Sunshine poured through the high Palladian windows in the master suite. Rolling over in the large bed to avoid the light hitting his closed eyes, Lee reached out for Amanda only to find her side of the bed empty.
He opened one eye and squinted around the room. Amanda sat in the large, overstuffed chair beside the French doors that led to the balcony. He watched as his wife stared out over the landscape. "It's awfully lonely over here, and I think it's probably cold over there. I suggest we team up over here in bed and take care of my loneliness and your chills."
"Did I wake you?"
"Yeah, your silence was deafening."
Amanda smiled and climbed back in bed, pulling the blankets and down comforter up around her shoulders. "I was just watching the sun rise. It was beautiful."
Pulling his wife into his arms, Lee nuzzled her neck and sighed. "You're beautiful. And you're worried."
"Yeah, I am worried."
"You'll feel better after I talk with Beaman."
"Yes, I will."
"I'm sorry we got sidetracked last night."
Lee grinned and stretched. "Yeah, I'm not either. I'll give Beaman a call and see what he's found out."
"I don't think that he'll be too happy with you checking up on him. Especially this early in the morning."
"I can't believe I'm in bed with my wife discussing what will or won't make Beaman happy." Tossing aside the blankets, Lee climbed out of bed and grabbed his robe. Sighing, he sat at the desk and lifted the phone, asking the operator to connect him to Beaman's room.
Rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, Lee waited for Beaman to answer his phone. "Beaman? Stetson here ... What ... Beaman? ... Hello?" Lee slammed the receiver down and raked his hands through his hair, turning to look at Amanda. "He hung up on me!"
Giggling, Amanda snuggled down into the bed. "Well, I'm really not surprised. At least we know he wasn't hurt last night."
"For the time being he's not hurt. I don't know if that'll be true after I see him."
"Come back to bed, Lee. You obviously didn't get enough sleep last night."
"I got plenty of sleep."
"Good! Just come back to bed then." Throwing back the blankets, Amanda smiled an invitation at her husband.
Grinning back at her, he shed his robe and hopped onto the mattress, pulling the blankets over both of them. As he reached for Amanda, the phone rang. Looking into Amanda's eyes, he reached for one of the pillows and flung it at the phone, knocking it off the desk. The handset clattered as it hit the chair before landing on the soft carpeting. "Unh uh, not this time!"
Turning back to Amanda, he found her with her hands over her mouth and her shoulders shaking from the effort to contain her laughter. Pulling the blankets over both of their heads, he reached for his wife once again.
"Oh! My! Wow!"
and Amanda's Suite 9:30 am
Lee poured himself and Dotty another cup of coffee. Amanda and the boys were looking though the listings of the day's events and offerings. AHow was your French lesson last night?"
"Wonderful! Jean Paul is just so, well so cultured and interesting and attentive. I only learned a few phrases because we sat and talked and talked. He's lived such an interesting life, but he was so interested in me and my family."
Raising her eyebrow, Amanda gave a knowing grin. "It sounds like you had an enjoyable evening."
"I had thought he stood me up; he was nearly 40 minutes late. But he apologized so sweetly by giving me a beautiful rose. It seems he had to make last minute arrangements for a very influential guest. He holds an extremely important and responsible position here at the resort!"
"I'm sure he does, Mother, and I bet all of the guests are as appreciative as you are."
"Yes, dear. How was your night skiing, boys?"
"It was a blast!" Jamie grabbed the last piece of toast as he answered his grandmother. "We went down the slopes several times, didn't we, Phillip?"
"Yeah, it was cool! Mom and Lee were pretty good too, except Mom kept crossing her ski tips over Lee's and he'd fall. It was pretty funny."
"Yeah, hilarious. I haven't fallen while on skis in years."
"Don't pout, Lee."
"You weren't the one with snow down your neck, Amanda."
Amanda laughed. "You're right, I wasn't. But you were so cute trying to get it off."
"I'm never 'cute', Amanda."
"I'm leavin' if they're gonna keep that stuff up." Jamie pushed away from the table and placed his napkin on his plate. "This was fun, having room service bring breakfast here. When are we hitting the slopes?"
"When are we going to decorate the tree?"
"That's an excellent question, Phillip. Amanda, when are we going to get a tree?"
Amanda looked at her husband who just smiled at her. "I take it you have this all worked out?"
"Yes, Amanda. I have it all taken care of."
"Lee has it all taken care of, Mother."
"I heard him, Amanda. He speaks English quite well. We don't need a translator."
"You know, Mom, it's alright if you want to ask me things directly. We're a family now and I don't think we need to use Amanda as our go between. What do you say?"
"I say it's about time. Right boys?"
"Sounds good to us, Grandma. When can we go skiing, Lee?"
"How about as soon as we can get to the lifts? Your grandmother has her first lesson at 10:30 this morning."
"Oh dear. I had hoped you had forgotten about that." Dotty gave a theatrical sigh. "Well, if I must, I must. Let's forge forward, right guys?"
"I'm not gonna miss that. I have my camera in the room. Let's go get ready Phillip. Excuse us, Mom? Lee?"
Amanda nodded and Lee smiled as the boys left the table to get ready to ski. Dotty sighed and rose from the table. "I don't suppose I could bribe you to forget these lessons, could I?"
