On Thin Ice

By: Susan Andersen


PROLOGUE

The junkie shifted from foot to foot. He sniffed, swiped a grubby finger under his nose, and hitched his loose jeans to a more secure position on his thin hipbones. Eyes in constant motion, he glanced to the mouth of the alley where foot traffic passed by, reassuring himself that none of it was the law. Returning his nervous gaze up the shadowed passageway, he searched out the back door of the Thai restaurant, on the alert for any employee stepping out to have a smoke. He noticed, without actually registering, the dog that nosed through the spilled refuse next to the dumpster; then he felt his attention once again compulsively drawn back to his supplier’s hands. Shuffling impatiently, he stared with ill-concealed hunger at the little plasticized bag of white powder and licked his lips.

The dealer noticed and gave him a smile of cool contempt. “A little anxious, big guy?”

The junkie ignored the jibe. It was his first contact with this particular supplier, but already he’d recognized that this was a vendor unlike any he’d ever dealt with before.

Unfortunately, as it turned out, this was also one of the ones who got their jollies out of making customers sweat. Disparaging eyes observed his every move and registered his physical distress, which took the form of trembling hands and facial tics; scornful lips curled slightly in derision. Narrow fingers first extended the bag of heroin to him and then twitched it out of his reach milliseconds before he could grasp it. “This what you want?” the voice taunted. “How bad ya want it, I wonder? Bad enough to bark like a dog?”

Asshole, the junkie thought when the supplier finally tired of tormenting him and got down to business. But he didn’t say anything.

He didn’t dare. If the transaction was cut short before the scag was his, he was gonna die, pure and simple.

As it was, he was drenched in sweat and shaking badly by the time he got back to the room where he flopped nights. Collapsing on the thin, bare mattress that had been thrown without benefit of frame or box spring directly onto the floor, he fumbled for his cardboard cigar box. Out of it he pulled a used hypodermic, a small bent and blackened spoon, and a cheap disposable lighter. Working as slowly and carefully as his shaking hands would allow, he tapped the heroin out of the bag and into the spoon and heated it over the butane flame. Within moments, he was drawing the liquid up into the syringe. Picking up a length of surgical tubing, he tied it off just above his elbow.

However, no matter how hard he pumped his fist or slapped at the inner bend of his elbow, he couldn’t raise a vein. Finally, with an impotent curse, he removed the tourniquet and toed off his right shoe. Yanking off his sock, he pulled the tubing tight around his ankle, tied it off, and inserted the hypodermic needle into the one good vein he found on his foot. He depressed the plunger.

A rush of heat suffused his veins and he smiled euphorically. It lasted perhaps twenty seconds. Then like a flash of summer lightning, a brilliant white light seemed to expand in his brain and he closed his eyes, slumping sideways.

He was dead before his head touched the floor.





ONE

The huge bus had already rumbled to life outside the hotel by the time Sasha Miller finished turning in her room key at the desk. She paused to pour herself a cup of coffee at the courtesy table and then, juggling it along with her purse, train case, and overnighter, went outside.

The baggage compartment gaped open, a black hole just below the silver logo, JOLLIES ON ICE, lettered in cursive on the side of the midnight-blue bus. Sasha set her overnighter down next to the driver. “Good morning, Jack.” Sipping her coffee, she watched him over the rim of the cardboard cup as he stowed and arranged luggage.

“Mornin’, Sasha.” He looked up with a smile, but a small frown tugged his brows together as he ran a familiar eye over her baggage. “Where’s your skate case?”

“It’s okay, Jack,” she assured him. “After last night’s show, I simply didn’t feel like lugging it up to my room, knowing I’d only have to turn around and lug it back down again this morning. So, believe it or not, I actually left the darn thing in the compartment here.” She thumped the side of the bus and shrugged, giving the driver a self-deprecatory smile. “I know, I know, not exactly my standard operating procedure.”

“Well, variety is the spice of life they say.”

Sasha laughed. “You’d probably know a lot more about that than I would, Jack. Heard tell you had yourself a pretty hot date last night.”

He shook his head. “Good God,” he commented mildly. “Not much passes by unnoticed in this group, does it?”

“Not much,” she agreed. “And you know as well as I do that nothin’ passes by unremarked. Follies is a lot like life in a small town that way.” Only a hell of a lot more tolerant then the one where she’d grown up. She and Lon . . .

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