Ali Zarin was excited about her opportunity to pose for a cover on one of the largest women’s magazines in the United States called Star Magazine. She did prior photography shoots for magazines as a model in college and afterwards. The only thing different was those articles were small and photos insignificant. The photo shoot would coincide nicely with her promotion at KMDZ-LA10 as manager of the Los Angeles news.
This opportunity was what she worked for her whole life. Dreams did come true for a person who worked hard. She worked 24/7 and earned this new exciting chance. No one gave this job to her. She did lean heavily on a friend’s influence in the news industry. Lisa Givens knew the CEO, Mr. Fleming.
The location for the photo shoot was at a private, rented home outside of Aspen, Colorado. The lodge was bustling with skiers and their families. The ski runs and restaurants were full at night.
The film crew arrived. The props person deposited her gown in the bedroom. Her full length, designer red crimson dress was wrapped in a plastic white bag. The dress was a princess style design with silver threads interwoven in the flowing bottom netting. The silver would lighten up the dreary day that no floodlights could illuminate. She briefly remembered the silver confetti from her promotion party. Ali shook herself.
“No need to go down a lonely road.”
The dress was removed from the bag and the white plastic put on the top shelf of the closet with Lisa’s baggage using up the rest of the space. The dress was lain out on the other queen size bed to keep wrinkles from developing. Ali previously unpacked her belongings into the home’s bedroom drawers.
The designer of the dress couldn’t make the shoot but sent her best regards with red roses and champagne. The hairstylist combed out the curls on the gorgeous brunette woman named Ali. The smoky eyeshadow was applied, the brows were enhanced, cheeks highlighted, and red lipstick with gloss was heavily applied. The model looked at herself in the mirror and could find no flaws with her image.
Ali walked out to the backyard near the wooded green pine trees. Their boughs were laden with snow. A hush surrounded the beautiful, picturesque setting. She walked the path the director showed her in a white fur coat.
The snow was fresh and soft. The snow machine would blow a few crystalline layers of snow around the bottom of her dress to hide her knee-high boots. Ali was glad she bought the fur lined leather boots to stand in the cold snow.
The director’s helper told her the lighting was finally correct. They waited three days for a special meter to register the exact glow. During those three days, Ali skied the slopes with her boyfriend. She rarely saw Lisa. On the day of the shoot, Lisa finally appeared bubbling with excitement and bragging about the magazine company.
Now the moment had arrived, and Ali must perform to her best ability. For some reason, her excitement regarding the photo shoot was beginning to wear off. Lisa told her the problem was nerves. Ali wasn’t sure. There was a feeling of dread. Ali couldn’t shake the mood.
She handed back the fox coat and struck one of the poses the director requested. She repositioned herself too far. The cameraman motioned with his fingers the direction she should move. The cameraman took some photos and moved back and forth to catch the great images. The woods in the background would look slightly blurred in the pictures. Ali glanced at the woods when she heard something.
“I think there’s a creature in the trees.”
The cameraman looked through his lens.
“The trees are fine, Ali.”
A cage was brought onto the set and placed on a table. Ali was confused. The director’s helper took the black raven out of its cage and placed the bird on her bare arm. The bird’s handler wasn’t there but gave instructions to the helper.
An extra square piece of netting from her dress was draped over her flared sleeve to hide the bird’s feet. The piece of netting touched Ali’s bare skin.
“What is this? I never agreed to be photographed with a raven,” complained Ali to the director.
The woman looked with disdain at the raven. The photographer took his best shots. The bird was the blackest of black and weighed two and a half pounds. The raven fluttered its large wings, uncomfortable with the woman’s brutal stare. The raven kept staring and smelling her sweet perfume. The raven touched the red netting fascinated by the fabric. The fabric contained the woman’s smell.
The director spoke, “Next pose, Ms. Zarin.”
Ali turned sideways and looked directly into the raven’s eyes. The camera clicked fast and many times. Ali wasn’t sure why she was uncomfortable with the scene. She sneezed.
Great balls of snow fell from the trees and blew into her face.
“My hair and makeup are ruined.”
The cameraman said, “Ali, you look great. Let’s get a few more, please.”
The camera clicked. Ali sneezed again. She was getting a cold. Her nose started to run. Suddenly, Ali picked up her dress, threw the bird and small square of fabric off her shoulder. She ran back to the house to get warm. The fur coat was left behind on the table with the raven cage in her rush to exit the scene.
“Well, I guess we are done for today. Everyone, let’s disassemble and get out of here.” The director only hoped there were a few good shots. He walked over to the cameraman who showed him the images.
