Ryder watched Fiona and Sunny make their way north along the edge of the ravine. He checked the time and headed south. They needed to cover as much ground as possible, as quickly as possible. Extreme situations called for extreme solutions, he thought, reminding himself that this was no ordinary callout, that the lost hiker wasn’t another nameless tourist. The Black family had a lot of sway in Glacier Village — he had learned that almost immediately after moving to the town years ago — and saving a Black could change everything for Glacier Rescue. If he could do something to give back to Glacier Rescue, to the people who made Glacier Rescue what it was, who made him feel like he had finally found a home and belonged somewhere, then he considered it an honor.
Peering down into the ravine, he yawned and rubbed his eyes. Shouldn’t have taken all those meds, he thought. C’mon Ryde, get your blood pumping and let’s go! Wake up, man. Time to save a life. He stomped his feet and took a big breath, filling his lungs with cold, moist air.
Ryder continued south, winding around dense bushes and shrubs. There, he saw a gentle path leading into the ravine. He took it and slowly made his way downhill. His head felt foggy, but he stuck with his mission, his feet propelling him forward as though they were programmed. Thick cloud and heavy snow enveloped him, spinning in dizzying circles around his head. He stopped and closed his eyes for a few seconds, listening to the fierce windstorm whip through the giant trees around him. The world continued to spin when he opened his eyes, so he closed them once again, keeping them shut for a few minutes. It didn’t work. Ryder blinked with force, shutting his eyes tight and then opening them back up wide, trying to rid himself of his lightheadedness. He braced himself against the side of the ravine, but where he thought he’d feel solid earth for support, he only felt air. By the time he’d realized his miscalculation, it was too late. He stumbled down further into the deep ravine and lost his footing. Desperate to stop his fall, he grabbed for roots, rocks, anything. Nothing held. He rolled uncontrollably as gale-force winds pushed him down the mountain. The world still spinning wildly around him, he felt the impact of the ground all over his body until he reached the precipice of a ninety-meter cliff. And then he felt nothing at all.
“Are the writers at the Glacier Times implying that Sam is involved in kidnapping Ben? Clearly the Chief meant involved because she was with the group of people who were with Ben when he went missing. Not, involved involved, as in, she kidnapped Ben,” Penelope said. “What are they smoking?”
“Well, where is she? Why else would she ghost?” Drew replied.
“I mean, she seemed to be in a big hurry to come down from the mountain. And she didn’t even want us to look for Ben with her. Remember? ‘Stay in the tent while I go look for Ben alone.’” Drew used air quotes to emphasize his point. “Maybe she knew where she was going the whole time. Maybe she led us in a circle on purpose or maybe she made those tracks herself.”
“Wow. You really don’t need to use a mountaineering helmet. Your skull is thick enough on its own. Why isn’t it plausible that Sam got kidnapped too? Why isn’t she a missing person instead of a person of interest?”
“C’mon. Ben is a Black. And Sam? I mean, what would her kidnappers demand? Old, smelly hiking gear?”
“Really Drew? That’s so rude. Not elitist or anything.”
“Alright, alright. Just sayin’. I’m not pushing that she did anything, I’m just presenting facts. Truth should come out regardless of who gets hurt.”
“You know what I think is the truth? I think she’s up there looking for him.”
“No way! Why’d she bother coming down then? That’d be a huge waste of time.”
“Last winter, my cousin Molly got married. Now, thing is, Molly is named after Great-grammy Molly because they were born on the same day. And Moll’s big thing was that she wanted to celebrate their birthdays — Great-grammy Molly’s 100th — and have her wedding at the same time. So, it was a very big deal and everyone came to honor Great-grams. I mean, everyone, from all over the world. We filled every single place available to rent in Glacier Village. Hotels, motels, B&Bs, you name it, and I still had to share my bedroom with five cousins. It was total madness for two weeks. And of course, dogs are family, you know, so everyone brought their dogs.”
“And?” Drew’s voice had a hint of impatience and annoyance.
“Listen, I’m giving you the short version. I won’t even tell you about the clam shortage catastrophe.”
“Alright, alright, go on. I think I remember a bunch of people wearing matching outfits last year.”
“That was us. Great-grams knits us all sweaters every year, so we all coordinated. That’s a different story too. Anyway, one of the planned events was this really extravagant party at my cousin Judith’s, who lives, like, two hours from here. She hates dogs and won’t allow them on her property. She’s a total…well, it’s obvious what kind of person she is by the fact that she hates dogs. I mean, who could hate dogs? So, everyone was going to have to leave their dogs in their cars outside to attend the party, but then, we were like, it’d be too cold and we looked into whether we could rent out something to keep them warm, blah, blah, blah. So I suggested that I skip the party and take care of the dogs, take them all out for a little hike even. Everyone loved that idea. So, there I was with forty-seven dogs. Divided them into three groups of fifteen or so, all on leashes, for separate hikes around Mount Blue. Everything’s great, everyone’s happy, no fights, no problems. Except, when I get to the lookout with the last group of dogs, I’ve got seventeen leashes attached to me, but only sixteen dogs. And guess which dog is missing? Not any of the Bernese Mountain Dogs. Not the Irish Wolfhound or German Shepherd. Of course, not any of the St. Bernards. It was Peanut, Great-grammy Molly’s twelve-year-old deaf pug. The dog who has never left Great-gram’s side for more than ten minutes in all his life, the dog who had to be pried from her arms before the trip to Judith’s, the dog who has comforted Great-grammy Molly since Great-grandad Paul passed away. Of all the dogs in the group, this was the dog lost on the mountain alone. OMG. Can you say, panic, much? Well, what do you think I did?”
“I dunno, called your family for help like a normal person?”
“Yeah. I called them right away so Great-grams could die of a heart attack on the spot while the rest of my family disowned me. That makes total sense. Not. Call me crazy, but I kinda like having a family, sleeping under a roof, breathing. I know, silly little things, but I’ve grown attached to them. No, what I did was, I made sure all forty-six dogs were locked up and safe. Then I hauled butt to find little Peanut, which, thank goodness, I did. Nobody in my family knows this story, by the way, so keep this to yourself.”
“Well, we all could’ve stayed up there to look for Ben together. I would’ve totally been up for that. Doesn’t make any sense that she came down and then went back up alone.”
“We could’ve helped Sam as much as having forty-six dogs tied around my waste would’ve helped me. She probably didn’t want to lose another member of the group as much as I didn’t want to lose another dog.”
“Alright, but Ben is not a deaf dog.”
“No, he’s a Black, like you just said. You know what the Black name means in Glacier Village. And did you hear Wesley go on and on after his fall about how she was responsible for the group and that if anything happened, she would be to blame?”
“Shh! He’s comin’ over,” Drew said in a hushed voice. He then turned and greeted Wesley with a quick upwards flick of his head. “Hey Wes, what did your dad say? Did he talk to the kidnappers?”
“I’m not supposed to talk about it. That old guy shouldn’t have called the cops either.”
“Don’t worry, Wes,” Drew said. “If your dad says he’s got it handled, Ben is as good as home. He didn’t get rich and successful for no reason.”
“I’m not worried.”
“Wesley Black,” a deep voice called out behind them. Mario Bertolozzi handed Wesley a cup of coffee and a bag. “Here, this is a breakfast calzone. You come in anytime for pizza or whatever. You and your family are always welcome. They will find Ben and bring him home safe, don’t you worry, son.”
“Thanks,” Wesley said. “Does this have cream and sugar?”
“Ahh, I knew there was something I was forgetting. I’ll be back in a few minutes. Better if you wait right here. Safer with all these people around. Who would have thought someone would take your brother just for money. For money!? What is this world coming to?” Mario walked away still shaking his head.
“What’s so funny?” Drew asked, watching Wesley smile to himself.
“Nothin’,” Wesley told Drew as he took a bite of the sandwich and thought to himself, I knew it was going to happen.
