The US Figure Skating Championships are taking place this week. It's an event I am very familiar with. I was in Detroit in 1994 when Nancy Kerrigan got clubbed on the knee, and also at many subsequent events while working as a researcher for ABC Sports.
When it came time for me to write my Figure Skating Mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime, naturally I drew on my experiences from all the competitions I'd been to, and the skaters I knew.
Death Drop, the 4th book in the series actually takes place at the National Championships. If you ever wanted to know what it's like before the cameras arrive, this is the novel that tells you everything. Please enjoy an excerpt, below:
At first, no one realized he was even there.
Though the Pasadena Dome in Southern California could accommodate up to fifteen thousand spectators, on the morning of the Senior Dance Compulsory run-through at the U.S. Figure Skating Championship, the only people in the arena were the five dance teams making up Practice Group "B," their coaches, a handful of parents, and about fifty hard-core skating fans — middle-aged women bundled up in sweatshirts and fur-lined parkas who believed that their All-Event Nationals Tickets really, really meant All-Event.
They had the Championship's program on their laps, a thermos full of coffee in their left hand, and a pen in their right, ready to jot down who'd deigned to attend the early morning practice, which team was skating to what music, and how their edges looked compared to their opponents' twizzles versus the other's Choctaws and Mohawks. Some of the fans even had laptop computers for on-the-spot Internet reports. They were the easiest ones to spot, since they absolutely had to be sitting next to a phone jack, and tended to get very cranky if blocked.
They also liked to sit in the front rows, since that made it easier to eavesdrop on what the coaches, standing at the barrier, were whispering to their students on the ice. The bulk of the advice seemed to be, "Push. Push. Push!" making most dance practices feel more like natural childbirth classes, especially when that advice was often followed by, "Just ignore the pain for now. It will be worth it in the end."
The dancers all listened keenly, nodded intensely, blew their noses, took a sip of bottled water, then joined hands and whipped around to — more often than not — make the same mistake, prompting the coaches to groan and that groan to echo off the cavernous arena. At that Sigh of Ultimate Despair, the skaters' parents, who previously had been sitting hunched over in their seats, trying to calculate how many hours of sleep they had lost per lifetime after a decade of racing to 5:00 A.M. practices, would snap to attention as if slapped and commence staring pointedly at their offspring, as if their focus — and their focus alone — was what might keep the kids upright for the duration of their event.
"That concludes practice time for the Paso Doble. Our next dance will be the Killian," intoned a sleepy announcer's voice as the arena was engulfed in shrill and painfully peppy music. The Killian was a march, and one of the fastest ice dances in existence. While two sequences of the Ravensburger Waltz took fifty-eight seconds to skate, and two patterns of the Tango Romantica filled a leisurely, practically restful, one minute and forty-three seconds, the Killian required six sequences to be whipped through in exactly fifty seconds.
On cue, all of the couples who'd previously been facing each other for the Paso Doble, turned so that both were facing in the same direction, the man's right hand clasping the lady's right palm and pressing it to her hip, his left hand extending her left arm across the front of his body. Their expressions of fiery, Spanish intensity morphed into mindless, noncountry-specific glee, and off they went in a counterclockwise circle, cheerfully pretending that their hearts weren't ready to explode out of their chests from exertion, or that the squishy feeling in their socks was merely wholesome sweat rather than blood from freshly opened blisters.
This time the scream emanating from their coaches was, "Cross behind! Damn it, how many times do we have to go over this? Cr! Oss! Be! Hind! Boot! Touching! Boot! It doesn't do anybody any good if you cross behind without the boots touching!"
The dancers all listened keenly, nodded intensely, blew their noses, took a sip of bottled water, and tried their best.
As the practice drew to a close, the mood in the arena grew more desperate. Coaches who'd spent the past year trying to get their points across realized that they had literally four more minutes to make an impression. Skaters who'd spent the past year just ignoring the pain, understood that they had four more minutes to get their steps right, or all that suffering would amount to nothing. Their parents were already giving up on this season and making plans for the next — maybe a new coach was in order, maybe a new partner. The spectators started typing their concluding thoughts onto the Internet. It wasn't until after "Group B" finished their run-through, and "Group A" stomped in to take their place, bringing with them a new contingent of frustrated coaches, sleepy parents, and rabid fans, that anyone even noticed the abandoned baby.
He was so tiny, he couldn't even hold his head up in his car seat, needing to be propped up by one of the straps. He wore a newborn-size blue snowsuit with a hood, gloves, and booties, and seemed not so much scared as befuddled by the crowd that gathered around him after the first yelp. He blinked, sleepy and unfocused, then arched his back, yawned, stretched, and smacked his lips.
"He's hungry," one of the skating moms said. But seemed stymied over what to do about that fact.
"He looks like he's all by himself," came another statement of the obvious.
"We should call someone."
"I wonder where his mother is."
"We should get someone."
"Yes. Someone should get someone."
Eventually it was the referee who decided that his authority to make all calls for a given event included determining the fate of a baby abandoned on his watch. He picked up the surprisingly light car seat and moved toward the Championship's accounting office. He called the police, telling them they had an unaccompanied infant on their hands, with no idea of who or where the mother might be.
However, twenty minutes later, when the LAPD arrived, the referee nervously had to tell them that now he actually did have some idea of who, and even where, the mother might be.
He thought she might be Allison Adler, a nineteen-year- old former national ice-dancing champion who was now hanging, dead, from the ceiling of the costume room, a red leather belt with sparkles on the buckle tightened around her neck.
Find out what happens next in: