Absolution from Emerald Peak
By Lee D. Rorman
Bleary-eyed, Dennis Carr gazed vacantly over the shiny oak bar counter as a kaleidoscope of luminous colors pulsated in the large
mirror. Lifting his glass to his mouth, he tasted air.

“Hit me again, Roger,” he said to the solemn bartender who stood behind the bar polishing a glass with a clean, white cloth. Roger
pretended he didn’t hear and continued working on the same glass. The loud dance music mixed with the talking and laughing patrons
in the background.

“Raah-ger!” Dennis laid his head sideways on the bar, his arms stretched lazily out with the empty glass tilted toward the bartender.
Roger glanced at his drunken customer who looked as though he was five drinks over his limit already.

“Dude, you’ve had too many already. Why don’t I call you a cab?” he said as flipped open his cell phone.

“Call me a cab – call me a rickshaw, just, hic, shoot me one more, whaddaya say, ol’ buddy, ol’ pal?”  He pleaded like a whiny child
wanting another cookie from the jar. Seeing Roger talking to the taxi dispatcher, he resigned his effort and shut his eyes in defeat.

He opened them again when he smelled perfume wafting around him. His eyes followed the legs, shapely under the tight yellow ski
pants, up past her sweater to a beautiful tanned face. Her blonde hair was a direct contrast to her rosy red complexion. ‘Obviously a
serious skier,’ Dennis thought in a burst of deductive observation.

“We’d like another round, please,” she said with a perfectly white smile while swirling her downward pointed finger in the air. She gave
Dennis a sweet smile who was openly gawking at her up and down. Roger, the bartender, shook his head at Dennis and apologized to
the young woman for him.

“Now, Dennis, you behave yourself. The taxi is on its way to take you home.”

“Home schmome. I’ve yet begun to party,” Dennis said with a gallant gesture that nearly caused him to topple of his stool. The blonde
shot another smile at Dennis and returned to her party. Dennis closed his eyes and smiled as he inhaled her lingering fragrance.

With as much grace and balance as he could muster, Dennis staggered to her table filled with other skiers who were laughing, talking,
and generally having a good time. Dennis slumped drunkenly into an empty chair at their table.

The pretty blonde was sitting next to a husky male with curly black hair. He had his arm draped over her shoulder. They both smiled at
him. Dennis glanced around the table–everybody was smiling generously at him.

“W-well, it sounds like you guys are having a good time, huh?” he said. He was beginning to regret his intrusion into their fun. He
started to get up to leave.

“Hey, stay and have a drink with us,” said a tall skier with a weather-beaten face that radiated warmth. His hand gently pulled Dennis
back down into his chair.

“Yeah…thanks.” The faces, all healthy and happy, looked benevolently at him. “I guess you guys‘ve been on the slopes all day?"

“You bet. Emerald Peak. The snow was great today,” replied a woman with long black hair falling thickly over her shoulders. Her hair
gleamed reminding him of bright clean darkness of crows he had seen posting on trees in his backyard.

“Do ya ski?” she asked.

“Oh, a little, I guess.” Dennis recalled his first and last attempt at skiing which ended with a broken leg–and spirit. He tapped his right
leg. “Broke it last time out,” he said with some pride in his voice.

They groaned in a sincere show of sympathy. A waitress wearing a dainty pink apron appeared with a large tray loaded with glass mugs
brimming with yellow brew capped off with white foam overflowing the sides. Dennis accepted his mug and took short sips as he
peered at his new-found friends.

Time passed merrily into the night and soon the techno music faded and the house lights flooded the club. Dennis was laughing and
enjoying himself when the last call for drinks was announced.

“Hey, listen. I had a great time tonight but I gotta head out. May get a call for work tomorrow,” Dennis said leaning forward and
grabbing the arm rests, his elbows bent outward at his sides.

“Oh? What do you do?” asked the curly haired man with the pretty blonde. They all looked attentively at Roger.

“I drive charter bus.” He stood up. The club swam around in confusion before his eyes. He buried his face in his hands to gain some
equilibrium.  “Wow,” he whispered out loud.

A big, burly man who had been sitting quietly at their table the whole evening stood up. He wore round, wire-rimmed glasses and
sported a thick, brown beard that covered his neck.

“Let me take you home. You’re in no condition to drive, man.” His voice was deep and commanding but his eyes radiated warmth and
compassion. Dennis’s eyes fixed on the bearded man’s heavy arms and wondered how he got those muscles. He remembered that he
would try to get on a weight training program only to give it up. It was too boring and he never saw immediate results.

Dennis looked slowly around the table at all the healthy, suntanned faces; faces that bespoke purpose and discipline–two qualities of
which he had neither. His envy increased until it evolved into resentment. His sagging eyes fixed on the bearded man standing before
him.