"No, Mother. I think you'll have fun."
"Fun. Your idea of fun and mine are drastically different, Amanda. But I'll try." With a wave, Dotty headed toward the door. "I hope I don't break anything! See you downstairs!"
Lee chuckled and shook his head. "I have to tell you, Amanda, I'm looking forward to watching your mother on skis."
"You, Phillip, and Jamie are terrible. Now promise, no laughing if she falls!"
"I will not promise not to laugh! Jeez, Amanda, you take the fun out of everything sometimes!"
"I do not! I thought it was hysterical when you fell last night!"
"Yeah, I noticed. Look, let's get ready. I want to escort your mother to her instructor."
"Don't trust her, Stetson?"
"No, I don't. Plus, I want to enjoy the entire experience. If the shoe was on the other foot, your mother would be doing the same thing."
"True! Let's go!"
Ski School 11:30 am
"Alright, Mrs. West, I think you're ready for the bunny run. What do you think?"
"I think if I was meant to fly over the snow, I would have been given big feet!"
"You're doing just fine, and you'd do much better if you'd let go of my neck. Now remember what I said about plowing, and you'll be just fine."
The instructor extracted himself from Dotty's strangle hold. "Alright, we're going to go down together. You're going to be fine. Just remember what I told you."
"You've told me so many things, which one should I remember first?"
"That skiing is fun, and you're going to enjoy it."
"I was thinking about the one that very few people break anything while skiing on the bunny slope."
Lee laughed and quickly covered it up with a cough. Amanda had already banished Phillip and Jamie for laughing at their grandmother's attempts at skiing and he didn't want to be next. Checking, he saw both boys waiting at the bottom of the beginner's slope. Phillip was talking with several young ladies his age while Jamie fidgeted with his camera.
"You're going to be just fine, Mother. We'll go down the slope with you."
"You might want to stay behind a bit, Amanda dear. Just in case. Less targets for me to run into."
"Good idea, Mother!"
"Any last words?"
Dotty gave Lee a nasty grin as she dug her poles into the snow. "Yes. Geronimo!" And with that, she pushed off, her instructor digging in to catch up with her. Lee and Amanda did the same, laughing as they came up along side of Dotty, plowing to keep pace with her.
Nearing the end of the run, a panicked look came over Dotty's face. "How do I stop again? Oh dear! I forgot how to stop!"
"Sit down! Sit down, Grandma!" Both boys yelled out, Jamie was furiously clicking away on his camera as Dotty did exactly as the boys told her to do. Laughing, she slid the last few feet on the heels of her skis. She raised her hands to be pulled up.
"I want to do that again! What are you waiting for? Let's go!"
"I think we've created a ski bum!"
"No, I want to be a ski bunny!"
"Alright, Mother, are you sure you're ready for another run?"
"I've been ready for this all my life! Why didn't I ever learn to ski before! Come on, we're wasting snow time!"
Phillip and Jamie helped their grandmother negotiate a turn on her skis and pulled and pushed her toward the rope line for a tow up the hill. Amanda and Lee followed.
"You don't mind staying on the beginner runs?"
"Nah, this is fun! I'm enjoying time with everyone. We'll hit the other runs later with the boys when your mom wears herself out, but right now, I don't want to miss this!"
Amanda smiled and nodded and gave Lee a quick hug.
"What was that for? Not that I mind being hugged by my wife."
"Oh, just a nothing hug."
"I can't wait until I do something that gives you a reason for a something hug."
"You do. All the time, Stetson. Let's go! As Mother said, we're wasting snow time!"
Lounge 1:00 pm
The Lounge was full of skiers taking advantage of the apres-ski buffet the resort had assembled. Finding comfortable chairs by the fireplace, the King-Stetson-West family relaxed, enjoyed lunch and talked about the morning's activities.
"Lee, that was so funny when you and Mom got your skis tangled up! You're really quick! You were out of your ski so fast and how you managed to get down the hill on one ski, I'll never know. But it was a really cool move, wasn't it Phillip?"
"Yeah, just like a real hot dogger. Can you teach us how to do that?"
"It takes a lot of hours spent on skis to pull that off. But maybe this afternoon I can show you a few tricks." He caught Amanda's warning look, and added, "Safe ones."
"Cool! Are you coming back up this afternoon, Grandma?
"I think I may take a short nap this afternoon, Jamie. I'm feeling a bit worn out. All that fresh air."
"What about you, Mom? Are you coming up?"
"I think I'll take a nap too. But you guys go and have a good time, and be careful!"
Phillip managed to drag his attention away from a small group of girls he had been watching. "Is there night skiing later, Lee?"
"Not tonight, Phillip. I have something special planned for us." At everyone's raised eyebrows, Lee just smiled and shook his head. "You'll have to wait and see, or it wouldn't be a surprise." Lee caught a glimpse of Francine moving among the staff, stopping and talking with them for a moment or two. A quick glance around the room showed Beaman in a chair with an earpiece in as he listened to something and watched a monitor in his hand. Feeling Amanda's hand on his arm, Lee quickly gave his attention back to the conversation at hand.