“You’re a genius. The images are a quality cover. Send them to the designer and the magazine per the model agency’s request. Then we can all get paid. I’m going back to the lodge.”
The director left the area with the fur coat to return the valuable item to a special rental company in Aspen. He left his crew to handle the cleanup or fall out in the area.
The bird was ripping a piece from the woman’s fabric square. The bird was captured, put back in the cage, and taken back to the lodge lobby. The handler retrieved the raven and tried to take the netting from the bird. The raven squawked and pecked at his handler. The handler gave up and looked anxiously toward the door. He was ready to leave the lodge.
Back at the house, the designer’s aide, Lisa Givens, helped the angry woman out of the red dress and left the bedroom.
Ali quickly got dressed in her white ski pants and sweater. She pulled her nylons off and put on wool ski socks. Scrambling to get her boots, she called the director of the modeling agency. He was still in Aspen.
“How dare you do this to me? Who paid for this ad? I talked with the designer on the phone today and she didn’t know. This must be a joke. Someone in my past is playing tricks with me. I can’t have those pictures published.”
“Ali, please calm down. I’m sure there is a perfect explanation. I didn’t know about the raven. The contract said there may be a pet. So, it’s a bird. I understand he was tame, and the photos look great.”
“I want to talk with you now. Meet me between the two slopes, Jupiter and Lower Mars, near the woods.”
“Okay, I’ll see you there. Let’s hope they don’t close the runs on us. We’ll both be lucky to catch the last ski lift.”
The director, Josh Jones, met her at the lift because she hadn’t gone up yet. The operator didn’t pay too much attention to the couple. They skied together to the edge of the woods and talked. Ali wouldn’t back down from her request to withdraw the photos. He finally agreed to cancel the contract for her. The photographs would not be used. The director pushed off and skied down to the chalet.
Ali was still angry and wondered who set up this elaborate photo shoot with a raven. It was someone who knew her past intimately. If the pictures showed and her past was revealed, her career would be ruined. Her background wouldn’t be appreciated by her viewers or her company.
She saw the path through the small wood. Ali waited for Lisa to arrive. They were friends and the designer aide would help sooth her spirits.
On a whim at Christmas, she purchased Lisa the same ski jacket, pants, and ski gear. The only difference were the ski goggles. Ali’s goggle was black, and Lisa’s was white.
The path through the woods was worn by other skiers. The path would take both women to the parking lot where they could get in Ali’s vehicle. Ali was glad her boyfriend left earlier in the day for New York to visit friends. She would be alone to fix this mess before returning to work.
Halfway through the woods, a skier sped past the two women. His red one-piece ski suit and hat covered him fully. He wore dark ski goggles. The man stopped and waited for the two women to catch up to him. The women weren’t alarmed. The ski patrols wore the same jacket and pant outfit.
Ali slowed and made a move to ski around him. Lisa was skiing faster and passed her. Suddenly the two women tripped on the wire and went down. The man rudely held out his pole which was pointed at Lisa’s chest. He looked at Ali.
“Move or scream and I will kill her,” said the man.
Ali motioned with her hands that she would comply. “What do you want?”
She looked up to see a gun with a silencer. The evil man smiled and without any hesitation, shot her friend point-blank in the forehead.
The blood splattered on the man who was standing. Ali’s goggles also were sprayed with blood. Ali removed her goggles to see. The man took his goggles off and wiped them in the snow. Putting his gun away, he reached for his backpack and pulled out a knife.
Ali was unable to move away. Fear made her a statue of marble. The killer was delighted. With horrific speed, the skier plunged the knife into Ali’s side. She groaned from the pain and shock, passing out, unconscious on the ground.
A white plastic dress bag was brought out. The bag was the same type that Ali’s lavish red dress arrived in at the rental. He rolled the first dead woman’s body inside, zipped the bag shut, and dragged her further into the woods. He kicked the first woman’s ski poles out of the way towards her body. Then he dragged the other body off the trail. He regretted there wasn’t a second white bag to hide his dirty deeds. The second set of ski equipment was placed over the second woman’s head. The thrown snow was used to cover the second body.
The weatherman guessed correctly. A new batch of ice crystals were beginning to fall. There was no need to cover the blood on the ground. The man hurried out of the woods and skied to his car. With a sigh of relief, the killer noted the ski hill lights went out on the side runs of the mountain. No one would find the women for possibly a week.
Darkness settled over the ski valley. The wind slowed down around the tree line. A hand moved in the damp, cold snow.
One of the women was still alive. She touched her ski, gripping the metal and composite as if the ski was her lifeline. Her body froze when a tree branch snapped. Ali waited until she was sure the killer was no longer at the scene. Her cheeks were cold. It was time to move before she froze to death.
