Kindle ebook Free: From 18/12/2017 - 22/12/2017
Publisher Roger M. Kaye
Kindle ebook Free: From 18/12/2017 - 22/12/2017
Len Palmer, an enthusiastic amateur skier, runs a successful one-man business as a ski-lift designer. Len, a quiet unadventurous, bachelor, is asked to design a the world’s largest cable car to join a small village in the French Alps to a vast, existing, ski area. When Len takes on the project for the village ski company the last thing he expects is to find himself fighting a ruthless criminal organisation. Len is joined in his struggle by Brigitte Perinet, a geologist and strong defender of the alpine environment. Brigitte is an expert skier, and the most beautiful woman Len has ever met.
The ice was hot. All around me, the mountain tops were darkening as they shed the last of their snow cover to reveal the stark, bare rock that had not seen the light of day for hundreds of thousands of years. I still had my skis strapped firmly to my feet but, try as I might, I could not move. The snow was bubbling on the ground. Just in front of me was the woman; young, not much more than a girl, with dark black hair. I tried to remember her name but there was nothing. Her skis started to slide in the steaming snow. Fighting a rising tide of panic I made one last effort to move as a blinding light filled the scene and she disappeared from my view ..........
The doorbell tore me from my dream and I sat up, shaking and drenched in sweat. I glanced nervously around me. I was in my own bed, in the familiar comfort of my flat. A single ray of weak winter sunshine had managed to evade the thick curtains and was shining on my face. Still heavy with sleep, I got out of bed. Feeling just a little bit foolish, I looked out of the window; my small flat was still in a newly fashionable section of Islington. There was no sign of any ice or snow.
The doorbell rang again, this time a lot longer ring designed to show the caller's impatience. I crossed the hallway and, in both hope and fear that it was the dark-haired girl from my dream, I opened the door. A special messenger, of indeterminate age and sex wearing a large red crash helmet, offered me a letter. It was addressed to me, Len Palmer, Managing Director of Cable Car Consultants; managing director and only employee, unless you count Janice my part-time secretary, who also helps keep the flat clean.
"Sign here." The muffled voice was probably male, although it could have been female. It was certainly not polite. I signed, took the letter, and put it on the breakfast table in my kitchen. I watched the messenger go back down the stairs then returned to the table. Holding back my curiosity, I completed all the small morning rituals and finally, after struggling with an unusually stubborn packet of cereal, sat down to breakfast.
I have been running C.C.C. for nearly 10 years and despite its small size it is very successful and allows me an interesting and comfortable life style. I spend my time surveying ski sites and planning the construction new ski-lifts. With the tremendous increase in popularity of the sport in the last decade many resorts are hard pressed to provide enough lifts to carry their customers to existing ski slopes, and are anxious to put in new lifts to open up ever higher and larger areas. Over the years I have built up quite a name for myself amongst ski-resort operators as an expert on planning new lift systems. I work closely with the lift manufacturers and usually am asked to supervise the construction stage as well as the planning.
From the rather stylized picture of a mountain range, with twin peaks forming the V of Valtarant, emblazoned across the envelope it seemed that this might be a job. I opened the letter quickly; I was negotiating with a small Slovenian resort for a major up-grade of their lift system but had no immediate work in hand. Anyway, with the new ski season just beginning, I needed an excuse to visit the Alps. I had vaguely heard of Valtarant, one of the smaller resorts in the French Alps, but had never taken the trouble to visit it. I find that I enjoy skiing much more when I'm getting paid for it.
The letter seemed routine enough, "improving the resort's facilities", "opening new areas", "survey and report the possibilities and options",.... until the last paragraph. Most resorts will start the initial survey work two or three years in advance of construction but Valtarant was in a hurry. The survey was urgent, could I come at once? The "at once" was impressively backed up by a first-class air ticket to Geneva for that very afternoon. A short note, hand-written in a neat, continental style, advised me that a car would be waiting at Geneva to take me to Valtarant. The letter was signed by one Marcel Poussier, Director-Generale of the Valtarant Ski Consortium SA. The possibility of my not coming did not seem to have occurred to Mr. Poussier.
I put the letter down and slowly finished my breakfast. I glanced through the morning paper without finding anything of interest. Finally, curiosity got the better of me. I crossed the rather narrow corridor to my workroom. Rather than starting up my computer and practicing my poor typing skills. I took down my well-used Guide to French Ski Resorts from the bookcase. It took me a minute or two to find Valtarant amongst all the other Vals. The guide thought Valtarant important enough to warrant a page of facts and figures, but not important enough for a map of the lifts and pistes. From the number of lifts and trails, Valtarant seemed like a pretty small resort and would probably cater to French school parties and weekend visitors - not an international resort by any means.
