The Money Masquerade

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Chapter 15


Squaw Valley Ski Resort, California

Late-February 2020

ANNA

The view from the mountaintop is breathtaking. A pink mist settles over the snow-capped peaks, granite rock, and powdery trees. The majestic blue Lake Tahoe shines in the center.

“Cotton Candy clouds!” I exclaim. My voice seems to echo in the valley, bouncing off the ridge to the east and then to the west.

“We live in a beautiful world,” Caryssa says, smiling in the sunshine. Blonde strands of hair peek out from underneath her helmet, then dance in the breeze.

I drink in a surreal scene. It’s like natural art. “Thank you for inviting me Caryss, I didn’t know if I could ever ski again after nearly losing Jared in that avalanche last year.”

“Your grandson is a survivor, Anna. And there’s a hero with that survival instinct!”

A week before he turned fourteen, my grandson Jared was missing for hours after getting caught in an avalanche in the French Alps. Then he saved a woman’s life when he rescued her— unburying her face. He did this with a broken collarbone.

“He’s a survivor, alright. Just like I am today trying to keep up with you.” The last run is a leg-burner down the steep moguls of Chute 75. I’m hoping to ski an easier groomed run.

“You’re an expert skier, Anna, just humble.”

“A rusty expert. Don’t forget, I hadn’t skied for twelve years after ….”

There was no need to finish my sentence. It has been sixteen years since I lost my daughters. I take a deep, cleansing breath of the crisp mountain air. Glancing out at the stunning backdrop over the sunny mountain plateau—I let go. “I have my lucky skis on, let’s show the mountain who’s boss on another black diamond.”

“There’s my fellow shredder!” Caryssa exclaims in a compassionate tone. “The Chute again?”

“The Chute? Shit.”

Carrysa laughs, throwing her head back while clapping her poles together, “Come on, you’ve got to admit the snow is best on the steeps today.”

Screw it, I’ll follow this adrenaline junkie. I have that magic feeling of skiing in my bones. A full body tingling sensation. “Allons y pour ca!”

“What, you want me to do it alone?” Caryssa jokes. Realizing her French is strong enough to know I said let’s go for it, we push off again toward one of the steepest trails in Tahoe. I try to ignore the “Caution!” and “Cliff Area” signs. Even the “Experts Only” lollipop-shaped sign gives cause for a pause.

Standing at the top of the cornice entrance to Chute 75, Caryssa plunges down the 50-degree edge first and my heartbeat speeds up. Surveying the trail, I see I need to make a quick left turn to avoid smashing into a rock. “Well, here goes nothing,” I say out loud to nobody, and take the death-defying dive.

I notice the change of light as I drop into steeper terrain. Stay forward, stay forward, I keep reminding myself as I struggle to follow Caryssa’s line. I feel the snow through my skis, bending and releasing with each turn, and use my ankles to roll the skis on edge where ice patches hide beneath fluffy pillows of snow.

Looking ahead, I see Caryssa has stopped halfway down and I hustle to slide in beside her. The sound of laughter floats over from a group of skiers in the trees just when we thought we had the run to ourselves.

The smell of tanning lotion mingles with the distant aroma of grilling burgers, adding to the bliss of escapism. It reminded me it’s 2:30, and we haven’t stopped for lunch. “Want to grab a bite to eat?” I ask, my stomach growling in protest.

“Those energy bars weren’t enough? We could get more runs in without wasting time in my condo. Plus, if we get too comfortable, we’ll never get back on the mountain.”

I shake my head while stretching my burning legs, “You really are a diehard, a maniac on the mountain. What, twenty-five runs aren’t enough for you?”

“Is that all we’ve had?” Caryssa laughs while pushing off to ski. She yells over her shoulder, “Okay, but let’s stop in the lodge rather than the condo, you get a half an hour at the most!”

“You’re a torturer on the trails!” I shout as I watch Caryssa make agile turns through the soft large bumps, a spray of snow following in her wake. Bracing myself, I point my skis down and let them rip.

As we get closer to the bottom, I stop and glimpse Caryssa staring up the mountain, with a look of dismay on her face. I follow her gaze and freeze.

There, on the trail above us, are a handful of soldiers in camouflage doing a combination of pulling a comrade up the slope on a sled and carrying skis over their shoulders while hiking the steeps. They have huge sandbags strapped to their backs. Two of them, a man and a woman, hunker down behind a wall of snow as if hiding from enemy attack.

“What the fuck!” There was a tone of disgust in Caryssa’s voice. “Why is Squaw Valley permitting war training here? A progressive ski resort committed to renewable energy?”