"Well, I'm going to head up and take my nap if there are more thrills in store for us later." Lee, Phillip, and Jamie all stood as their grandmother and mother got up to go up to their rooms.
Amanda smiled at Lee. "You're getting them well trained."
Lee leaned over and gave his wife a quick kiss. "All part of the Stetson Charm School."
Laughing softly, Amanda patted her husband's cheek. "I'll have to check out that curriculum!"
"I'll give you a private consultation."
"That is exactly what worries me about the Stetson Charm School! And stay away from Francine and Beaman; they don't need your help," Amanda quietly told her husband, having seen his interest in their movements around the lounge. "Have fun out there, guys!"
"See you later, Mom."
Lee gave her a frown as he followed Phillip and Jamie out of the room. I was just curious...I wasn't going to help.
Was I? Nah...
Advanced Slopes 3:45 pm
Lee, Phillip, and Jamie skied off the lift to make their final run of the day. Lee had taken them on successively more difficult runs and was impressed with their coordination and ability to adapt to the tougher terrain on the advanced runs.
"This has been a great afternoon, Lee. Thanks! I didn't think Mom would let us on runs like this. These are pretty tough." Phillip adjusted his goggles. "I don't think Mom could even ski these runs."
"You guys would be surprised at what your Mom can do."
"AYeah, we know. She's cool, for a mom. But this has been fun with you today, hasn't it, Jamie?"
"Yeah, this has been great, just the guys. We can do it again soon, right?"
"I'm sure we can. I'm glad you guys have had fun. I have too."
"Hey Lee? Isn't that the guy you talked to last night in the restaurant? On that snowmobile?"
Lee turned to where Jamie was pointing. "Yeah, it looks like him."
"Who's the hot babe with him?"
"The 'hot babe' is another producer we work with, Phillip." Lee gave himself a mental note to work on Phillip's vocabulary concerning hot babes.
"I wonder where they're going?"
I'm wondering that myself. "Probably checking locations. There are some slopes in the back country that they trigger to keep the snow pack from slipping when it becomes unstable. They probably want to see the terrain while it's safe."
"I was reading about avalanches; sometimes it's a skier or snowmobile that triggers an avalanche. Sometimes the snow pack still slips even if people think conditions are safe."
"They're both very careful people. And I'm impressed, Jamie, that you read up on all of this before we left. You're right, sometimes the pack does slip even if conditions don't warrant it. That's one of the reasons they trigger the snow pack when certain conditions do exist, or when they expect heavy usage or more snowfall."
The three of them watched the snowmobiles until they disappeared from view. Lee pulled his goggles down and watched as the boys readjusted theirs. Phillip pushed off, followed quickly by Jamie and Lee.
With the sun sinking into the western mountains, the shadows lengthened and darkened on the trail. Lee took the lead as Phillip and Jamie followed his path down the mountain. They stopped as the trail they were on joined the intermediate slopes.
"Wow! That was some run! I'm glad you took the lead, Lee. I was having trouble picking out some of those spots you saw."
"I've got a few years of skiing on each of you and experience counts at times like that, Phillip.”
Lee watched as Phillip nodded and watched the slopes below, but Jamie continued to watch Lee with a questioning look on his face.
"What is it Sport? You have a question?"
"I don't know, Lee. Sometimes you seem to be more than what I think you are."
"That's a stupid thing to say, worm brain."
"No, it's okay. I know what he's saying. I think that as we get to know each other better and spend more time together you'll feel more comfortable with me."
"That's not it. We're already comfortable with you. You know so much about everything. I don't know; but it's cool."
"Thanks, Jamie. I suggest we head down, I think the tree will have been delivered by now and your mother and grandmother are going to want to get it decorated." Lee pulled his goggles down and the three of them headed down the hill.
and Amanda's Suite 4:30 pm
"Would you look at the size of that tree? How are we going to get ornaments on the top of it?"
The four of them looked at the tree that rose to the ceiling in the living room of the suite.
"At least you had the foresight to have them string the lights."
Lee nodded his head at Amanda. "Well guys, what do you suggest?"
"We can turn the couch on end and stand on that."
Amanda coughed, and Lee quickly made an alternative suggestion. "Ah, Phillip, I don't think your mom is really into the couch idea. How about if we call down to the maintenance department and ask for one of those extension arms they use to change light bulbs? We can place decorations at the top without taking our feet off of the ground, something that will make your mother happy."
"Yes, it will make me happy. I'll call down for the extension rod and I want to give Mother a call as well. She won't want to miss decorating the tree."
Lee and the guys began to open the boxes of decorations the hotel had provided. Knowing that Amanda had packed some of the family's traditional ornaments, he went into the bedroom to get them. He heard Amanda on the phone as he went back into the living room.
"Your mom packed the family favorites so you wouldn't miss them."
Phillip took the box from Lee and set it carefully on the couch. "Cool! How about you, Lee? Do you bring anything for the tree?"
"Well, I really don't have any. I've never been much of a Christmas person. Until I met your mom, I never really celebrated Christmas."
"Well, we have enough to share." Jamie held a couple of the ornaments up for Lee to inspect.
"Yeah, you can share our ornaments, Lee. But watch out, Mom and Grandma tell the stories behind each and every ornament every year."
