Authors: Laura DiSilverio
For my husband, Thomas:
Your presence makes the sunny days brighter and the gloomy ones lighter. Our life together is a gift I could never deserve and I am overwhelmingly thankful for you every day.
Since my experience as an ice-skater is limited to a couple of tailbone-bruising outings back in my youth and to TV viewing, I could not have written this book without help. Many, many thanks to John LeFevre, president of the Broadmoor Skating Club and former executive director of U.S. Figure Skating, and to Carolyn Braley, a skater herself and mother of a former competitive figure skater, for sharing their knowledge and anecdotes with me. They get credit for all the accurate data about figure skating; I’ll accept the blame for errors, misunderstandings, or license taken for plot needs.
As always, thanks to my agent, Paige Wheeler, my editor, Toni Plummer, and all the folks at Folio and Thomas Dunne/Minotaur, as well as to all those involved in the book distributing and book selling businesses. Thank you, Joan, Marie, Lin, and Amy, for your insightful reading and comments on early drafts. Extra-special thanks go to the readers who enjoy Charlie and Gigi and make it possible and fun to continue writing their adventures.
Mondays suck, especially when they happen on Thursdays.
And this Thursday was shaping up to be the Monday from hell.
I’d had a flat tire on the way to my office, Swift Investigations, and changed it on the shoulder, crouched in two inches of grimy snow left over from the storm we’d had on New Year’s Eve, and pelted by the slush and grit kicked up by passing cars. I’d missed my eight o’clock appointment. Now that I’m unwillingly splitting the firm’s meager profits with a partner, Gigi Goldman, I couldn’t afford to alienate a potential client, even one who wanted me to tail his daughter and her boyfriend to make sure they weren’t “doing the nasty” (his words). I’d reluctantly agreed to meet with the man even though he sounded nuttier than a squirrel convention, but he was gone when I parked my Subaru Outback in front of my office at eight twenty. I sighed and unlocked the door, recoiling at the smell of burned coffee. Not again.
Flipping the lights on, I saw that Kendall Goldman, my partner’s fourteen-year-old daughter and our part-time receptionist during Christmas vacation, had neglected to turn off the coffeepot for the third time in as many weeks. A half inch of tarry sludge caked the bottom of the carafe. Grrr. The replacement cost was coming out of Kendall’s wages, I decided, mentally overriding the objections Gigi would make. Better yet … I stalked across the room and yanked the coffeemaker’s cord out of the wall. Picking up the whole contraption, I dropped it from shoulder height into the trash can.
I didn’t drink coffee anyway. With grim satisfaction, I opened the minifridge behind my desk and yanked a can of Pepsi from the door. It exploded when I popped the top, raining caramel-colored spots on my white turtleneck and the papers on my desk.
“Shit, shit, double shit!” I yelled, trying to slurp Pepsi from the lid of the can before more of it bubbled over.
“Is this a bad time?” A voice from the doorway stopped me in midslurp.
“Not at all,” I said, forcing a smile. I hoped I didn’t have a Pepsi mustache. “Just give me a moment.” I blotted my face, blouse, and desk with paper towels from the small bathroom and shook hands with my visitor. She was young—late teens or early twenties—with dark hair pulled into a high ponytail. She had an air of confidence as glossy as her hair. Huge blue eyes, so dark they looked navy, dominated her heart-shaped face. Shorter than my five foot three, she looked ethereal at first glance, but her handshake was firm, and the slim legs showing beneath a short denim skirt had an athlete’s muscle definition. Clunky Ugg boots were her only concession to the January weather. She wrinkled her nose and sniffed.
I gestured to the trash can. “I’m afraid I can’t offer you coffee.” Not that I would have anyway. I don’t like to encourage clients to linger and had objected when Gigi installed the coffeemaker.
“Not a problem. Coach wants me to limit my caffeine, anyway.”
Aha! I was right: She was an athlete. I hoped she was also a paying client.
“I’m Charlotte Swift,” I said, motioning her to the chair in front of my desk. “How can I help you, Ms.—?”
“I’m Dara Peterson.”
She paused as if expecting me to comment. When I merely raised my brows, she continued, slightly disconcerted. “My partner is missing. Your Web page says you specialize in missing persons, and I want to hire you to find him.”
The Web page was new—Gigi’s brainchild—but I had to admit it was paying off. Mr. “Nasty” had also found Swift Investigations online. “I do,” I told Ms. Peterson, turning to an un-Pepsied page in my legal pad. “Tell me about your partner. How long has he been missing?”
“Five days. I haven’t seen him, he hasn’t been in touch, since Saturday.”
I made a note. “And when you say ‘partner’—he’s your boyfriend? Business partner?” I was betting on boyfriend. She looked too young to be running a business.
“He’s Dmitri Fane,” she said, with an undertone of “duh” in her voice. “Peterson and Fane?”
Clearly, she thought I should recognize the names, but I didn’t. Maybe they were singers, like Sonny and Cher or the Captain and Tennille. I didn’t really know what young adults were listening to these days. My mind cycled through other famous pairs: Rowan and Martin, Starsky and Hutch, Siegfried and Roy. She didn’t strike me as the animal trainer type.
I resorted to honesty, always the best policy except when a lie will work better. “Never heard of you.”
