Much as he’d hated getting out of bed--not that he’d been sleeping very well--he has to admit there’s a certain beauty to the snowy landscape around him, even if it’s hard for him to feel any emotional response to it. The cabins nested in the tall pines, the lodge swathed in greenery and lights for Christmas, and all of it nestled under a blanket of snow.
When he’d come to Arizona, he hadn’t expected to end up in Flagstaff; hadn’t expected he’d be plowing paths and fixing frozen pipes or leaky roofs or busted heaters at a resort. He’d figured he’d find work in Tucson or Phoenix, where it got cold at night, but usually didn’t get too close to freezing. Snow would be a rarity, not a daily consideration.
But then there hadn’t been much work available, and an ad in the paper had turned up for a temporary general maintenance position at the Cougar Mountain Lodge outside Flagstaff. It would mean staying in one place for a couple months at least--the Lodge’s usual maintenance person had broken a leg on some black ice and would be in a cast at least that long--making it harder to run, but he’d figured it should be all right as long as he used the fake ID that Chloe had given him.
William Dempsey had a legitimate Social Security number and personal history that would stand up to official scrutiny as long as a hacker of Chloe’s calibre didn’t do too much digging. He’d used it on a couple occasions when he’d had longer spells without finding under-the-table work, but generally didn’t use it for very long. Partly because the more the name turned up in the system, the more chances for someone to spot any flaws, partly because he’d spent so long unable to use his own name after he faked his death that he wasn’t about to give it up now that he had it back. The fake came in handy, though, and using it occasionally would probably help keep anyone looking for him off his trail, anyway.
The job wasn’t bad, either. It paid fairly well, particularly considering the tiny apartment above the maintenance shed came with it. He’d had to use a little of the money Bill had given him to buy a beat-up pickup to get him out to the resort, but with what he was making he’d easily be able to pay that money back into his “savings” as well as add to it. Most of the work was fairly straightforward, and he’d found after he faked his death that he liked working with his hands; that he was good at figuring out mechanical things and fixing them. He didn’t usually have to deal with the guests, and the staff didn’t seem to mind his preference for solitude.
The only drawback to the job was that he was the only maintenance person for both the lodge and cabins, which meant that he was on call pretty much 24 hours a day. That led to nights like this one.
He’d gone to bed early, hoping to get some rest and finally kick a cold that had settled in his lungs and after a week and a half, still wouldn’t get out. That hope had been dashed around midnight when a call came in on his walkie-talkie, saying that the heat was out in one of the cabins. One look at the young kids huddled under blankets trying to keep warm--the parents hadn’t noticed the cold until the heat had been off for quite a while, not surprisingly--and he’d known this was going to be a long night.
After driving the family over to the lodge to huddle with hot chocolate and marshmallows in front of the big stone fireplace, Jack had spent a few hours getting the heater working again. Luckily for the family in question, one of the suites in the lodge was empty for the night and so once he’d known the problem would take a while to fix--his fatigue and his cold not helping--they’d been bedded down there and he didn’t have to drive them back. It’s still four in the morning before he locks up the maintenance shed and heads for the stairs leading to his apartment, however.
He stops at the foot of the stairs, practically doubled over as he’s wracked by a wheezy, rattling cough, and leans against the railing for support. He’s tempted to sit down on the steps and rest, catch his breath, but he has the feeling once he sits down somewhere, he’s going to fall asleep, and out here that would probably be fatal. Not that that’s much of a deterrent. More than once in the last few months, he’s wondered why he’s even bothering to move, to find work, to find somewhere to sleep, to just keep going. With Christmas approaching, that question is getting harder and harder to answer, as it becomes harder to not think about Kim and Audrey and how much he’s lost. Some days when he picks up his gun and feels the weight of it in his hand, the only thing stopping him from putting it to his head and pulling the trigger is the fact that he isn’t sure Carl or Beckett or a few other people in Milliways would ever forgive him, that Bill and Chloe hadn’t taken the risks they had for him to give up.
Jack grimaces as the thought of ending up in Milliways after his death crosses his mind. It would probably be just like the Landlord, to lock him out of the bar for almost nine months, until all hope of finding it again was gone, only to fially bring him back in when he ended it so he didn’t have to live with any of the things he struggled with day after day, instead of giving him the peace he wanted.
Looking up the stairway to the door of his apartment, it seems like an insurmountable obstacle as his every muscle aches with fatigue; like he might as well be trying to climb Mount Everest. But the cold is seeping through his jacket, and if he makes it up the stairs, he knows he can crawl in bed and get some sleep, barring any other emergencies. He can do it, the same way he’ll get through the Christmas season, the same way he’s done everything else. One step at a time.
Slowly, leaning on the railing, he climbs the stairs, trying to think about his warm bed instead of just how tired he is. Eventually he reaches the top step, pausing a moment to catch his breath, which triggers another coughing jag. A few hours’ sleep, and if he’s not feeling better by the next day, he promises himself he’ll go into the emergency room in town and get something better than over-the-counter drugs to fight the cold.
Fumbling slightly with his keys for a moment, he manages to get the right key in the lock and after a momentary struggle with the lock, opens the door.