Sandy, David, and Peter met as bored teenagers vacationing with their parents on a small resort island. The horrific crime they committed five years ago bound them together forever, cursing their friendship in blood and setting them on a path toward nihilism and destruction.
Now in their early twenties, the glamorous and sophisticated trio has come to an exclusive ski resort just days before Christmas to satisfy their appetite for danger and enjoy the physical company of the only human beings they can still tolerate: one another. But an interloper soon finds her way into their closed circle. Mary Margaret is no gullible innocent. She’s smart and mischievous and appears bent on tearing the friends apart. Will Sandy, Peter, and David keep their sinister ménage-à-trois intact, or have they finally met their match? On the steep and icy slopes of Semanee Peak, a dangerous game of cat and mouse comes to a shattering end.
“An unforgettable exploration into the nature of evil,” Come Winter is the chilling sequel to Last Summer and a “brilliant . . . dazzling” portrait of young sociopaths at play (Burlington Free Press).
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By Evan Hunter
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1973 Evan Hunter
All rights reserved.
Sandy was in the lead.
She skied around each bend in the trail like a lunatic, long blond hair flying out behind her, dark-blue shiny parka reflecting sun and sky, jeans wet with snow — "Yaaaaaaaaaaaah!" she yelled, and went flashing around another curve and out of sight. David, immediately behind her, made the same tight turn and disappeared behind the same clump of snow-laden pines. Some ten yards above them, I was suddenly alone on the steep trail, the mountain empty and still, not a whisper of wind, not a branch crackling, the only sound the chatter of my skis and the reverberating boom of stark-naked terror.
Don't let anyone tell you fear doesn't have a noise all its own, and a smell of dust besides. I once mentioned that to my friendly neighborhood shrink, Dr. Krakauer, and he said, "Ahh, yes, Peter? Und vhy precisely does it zmell of dust, eggs-actly?" It smelled of dust right that minute, dust that rose suffocatingly in my throat. Peter, I told myself, you are going to take a flying leap over one of these moguls and break your neck. (Ahh, yes, Peter? Und vot eggs-actly are moguls? Moguls are closely spaced, hard-packed mounds of snow, Dr. Krakauer.) Or else I was going to miss the turn Sandy and David had just negotiated with Grace and Style (those well-known vaudeville performers) and end up in the hospital with multiple fractures of the skull. God, I was scared.
The turn was coming up too fast, preceded by a pair of immense moguls that stoutly defended a ribbon of trail as narrow as the Khyber Pass. I chose the mogul on the left, dipped, swung up over it with my heart in the hood of my parka, yanked myself around it like a rank beginner, almost crossed the tips of my skis, almost flew headlong through them to fulfill the prophecy of busted cerebellum, managed to right myself, and came around the corner with arms flailing, poles thrashing, boots apart, knees shaking — and there ahead, not ten feet from where I clattered awkwardly into view, David and Sandy stood serenely by the side of the trail, watching. Breathlessly, barely in control, I skidded to a snow-spraying stop that almost knocked over both of them, not to mention myself.
"What kept you, Peter?" Sandy said, dead-panned.
"Thought you'd never get here," David said.
"Very funny," I said. "What's the name of this trail? Death's Row?"
"Suicide Gulch," Sandy said.
"Hangman's Noose," David said.
"Ready to go?" Sandy said.
"Just hold it a second!" I said, and both jackasses burst into hysterical laughter. I merely ignored them. I checked my bindings, adjusted my hood, blew my nose, fussed with my zippers and fidgeted with my gloves until I figured they were all laughed out. Then, with deliberate calm and considerable courage, I dug in both poles, pushed off, and headed straight down the fall line like Jean Claude Killy on a Sunday outing. Behind me, I heard Sandy give a small yelp and take off in pursuit.
I skied beautifully, I must admit it.
