Andre Laforet sighed with remembered pleasure. Marie Ange had left just a week before. After six months at the Auberge, she had finally returned to France to take over the kitchens of her father’s 5 restaurants and inns in Provence.
Andre had known something would develop between them on that first day, six months earlier, in late August, when she arrived at Auberge De Pomme Or’s location close to the east side of Ontario’s Algonguin park. She had come to complete the last requirement in her formal chef’s education – a practical assignment in their kitchens. Every student at the Institut Culinaire Aubrois in Paris spent the last 6 months of their 3 year program working at one of the Institut’s associated restaurants or inns.
Andre was not sure why she had chosen his Grand-père’s Auberge. He suspected that it has something to do with the close friendship between his Grand-père and the Institut’s owner, Henri Aubrois. The two men had been officers in the French military together earlier in their lives. They had spent time on assignment in Africa together. Each had resigned his commission there, and had gone onto business ventures in Africa that had left them well off financially. Aubrois had gone back to France after 10 years. Now his Insitut Culinaire was one of the leading training schools there for professional chefs. Its graduates ran kitchens in Class A hotels and top of the line fine restaurants all over the world.
During her first 3 months, Marie Ange had been as professional and as proper as a French chef could be. Her imposing 6 foot height, short hair, and upright, stiff carriage meant that few people, guest or staff, ever saw her as feminine.
In the first month, she worked for Andre in the Auberge kitchens, doing whatever work he assigned her. Although his father, Pierre, was formally the Auberge’s lead chef, Andre ran the kitchens for all practical purposes. Andre too had spent time at the Institut Culinaire. He knew that she was here at the Auberge to do more than prepare food. The Institut’s program was as much about the financial and people management side of the food business as it was about cooking.
Marie Ange had impressed Pierre and Andre with her culinary and people management skills. They quickly realized that she was more than capable of running Auberge’s kitchens by herself. She had been working part time in her father’s restaurants and inns since she was a young teenager. Her time as the Institut will be the capstone of her professional education. After her time at the Auberge, she will go to run her father’s various kitchens at level needed by their Grand Cru association.
Andre, after talking to Pierre and Sabine, Pierre’s wife, put the first shift each day in the Auberge’s kitchen in Marie Ange’s hands. She spent a hour with Andre in the kitchen each night after the supper guest serve wound down. Together, they planned the preparation needed for the dishes of the next day, which was started by the early morning kitchen shift staff.
Marie Ange also took part in the seasonal menu planning meetings with Pierre, Andre, and Sabine. Sabine handled all the logistics and purchasing for the Auberge. The Auberge’s kitchen used a complex mixture of local in-season fresh produce and meats along with ingredients trucked from Toronto and Ottawa.
Then, with the arrival of winter, the dynamics between Marie Ange and Andre changed. By mid-December, the Auberge’s private lake usually froze hard and solid. At that point, Andre directed the ground crews in laying out a speed skating oval on the ice. Over 2 miles long, it followed the contours of the lake’ shore line. Andre was as passionate about speed skating as he was about food and women.
Serge, his Grand-père, with his typical entrepreneurial flair, had turned Andre’s passion into a business opportunity. The Auberge was the only resort in the international Grand Cru association of resorts to offer speed skating as part of its winter resort program. Each year, a former top of the line speed skater came to the Auberge to act as the speed skating coach. Sabine added top-of -the-line speed skates and best-in-class speed skating apparel to the Auberge’s boutique.
Sabine had put together a complete holiday planning service by which guests could arrange a one or two week trip to the Auberge. The trip planning covered everything, from the moment guests got in a limo to come to the resort to the moment another limo dropped them back at their home door.
With the growing popularity of speed skating at the Olympics, the program attracted people from all over North America and Europe. The Auberge’s guests were prepared to pay a significant premium for time at a resort with the Auberge’s Grand Cru reputation for food, privacy, and service. Speed skating became a significant addition to the Auberge’s already established winter program of cross-country skiing and dog sledding in the nearby provincial park. Andre’s passion became a revenue producing part of the Auberge’s winter.
One week after the oval went up, Andre came down to it to see Marie Ange flying along it, smooth stroke after stroke of her long legs driving her forward at a pace which rivaled his own. Dressed in the classic skintight uni-suit of the serious speed skater, her bend over, hands on her back, posture made him aware of her magnificent physique for the first time. In the previous months, she had never dressed to display her body, either in the kitchen or at other times when she was around the resort. But here she was, a magnificent, full breasted athlete with long legs and an amazing butt.
