The next morning Todd woke up, bleary eyed, to a smiling Natasha. She ordered an English breakfast with lots of coffee. After he ate and perked up a little she suggested they go rock climbing.
Todd did not feel like rock climbing. His head hurt, and he felt hung over, although he did not recall drinking that much wine.
Besides, he thought, he really needed to check in with work. Privately he wondered how expensive the off-world call would be from Lute. Would it be higher than calling from Diego?
But Natasha could be very persuasive. She pouted, crossed her arms, turned the other way, and refused to speak to him until he finally gave in and got dressed for climbing.
She bounded out the door full of energy. He trudged along, following her up a trail leading away from the resort and up into the craggy peaks.
An hour later, they carefully made their way along a narrow ledge to the spot Natasha had picked out for them to ascend. A spectacular view of the valley spread out below them, with birds floating on airstreams and wisps of clouds floating by in the bright blue sky.
Todd had to agree the sight was outstanding, and the crisp cold air did much to revive him.
Above the ledge, a slate gray wall of craggy rock stretched up horizontally about twelve meters, or 40 feet. The wall was a popular one for tourists as well as locals, because it offered numerous cracks and crannies, requiring no special equipment. It looked like determination and upper body strength alone would get someone to the top.
Todd felt a little nervous about free climbing but Natasha brushed off his concerns.
“Lots of people scale this one,” she said. “It’s relatively easy. And look at it! It’s pockmarked! We don’t need any equipment.”
Todd had to admit the surface of the cliff face had lots of fissures, and ten to twelve meters was not that bad, really, especially with all the handholds. He could see why it was popular for free soloing. Below the ledge, the face of the mountain dropped sharply. It was not quite a cliff, but it looked almost vertical despite the rocky base jutting out far below.
Without further discussion, Natasha grabbed onto the cliff face and started going up. Todd watched her ascend, and when she was safely above him by a meter, he started after her.
Natasha picked her holds carefully, and did not look down. There were indeed several spots to choose from, good positions for hands and feet that were never too far out of reach. She found a particularly good stopping point about half way up, with a relatively thick crag where she could rest her arms for a bit.
Below her, Todd noticed the pause in her ascent.
“You all right?” he called up to her.
“I think,” she gasped, panting and out of breath, “I think I just need to rest.”
“Okay. Hang on, I’ll join you.”
Todd moved slightly to her right so he could pull up alongside her. He climbed up closer.
Natasha looked down and over her shoulder, watching him ascend. When he drew near, she tensed. As his head came level with her legs, she pushed out slightly from the ledge and brought her foot down hard into Todd’s face, with all her weight behind it.
Stunned, he fell down the side of the cliff, all sense of grip lost with the blow. Natasha arrested her fall with her arms on the crag. She watched him sail down as his back struck the ledge below. He bounced off, then tumbled down the mountain until his body looked like a little red smudge far below.
Mindful of the fact that she might be watched or recorded, Natasha screamed. Then she carefully but quickly descended to the ledge, and looked down at Todd’s body one more time. She rushed back for the resort, running all the way.
In her training with SSI, one of the assassination instructors told the story of Chester Gillette. An up and coming young factory worker in New York State, Gillette impregnated his girlfriend, a woman by the name of Grace Brown who worked at the same factory. Gillette by that time was moving into higher social circles, and the fact that Grace carried his illegitimate child proved highly inconvenient for his aspirations.
Finally, after much hectoring and cajoling by Grace in regards to marrying her, he took her on trip to a secluded resort and registered under a false name, possibly leading her to believe he wanted to elope. They went out onto the resort’s lake in a rowboat where he evidently bonked her in the head with an oar and let her drown. He tipped over the boat and swam to shore while she went down with his unborn child to the bottom of the lake.
Chester then walked away and checked into another hotel under his real name, acting as if nothing happened. He was quickly caught, found guilty of murder at trial, and sent to the electric chair in 1908. Theodore Dreiser wrote a novel based on the case and it was adapted into several movies, plays, and television shows down through the years. The plot line kept recurring in one way or another, even in real life as other men murdered their pregnant girlfriends in much the same way, only to get caught and executed.
Gillette’s mistake, Natasha’s instructor informed the class, was in trying to pretend as if nothing happened.
“If you’re going to kill somebody close to you in a staged accident, you must go through the proper motions of someone who just witnessed their beloved meet an untimely end. Otherwise, if you try to carry on as normal, you’ll end up just like Chester Gillette.”
She remembered the lesson as she tearfully reported the accident back at the lodge. A search party was immediately sent out.
She remained at the main lodge crying, drinking a cup of hot cocoa while the manager tried to comfort her. The local police showed up and took a statement while Collin’s body was recovered off the mountain.
By that evening everything was over. The police closed the case as a tragic accident. Natasha made arrangements to transfer Todd’s body back to a funeral home in Port Ryan, the same one that handled his mother.
She booked a skycab and flew back to Port Ryan that night. Aware that as she neared the city surveillance by LuteNet might increase, she maintained a dour expression while watching old movies in her mind’s eye. She avoided titles featuring murderous plotlines.
From her hotel room she made a call on the neural net to the Petra Roe Embassy, reaching the robot receptionist.
“Yes, I’d like to schedule an appointment for tomorrow morning, please.”
“Who would you like to see?”
“Ector Avirillo please. I’d like to discuss passage to Petra Roe.”
“Certainly. And what time should Ector be expecting you?”
“Nine a.m., please.”
“He will see you then.”
Although Ector Avirillo was listed as serving on the official embassy staff, no one by that name actually existed. Invoking the name was an SSI extraction code.
The code phrase properly delivered, Natasha settled in for one last movie before calling it a night.