A wrinkle appeared between her brows. “Really? We’re skaters. We’re the reigning world champions—we’ve held the title for three years. We were junior world champs the two years before that.”
“So you’re like Torvill and Dean?” I asked, proudly dredging up the only skating names I knew besides Dorothy Hamill and Scott Hamilton (who I was pretty sure didn’t skate together).
.” She rolled her eyes contemptuously, whether at my ignorance or ice dancers, I wasn’t sure. “We’re
skaters. Much more dangerous.”
Puh-leeze. Scuba diving with great whites is dangerous. Teaching high school is dangerous. Ice-skating? Hardly. “I’ll take your word for it. So, you haven’t seen your partner in five days. Is that unusual?”
“We’re in training! I mean, the Olympics are right around the corner! He wouldn’t disappear like this, not now. Something’s happened to him.”
What appeared to be genuine worry smudged her self-confidence. She chewed away the pink lip gloss from her lower lip. “The police won’t do anything. They say he’s a grown man and he’s entitled to take a few days off if he wants. They treated me like I was a jealous girlfriend.” She crossed her arms over her chest, seething.
My question startled her. “Me and Dmitri? Not hardly. He’s gay.”
“I assume you’ve talked to his friends, maybe his parents? Has anyone else heard from him?”
She shook her head, setting her ponytail swinging. “Nobody. His dad died in a car crash a couple months ago, and his mom’s in Detroit. I called her—nada. Yuliya—our coach, Yuliya Bobrova—was royally pissed when he didn’t show on Monday. Ice time isn’t free, you know. I called a couple of his friends, but no one’s seen him. I’m really worried, Miss Swift—”
“Do you think you can find him?”
“I can’t guarantee anything, but I’ll do my best.” I figured this case would be relatively easy. A high-profile athlete would find it difficult to stay hidden for long. Maybe he’d checked himself into an addiction treatment center, or maybe he’d gone off with a boyfriend Dara didn’t know about. Maybe he was burned out and I’d find him holed up at a resort in Aspen or on the beach in Cancún. Either way, it shouldn’t be too hard to pick up his trail.
I grilled Dara for another half hour on Dmitri’s friends, habits, and background and accepted her retainer check. “Try not to worry,” I said, shaking her hand. She’d remained tense throughout our conversation, and I wanted to reassure her. “Hopefully, I’ll have something positive to report in a few days.”
Her eyes narrowed. “If he’s not back by the start of Nationals next week, he’d better just stay gone because I’ll kill him if we don’t make the team.”
She gusted a put-upon sigh. “The Olympics?”
So sue me. I’m not that into sports, and even though the Olympic Training Center is here in Colorado Springs, I probably couldn’t name four Olympic athletes. I couldn’t tell you where the Super Bowl was being played this year or who won the World Series, either. I know where the Kentucky Derby is, though, because I’d gone with a friend one year and echoes of the mint julep hangover I’d suffered made my head hurt whenever anyone mentioned the state.
“The U.S. Figure Skating Championships here in the Springs next week doubles as the team trials for the Olympics. I’ve been working for this since I was eight. If we don’t make the team because Dmitri’s pulling a—”
“Pulling a what?” I prompted her when she stopped.
“Nothing,” she muttered. She slung her purse over her shoulder and crossed to the door. “Just find him, okay?”
* * *
I was studying the notes I’d taken and making a list of who I wanted to interview and in what order when the door swung open and my partner blew in on a gust of cold air. Georgia Goldman, Gigi for short, stamped her feet on the mat and shivered with a dramatic “Brrrr.” Clumps of snow fell off her quilted fuchsia parka.
“Is it snowing?” I peered out the wooden blinds by my desk but didn’t see any flakes.
“No.” She shook her blond head and unzipped the parka. “That very rude man I served up in Monument was clearing his driveway. When I handed him the summons, he turned the snowblower on me!” Indignation flushed her cheeks, and her southern accent thickened as it always did when she was excited or angry.
I bit back a smile. Swift Investigations had started process serving in August as a way of bumping up our cash flow, and Gigi got dumped on—literally—at least once a week. Last week had been syrup. She said she was never serving someone at an IHOP again. The week before that it was hair mousse because she’d tracked the defendant down at a salon. This week, apparently, it was snow. Her dry-cleaning bills were phenomenal because she wasn’t willing to schlep around in casual attire to deliver summonses. Despite all evidence to the contrary, she refused to accept that her designer clothes wouldn’t shield her from people’s hostility when she served them.
“But it’s Michael Kors,” she said, wide-eyed, the first time I pointed this out to her. “They have to respect Kors.”
The data suggested process recipients didn’t respect Kors or Blass or Lagerfeld or Wang. Today’s outfit was typical. Her cashmere sweater undoubtedly bore a designer label, but it made me wince to look at it. Huge red and green squares, each embroidered with a holiday item—an ornament, a Santa, a menorah—magnified her thirty extra pounds, and the black boots she wore beneath a conservative (for her) red wool skirt hugged her chubby calves. She patted the beigey-blond hair so many well-off women in their fifties affected and sank into the chair behind her desk with a soft “whew,” stowing her Marc Jacobs purse—a red leather satchel big enough to say Samsonite on the label—under her desk.