She was clearly an accomplished speed skater. He realized that she was in top-of-the-line physical condition. He knew that she ran cross-country regularly on her time off along the Auberge’s many trails. But her had always thought of her as a colleague who happened to be a woman, rather than a woman who attracted him by virtue of her amazing vitality. When he joined her on the oval, she had whizzed by him laughing, clearly challenging him to race.
Over the next week, they spent time together on the oval each day. Andre used to skate in the pre-dawn morning. But since she was on the breakfast kitchen shift, he shifted his skating time to late evening so they could skate together.
And then, one day, after skating, she came round from the women’s side of the speed skating change room at the bottom of the Auberge, nude and freshly showered. She walked up to him and kissed him with a physical passion that he could not deny.
They been lovers since then. She had been clear when she started. She did not want a long-term attachment, just friendly companionship sex. But oh, what sex it was. Although Andre was not sexually inexperienced, he had never been with a woman as full of sexual energy and ingenuity. He learned more from her in weeks then he had in with any of his many previous sexual partners.
Now it was over. She had left a week ago – back to France, back to her own life, no longer the joyful Amazon he come to know and to admire professionally, personally, and sexually. He had reverted back to his just before dawn skate time. He missed being with her with the oval as much as he missed being with her in bed.
Time to skate. A narrow iced path led from the bench to the beginning of the speed skating oval. It was just beginning to snow lightly and would snow heavily later in the day. The groundskeepers would need to clear off the oval before he could use it tomorrow morning. But for now, the icy oval, black in the last of the night’s moonlight, called to him. He knew that as he flew along it, the need to get into a stroke by stroke rhythm would drive away the memories of Marie Ange for at least an hour or so.
He drew off the sweat pants and hooded sweater that he wore over his blue and black speed skate uni-suit. He put on his skates. He carefully glided down the ice path from the bench to the oval. He took a few minutes to work through the warm up stretches and body twists that would prepare his body for his work out. Then he started off round the oval.
The 2 mile long oval curled out from a long stretch down the near side of the lake into a back stretch which closely followed the lines of the far shore line. The twists and turns needed to navigate the two small bays in this back stretch added to the oval’s variety and challenge for Auberge’s guest skaters.
By the time, Andre made the turn into the second bay, he was fully in rhythm, hands behind his back, bent over forward, legs stroking, in the classic posture of the long distance speed skater. He would go round the oval 5 times before he was through – 10 miles being his normal daily work out.
The back stretch of this part of the oval was always in shadow at this time of the dawn, just before morning. The tall trees on the small bay’s lake shores partially blocked out the light of the late nigh, early morning moon.
Then, unbelievably, he was falling. Instead of hitting hard ice, he fell into a cold, wet whiteness that he did not understand. The winter late water penetrated deep into his core, causing him to gasp and draw the cold water into his hard working lungs. For just a moment, he struggled to pull his hands round to this front to clear away the white cloth away enveloping his face and head. Then he went into cold shock. The last thing he was aware of was a vague sense of Marie Ange calling to hin as he sank down into the overwhelming dark, cold.
A bulky white shape drifted over out of the lake’s darkness as soon as Andre hit the water. Air bubbles rose and ran away the bottom surface of the ice. Over size white medical scrubs covered up the scuba dry suit which protected the diver from the water’s cold. Roseanne had not been impatient. She was not cold. They knew Andre’s schedule. She had entered the water when he first came down to the bench, knowing that he would be at the hole they had cut in the ice within 10 minutes or so.
She took the body by one ankle and pulled it down 30 feet to the lake’s bottom. Once there, she worked quickly to anchor the body. She had filled 4 collapsible nylon buckets with stone and sand from the lake floor as soon as she had first come down to the bottom. She had placed them appropriatel, so that now it was simply a matter of stretching some nylon rope over the body, pulling it through the nylon bucket’s handles until the rope formed a cradle which would keep the body from drifting.
Then she found and pulled together the white sheets that they had used to cover up the hole they had cut into the speed skating oval. She firmly tucked them into another nylon bucket which sat on the lake bottom lined up with the hole. It was firmly anchored there by a large stone she had place in it. She re-tied the rope attached to its handles, using the rope to pull them together in a way that would keep the the sheets securely in the bucket.
When she was done, she drifted up from the lake bottom, following the rope attached to the bucket with the sheets, which she had left behind on the lake floor. She had tied the upper end of the rope attached to its handles to a piton screwed up into the bottom of the ice just beside hole.
As she drifted up, she though back to how hard they had worked hard during the night, cutting that hole using the antique ice awl and hand ice saws they had found 4 weeks ago in a local antique store. The ice tools were leftovers from a time ice was cut out from the local lakes and shipped to Toronto and Ottawa to fill the home ice chests so many years before. They had chosen the tools because they were practically silent. They had practiced on their own lake, working out the best way to cut the 4 foot wide 6 foot long hole, and getting down its time. Their last rehearsal had been at night, as close as possible to the conditions they had encountered during this night.
