison and breathed a sigh of relief as she slowly made her way toward me.
“What happened?” I asked, fearing for the worst.
“They both went off the side of that hill and disappeared. I don’t know how far the drop is, but if that’s a cliff, they’re probably dead.”
“Wow, am I glad you yelled,” I said, but noticed Allison was distraught at the notion of Crimson having met fate’s end in so dramatic a way and so early in life.”
“Maybe that explains why he never finished the theory and why we don’t know much about him.”
“Maybe, but on top of that, the theory is down there with him. We should probably go and get it.”
Before I could respond, another swooshing sound grabbed our attention from up the hill. This time, a blanket of snow sprayed over us accompanied by another shadowy figure. We wiped the slush from our eyes as the figure inched closer…
“Matt!” I exclaimed.