"I’m going to force myself to let you go first, Jess!" Fine’s voice reverberated through the snowy mountainside.
Drew joined his host and looked down. It was a gorgeous slope. He followed the snow with his eye, and the first incline led to a dip, then a gentle rise about a quarter of a mile away. There were few trees or any other obstructions.
"I have to tell you this is one of my favourite places, Jess," Fine said sincerely. "You see that rise, that little hill? On the other side you’ll see you can snake your way right down to the bottom. You’ll be able to see the ski lift cables. At the bottom you wind up about eighty yards from the cable car. Wait for us there if we get separated, OK?"
"Did you have this constructed?" Drew asked.
"Nature constructed it, Jess. One of the main reasons I bought this place."
The chemist pulled down his goggles. "You coming?"
"I’ll be about half a football field behind you, Jess. Sam’s not up to snuff yet, so he’ll wait in the cabin for us."
Drew grabbed his sticks and raised one arm to Fine. "See you down there. Good hunting."
He pushed off and gathered speed quickly. The slope was even better than it looked, and the snow was pristine. He had the sun slightly behind him, so vision was excellent. The feeling was exhilarating, and when he reached the first valley he realised he was going a little too fast for his level of ability. But the little hill would slow him down, so he wasn’t too worried. He loved it when there was an opportunity to have a real straight shot like this and not have to weave between obstacles.
The little hill did not slow him as much as he thought it would. The snow was fast. He crested it with far too much speed and actually became airborne for a few seconds. As he landed, his heart continued to drop downwards, passing fear and horror on their way up. His eyes widened. The slope on the other side of the hill was at least forty five degrees, and Jessie Drew was plummeting. If anything, the angle appeared to increase rather than decrease. Panicking, he threw himself sideways, hoping the friction of his body would help slow his descent. But it was nearly ice on this side, not snow. His speed was increasing as his mind seemed to slow everything down. He was on his back, spinning slowly clockwise. His skis and sticks were gone, and he realised there was absolutely nothing he could do to save himself. Even if he hit a tree he was going too fast, and his body would be shattered.
But Dr Jessie Drew did not hit a tree. Or a boulder. Instead he was launched into space, his body turning slowly in the air.
He looked around him and wondered for a moment which way was down. His horrified consciousness would at first not accept what he saw beneath him. It was a river gorge, but it didn’t look like a river at that height. It looked instead like a thin blue line traced through granite. And it was getting bigger. Jessie Drew knew in an instant he was being murdered, and tears of despair overwhelmed his fear and horror. He would never see Lydia again. She would never have his child. Suddenly the fear was instantly replaced by thundering anger.
"Stupid!" he screamed out loud. "Head in the clouds! Ha, ha, ha! Stupid! Sucker! Oh, god, Lydia! I love you! Love you! . . . "
The river got bigger. And bigger. And bigger. But Dr Jessie Drew mostly did not hit the river. He hit a rocky ledge which sheared off one leg at the hip and the other one at the knee. He didn’t feel a thing, though. Just a little thump. Three seconds later his head was smashed near the bottom of the mountain, and most of the remains of his body tumbled the final four hundred feet and thumped to a stop on the bank of the river. His severed leg, though, had sprung outward far enough to actually hit the icy water. It wasn’t much of a splash, considering the height it had fallen.
Samson Juniper Hirsch III had joined Fine at the top of the slope, and both men looked quietly out at the double track of the skis as they dipped down in the valley and then disappeared at the top of the little hill.
"A tragedy," Hirsch murmured. "I don’t really like this kind of thing, you know, Carl."
"It was the best way, Sam," said Dr Carlton Fine as he turned to the Secretary of State. "Trust me."