The entire trip started off on shaky ground. Or at least, slippery ground. Even a billionaire can’t change the laws of physics, and our SUV, even with its four-wheel drive working as valiantly as it could, kept sliding back and forth in the darkness as it made its way up the steep, snow-covered slope to Alfred Fanning’s mountain mansion. The vehicle’s wipers swept across the windshield as if possessed, but to little effect as whistling winds thrust snowfall directly at us.
One skid came upon us so quickly that Dr. Richard Lin, Alfred’s personal physician, who was driving, spun the steering wheel violently to the left to correct, sending my head crashing against the right rear window where I sat. “Com’on, Richard, watch what you’re doing,” I said.
“Sorry, Lucy,” he said. “But I can barely make out the center of the road.”
Alfred, sitting in the forward passenger seat, looked back at me. His narrow eyes glared in my direction and he pointed a wrinkled finger at me. “My dear woman,” he said, “please calm down. I trust Richard’s driving implicitly. And I certainly have more to lose than you do.”
I bit back a sharp response, hating myself as I did so. Alfred Fanning, at ninety-two years of age, held the reins of numerous investment firms, consulting agencies, and manufacturers, many of them intertwined legally and financially, and perhaps not always in ways that were legal or moral. Such wealth gave him power that extended across continents, made political philosophies irrelevant, and affected all his personal relationships right down to the four of us in this SUV. I wanted to scream at him for his condescending attitude, and demand to know what gave him the right to have such an attitude toward me, to consider himself better than me.
But I knew what gave him that right.
Money which I needed.
Eric Nussbaum, Alfred’s personal chef, who shared the backseat with me, tried to favor me with a grin. I ignored him. He was a creep who wouldn’t keep his hands off my ass no matter how many times I slapped those hands away.
Even Alfred’s money wouldn’t have led me to forgive that kind of behavior from him, and Eric didn’t have anywhere near that much money.
Finally the exterior lights of the mansion shone through the snowfall, at first appearing as faint yellow smudges seemingly floating in mid-air, two lines of them, delineating the outline of the two-story stone-and-wood structure. As our vehicle drew nearer, pristine snow crunching beneath our wheels, the mansion focused into sharp relief.
We’re here, I thought. Now I have to wonder how we’ll ever get back down this mountain. Alfred had acknowledged the forecast was bad before we even left for this Montana retreat, but insisted upon making this trip anyway. And he was the boss. But I’d seen enough horror movies that I felt like kicking myself for agreeing to come along into this inaccessible wilderness. Especially as the only woman present.
As I opened my door, I squinted against the onslaught of tiny snowflakes striking my face, needle-sharp. Not fun, in contrast to how I loved playing in the snow when I was a kid. The second memory that usually occurs to me, is from a family reunion on a farm, when a cousin, Danny, and I were seven years old and how we ran up and down a beautiful snowy landscape that made me think I was inside a picture book. We ran down to a pond that wasn’t yet frozen over, and Danny showed me how to skip rocks across the water.
I wouldn’t make those kind of memories this day. I stepped gingerly to the rear of the SUV as Richard opened the rear hatch and handed me my suitcase and bag. “Thanks,” I muttered. Of the three men I’d be spending this no-doubt interminable weekend with, he was the least objectionable.