“No problem. The day I can’t-“ Dennis fainted; his evening excesses caught up with him. The bearded man reached out and
intercepted Dennis before he went down.

The following afternoon Dennis awoke with a throbbing head that felt as if a mad scientist had hooked wires to it and sent a thousand
volts through every five seconds. He stumbled toward the bathroom and fumbled through the medicine cabinet, carelessly knocking
small plastic containers and half used tubes onto the floor at his feet until he found his aspirins. Dry swallowing several of the caplets,
he paused to peer at his image in the mirror. His face was a dark shadow underneath his rumpled hair. He ran his sweaty palms over
his whiskers. He leaned closer to the mirror, his eyes widening in wonder.

A scuff of blackness had settled under his eyes, like the black stuff baseball players rub on before a game. ‘That’s new,’ he thought. But
no, that wasn’t all; his skin underneath the growth felt taut–unnatural. He suddenly realized that his face and head hurt, not only from
the headache, but hurt like he had been beaten up.

Dennis winced as he touched his nose and cheekbones. He let out a controlled howl when he opened his mouth to look at his teeth.
His jaws felt as if he had met the business end of a powerful right hook. ‘No, maybe a baseball bat,’ he thought as he studied his face
in the mirror.

A reflection of the afternoon sun flickered off a passing vehicle causing a sudden strobe effect on the walls of the bathroom. An image
of dancing and thumping music invaded his thoughts. The ski lodge. The events of the past evening rushed back to him.

A smile grew on his throbbing face as thoughts of the beautiful blonde returned. She was so incredibly gorgeous. A man would be
awfully damn lucky to hook up with a babe like her.

The pain in his jaw flared up again. “Goddamn, that hurts. Why in the-“  His memory gained momentum and the image of the large,
bearded man with the John Lennon glasses came fully back to him.


He had wanted to give Dennis a ride home and-his memory tape cut off. As Dennis stared intently into the mirror at himself trying to
recall the events that took place between the offer of a ride and the pain he now endured, a quiet anger bubbled up inside.

“Those sons-of-bitches beat me up and-“ He ran to the bedroom and found his billfold in his jeans which were laying in a wrinkled
heap on the floor next to his bed. He opened it and found about thirty dollars in bills inside.

Sitting on the edge of the bed with the billfold in his hands, he thought about the skiers with whom he had spent the evening. He
remembered how friendly and accepting they had been. And they didn’t take the money. He rose from the bed and returned to the
bathroom.

“No,” he said to the mirror. They were too laid back to do that. Deciding to table the issue for later, he turned the shower on, the
steam beginning to billow around the bathroom. Just before stepping into the shower, he thought he heard his phone ring. He inclined
his head toward the door to listen and heard it again. ‘Probably my dispatcher,’ he thought, hoping very much it wasn’t. He decided he
would tell him he was sick today. “Bottle flu,” he intoned with chuckle.

With a large, red towel wrapped around his middle, Dennis walked to the kitchen and picked up the phone. Draping the receiver over
his shoulder, he closed his eyes to collect his scattered thoughts. Then he brought the receiver up to his ear.

“Hello?” Dennis’s voice cracked from too much drinking and too many cigarettes the night before.

“Hi, Dennis. How are you feeling?” The chirping voice belonged to a woman. Dennis didn’t recognize it. He covered the mouthpiece
of the phone and hawked to clear his throat.

“Uh, fine…just fine.” His head throbbed. “Who am I speaking to?”

“This is Liz, ‘member?” Dennis looked out the window where a couple of young girls were jumping rope. “We met last night at the ski
lodge,” she said and giggled.
“You were feeling pretty good, too.”

“Oh, you the blonde?” Dennis winced at his own curtness.

“Yes, I am!” She didn’t seem to notice.

“Oh, yeah.” He began to get control of himself. After a short pause he said, “How are you?”

“Wonderful! You are so kind to ask and I was wondering if you wanted to come to a get-together tonight?”

Dennis reached over and flicked the button on the Mr. Coffee that was loaded and ready. It gurgled to life.

“Wow, I donno,” he answered as the pain in his jaw and nose flared again. ‘What the hell is wrong with me?’ he thought.

“Oh, Dennis, it’ll be a hoot.” the cheerful voice exclaimed. Dennis remembered the slim, strong body that belonged to that voice. He
smiled and thought, what the hell, why not?

“Sure, Liz. Sounds like fun.” Dennis listened as she gave him the address, her voice rising and falling like a dreamy love song.

“See you tonight, Dennis.”

“I’ll be looking forward to it.” Dennis hung up the phone and leaned against the wall in a reverie. Smelling the coffee, he poured
himself a cup and carried it to the bathroom. Although he still felt like a wreck, he sang merrily while the hot water splashed against his
body.

