With a muttered curse, Jimmy shoved Hank out of his way and ran to the door.
“Hey,” yelled the judge, “don't just stand there! Go get him!”
Mark rolled his eyes, then obediently sprinted out the door after the fleeing Jimmy. The snow blinded him for an instant and then he heard an engine roar into life. A sudden beam of light appeared from around the corner of the inn and a snowmobile shot past him into the snow and dark.
McCormick slogged through the snow as fast as he could and found a dimly-lit shed that contained another snowmobile. Quickly, he checked the controls, then hopped aboard and started the engine. Finding the headlight switch, he flicked it on and the chase began.
Visibility was almost nil, but Mark followed the faint tracks left in the snow and the sound of the snowmobile engine. It seemed to be getting a little louder, so he cautiously upped his speed, swiping the snow out of his eyes frequently.
The wind howled and, if anything, the snowfall seemed to be even heavier than before. The snowmobile tracks led over small rises and through narrow dips. Pine trees surrounded the trail, occasionally dropping loads of snow with loud thumps. There was no sign of life, no animals or birds. “Sure,” muttered McCormick through a mouthful of snow. “They've got more sense.”
Suddenly, the noise of the engine McCormick had been following grew louder still, and he could see a partial circle of light on the snow cast by the headlight. He throttled back and approached in a swirling cloud of snow. It looked like the snowmobile had run into a drift and gotten caught on something under all the snow. Jimmy was nowhere to be seen, but faint and fading footprints led off into the storm.
Mark cut off the engine and then the headlight of the abandoned snowmobile. “Jimmy!” he shouted as loudly as he could. “Jimmy, come back! You can't stay out here!” He paused to listen for an answer, or any sign over the noise of the wind. “Jimmy! You have to come back! I can't wait out here for you!” he yelled once more. Only the wind and the sound of the snow hissing through the air answered him. Shivering, he breathed deeply, noticing that Jimmy's tracks were now completely obliterated by the ever-increasing snowfall.
Reluctantly, he turned his own vehicle around and headed back toward the inn, following the shallow tracks the two snowmobiles had left. After only a few minutes, those tracks were gone, but McCormick, eyes slitted against the driving snow, kept on, hoping he was heading in the right direction.
After a time that seemed endless, filled with white, he heard a faint banging noise and altered his course slightly. The noise grew louder and he began to hear a familiar voice shouting as well.
“McCormick!” came the bellow again, and the banging resolved into the clanging of metal. A very faint glow off to the right, and there was the inn, a row of eight oil lamps lined along the railing, the judge out front shouting and Dorothy hammering a metal saucepan with the fireplace poker. McCormick brought the snowmobile to a stop right in front of the door, and the judge lent a hand to help him dismount. Hardcastle then supported his nearly-frozen friend into the inn, Dorothy following behind, brushing great lumps of snow off Mark as best she could
Beside the hearth, George was keeping a sodden and sorry Hank under guard while the erstwhile Hans, now Jeff, built up the fire. Duane, formerly Gunther, hurried over to Mark with a steaming mug and a blanket to wrap around himself.
“Chicken soup. Be careful, it's really hot.” He offered the mug. “And I've got a pot of coffee on and more soup for anybody who wants it.”
Hank spoke up in a blurry and tentative voice. “Jimmy? You didn't catch him?”
“I'm sorry, Hank.” Mark, soup in one hand, adjusted the blanket awkwardly. “He's still out there. There's no way he can . . .”
Hank hung his head, then lifted it up, smiling sadly. “He wanted to deal in snow. Guess he did.”