"We think it's sappy, but it makes Mom and Grandma happy."
"Thanks guys, I appreciate that." Lee turned to see Amanda standing in the doorway, her eyes sparkling. At his questioning look, she smiled at him and walked over to hug him.
"Merry Christmas, Lee."
"Merry Christmas, Amanda."
She nodded and smiled. "The extension bar is on the way up, and there was no answer in Mother's room. She may have gone downstairs to swoon over Jean Paul. I think I'll take a walk downstairs and see if I can find her; she won't be happy if she misses decorating the tree."
"Want me to go?"
"I'll go. I don't mind the walk through the lobby and lounge. I like looking at the decorations."
Lee nodded and went back to pulling tree decorations of the boxes. Neither Lee nor the boys paid attention as Amanda closed the door behind her.
Lounge 4:45 pm
Amanda took another walk through the Lounge. Families with young children dressed in holiday finery were taking advantage of an early dinner in the resort's restaurants. The atmosphere was enlivened with the excitement that always accompanied Christmas Eve. Amanda stopped at the fireplace, looking for her mother and listening for her voice.
Frowning, Amanda walked toward the concierge desk. Several guests were waiting at the desk, checking their watches and tapping their feet in annoyance. Walking up, Amanda looked over the high desk, turned, and looked at the waiting guests.
"He's not here. He was supposed to procure tickets for my family to the Nutcracker in Quebec. We need to leave in fifteen minutes if we're going to get there in time."
Amanda nodded at the man who had spoken to her, watching the nods of the others waiting. "How long have you been waiting for Monsieur Fournier?"
"Nearly ten minutes. The chief of security assured us that he would be back presently."
The door to the concierge office swung open and Fournier stepped out, quickly closing the door behind him. Eyeing the growing crowd at his desk, he began distributing envelopes to the impatient guests.
Trying to gain the concierge’s attention, Amanda tiptoed and raised her fingertips. Fournier saw her, quickly looked over his shoulder at the office door, and averted his eyes. What was that all about? Amanda was surprised by his reaction.
She stepped up to the desk to speak with Fournier when a hand with tickets slammed down on top of the desk. "These aren't the seats I was promised," said the man that Amanda had spoken with. "I asked for the eighth row center orchestra, and these are not eighth row center orchestra."
Amanda watched Fournier closely. He seemed nervous and agitated, furtively glancing at Amanda, his watch, and his office door. Amanda looked at the office door and took a step to the side of the desk.
"Ah, monsieur, I am so sorry. Please forgive me. I will fix this problem, tout de suite!" Fournier picked up his telephone to make a call to correct the mistake.
Amanda bit her bottom lip as she slipped around the concierge desk. With her back against the office door she reached her hand behind and carefully turned the door knob. Easing herself into the room, she gingerly closed the door.
"If you would so please, Madame Stetson, join us!"
Turning, she saw Dotty sitting in a chair. Across from her was the chief of Eastin's security, Tomas Theriault. His hand was steady as he aimed his service revolver at Dotty's head.
"Amanda! Oh, Amanda!"
"Hello Mother," Amanda replied, keeping her voice purposefully calm. "I've been looking for you." Amanda moved to sit next to Dotty, keeping an eye on the security chief; her mind racing to find a means of escape for them. The opening of the office door turned all of their attention.
"Ah! I see you have consented to join us this evening, Madame Stetson. And such a sad evening it will be for you as well. Your dear mére was so helpful with her telling of the wonderful jobs you and your husband have with International Federal Film. And of course, it was all so easy to put together when my associate, Monsieur Theriault informed me that Monsieur Beaman and Madame Desmond were no ordinary 'producers'; that they are indeed American federal agents here to investigate the death of a Secret Service agent."
"We're just a family here for Christmas, Mr. Fournier."
"That may be, Madame. But Madame West stumbled upon my conversation with Monsieur Theriault as he assured me that your fellow agents would meet with a cold and untimely end. At least, Madame, you will not be alone when you meet your demise this night."
Theriault waved his revolver at Amanda and Dotty. Standing, Dotty took Amanda's arm and held on tightly.
"I'm sorry, darling."
Amanda lowered her voice. "Oh Mother, we'll think of something."
Theriault pushed Amanda and Dotty toward the door that exited to the slopes. "Perhaps Père Noël will bring you a miracle? No?"
Amanda looked at her mother and grimaced. Amanda knew just what she wanted Santa Claus to bring her.
She wanted her spy.
and Amanda's Suite 5:20 pm
Lee gave a quick check of his watch and stood. Giving a cursory look in the bedroom, he wondered what was keeping Amanda.
There was a knock at the door and Phillip rushed to answer it.
"It's the hot babe at the door. She asked to talk to you." Phillip went back to work on the tree.
When Lee reached the door, Francine eyed him. "Hot babe?”
"Just a teenage boy with overactive hormones.”
"The worst kind!" she said with a grin then stepped back into the hallway.
The look on her face caused Lee's instincts to kick in. "What's wrong, Francine?"
"Close the door, will you?"
"This afternoon I talked a few moments with members of the staff while Beaman listened to the voices and matched them against a voice analyzer. We were trying to match up a voice with the tape recording from the Secret Service agent's answering machine."
