In honor of the 2014 World Figure Skating Championships going on right now, please enjoy an excerpt from my 4th Figure Skating Mystery novel, "Death Drop."
At the National Championships, television researcher Bex Levy is taking in the Ladies' practice, when she stumbled upon skating's biggest scandal yet (and no, it's not what you think... read all the way to the end for the final shock):
Now, usually that wouldn't be such a big deal. In the real world, eighteen-year-old girls were known for getting new boyfriends. Some were known for getting a new boyfriend every week. But in this case, Bex was willing to bet the strapping young hunk in question was also Lian Reilly's first-ever boyfriend. Because this, after all, was skating. And it was Lian.
Lian was special. Or so her mother, Amanda, kept telling anybody who would listen. Lian was destined for greatness. And Lian had decided, at a painfully early age, that greatness meant becoming a skating legend. From age three, Lian had spent every afternoon, then every afternoon and morning, then every afternoon, morning, and whatever time could be squeezed in between, at the rink. She made her mother drive her to ballet lessons and costume fittings and stylists. She made her mother chaperone her to local and international competitions. And she allowed her mother to pick up the tab for the privilege. At first, Amanda endured the insane lifestyle because she loved her darling girl beyond reason (having adopted Lian from a Chinese orphanage as an infant, Amanda believed they were destined to be family). But even she eventually reached her limit and rebelled. Amanda made a deal with her daughter: Lian would have to win the upcoming Nationals, or they were quitting and going home. Lian agreed, because she saw that, this time, Mom meant what she said, and Lian had no choice. Which meant that, this season, Lian had put even more effort than anyone previously guessed possible into her training. Which made it extra surprising that along with the extra work, she'd also somehow managed to sneak a boyfriend onto the schedule.
And not just any boyfriend. Little Lian had gotten herself the pick of the litter: Cooper Devaney, U.S. National Men's Champion, or, as his fans liked to scream from the stands when he came out onto the ice, "Super Cooper!"
He was twenty-two years old, six feet tall, with wavy, sandy brown hair, hazel eyes, a dimple in his chin, biceps to make Popeye weep, and a butt so tight he didn't even incur a mandatory costume deduction for wearing tights. (The latter was two years ago for an ill-advised Romeo and Juliet routine. Since then, Coop had switched coaches and choreographers and now preferred simple, tight black pants, and red, tight T-shirts that showed off all his best assets simultaneously.) In the real world, Cooper Devaney would have been a heck of a catch. In skating, he was a god.
Which made it even odder that Lian had somehow landed him. Unlike her, Coop had a rep for being quite the player. According to notes a former researcher recorded in his file from a Nationals ten years earlier, "The standout in the Novice Men's event was Southern California's Cooper "Coop" Devaney. Solid jumps (three triples), nice spins, good footwork, but the charisma!!!! Twelve years old, and he had girls screaming for him in the audience at exhibition! Watch this kid. He's going to be a star!!!" According to gossip, he'd dated half the Junior World Team until he made his first Senior one, then promptly traded up — and never looked back. His previous girlfriend was Allison Adler, the ice-dance champion. But that ended, as far as Bex knew, almost a year ago, when she quit skating. Asked to make a bet on which girl he'd go for next, Bex would have put her money on Jordan Ares. While Coop had been working his way through the female side of the Senior World Team, Jordan had been doing the same with the male (to be fair, her options were much more limited, and she had been forced to go for a few coaches and officials just to keep things competitive). It was about time they hooked up, if only so both could check the other off their to-do (literally) lists.
Except that, surprise! it was Lian whom Coop went for, not Jordan. And the newly knighted girlfriend could not have looked more thrilled. Even half an arena away, Bex recognized the infatuation. Lian didn't land a single jump without glancing over her shoulder at Coop. She waved to him from the barrier while she was supposed to be catching her breath and listening to her coach. Twice, she skated over to another girl on the practice, casually struck up a conversation, then giggled, covered her mouth with one hand, and pretended to surreptitiously point Coop out in the stands. He smiled and gave her a thumbs-up both times, utterly unembarrassed by the attention, which, of course, made Lian giggle more.
Neither Lian's coach nor her mother appeared as amused by the performance art as Bex was; but, for probably the first time in her life, Lian did not really seem to care.
"They're not having sex yet."
The sweeping Anna Karenina coat, complete with gold, gilded buttons down the front and a fur collar to match the trimming on the sleeves, not to mention the "Seven Sisters Sorority" accent most certainly belonged to Mrs. Diana Howarth, skating's grand dame and half of 24/7's announcing team. But the sentiment expressed did not exactly gel with the persona she'd spent thirty years cultivating. Diana was often referred to as the Grace Kelly of skating. She was blond, refined, poised, and elegant. She wasn't someone you expected to observe, "That girl hasn't been popped, I'd put money on it."