It was one of those incredibly clear bright days, the sky impeccably blue and flawless, the trail fast, winding between tall shady stands of pine and spruce. Confident now, determined to race Sandy's tail off even if it meant soaring like an eagle over moguls, blazing fresh trails through the woods, or booming the mountain nonstop, I experienced that sometime sense (but oh so rare!) of oneness with the terrain, snow and body acting and reacting subtly and surely, southern sun on my face, the wind of my own speed, hushed whisper of skis, twisting and bending and gliding like a ballet dancer on a frozen cloud.
There was a solitary skier on the trail ahead of me, a dumpy little man in a long black parka, black woolen hat with a little orange pompom. I skied around him effortlessly, passing him on the left, giving him wide berth, and then studied the terrain ahead and saw a flat stretch of wide-open, almost level ground glowing in the sunlight, the snow glittering with miniscule pink and blue and yellow crystals. I carved a wide turn, came to a stop, and then turned to look up the mountain, striking the same nonchalant pose Sandy and David had earlier affected. Above me, the skier in black was having a little difficulty, picking his way cautiously and gingerly down the trail, flanked on either side by giant trees in painful silhouette against the sky.
A saffron banner suddenly streaked into view at the crest of the slope. Head bent, blond hair flying, hips and knees and poles working, Sandy darted and danced down the difficult trail, David close behind her, while below the skier in black mustered his courage and pushed himself over the top of a mogul and started a descent in something closely resembling a beginner's snow-plow. Sandy's speed was dazzling. She used the fall line like a thread pulled tight between her body and the bottom of the mountain, spotting the skier in black a scant second after she came over the top of the mogul he had just navigated. He must have seen her in the same instant. Both swerved, Sandy to the left, the other skier to the right, toward the woods. Standing below, witnessing all of it, I simply could not believe what happened next.
Instead of stopping (he was surely moving slow enough to stop), instead of trying to stop, even sitting to stop, the skier in black continued impossibly and inexorably toward the woods. The effect from below was nearly comical. Here was this dumpy little man moving in slow motion toward the looming trees, but in such a deliberate way that it seemed he was hoping to find a warming hut in there, and maybe a nice cup of hot chocolate besides. David, speeding past, turned his head for a quick look at this athletic phenomenon, just as the little man with the orange pompom on his hat skied slowly, steadfastly, and directly into the forest, crashing obviously through hanging branches in a shower of falling snow, disappearing entirely from sight.
Sandy pulled to a stop beside me.
"Guy up there just skied into the woods," I said.
"Yeah?" she said, and looked up the slope.
David, grinning, coming down toward us, yelled, "Hey, did you see that?"
"I missed it," Sandy said.
"Guy skied right into the woods there," David said.
"Maybe he prefers skiing into the woods," Sandy said, and shrugged.
"We'd better get the Ski Patrol," I said.
"Yeah," David said.
"Last one to the bottom sucks," Sandy said.
It was later that we discovered the skier's name was Emmanuel Schwartz, and that he had broken his leg in three places when he went off the trail into the deep snow.
I had never heard of Semanee Peak until Sandy's call at the beginning of December. When the phone rang, I was drinking a beer with an egg in it, my favorite antidote for the thrice-weekly, fifty-minute hours I spent with the inquisitive Dr. Krakauer, a man eager to discover the cause of my now-famous recurring nightmare. My usual pattern was to come back to the apartment after my 4:10 sessions (Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays), kick off my loafers, crack open an egg, drop it into a cold glass of Heineken's truth serum (which I'd learned to drink on Greensward, lo, those many summers past), toast the mad physician's determination, and then swallow the egg whole, pretending it was his left eyeball, and washing it down with beer. I would then collapse on my own friendlier couch before tackling my schoolwork. School was N.Y.U. My apartment was on Lex and Twenty-third. Dr. Crackers had his office on Ninety-sixth and Madison. So much for geography.