"Good idea. We saw the two of you out on snowmobiles earlier too." He was beginning to think he was overreacting at seeing Francine at his door.
"Yeah, well, we found the skier who we think is the man behind the death of the Secret Service agent."
"Well, wrap it up and go home for Christmas, Francine."
"Look, I'd love to, but there's a problem."
"Amanda?" Lee asked, mentally kicking himself for disregarding his instincts.
"Yeah. I'm sorry Lee, there's more. Beaman sent me back here to get you. Jean Paul Fournier is behind the plans we've found to assassinate POTUS in February. And he has Amanda and her mother with him."
"The two of you screwed up this investigation!"
"Lee, we didn't screw up anything. I'm sure someone tipped him off as to who we were. And the fact that we were seen talking together, well, you don't need a calculator to add it up that we may be connected." Pulling a trail map out of her ski jacket, Francine opened it and pointed to a spot on the mountain. "Now, Beaman wants to meet you here, at the intersection of this trail. He'll take you to where we followed Fournier."
"It's Christmas Eve."
"I know. Look, I'm sorry. I'll stay here. Take this, you may need it." Francine discreetly handed him her handgun. Lee stuffed it in the back of his jeans, pulling his flannel shirt out and over his belt and went in to get his coat and gloves.
"Hey guys, remember my colleagues? The ones we saw on the snowmobiles this afternoon?"
"Yeah, that guy and the hot babe."
Lee shot a look of apology at Francine who raised an eyebrow and smiled. "Yeah, well, Miss Desmond is here to help with the tree while I go out and help Mr. Beaman. He had a problem with his snowmobile and could use my help. I won't be gone long. So how about you put on some Christmas music, order some hot chocolate and snacks, and I'll be back before you know it."
"I'm not sure, Jamie. She's probably tied up somewhere with your Grandmother."
Both Phillip and Jamie nodded, not really paying as much attention to Lee as they were to Francine. Going into the bedroom, Lee pulled on his ski pants and boots, grabbed his jacket, gloves, scarf, and hat and headed out.
"Lee, be careful out there. It's getting dark and the wind is picking up."
"I will. Be careful around Phillip. Those hormones of his kicked into overdrive earlier today."
"Your influence, I'm sure," she retorted with mock sarcasm then turned serious. "Be careful, please?"
"Yeah." Francine closed the door and Lee walked to the elevators. Jabbing his finger in the call button, he crossed his arms as he waited for the doors to open. The doors slid open and Lee stepped in, hitting the button for the lobby. Leaning against the side of the elevator he sighed. The doors finally opened and he strode into the bustle of the lobby.
Christmas music played softly in the background; voices were raised in excitement as families came and went to their evening activities. Hustling to where Francine said she had left her snowmobile, Lee gave a quick look around at the scene that unfolded before him.
Sitting on the snowmobile, Lee inserted the key. The engine throbbed to life beneath him. Gunning the engine, Lee looked over his shoulder as the lights came on, shining from the rooftops of the hotel.
With a shake of his head, Lee urged the snowmobile in the direction of the trail intersection. His mind went to other Christmas Eves he and Amanda had spent together.
Just another Christmas Eve spent in a nest of killers.
Beaman was waiting impatiently where Francine told Lee he would be. He was talking with several other men on snowmobiles. As Lee pulled up along side Beaman, he saw the RCMP insignia on the uniforms of two of the men. The other he recognized as Francois Hilaire of the Tremblant Ski Patrol. Feeling his heart drop into his stomach, he looked over the group and asked, "What happened?"
"We tracked Fournier to a small skier's hut. Amanda and Mrs. West seem to be fine, if not a little cold. The ski patrol is here to help us navigate the back trails through the trees." With a nod toward the uniformed officers, Beaman continued with his introductions. "This is Captain Marc Collet of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. His lieutenant, Jacques Perreault. You probably recognize the Eastin's security chief, Tomas Theriault. This is Agent Lee Stetson. He heads up a special counter-intelligence unit. His wife and mother-in-law are the women in Fournier's custody."
Lee wanted to get right to the point. "Any ideas how we can get them safely out of Fournier's grasp?"
"Monsieur, it is traditional on the mountain to place food in the skier's huts on La Vielle De Noel, Christmas Eve, lest we be inhospitable to tired travelers. It would not be out of the ordinary for members of the ski patrol to enter the cabin and leave food. We feel perhaps this is our best hope to separate Madame Stetson and Madame West, from Fournier."
Lee nodded, his mind racing over the alternatives, and not coming up with any that suited the situation. "Do you have a diagram of this hut?"
The ski patrol officer shook his head. "It is not necessary, Monsieur. It is one room with a bed, wood stove, and a pantry. It has one door, and no windows."
"I have to go in. That's my wife and my mother-in-law in there."
"Lee, be reasonable. You don't speak French; Fournier will recognize you, which could be dangerous for all of us. Our best bet is for Hilaire and me to go in."
"You don't speak French, Beaman."
