Is there life after the CIA? I wondered as I stamped my foot into the bindings of first one ski and then the other. I was among the few early birds on the slopes; we were hoping to avoid the rush of celebrities modeling their designer ski togs. The view was spectacular! Snowy hills covered with pine trees stretched away and away. I lowered my goggles and pushed off. As I gathered speed I laughed aloud at the awesome feel of the wind in my face, the best antidote to my time in the Algerian desert I could think of. Halfway down the piste, something buzzed past my face. Then I heard a crack. Somebody was shooting at me? I bent as far down as I could and snowplowed to the side of the run, stopping just before I got to the trees. Great! Nothing. Not even a knife.
I ripped off my goggles and kicked out of the bindings. Stepping carefully into the woods, bent almost double, I advanced with a ski pole in each hand. I wish my gear wasn’t burgundy, I thought. On the other hand, I hadn’t expected to have to channel the Fourth Mountain Brigade that morning. I heard steps crunching toward me in the snow and ducked behind a tree. A man in black wearing a black face mask, his rifle held lightly in his right hand, slipped carefully forward, scanning to the left and to the right. He was looking too high to see me. When he was half a meter away, I yelled and launched myself at him with the ski poles thrust forward, but he deflected them with the rifle. He raised the rifle for another shot. I threw myself at him again, and he dropped the rifle. I grabbed it, and swung it hard, hitting him in the left shoulder. I reversed the rifle, backed up and fired. Off balance. Tried again.
He turned and ran. Should I follow him? What would I do with him if I caught him? I considered the rifle. I could hardly take it back to the ski lodge with me. I dropped the clip and whacked it up against the side of a tree, sending a jolt all the way down to my toes, and buried it in the snow by the side of the trail, throwing the clip as far as I could into the woods. I retrieved my ski poles and stood panting, heart pounding. I started to tremble and told my body it would have to wait until I got to the bottom of the slope, but it paid no attention, so I trembled.
“Who?” I asked myself. “Who?” I sat down with my back against a tree for a count of five hundred before I stopped shaking. Blowback from Morocco?
I stomped the snow off my boots and slipped them into the ski bindings. I couldn’t find my goggles, but I wanted to be in cover as soon as possible so I didn’t spend much time looking for them. With a shooter in play, I felt terribly exposed. Maybe the shooter had a friend. Unarmed. I was unarmed. Not even a nail file. I wanted a gun and badly. Where could I get a gun in the peaceful countryside of Switzerland? Breaking into a gun shop was always an option.
At the bottom of the slope, I kicked my way out of my skis and carried them back in to the rack. I felt cold deep down inside, and gin seemed advisable. A drink in the lounge? Too public. Back in the room I made one of my very dry martinis—gin and a cube of ice. Maybe that would help me unscramble my brain. I looked at my watch. Ten thirty. Drinking in the morning was a sure sign of something or other. I finished the drink, but I was still cold. I took a long, hot shower and lay curled up under the duvet remembering.
I had been sent to Morocco to find a missing colleague and wound up fighting my way out of a terrorist camp. They killed Kemal. I touched the bloodstained pearl hanging around my neck. I killed his killer, but Kemal was still dead.
Would the Pure Warriors of Islam send an assassin all the way to Switzerland to get me? Possibly, but it seemed unlikely. Whoever he was, he knew me, and I didn’t know him. I went to sleep listing the people who might want to kill me.
When I woke, I ordered lunch from room service. The waiter who delivered it looked like an Arab. Arab guest workers in Switzerland? The shooter could disappear into the crowd of Arab workers. He might even be one of them. If I couldn’t find and neutralize him, I was going to have to cut and run. I hate to do that, but I disapprove of assassination, particularly my own.