I put away the guide and spread a map of the Haute Savois area on the table. I found Valtarant without difficulty, sited quite nicely in a longish valley leading up to a fairly rounded peak of nearly 2600 meters. The area around Valtarant looked quite promising and not too far away was the Bellcôte peak dominating the enormous ski area at La Plagne. Yes, this definitely had potential. I made a few rough measurements and sketched in a couple of lines on a transparent overlay. It was possible, perhaps, that Valtarant could be linked into La Plagne's lift system. It would need a very long lift and there were one or two rocky outcrops in the way which meant height would be needed. Long and high means gondola or cable car, and large investments, but access to La Plagne, if a return trail could be built, would put Valtarant in the big time.
By now I was getting interested. Like an investor on the stock exchange looking for an underdeveloped company which no one else has noticed, a lift designer knows that a well thought-out connection to an existing system can transform a small resort. And for all its romance the bottom line in skiing is profits just like any other business. The bigger the resort, the bigger the profits. But, as in any other business huge investments are required long before the profits start rolling in.
I folded up the map and put it back on the shelf. A map can only tell you so much, not even the vaguest of plans can be made without a detailed survey of the site which, of course, was how I earned my daily bread.
The front door bell rang again and I went to open it. This time it was Janice who came every morning around nine. She had a key, of course, but liked to assert her independence by ringing the bell and waiting patiently for me to open the door. She finished her part of the act by entering the flat discreetly, saying “I hope I'm not disturbing anything” with a significant glance at the bedroom. As she well knew, no-one, except for her, had been in a position to be disturbed for many a year. Pretending that I might have any number of women in my room was her way, I supposed, of keeping me from getting too complacent about enjoying her company. She needn't have bothered; I was fond of Janice, even grateful, but I couldn't see her as a permanent part of my life.
“No, no. Come in” I replied, completing the daily ritual.
Janice was not beautiful by most peoples’ standards. She was fairly tall and slightly built; her face too sharply chiseled to qualify as beautiful. I imagine that you would not have given a photograph of Janice a second glance, but she had an inner glow - she radiated life. The movement of her hands, the slight shrug of her shoulders - something - gave her an irresistible appeal that lit up the room and made her the centre of attraction of any group. I had met Janice some years ago when we shared a rather tired gondola at Les Houches and had been stuck, half-way up, for nearly an hour. She had been angry, and a little afraid, and had called the lift's operators, designers and constructors some very unusual names. I asked her if she thought she could do better and, by the time they had got the gondola running again, I had offered her a job.
That morning Janice was in a bad mood, which was not at all like her. She sat in the small office I had made for her in the spare bedroom and noisily rearranged her desk.
“Janice, we have an interesting job, come and look at this”
I put the plastic overlay on a sheet of white paper to make it clearer but, without the map itself to give it substance it looked as exciting as a crack in the ceiling.
“Why, darling, that's absolutely wonderful. Did you do it all by yourself?” Janice could be very unkind when she wanted, but this was not at all like her.
“All right, Janice” I said “What's the matter?”
I definitely remember speaking in a quiet sympathetic voice and I'm sure that I smiled, although later Janice claimed that I had snarled. “You barked” she claimed “just like a dog. If you had spoken nicely I wouldn't have left, would I?”
“If you are determined to go, I don't mind. I have never liked the Savois.” She grabbed her bag and pushed past me without another word. At the door she paused for a moment as if unable to decide whether it would be better to slam it or leave it open. In the end she flounced off leaving both the door and my mouth wide open.
There was not much to keep me in my office. The chance to start the season with a few nice runs, and get another contract under way, was just too good to miss.
I collected up my survey kit and packed it in the specially padded suitcase I use in my never-ending war with the airline's wrecking crews. I packed some clothes and my ski gear in the deceptively weak looking case I use as a decoy to distract the wreckers' attention from my survey kit and called a taxi to take me to Heathrow.
The flight to Geneva was on time and I relaxed in my seat, quietly sipping the complimentary champagne. If I had not been in such a hurry to get to the airport, or if there had been less champagne, I might have worried more about Janice. I might have asked myself how she knew I was going to the Savois - I hadn't had a chance to tell her. I might have saved myself a lot of trouble!
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I was born, some time ago, in Buckinghamshire in the UK. After many years working as a physicist I have turned my hand to writing novels around my favorite pastime – skiing. As an enthusiastic amateur skier for many years, I have always been fascinated by the increasingly complex cable cars that allow us to reach once inaccessible mountain tops. My first novel, Snow Job, available from Amazon, introduces Len Palmer a ski lift designer. My second Len Palmer story, Not My Job, is also published on Amazon. You can learn more about Len and his adventures at the website: lenpalmerbooks.com You might meet me on the slopes of my favorite resort in France. Look out for a red hat and a grey beard!