"Là où vous avez vos ideés, Stetson? Naturellement je parle francais; pourquoi est-ce qu'autrement je serais ici?" Beaman shook his head as Lee stared at him. "Where do you get your ideas, Stetson? Of course I speak French. Why else would I be here? Right now, I'm the best person to go in there."
"He is right, Agent Stetson. You are too close to the situation. We will have Fournier come to the door and leave Agent Beaman to distract him. We will then 'take him down' as you say, eh?" The captain nodded at Lee, expecting his consent.
"I'm going in. I know how Amanda reacts, you don't. Don't screw this up, Beaman, or you won't be going home."
"I won't screw it up. Look, if you're going in, you and I should keep out of the light as much as possible. Let the ski patrol do the talking. Agreed?"
Lee nodded, annoyed their plan was the best way to get in without gunplay. The ski patrol officer gave Lee and Beaman each an orange and white vest with the ski patrol logo on it and a helmet that matched. Starting their snowmobiles, they formed a line behind the captain of the ski patrol, following him to the skiers hut.
Hilaire slowed and motioned for the others to stop at the trail that led to the hut, nodding at Lee and Beaman to follow him. The RCMP's climbed off of their snowmobiles, put snow shoes on, and followed silently behind on foot.
The sound of the snowmobiles shattered the silence as the three men approached the hut. Stopping the machines outside the door of the hut, Lee, Beaman, and Hilaire climbed off the snowmobiles.
The mountain was silent after the thrum of the engines; the only sound that of the wind blowing. Lee was amazed how the shifting wind took and returned the voices of the men in front of him.
"Anges que nous avons entendus sur la haute, chantant gentiment à o'heu la plaine. Et les montagnes en résponse, faisant écho leurs contraintes joyeuses!"
Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing o'er the plain. And the mountains in reply, echoing their joyous strains. Lee shook his head when he heard Beaman singing, not only in French, but in key. The men in wait watched as they knocked on the door to the hut.
"Bonjour, bonjour! Nous apportons le cadeau de le'hospitalité pour se lasser des voyageurs!"
Beaman turned to Lee to translate quietly. "It is the traditional call. 'Hello! We bring the gift of hospitality to weary travelers.' Fournier should answer the call; he knows that the patrol will enter the hut otherwise."
"Is he armed?"
"Probably. He shot Agent Carlson."
Lee nodded, his focus intent on the hut. The door opened and Fournier filled the doorway. The wind had turned again, taking away the conversation, but Lee saw enough to know that Fournier was restless and on edge. He watched the cheerful gestures of the ski patrol and Beaman as he dropped the bag of supplies at Fournier's feet.
Lee watched as Beaman leaned over to pick up the items that spilled out of the bag, lifting the bag and emptying the contents over the snow and threshold of the hut. Fournier was angry, gesturing at Beaman and Hilaire. Beaman kept handing Fournier the dropped items, and as Fournier bent over to pick up a loaf of bread, Lee lifted his ski goggles and was able to see Amanda's relieved expression. He winked at her and gave her a signal to act.
A large, copper frying pan hit Fournier on the head. The wind shifted again bringing with it the echo of the pan clanging. As Fournier dropped to his knees, Beaman had his knee in Fournier's back and was securing his hands behind him.
Dotty jumped up and down, excited at the rescue, the frying pan still in her hands. Hilaire managing to grab it away from her before she took Beaman out with a blow to the head. Amanda hugged Dotty, proud of her and relieved that they had been found. "Mother! That was an excellent shot!"
"You don't mess with a grandmother on Christmas Eve! I have presents to wrap yet!"
Lee climbed over Beaman, and took Amanda and Dotty in his arms. "Are you both okay? How did the two of you get messed up in this?"
Beaman had pulled Fournier to his feet and was seating him on the back of Captain Collet's snowmobile allowing Amanda, Lee, and Dotty to leave the hut. Amanda began to explain what had happened to them when thunder echoed through the ridge as a snowmobile clamored to life.
Lee and Amanda jumped apart as it sped past them into the night. "Theriault!" Climbing on his snowmobile, Lee thumbed the starter, bringing the engine roaring into action. Amanda climbed on behind him. "Get off and stay with your mother!"
"I'm coming with you! He's the one that took Mother!"
"Hold on tight then," he yelled as he leaned into a turn.
Amanda yelled back. "I'll always hang onto you, Stetson!"
Pursuing the trail cut in fresh snow by the runners of the snowmobile, Lee raced the engine trying to catch Theriault before he disappeared into the anonymity of the back-country.
Judging the wail of the engine in front of him, Lee nosed the machine forward only to lose the sound in the shifting winds. Disoriented, he tried to place the sound as it reverberated around him.
"Get ready to jump off, Amanda. I want you to run to the left, the cliffs are to our right. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Lee! Be careful!"
Amanda jumped off, falling in the deep snow. Lee turned to see her scramble to the left, away from the cliffs. He gave his attention back to the danger at hand.
Blinded by the intense spotlight of the rapidly approaching snowmobile, Lee turned his head to shield his eyes. He waited until the roar of the machine was screaming in front of him, gunning the engine of his own snowmobile he leaned hard to the right.