Old Sandy was calling from Bennington, and telling me in a rush that she had heard of a great place in the heart of America's vast snow country, and wouldn't it be great if the three of us could go out there skiing for the holidays. I told her immediately that I didn't particularly care for the new voice she was cultivating, a phony breathless murmur, far inferior to her natural voice, which itself was deep and resonant, but which modulated sometimes into a high, exuberant girlish squeal that reminded me of those days five years ago, when we had tried to train a gull (and succeeded) and sworn loyalty to each other, and spent together the best summer of our lives. But Sandy at twenty was determined to develop a more sophisticated image, I suppose, even if it meant lowering her voice to a barely audible whisper and sounding somewhat like a boozy whore in a Third Avenue bar. As far as I was concerned, she was quite sophisticated enough, as slender and leggy as she'd been at fifteen, with narrow hips and tiny breasts that were perfect for today's breezy bra-less look, long pale-blond hair framing a face that had lengthened somewhat in maturity, vivid blue eyes (more artfully made up now to emphasize their luminosity), narrow nose flaring suddenly at the nostrils, feral mouth curving outward and away from her teeth. I didn't know why she needed that phony voice.
"My voice is my voice," she said. "If you don't like it, Peter, you know exactly what you can do."
"It doesn't sound like your voice."
"Whose voice does it sound like?"
"The one with throat cancer."
"Peter, that's a terrible thing to say."
"Speak up, I can't hear you when you whisper."
"Do you realize I'm calling long distance?"
"It sounds like you're calling from a long long distance."
"Do you want to go to Semanee, or don't you?"
"I'll ask David."
"I'll be seeing him tonight."
"Okay, ask him," she said, and hung up abruptly.
I met David for dinner at O'Neal's, across the street from Lincoln Center, where he played every Wednesday night with the Chamber Music Society. He was dressed for the performance, wearing black dinner jacket and tie, blond hair combed sideways and casually across his forehead, shirt front studded with the Schlumberger set I'd given him last Christmas. He looked freshly shaved and talced, resplendent in black and white, and he made me feel like a shabby bum, even though I was wearing imported Italian pants from Bloomingdale's, and a crew-neck sweater that had cost me forty dollars of my father's hard-earned loot. Come to think of it, Ialways felt shabby in David's presence.
He had stopped lifting weights immediately after The Summer of Rhoda (as Dr. Krakauer in his inverted Teutonic way was fond of describing it), but those years of jerk-and-lift had provided him with a trim body that required very little care and maintenance, somewhat like a concrete lawn painted green. I don't think he washed any more often than I did, but he always looked so goddamn clean and neat. It was discouraging. At twenty-one, my face had finally grown into my nose, which doesn't mean it had shriveled up and been sucked into the nostrils to disappear entirely from sight, but only that it had finally filled out enough to disguise what I'd always considered a fairly prominent proboscis. My acne had cleared up, too (good steady fucking from various sources works wonders, I am told by noted dermatologists), and I usually felt very comfortable with my appearance, typical example of red-blooded young American manhood — except when I was with David, at which times I felt like a shlump. One indication of the solidity of our friendship was the fact that I could tolerate his clean good looks without vomiting. If there is anything I normally can't stand, it's somebody who's better-looking than I am. Not to mention more talented. David, that rat, had been a great flute player (or flutist, or flautist, or whatever) even when he was just a kid at Music and Art. But he had gone on from there to Juilliard, and then had landed the chamber music gig, and was also playing here and there around the city in various symphony and studio orchestras, making a small fortune doing what he liked best in all the world. Me? I was breaking my ass in pre-med at N.Y.U. because do you know what I wanted to be when I grew up? A psychoanalyst like the mad butcher of Ninety-sixth, the world-renowned Dr. Krakauer.
"Where the hell is Semanee?" David asked.
"In the heart of America's vast snow country," I said.
"Is it a good area?"
"According to Sandy, it's terrific."
"Can we get rooms?"
"If we move on it right away."
"When does your Christmas vacation start?"
