Book excerpt

Swift Edge

A Mystery

A Charlie and Gigi Mystery

Laura DiSilverio

St. Martin's Press

1
 
 
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. Clang. 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).
“They’re ice dancers.” She rolled her eyes contemptuously, whether at my ignorance or ice dancers, I wasn’t sure. “We’re pair 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.
“Are you?”
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—”
“Charlie.”
“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.”
“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.
Gigi’s desk is to the left of the door, while mine runs perpendicular to it in the back right corner of the office. Our different styles have resulted in a schizophrenic decor. Think Oscar and Felix, or maybe even Turner and Hooch. Her desk is littered with kitschy doodads, while mine is organized, uncluttered, and clean. She has a poster of kittens hanging behind her and a life-sized plastic and fake fur bison head named Bernie, a memento from her first undercover job with Swift Investigations. I have a window with wooden blinds. I missed the no-nonsense air the office exuded before I was forced to accept Gigi as a partner five months ago but had to admit the place seemed warmer somehow.
“Where’s Kendall?” Gigi asked, apparently noticing her daughter’s absence from the card table we’d set up as her desk.
“Not here.” And thank God for that. School would start up again a week from today, and I was counting the minutes. I was also busy thinking up reasons why the girl couldn’t work here over the summer.
Gigi dialed the phone and reached her daughter, issuing a gentle command to “Hurry in to the office, sugah. Did your alarm not go off again?”
That would put the fear of God into a lazy teen, all right. I refrained from rolling my eyes and switched on my computer to see what it could tell me about Dmitri Fane. When I’d asked Dara Peterson for a picture of Dmitri, she’d said, “Can’t you Google him?”
Apparently, I could. Hundreds of articles and photos popped up. I clicked on one at random and studied the photo of a handsome man—Dara had told me he was seven years her senior at twenty-six—with dark hair and a blazing white smile. Tall, with broad shoulders and slim hips in his form-fitting skating costume, he balanced Dara over his head with one hand. She didn’t even look scared. Okay, maybe pair skating was more dangerous than I’d realized. Personally, I’d’ve been scared just to gad about in public in a gauze and sequins costume like the red one spray-painted on Dara.
I skimmed the article, which seemed to be about a judging controversy, but didn’t learn any more about Fane than Dara had already told me. He was born in Russia, she’d said. His mother was a figure skater and he didn’t know who his father was. He got the name Fane when his mother married an American skater, Stuart Fane, who adopted the four-year-old Dmitri and moved them all to Detroit. Irena and Stuart Fane opened a skating school, and young Dmitri was an early standout. His first partner wasn’t up to his level, though, and he agreed to give Dara a tryout when her coach approached him. He moved to Colorado Springs at age eighteen to train with the eleven-year-old Dara. Their success as a pair team was the stuff of legend (according to Dara). An Olympic gold would be the icing on the cake (and bring in big sponsorship bucks, Dara admitted). Dmitri worked part-time as a waiter and bartender for a catering company to help fund his training costs.
I’d start by interviewing the coach, Yuliya Bobrova, I decided, then follow that up with a swing past Fane’s condo—maybe he’d answer the bell when I rang—and a conversation with his employers, Czarina Catering. Sounded Russian. If none of that gave me a lead, I’d call up Mama Fane and see if maybe Dmitri had returned to the family homestead. Detroit in January sounded miserable, so I hoped I wouldn’t have to travel there to hunt for the skater.
I had tucked my notepad into my purse and was reaching for my jacket when the door opened and Little Miss Tardy sauntered in, wiping pink booted feet on the mat.
“Kendall, baby, I was worried,” Gigi said, coming around her desk to give the petite blonde a hug.
Kendall avoided the hug by shrugging out of her coat. She mumbled something that might have been “Whatever” and plopped into the folding chair set up at her card table desk. Her skintight jeans and tight pink sweater made her look older than fifteen. “Something stinks,” she observed.
“That would be the coffeemaker you ruined,” I said, gesturing toward the trash can.
My acid tone got me narrowed eyes from Kendall and a reproachful look from Gigi. “I’m sure it was an accident,” the latter said.
“Yeah, the third accident in three weeks.”
“I don’t like coffee anyway,” Kendall said.
“It was for the clients, sugah,” Gigi said.
“Haven’t seen too many of those.” Snide triumph colored her voice.
“As a matter of fact, we got a new client this morning,” I told Gigi, turning my back on Kendall.
Gigi clapped her hands together but stopped short of saying, “Oh, goody!” “What’s the case?” she asked instead, grabbing up her steno pad.
“I’m—we’re—looking for a man named Fane,” I said. “He’s an ice-skater.”
An ice-skater?”
The exclamation came from behind me, and I turned to face an animated Kendall, a version of the girl I hadn’t seen before. Her pretty blue eyes were alight with interest, and her porcelain complexion—no zits for this teen—was becomingly tinged with pink. She was going to be a heartbreaker when she lost the braces and the attitude.
“Calling Dmitri Fane an ice-skater’s like saying Miley Cyrus is just a singer or”—she paused, obviously grasping for a comparison someone as old and dim as I might get—“Eisenhower’s just a scientist. He’s—”
“I think you mean Einstein.”
“Kendall has a poster of him on her wall,” Gigi put in.
“Einstein?” I couldn’t resist.
“Mo-om.” Kendall tossed her long blond hair. “He’s like the most awesome pair skater ever!”
“He gets some help from Dara Peterson, doesn’t he?” I asked, amused by her reaction.
“She’s a bitch.”
“Kendall!” Gigi gasped. “I don’t like to hear—”
“She’s our client,” I said. “Where do you know—” Then I remembered. Kendall was a figure skater, and a pretty good one, according to Gigi. She trained at the World Arena Ice Hall, where Dara had said she and Dmitri practiced. “Do you know them?” I asked.
“Of course.” Only a teenager talking to an adult could infuse two words with that much scorn. A speculative look crossed her face. “I know someone who will be happy if Dmitri stays gone, too.”
“Who?”
“Trevor Anthony,” Kendall said. “He was Dara’s partner before Dmitri came on the scene. Dmitri totally stole her away. He skates with Angel Pfeffer now, but she falls all the time on the throw triple salchow. They’ll make the U.S. team, though, if Peterson and Fane aren’t at Nationals.” Changing tactics, the girl smiled at me—a first—revealing pink and white bands on her braces. “Can I help with the case?”
“No,” her mother and I said in unison.
“It might be dangerous,” Gigi added.
To our reputation, I thought. “I’ve got to get going or I’ll be late for my interview,” I said, happy to cede Gigi the task of quelling her daughter’s newly found ambition to be a PI. “I’m meeting Fane’s coach in half an hour.”
“Bobrova?” Kendall’s smirk was knowing. “Good luck with that.”


 
Copyright © 2011 by Laura DiSilverio

Laura DiSilverio spent twenty years as an Air Force intelligence officer, serving as a squadron commander, with the National Reconnaissance Office, and at a fighter wing, before retiring to parent and write full time. She resides in Colorado with her hubby, tweenage daughters, and dog.