The front skis clipped as they passed one another, sending the machines and riders careening toward the cliffs that plummeted to their right. Acting on instinct alone, Lee dug his hands and heels into the snow, hoping to slow himself as he rolled toward the precipice. One final tumble brought him a nose length over the edge of the drop. Wiping the snow from his goggles, he saw Theriault hanging onto the trunk of a small sapling.
"Stetson! Mon Dieu! For heaven's sake, help me!" Theriault's struggling released snow and earth from the over-stressed tree.
"Don't move! Hang on and stop struggling!" Lee reached out for the security chief, only to slip and slide on the snow covered ledge. "I have to find something to lower to you; I can't reach you!"
The tangle of machinery lay not far from where Lee had landed. Amanda was already digging through the items that had been thrown into snow after the machines had hit. Falling in drifts as he struggled through the heavy snow, Lee managed to lift himself forward in his fight toward the snowmobiles. Forcing open the storage carrier, Lee rummaged for anything that would enable him to reach Theriault.
"I can't find anything, Lee. There isn't a rope!"
The sound of snowmobiles edged closer. Lee saw the strong floodlights slash through the trees. Calling out, he was relieved to see Beaman and Hiliare arrive on the scene.
"I'm here, Lee! Amanda? Are you all right?"
"Yes, Mother, I'm fine!"
"Beaman, I need a rope. Theriault is over the edge. We need to move!"
Hilaire tossed a rope to Beaman who drove his snowmobile as close to the edge as possible. Jumping off the machine, Beaman peered over the ledge at Theriault hanging precariously from the tree. Tossing the rope over the edge, Beaman gave the end to Hilaire who tied it to the large ring on the back of his own machine.
Amanda had climbed on board Hilaire's snowmobile and slowly edged the machine forward. The machine began to slip from the weight of Theriault dangling behind. "Lee? I'm slipping!"
Lee jumped on the snowmobile to add his weight to Amanda's. Turning, they both watched as Beaman lifted the rope and put it to his back, inching it up. Edging slowly forward, Lee turned again to observe the rescue. He was surprised to see his mother-in-law and Hiliare pulling as well. "Dotty! If you go over that cliff, I'm going to kill you! Beaman, do not let her near the edge!"
"Be quiet, Lee! Amanda, drive that machine!" Dotty ordered.
Amanda did as her mother told her, slowly moving the snowmobile forward until they heard Beaman yell that the ledge was breaking. The rumble of falling snow and rock washed up from the gully below.
"Gun it, Amanda!" Lee yelled as he watched over his shoulder, his eyes locked on Dotty. He saw Beaman slip, then disappear in a rush of snow over the cliff. "Damn! Beaman went over the edge!" Jumping from the seat, Lee scrambled through the snow where Dotty lay, still holding tight to the rope. Helping her up, he lifted the rope and quickly followed it back to where Theriault was embedded in a drift of snow. Looking for Hilaire, Lee's mouth went dry as he realized that both Beaman and Hilaire must have been lost in the slide.
"Lee? Do you see them?"
"AStay back, Amanda, I don't know how much time we have on this shelf." He tried to lift the rope that was behind Theriault, but found it being pulled on at the end.
"Amanda! I think Beaman and Hilaire are hanging onto the end of the rope, get ready to move the snowmobile forward."
The snowmobile started and Lee began digging at the huge pile of snow in which the rope was embedded. Additional hands began to dig with him and Lee was surprised to see Theriault helping him. Pushing away a large boulder of compacted snow, Lee saw a hand clasped to the rope.
"Slow going Amanda, I have someone!" Snow fell away as both men continued to dig. Lee saw two helmets and reached in to find shoulders. Picking up the second helmet, he saw that it was empty and he flung it over the cliff. Pulling, he was able to lift Hilaire from his precarious position over the cliff. Snow continued to slip, but the rope over the edge stayed taut. Cautiously looking over the cliff, Lee found Beaman hanging a good ten feet below the edge. Pulling on the rope, and with Amanda slowly inching the snowmobile forward, Lee was able to bring Beaman back up and over the cliff.
Hilaire pushed himself to his knees and removed his helmet. Lee unstrapped Beaman's helmet and pulled it off, then he began to check his limbs for breaks.
"You can stop. I'm fine Stetson. Thanks." Beaman pushed himself up and shook his head, brushing snow from his collar. Lee stood up and gave him his hand, helping Beaman to his feet. "Looks like I lost my snowmobile." Beaman lamented.
Slapping him on his back, Lee chuckled. "I thought for a moment we had lost you too! Glad you managed to hang on." The two men nodded at one another.
Amanda and Dotty grabbed Lee, hugging him fiercely. With Amanda and Dotty in his arms, he scolded them both. "The two of you scared half of the life out of me!"
Amanda laughed. "I think we were doing a good job of being frightened ourselves!"
"Lee, I was so surprised to see you in that doorway! How did you ever find us?"
"Francine and Beaman followed you. Francine came to get me. She's with the boys back at the hotel decorating the Christmas tree."
"Francine is with Phillip and Jamie? Oh Lee!" Amanda and Dotty laughed. Lee joined in when he let the mental picture sink in.
Beaman pulled a handcuffed Theriault toward Hilaire's snowmobile where Hilaire was using the radio to request additional help. "I suggest we head back to the hotel, Stetson. We'll be more comfortable with our questions there."
right Beaman. Besides, Phillip probably has Francine holed up in a closet!"