She saw the tracks in the snow and a hump. Using her hand, she found her ski poles and a branch. She snapped her skis in place and shoved off to the hump. Bending down was difficult. She dropped one ski pole beside the body. Ali managed to brush the snow away from the white plastic. Unzipping the bag, she saw Lisa’s brunette hair spill out from her hood. Ali let out a sob. Moving her dead friend’s head, she checked her pulse.
“Oh, Lis, I’m so sorry. This shouldn’t have happened,” said the woman softly to the darkness. She felt a piece of cloth stuffed in the hood by Lisa’s face. The cloth appeared to be a handkerchief in size. Ali stuffed the cloth into her side pocket.
Fear enveloped Ali. The killer could come back. She needed to get away from the scene and figure out why the killer was there in the woods at this lodge. The who would come later. Somehow, she felt the cloth was possibly a clue.
She heard a raven’s rasping call. The sound was familiar from when she lived near a Southwest Indian village in New Mexico. “There must be a raven’s nest near.”
Ali Zarin remembered long ago the last time she saw a common raven. The dead bird was placed in a tree and used to scare her. Someone stuffed the bird to make the thing look alive. Perhaps this bird call was an omen and its ancestors remembered her. She shouldn’t have thrown the model raven away. The raven’s black plumage lifted when she threw him into the air at the photo shoot, scaring everyone with her unkind movement.
“No, I shouldn’t have brought Lisa on this late run with me. Lisa is dead because of my temper. Plus, there is my association with some bad person. What did I do to make this person so angry to want to kill me? Was it my success as an American news reporter? Was it the promotion?”
Ali would find out the answers. She would turn herself into the predator. She would let the raven’s eyes guide her. The killer would become their prey.
Ali acknowledged her past. She moved as far away from the mean, hurtful teenager as possible. Her mother moved around the country for jobs when Ali was young. Ali was glad to leave the small town and a very disturbed young person. She even changed her name, hoping to remove that person’s image from her mind and the bad memories. Yet, the now fully grown, crazy adult found her anyway. It was obvious that one of her questions was answered. Ali knew her possible attacker.
Rage fueled her body to find her dropped ski pole in the snow. Her side hurt. She could feel the blood seeping through the mesh and metal. The brace she wore for skiing protected her from the knife blow. The blade hadn’t gone deep. There was a first aid case in her car. Her fanny pack was still around the waist and held her keys and identification.
She vowed to live to find Lisa’s killer and finish off the threat to her life. To do that, she would need to disappear. Slowly, she descended the white, groomed hill on her skis to the bottom and freedom. There were no cameras on this side of the parking lot. Ali dropped her skis and gear in the trunk, started the engine, and slowly drove away. Her clothes were left at the lodge. She wouldn’t need them anymore.
Driving down the road, she thought about the killer. “What if she was wrong about the person? Was there someone else just as demented and deadly?” Ali would need to move carefully to uncover the truth.
The reason for her hesitation was her newly-found success. Ali moved quickly up the corporate ladder. In her rise to a fantastic new job, she stepped on quite a few people. “No, I stepped on most of the people.”
In her mind, Ali counted the list of people like a detective would do on a computer screen. Their faces and names were visible.
There was only one friend who might help her. Ali sighed. She wasn’t sure her male friend would acquiesce to her style of detective work. She would need to convince him but not right now. First, she would need to assess the wound.
She brought her map out and selected the place to hide. The ranch was closer to Santa Fe, New Mexico. The ranch was where she saw her male friend the last time. Their parting was filled with hostility. He wanted Ali to leave her job in California and she refused. Now, here she would be, living in his house, where she refused to live before.
Thankful, the hacienda was far outside of town, she remembered the house contained over 4000 square feet with a secluded patio, and a four-stall garage. There was plenty of room and extra vehicles. Her friend’s brother, Milan, lived on the property in another building as caretaker and handled the horses. The brother would not be surprised to see her and could be trusted. The brother could get her antibiotics.
There was a problem in that Milan would contact Grant. Grant Evans would be on the next plane from his fancy office in New York. Ali wasn’t sure she could face Grant’s anger again. Grant would feel forced to help her. His demeanor toward her would be one of aloofness. She could handle him. Too much time passed for there to be any sparks left.
Refocusing on the map and route, the distance would take more than seven hours. Stopping at a roadside diner, she assessed the line of vehicles in the back lot and began switching out her license plate.
She thought about Lisa and wondered when the authorities would find her body. Their checkout time from the lodge was in four days. There was plenty of time to formulate a new plan. It was too bad she would have to miss the funeral. Ali assumed the authorities would believe she was kidnaped. She, however, assumed wrong.