“Ahh, maybe zey are training for disaster recovery for ahvahlanches.” I hear my nervous French accent sneak back, realizing no such luck.

A skier who overhears us stops and says, “I don’t think they’ve had this military mountain team here since 1960, when they marched US Marines up and down to get the snow ready for the Olympics. Let’s hope they don’t have machine guns like they do a couple of hours south of Lake Tahoe at their ski-combat training base.”

“Pickel Meadow?” I ask. I recall when Pierre took Jared snowshoeing there and they saw a ski-combat training exhibition even worse than this little act.

“Yup,” answers the guy, who sported a fashionable Marmot ski jacket with matching helmet and goggles in a blend of rust-orange and forest green. “The infamous and hidden Mountain Warfare Training Center, where gullible youth train for the next war against an ill-conceived high-tech enemy.”

Caryssa rolls her eyes, and through her goggles I see her expression showing how revolting the scene is—with her wrinkled nose and raised cheeks. “Way to ruin the happy mojo flow of this gorgeous ski day! It’s bad enough they do this bullshit in Vermont. I remember seeing it at Smuggler’s Notch a few years ago.”

“Hey, at least they get to ski while training. And Smuggler’s Notch shouldn’t surprise you. The only Vermont county without a defense contract is Essex,” Mr. Marmot says. “Well, I’m gonna stay calm and ski on!” he laughs, and off he goes swooshing down the slope with a smile.

“Hah, they get to train in places as beautiful as the front lines are hellish,” Caryssa called after him.

To this Mr. Marmot stops after a few turns and yells back, “True. They train from rugged snowcap mountains to rugged desert mountains in Twentynine Palms among gorgeous cactus gardens.”

“I call it America’s Beauty and the Beast,” Caryssa jokes. “Subliminal seduction.”

I disengage from the conversation to take pictures of the surrounding beauty. Tall, snow-dusted trees with low-hanging branches, reveling in a sparkling shower of crystal and green fragrance. Stunning rugged mountain peaks glimmer in the distance between snow-clad ridges.

I snap some shots of every angle and notice Caryssa also taking photos. We had already asked someone to take a picture of us at the top, with Lake Tahoe shining in the background. I’m sure I’ll end up on Facebook, whether I want to.

“Let’s grab a quick something at Dave’s Deli,” she suggests.

We buy pesto-pasta with an assortment of cheese and fruit, then carry it to the outside deck. The sunshine is still Tahoe gold, as we sit in the fresh air with tilt-your-head-back views of the legendary KT-22 lift and trails. Rock-and-roll music bounces loudly off the speakers, as people dance and sway to The Rolling Stones, Paint it Black.

“Après-ski time,” I say. “I’d be happy to call it a day.”

“No, we can get at least ten more runs in if we hustle,” Caryssa insists.

“I can’t walk! We still have tomorrow. Let’s stroll through the village, see the arts and jewelry booths, or check out the Plaza Bar then head back to your condo.”

As I glance around, I can’t help wondering how many of these people have recently returned from China on business. Caryssa always said that Squaw Valley has lots of Silicon Valley workers that ski here—and how the valley is awash in Chinese and Saudi cash.

I take my hand sanitizer out of my fanny pack and spray it on my hands in case any Cloud virus pathogens lurk in the shadows.

Caryssa stands up and says, “Well then, I’ll get us each a glass of wine to go with this little spread.” I’m relieved as she moves towards the bar.

After we finish eating, we walk through the Olympic House to check out the après-ski festivities. As we stroll past one of the large TV’s, Sean Coleman’s handsome face shines back at us on the big screen.

Caryssa gives a benevolent stare. “Holy crap!” she says. “We can’t get away from this stuff. It follows us everywhere.”

It seems so surreal to me these things are happening in our living spaces, our beautiful places. The headline read, “Wealthy CEO Wakes from Coma.”

Despite being excited about the good news, I could barely pay attention, too consumed with mixed emotions of what Sean’s family and Julie had experienced. The story drifts to my ears;

The mysterious attempted murder of a Silicon Valley CEO and well-known businessman continues to baffle the Los Altos Hills community. Sean Coleman, 50, survived three gunshot wounds in a neighborhood known for its peaceful environment.

The motive is unclear, at first believed to be robbery. In a bizarre twist of potential evidence, a cell phone text message shows the main suspect may be another tech-millionaire who worked closely with the victim. Private community members are offering a $200,000 reward for any information leading to the arrest of those carrying out this brutal crime.”

I look at Caryssa’s tear-filled eyes, and say, “Julie showed them the text messages!”

What they didn’t know was there was an invisible global force on the horizon that will rock the world.

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