Dressed to kill in his tight, faded denim pants and generously designed open-collared shirt, he drove his restored jet-black ’69 Chevy
Nova to the address Liz had given him. The streets downtown were lit brightly against the night sky with blinking neon signs while cars
streamed along in both directions. A light breezed puffed in through his open window.

Dennis reached into his shirt pocket with his free hand and pulled out the wrinkled sheet of paper with the address. In a jerky scrawl
was written, ‘1701 21st Ave.’ Below the address was written, ‘in the basement.’

He glanced at the next street sign and saw that he was two blocks away. Switching lanes, he watched the addresses along the way.
Coming upon the correct address, he pulled up in front, the Nova rumbling impatiently as he sat and stared in confusion at the large
building that occupied that space. Thinking he had made a mistake, he checked the slip of paper, then the numbers on the building.

Anger formed as Dennis realized he was the object of a practical joke. “A dumb dope,” he muttered to himself. He shook his head in
disbelief at his own stupidity as he stared at the ivory numbers on the building that identified itself as 1701. The large gilt letters
protruding from the brick surface of the building identified itself as St. James Hospital.

Dennis reached into his pocket for a cigarette and punched the lighter on the dashboard. He pulled out the crumpled pack and saw
that he was down to his last cigarette. He pulled the cigarette out and wadded the empty pack in his hand and tossed it out the window.
The lighter popped out and he brought it toward his mouth and lit the cigarette with a couple quick puffs. He glanced down at the
paper with the address and started to wad that up too but paused.  He mumbled the words at the bottom of the note. “In the
basement.” Glancing at the well lit building, he allowed a dark smile to grow. “April fool,” he grumbled.

He slammed the shifter into gear and burned rubber, swerving into the spacious parking lot and screeching to a stop in a parking space.
Dennis killed the engine and got out of the car while maintaining his concentration on the building. He slowly pushed the car door
which shut with a quiet thud. He walked to an entrance and pulled on the door finding it locked. “Damn,” he said as he struck the
door with an open hand, his mood edging closer to the red line.

Dennis glanced to his right and saw a sidewalk that ran along the building and disappeared around a corner toward the front of the
hospital.  He gathered himself then headed off in that direction. The automatic doors hissed open allowing him unhindered entrance to
a large lobby with hallways spreading outward in several directions. He noticed a middle aged woman standing behind a liver-shaped
mahogany counter underneath a glossy dark blue sign with the word Admittance engraved in white letters. He walked up to counter
and was greeted with a pleasant smile.

“How may I help you?” she said. Her blue name tag identified her as Ruth.

“Yes, hi Ruth. I’m supposed to meet some people here.”

“We have visitor lounges on all floors. Do you know what floor they were to meet on?”

“I was told they’d be in the basement.”

Ruth’s smile faded, her face communicating a lack of comprehension. “Did you say the basement?”

“Yes, yes, the basement. I was told…here,” he pulled out the note with the address and showed it to her. “I’m supposed to meet them
in the basement.”

“But- well, the, ah, public isn’t allowed down there. Are you sure it was the basement?

Dennis’s impatience was worn thin and this was becoming a long frustrating night. He considered throwing it in and going home. He
had better things to do than chasing his tail around in circles. Then he remembered the blond with the long legs. Her sexy voice on the
phone called to him inside his head and echoed there even now.

He looked around at the many hallways wondering where they led. He noticed a bank of elevators along the wall down a nearby
hallway. He looked back at Ruth who continued to regard him with a concerned look. He smiled at her.

“Never mind.” He turned to leave then stopped and turned back. “Is there a cafeteria in here? I could use a cup of coffee.”

Ruth’s helpful smile returned. “Yes. Just go down that hallway there and it’s about half way down.” A dull gold bracelet dangled from
her wrist when she pointed.
Her fingernails were painted dark red like drops of dried blood. He gave her a cheerful smile.

“Thanks, Ruth. You’re very helpful.”

The hallway that led to the cafeteria was opposite the one with the elevators. He snuck a backward glance and noticed Ruth had her
back to him so he cut over to the elevators and stood in front of one that was out of her line of sight. He poked at the button with the
down arrow.”

Two men wearing grey scrubs came around the corner down his hallway and headed toward him. One of the men was quietly talking
and gesturing lightly with his right hand as the other man listened with a slight smile. As they passed him, the talking man looked at
Dennis and cut himself off leaving his mouth agape. The other raised his eyebrows as he turned and followed the other man’s gaze. He
continued on with his discussion looking back at Dennis, a confused expression set on his face. They both disappeared around another
hallway the same time the elevator door hissed open. He stepped in and pressed the button labeled with a letter B.

As he stood in the elevator, a feeling of unease settled in around him. The pain in his face and neck returned, the dull ache gradually
increasing with every passing moment. He massaged his face with both hands and didn’t notice right away that the doors had opened.
He grabbed one of the doors as they both started to close again. The doors obediently reopened and Dennis stepped out into an empty
hallway.