Just before she surfaced, Rosanne unscrewed the piton holding the end of the rope attached to the sheet filled bucket still on the lake floor. She was an experienced ice diver. As part of the rehearsal on their own lake, they had worked out the mechanics of placing the guide rope. Rosanne knew from that ice divers who did not take care to place guide ropes that would led them back to the hole died under the ice. The hole in the ice, even one as large as theirs, simply disappeared from sight against the background of the light ceiling filtered through the ice.
She surfaced in the hole. Cathryn was waiting for her. Cathryn wore oversize white medical scrub pants and a white hooded camouflage jacket over her heavy weather clothes. Rosanne handed the piton to Cathryn. Cathryn pulled up the bucket containing the sheets from the lake floor. She put the rope and piton into the bucket. She tied the bucket on a white toboggan that she had placed towards the shore line, about 10 feet from the hole.
Cathryn had been laid flat out on her side on the ice, lost in the half light against the shore line. She had been hidden from Andre’s sight by the white camouflage outfit over her clothes. She had been amazed by how Andre’s bent over speed skater’s posture had dived into the water and immediately disappeared below the ice once his front skate hit the white sheets they had used to cover up the hole.
Cathryn handed Rosanne the 3 foot crowbar she had brought on on the toboggan. Rosanne ducked back under the water’s surface and used the crowbar to pyre loose the one of the two 3 by 4 foot pieces of ice they had cut to make the hole. She pulled and pushed it back under the hole’s furthest edge so that it half closed the hole. Then she pried loose the second 3 by 4 ice floe. She placed it half way into the remaining hole, so they could get their hands on it once she was out of the water.
She surfaced again in what little space remained in the hole. Cathryn reached down and helped Rosanne climb out. Both woman were careful to avoid banging or catching the scuba tank on Rosanne’s back on the sides of the remaining hole.
Cathryn helped Rosanne pull off her flippers and shrug off the scuba tank with its attached hoses, regulators, and buoyancy compensation vest. Cathryn placed the flippers, and the scuba gear onto the white toboggan. She pulled up and adjusted two bungee cords over it all, making sure that nothing could fall off when they eventually pulled the toboggan behind them on their way out.
Rosanne and Cathryn struggled with the second ice piece they had cut out, pushing and pulling it back and forth until it finally drifted up in place, filling the remainder of the hole. Rosanne slipped the crowbar back along side of the gear on the sleigh, ensuring that it also could not fall off.
Cathryn spoke first. She spoke loudly, know that the neoprene hold on Rosanne’s head tended down on the sound it passed through.
“Well, that went exactly as we rehearsed. How long until the ice blocks freeze back in place?”
Cathyrn pointed to Rosanne’s head, and reached into a pocket of camflaguoe jacket to pull out a thick white nylon covered winter hat with eye flaps and a front visor.
Rosanne pulled the neoprene hood off her head, and handed it to Cathryn, who tucked it down securely under a bungee on the toboggan. Rosanne’s short, cropped,gray hair was re-markedly dry. She put on the winter hat.
“At this temperature, the water between the side of the blocks of ice and the hole will freeze completely solid in an hour or so. The snow that is beginning to fall will quickly cover all of this over. You will be able to walk over this in 20 minutes, and hardly tell. The cut out blocks won’t even move underneath your feet by then. You will be able to drive a snowmobile over them in less than 60 minutes.”
Rosanne stopped talking and thought for a moment.
“Once the falling snow has covered it over, my guess is that no one will ever find it before melt out in the spring, even if they clear the snow out of the oval again tomorrow. You have seen this happen on the practice holes we cut out on our lake. Less than 24 hours later, you can’t tell where the hole was in the ice, everything freezing back to the same color.”
Rosanne shrugged and then stretched her hands up, twisting and adjusting the scuba dry suit about her body.
Cathryn smiled at her.
“OK, ready to go? I figure 10 minutes from here to the place where we left the snowmobile. Then another 10 to get to the place where we left the van and the snowmobile trailer at the end of the old road. The coffee there will still be hot in its thermal canister in the van. Then, a careful 30 minutes drive back to the house, especially if this storm comes in as quickly as it seems to be coming in. Don’t want to go off the road. I am hungry and looking forward to breakfast.”
Rosanne grimaced. “Right on, but first when we get back to the van, we take the time to pull off this dry suit. It will be stiffer and heavier with this coast of surface ice by then. I am already wanting to get out of it and get back into some clothes.”
The two women turned and walked towards the shore. Rosanne led. Cathryn followed her, pulling the white toboggan behind her.