Bex turned around in time to see Diana and her husband, Francis, grandly occupy the two seats directly behind Bex. Francis leaned over her shoulder for a peek at Bex's notes. He pulled a pen out from his inside black blazer pocket and proceeded to scribble Bex's observations into his own research binder so that, in several hours, Francis could sincerely believe he'd actually watched the entire practice and come to those conclusions on his own. Diana, meanwhile, whispered conspiratorially and, if Bex did say so herself, rather gleefully, into Bex's ear, "You can always tell a virgin by the way she skates."
"Hm," Bex replied, noncommittal, actually eager to hear the scoop, but afraid that Diana was just testing to see if Bex would take the bait — a sort of Princess and the Pea assessment of class-worthiness.
If it was a test, then Bex must have passed something, because Diana went on, "Look at Jordan Ares over there. Nothing virginal about that girl. Look how relaxed she is when she skates; it's like she's had a full-body massage. She is one fluid, languid bit of slowly dripping syrup, head to toe."
Bex nodded. And prayed very hard that Diana wouldn't decide to repeat her metaphor on the air during the Ladies' Short Program. Bex could already imagine Gil screaming at her through the headset in response, "What the fuck is she talking about? Are we selling Mrs. Butterworth here? Am I supposed to put Jordan Ares on my pancakes? Has Diana lost her mind? Bex! Do something!"
"Now, Lian Reilly, on the other hand," Diana said, "look at how she skates. Short, tight little steps. Jumps that barely get off the ground. Pinched face, darting eyes. She nods her head in time to the music, goodness — you can actually see her counting the beats instead of letting it wash over her and succumbing to the rhythm. She's ready to burst, but with no place to go. A bottle of champagne with the stopper jammed down its throat and glued for good measure."
"A bottle of champagne?" the imaginary Gil's voice in Bex's head shrieked, "Now it's 'Dick Clark's New
Diana said, "Lucian Pryce, he's a coach out in Colorado, ever met him, Bex?"
Bex nodded. "He's Toni Wright's former pair partner and Rachel Rose and Robby Sharpton's old coach. I interviewed him for my piece on skaters who dropped out of sight right when it seemed they were at the top of their game."
That piece had been Bex's first attempt at field-producing, and it was supposed to be screened during this Nationals broadcast.
"Lucian," Diana said, "always encouraged his girl skaters to sleep around. Not have a steady boyfriend, mind you — that would distract them from training, and nobody wants that. But he encouraged them to cat around, no commitments, like a boy. Lucian believed it made them skate better. He liked to say: Nothing duller than a tightened-twat virgin on the ice. I must admit, I agree with him."
Bex immediately stopped praying that Diana would decide to call Jordan syrup or Lian champagne, and told God both were okay — as long as the expression tightened-twat never occupied the air between Diana's lips and a 24/7 microphone.
"But look at that lovely boy." Francis finished copying Bex's notes and surfaced into the conversation as if newly awake. He indicated Coop, sitting in the stands across from them. "Cooper Devaney practically erupts with an erotic charge from every pore. Surely you don't think an Adonis like that is allowing his vigor to go to waste?"
Bex thought it was bad enough when her parents gave her the obligatory birds and bees talk in the fourth grade. Hearing Francis and Diana Howarth, both sixty-plus years old, use the words "twat," "dripping," "erotic charge," and "vigor" was enough to make Bex want to cover her ears with both hands and loudly yodel.
Fortunately, she was saved from doing a Sound of Music medley or listening to any more of their disturbing discussion by the sandstorm of gossip that was washing over their section of the arena like a quickly creeping fog.
Gossip, Bex had learned after more than a year on the job, could be — and often was — a physical, tangible thing. It started with one person, then grew at a nuclear rate until it became a life force of its own, an audible hum picked up by dogs, seismographs, and people whose livelihoods depended on knowing everything that was going on in a ten-acre radius.
Bex first felt rather than heard the gossip, like a vibration. She felt the people around her, previously milling in a somnambulistic stupor as befitting the first practice of the day, suddenly perk up. Their heads tweaked into the air like a newborn bird's. They, too, could sense the gossip coming, and they wanted to be ready to pick up the first whisper. It came from the other arena. It came in loose words, in snatches of phrases:
"Nobody knows ..."
"Has to be hers ..."
"No one suspected ..."
"Allison Adler, I hear.. ."
"Who do you think the father was?"
"Well, with a girl like that..."
Bex didn't need to hear any more. She, along with Francis and Diana — whose radar, after all, was even better tuned than hers — were already out of their seats, heading for the source.
Read more by clicking the link below!