The walls and floors were painted a glossy institutional gray with doors spaced uniformly down its length. Dennis smelled a peculiar
odor-a heavy and uncomfortable mixture of pine scent and alcohol-surrounding him and permeating his skin. He puffed his cheeks and
let air blow through his lips.

“Okay,” he said into the silence. He started to turn back to the elevator and tapped the button when he caught a glimpse of movement
out of the corner of his eyes. He focused down the length of the hallway and saw a figure in a loose gown walking toward him. He
squint his eyes at the approaching person who appeared to be gesturing to him. He barely heard the elevator doors open behind him.

Suddenly, Dennis realized that Liz, the blond he met last night, was sashaying toward him, her breasts swaying underneath her gown.
She stopped, smiled, and turned to walk in the direction from whence she came. Dennis quickly started to jog down the hallway after
her.

“Hey! Liz! Wait a minute.” The elevator doors slammed shut behind him. He jumped at the sound and looked back. He watched the
elevator through the small window on the door as it moved slowly up. In a moment it was gone.

He returned his attention down the corridor and saw it was empty again. “Where’d she go?” he intoned.

“Liz!” he called out as he continued down the sparkling clean floors. His mind drifted back to the address on the note. The words ‘in
the basement’ floated in and out of his consciousness as he turned a corner and headed down another wing. The lights became dimmer
as he walked and he couldn’t read the signs on the doors he passed. Apparently whatever they did down here, he thought, they weren’t
doing now; no lights glowed from the opaque windows on the doors he passed.

Further down the corridor he noticed a reflection of light glaring off the floor. It spilled out of an adjacent corridor to the left in front
of him. Dennis started walking fast in its direction. He turned into the hallway and saw light shimmering from the fogged window at the
end. ‘The light at the end of the tunnel,’ he thought with a strained smiled.

He slowed his pace as he neared the door. He wondered why his heart was pounding so hard. The pain on his head and face throbbed
as he gripped the cold, steel handle and slowly opened the door. He peeked into the room and saw a cavernous space with large
stainless steel lamps hanging here and there from the high ceiling. Cabinets with glass doors lined the walls on one side. Chrome
containers were arranged neatly inside of them.

“Is anybody here?” Dennis called out in a tentative voice. The silence seemed to creep out toward him. "A surprise party?" he said in a
voice empty of humor.

“Liz! Are you here?”

No answer, no acknowledgement; only the loud silence that circled around him as he tottered into the room. The door swung shut
behind him with a dull thud. He roamed around looking at the walls and ceiling. Then he saw them. Air escaped his lungs through his
gaping mouth.

To his left, against the wall, were six long and narrow tables. Lying on top of five of the tables were what appeared to be bodies; each
covered with a white sheet. The table furthest away was empty, except for a rumpled sheet lying in a pile on top. Dennis felt himself
being drawn to them. Slowly he approached the tables. He felt the pain in his neck and shoulders smolder with more vigor. His heart
pounded in his chest. Dennis found himself standing by the first table; a cold wave washed down his spine. He lifted the sheet and with
hands trembling, pulled it away from the face underneath.

His legs collapsed under him.

The on-duty Forensic Medical Examiner strode with his resident toward the morgue. The young resident was a month away from
receiving his board certification and was verbally listing the purchases he would make when he started pulling down the big money. The
elder coroner’s attention was fixed on the clipboard and barely heard about the Porsche Boxter and Harley-Davidson that would soon
sit in the resident’s three stall garage.

Both men entered the morgue and quickly went to work donning their masks and gloves. “Might as well finish up here so we can go
home,” the ME said.

“Yeah, what a mess,” the resident said. “It’s amazing they were able to drag that bus out of that ravine. One minute they’re on their
way to the slopes for a weekend of skiing and the next-pow!-they’re twenty-one mangled bodies scattered over a hundred-yard area.”
The resident’s voice became muffled after he pulled his mask over his mouth.

“Only six left,” said the ME.

“After three days with this group, I’m glad we’re almost done,” said the resident. He removed the sheets from the bodies, pausing at
the final one. He had a look of disgust etched on his face.

“Do me a favor, would you?” asked the resident.

“What?”

“Do the bus driver for me, okay?”

“Sure, why?”

The resident leaned over and looked studiously into the silent face of the corpse. He lifted one of its eyelids, and then closed it again.

“Oh, I don’t know. There’s something about him,” he said thoughtfully.

“I know what you mean,” the ME said. “Imagine trying to drive a bus up to Emerald Peak dead drunk.” He walked over to the table
and lifted the tag attached to the driver’s big toe. “Well, Dennis Carr, you won’t be doing that again.”

The two men got down to work; a silence filling the room again. The muted fan over their heads provided the only sound.