Wesley had remained at the community center since arriving with the group from the Challenge. There was no point in going home. Dad was away on a business trip and even though his girlfriend had decided at the last minute not to accompany him, Wesley wasn’t particularly interested in seeing her. Tiffany reminded him of Amber, who had stolen a couple of Dad’s watches and disappeared. They had the same colored hair and drove the same kind of sporty BMW convertible.
Wesley wandered around the community center taking stock of the number of people who had come in. It was getting crowded, just like it was on the Ice Bridge on sunny weekend afternoons sometimes, where people would accidentally bump into each other. But in here, it was completely different. People who saw him coming gave him a wide berth, looked down to avoid eye contact or offered tentative smiles, just like peasants would for kings, or how mere mortals bowed for gods.
And when someone who hadn’t been paying attention made contact with Wesley, the apology came quickly and sincerely, with furrowed brows, soft eyes and a slight forward bow of their head, sometimes with a tilt, like they were offering their neck for the sword. And usually, the “I’m so sorry” was followed by a “Can I get you anything, Wesley?” The offerings kept coming in.
Wesley returned to his seat in the lounge. He had left his backpack on it with a piece of paper on top saying “Reserved for Wesley Black” to ensure that no one would steal his chair. Beside him on the table was a pile of men’s fashion magazines. He had allowed one stranger to fetch them for him earlier. Relaxing into the chair, he flipped open a magazine and ripped out a photo of a $756,211 watch. The Ulysse Nardin Classico Hannibal Minute Repeater featured a design with hand-carved figurines of Carthaginian General Hannibal Barca on his horse surrounded by one of his elephants, the jacquemarts and a regiment of soldiers carrying swords, spears and shields. Definitely getting this, he decided, placing the page on the top of his “to buy” pile of ads for clothes, accessories and other luxury items. Gotta look good to match my new life. Wesley’s lips stretched into a satisfied sneer as he sat back, pictured himself wearing his new watch and thought, Ben shoulda gotten kidnapped years ago.
Sunny and Fiona followed Ryder’s tracks in the snow. Seeing his footprints lead down into the ravine, they secured themselves to a tree using ropes and lowered themselves down to continue their search. Fiona’s heart jumped when Sunny came to a sudden stop and looked back at her. Even though a balaclava covered the lower half of Sunny’s face, Fiona looked through the tint of the ski goggles that protected the top half of her face and knew exactly what she was feeling. In Sunny’s wide eyes, Fiona saw shock. Through the painful pinch she felt when Sunny had grabbed her arm, she registered fear. Fiona looked past Sunny’s shoulder and realized that they had reached the precipice. She gave Sunny’s hand a pat and nodded her head once as if to say, “We have to move forward.” Slowly, Sunny turned back around and started moving forward again. They forced one foot in front of the other until they were at the edge. Looking over the rock face, they saw Ryder below. His upper body was buried in snow, his legs were splayed and unmoving and fresh snow was accumulating on top of him. He had not survived the fall.
By the time Sunny and Fiona arrived back at the main rescue base in the community center, word about Ryder had spread. The building had become a gathering place for villagers and an uneasy buzz filled the air while people exchanged hugs and tears flowed freely. An upset infant’s ear-piercing screams rang out as her mom tried to comfort her without success. Her cries replaced the hum of the crowd, as if she spoke for everyone. Everyone except Wade Pratt.
Wade looked just as grief-stricken and concerned as everyone else, having practiced his sad face in the mirror many times before. He could use it reliably whenever he liked and sometimes, when he was in the right mood and the situation called for it, he could even make his eyes water. It wasn’t that he was never upset. Actually, sometimes, he thought he felt too much, like the intensity of his emotions went from zero to one hundred faster than any muscle car could. But unlike a Mustang, he had no cruise control, no Sunday shopping puttering around in third gear. He felt either nothing or everything. And while everyone around him was upset about Ben and Ryder, Wade wore his sad face. But for a brief moment, he let his guard down. He had just felt his phone vibrate in his pocket. Tapping the screen, he read the text message and smirked.
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