"With pleasure," replied Amanda and Dotty.
Wrapped in each other's arms, Amanda and Lee watched from their balcony as Beaman put Francine's luggage into the helicopter. Somehow, he had managed to procure one to take her to Jean Lesage International Airport in Quebec to catch a flight home to DC for Christmas.
Beaman walked away from the helicopter, stopping out of range of the whirling blades. The pilot gave Francine a hand up, only to stop as Francine turned, and ran back to Beaman. Stopping short in front of him, she thrust her hand out to shake his hand, then leaned up to give him a kiss. Running back to climb onboard the helicopter, she waved one last time before the chopper lifted off.
Lee chuckled as they watched along with Beaman as the chopper fly out of sight. "After all these years, Beaman finally got his Christmas kiss from Francine. Without eggnog or mistletoe!"
"Or giving away his Buick. I think it's awfully sweet. I don't know how he did it, but Francine owes him for getting her home in time for Christmas, as well as staying to take care of the extradition of Fournier and Theriault."
"Yeah, all of which should make life interesting around the Agency." Walking back into the living room of their suite, they joined Dotty before the dwindling fire.
Dotty looked up from the large, overstuffed chair she had claimed when she finally returned earlier. "Did Miss Desmond catch her helicopter? She certainly was surprised to learn she would be home for Christmas."
"She did. How are you doing after all of your excitement?"
"I'm fine. I'm still in a state of disbelief about this whole affair! I never would have dreamed that Jean Paul was a cold blooded killer, let alone the mastermind behind a plot to kill the President of the United States! And to think we just stumbled into the middle of all of this! How's that for luck?"
Lee choked on his brandy at Dotty's statement. Raising his eyes to Amanda's, he winked at her as she tried to hide her smile. Stumble into trouble indeed!
"It's a good thing that Miss Desmond was so entertaining, or we could have had our hands full explaining all of this to Phillip and Jamie," Dotty said, yawning.
"Well, as Phillip said, it's not everyday you get a 'hot babe' to give you all of her attention!"
Amanda just shook her head at Lee's statement. "I'm not sure which one of you to scold!"
Lee was indignant, giving Dotty a grimace as she laughed at Amanda's declaration. "I have never called Francine a 'hot babe'!"
"Thank goodness for that. Lee? I'm sorry the sleigh ride didn't happen tonight. It was a lovely idea though."
"I just rescheduled, Amanda. We'll go tomorrow. After we've had a chance to recuperate!"
"And speaking of recuperating, I think it's time I headed to bed. It's been a busy day."
"Goodnight, Mother. Going to dream of Le Pére Noël and dancing sugar plum fairies?"
"After today, I certainly do think I'll dream of Santa Claus! He sent his best elves to deliver a Christmas miracle just in time! Goodnight darling. Goodnight, Lee." Dotty kissed Amanda, and then Lee. "Merry Christmas! And to think, I didn't even learn how to say Merry Christmas in French! Oh well! Another Christmas!"
Dotty missed the appalled looks on her daughter's and son-in-law's faces.
Seeing Dotty safely in her room, Lee closed and locked the door to their suite. Rejoining Amanda on the couch, they savored the soft glow from the last embers of the fire and the lights of the Christmas tree.
"If we have to have this particular tradition on Christmas Eve, I'm glad the tradition of getting out unscathed remains as well! I'm with your mother, though, Amanda. After today, I believe in Santa Claus too."
Amanda laughed softly, cuddling up to Lee on the couch. "Oh, I don't know about that, Lee. It's nice to believe in Santa, but with our Christmas track record, I do believe in spies!"
Lee laughed and pulled Amanda closer to him. "Any spies in particular?"
"Only the best!"
"You know, there's no mistletoe, but I think I can safely claim a Christmas kiss from my wife. What do you think?"
"Just a Christmas kiss?" She gave Lee a wink and sly smile. "How about if I find myself a kerchief and you a cap, and then we'll snuggle down for a long winter's nap?"
"And some earplugs. If there's any clatter happening out on the lawn, I don't want know about it!"
"You won't. I promise!" Getting up from the couch, Amanda walked to the bedroom door, stopping to crook her index finger and beckon her husband to join her. "Come on, Lee, let's see if we can't have ourselves a merry little Christmas!"
Shaking his head, and with a grin on his face; Lee climbed from the couch and followed Amanda into their bedroom. Taking her in his arms, he kissed her, thankful his family was safe and he was where he most wanted to be—anywhere Amanda was.
"Merry Christmas, Mrs. Stetson. I love you."
"And I love you, Mr. Stetson. Merry Christmas."
Leaning up to give her husband a Christmas kiss, neither noticed the faint jingle of sleigh bells as they passed beneath their window.
An ending that's merry to all, and to all a goodnight!
Wishing everyone the blessings of the season, health and happiness in the new year. Happy Chanukah! A Blessed Christmas! Happy Kwanza!
from: 'Twas The Night Before Christmas' by Clement Clarke Moore
Resort in 'I Do Believe In Spies' is actually Le Westin Resort Tremblant.