"On the fifteenth."
"I have a concert on the eighth of January," David said, "but nothing between now and then." He bit into his hamburger, nodded, and said, "I think it might be fun. What do you think?"
"I think so, too."
"Is Sandy still dating that jerk from Rutgers?"
"I don't know."
"Because like, man, if she intends bringing along excess baggage ..."
"No, she said the three of us."
"Just the three of us?"
"I think so."
"Can you find out for sure? When will you be talking to her again?"
"I'll call her when I get home."
"If it's really just the three of us, I'd like to go," David said.
"I'll find out. By the way, she's trying a new voice this week."
"What happened to the French accent?"
"She decided it was phony. You should hear what she's got now."
"Crazy girl," David said, but he was smiling affectionately.
So there we were at Semanee Lodge at the base of Semanee Peak eight days before Christmas, watching Emmanuel Schwartz pole-vaulting across the room on his new crutches. He was wearing on his round face the somewhat sickly, apologetic, guilty smile worn by anyone who's ever had an accident on the slopes, and he was wearing on his left leg the badge of his dishonor, a cast that ran from his toes clear up to his hip. Someone had already scribbled "Poor Manny!" on it with a red marking pen, but aside from that the cast was as pristine white as the sheepish grin that curled up under Schwartz's nose, its opposite ends disappearing into apple-red cheeks.
He was, this Schwartz, a round little man all over. I supposed he was in his early thirties, moon-faced, partially balding, with sloping shoulders and a pot belly, buttocks like bowling balls, fat little hands and thick thighs (the one we could see, the one without the cast), waddling forward on his crutches, grinning his silly smile in his open red-cheeked face, a man of curves angularly hobbling across the room toward the fireplace where the three of us sat toasting our feet.
"Something, huh?" he said, by way of openers.
David seemed totally absorbed in the scientific discovery that steam was rising from his socks, and Sandy was reading Story of O in tattered paperback. The main burden of conversation fell to me.
"Yes, really something," I said.
"I wanted to thank you," Schwartz said, easing himself down into a chair opposite me, and then propping his crutches against the fireplace wall. "You're the people who went for the Ski Patrol, aren't you?"
"Yes, we are," I said.
"I wanted to thank you," Schwartz said.
"Don't mention it," I said.
"I had no right being on that trail. Much too difficult for me."
David looked up from his socks and said, "Well, a lot of fun in skiing is the challenge."
"Oh, yes," Schwartz said.
"A man's reach should always exceed his grasp," Sandy said, without so much as glancing up. She had abandoned her Breathless Whisper the moment we arrived at Semanee, probably because it didn't carry too well across the hills and dales, and whereas her voice was low-pitched now, it was at least her normal speaking voice, thank God.
"I don't believe we've met," Schwartz said.
"I'm Sandy," she said, and smiled over the top of her book.
"Manny," he said, and shook hands with me, and then reached over to shake hands with David, and then tried to get to Sandy's extended hand, but his leg wouldn't permit it, so he just waggled the fingers in compromise, and she waggled her fingers back at him.
"Have you three been skiing long?" Schwartz asked.
"Sandy's been skiing since she was six," David said.
"Really? Yes, of course," Schwartz said. "You're a very good skier. I saw you on the mountain even before the accident You're very good."
"Thank you," Sandy said, and put down her book.
"Me, I'm totally uncoordinated," Schwartz said. "I don't know why I ever got involved in this cockamamy sport. I've been skiing for five years now, and all I do is get worse. Maybe I'm lucky I broke my leg. The way I feel now, if I never see snow again for the rest of my life, it couldn't be soon enough."
"Lots of skiers feel that way after an accident," David said.
"Is that a fact?"
"Sure, but as soon as they heal, they're right out there on the slopes again."
"It has to do with machismo," Sandy said.
Excerpted from Come Winter by Evan Hunter. Copyright © 1973 Evan Hunter. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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