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, toiletry bag, and overnighter, went outside.
The baggage compartment gaped open, a black hole just below
the silver logo, FOLLIES ON ICE, on the side of the midnight blue vehicle.
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 sheepish 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
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
nothing 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...
She purposely shrugged that thought aside. She didn't want
to think about Kells Crossing or Lonnie today. The sky was blue, the air
was clean; why dwell on matters that would only make her blue? "So, tell
me," she demanded instead, "was it a fun date? Did you have a good time?"
"Yeah, it was all right," he retorted. "She was a real nice
"Nice? Oh, Jack, my condolences. I'm real sorry to hear
"Get outta here, Miller." He took a mock swipe at her and
bit back a smile when she grinned at him with cocky delight as she hopped
nimbly out of reach. "Damn fresh kids these days," he grumbled. "Got no
"Hey, maybe you'll get luckier one of these days," she called
to him as she boarded the bus.
Sasha exchanged greetings with other performers as she made
her way down the narrow aisle; she bandied insults with the wardrobe woman
and a couple of her favorite techies, who as usual were congregated in
the back of the bus. But she joined none of them. Instead she took a seat
by herself in the middle.
Connie would undoubtedly make her usual last second appearance
and she'd expect Sasha, as always, to have saved her a place. Sitting
down next to the window, she stowed her purse under the seat, set the
toiletry bag in the seat next to hers, and opening it, began to apply
makeup with a light hand.
She was cleansing her fingers with a pre-moistened baby
wipe several minutes later when the bus door closed with a pneumatic whoosh.
Head snapping up in alarm, she turned automatically to look toward the
hotel entrance. Even as she watched, the portal was flung open and Connie
Nakamura came flying through, bags banging awkwardly against her legs.
The door of the bus wheezed open again when she reached the curb.
"I've got a schedule to keep, Nakamura," Jack informed the
petite Japanese woman. "I'm not re-opening the baggage compartment."
She climbed breathlessly aboard. "Wouldn't dream of asking,
With a disgruntled grunt, he closed the door behind her
and put the bus in gear, pulling out of the valet drive before she reached
her seat. Staggering slightly with the movement, Connie regained her balance
and continued down the aisle. She stowed the largest of her bags in the
overhead compartment and then grinned down at Sasha.
"That was the closest call yet," Sasha commented, picking
her case off Connie's seat and setting it on the floor. "One of these
days Jack's going to leave you behind."
"Nah," her friend disagreed. "Never happen. Then he wouldn't
have anyone to play the game with, and where's the challenge in that?"
A corner of her mouth quirked up sardonically. "Man, can't you just picture
it: everyone on time and ready to go, day after day? Jack'd be bored silly
in a week. I keep him young. Well, me and the occasional widow he takes
out to dinner." Connie sat down, drew her right heel up on the seat, and
finished tying the shoelace she hadn't had time to tie earlier. Turning
her head she asked, "So where the hell did you disappear to yesterday
Sasha thought fast. "I, um, went out to the Arena."
Connie gave her a doubtful look. "Yeah, right," she said
skeptically. Then looking her straight in the eye she added softly, "I
was out there, Saush, looking for you."
Tension stiffened Sasha's neck. "Were you? What time?"
"Well, there you go. I finished checking out the ice about
3:45. We probably passed each other in transit."
Connie regarded her friend closely. "I don't know what the
hell is going on in your life right now," she said quietly. "But I sure
wish you could trust me enough to share it with me."
Sasha wished the same thing even as she made conciliatory
noises and changed the subject. More than anything else in the world she
wished she could do that, for it would be wonderful to unload her burden
onto someone else's shoulders.
But, oh, God, I can't. I love Connie, and I do trust
her. But she didn't grow up the way Lon and I did, so she couldn't possibly
And she would never, not in a million years, ever approve.
That was a fact.
Lon Morrison lay on his bunk trying to tune out sounds that
were prevalent day and night in the confined area that defined his cell
block. He daydreamed of skating. It was a sure-fire way to pass time,
and one he'd utilized almost daily for the several years he'd been incarcerated.
He thought of soaring across the ice with Sasha, of the
lifts and the jumps. They'd always had a near telepathy when it came to
skating together; it was an inexplicable phenomenon that contributed to
making them the hottest up-and-comers the figure skating pairs circuit
had seen in years. That, and the consistent use of sex and rock and roll
in a world that, at the time, had still been chastely waltzing across
the ice two-by-two to the well-mannered strains of Strauss.
They'd had one foot on the fast track, he and Saush, but
then he'd gone and screwed it up royally. He'd been hungry after a lifetime
of living on the wrong side of the tracks. He'd wanted more; he'd wanted
it now; and for his trouble what he'd gotten in the end was... nothing.
No money; no fame... just jail time. Not exactly the way he'd planned
Sasha had gone on to skate on the ladies' singles circuit.
She hadn't exactly had a lot of options-- the scandal of his arrest had
rocked the ice dancing world and for a while she'd been tarred with the
same brush of his reputation. It had made her a less than ideal candidate
for prospective new partners. In order to remain a skater, she'd had to
go back to skating the way they all started out... solo.
But, hell, when it came down to it she'd done all right
for herself; he hadn't destroyed her career along with his own. She'd
made it to the Olympics, for Christ's sake, where she'd won the silver.
To hear her tell it, though, aside from the day when they'd
indicted him, you'd think it was the most tragic of her life. And granted,
to miss out on Olympic Gold by two lousy tenths of a point was a bummer.
But look at the job offers that had come her way since the Olympics. Nobody
gave a rat's ass that she hadn't brought home the gold. She'd had more
offers than she'd known what to do with, and for an Olympic contender,
professional skating really paid.
It was sure as hell a long ways from Kells Crossing.
Saush sent him Skate magazine so he could keep up with the
industry news. There'd been a lot of changes in skating since he'd been
away from it. Jesus, some Canadian guy was doing a quadruple toe loop.
A quadruple. How he kept from breaking his frigging ankle on the landing
was beyond Lon, but talk about an opportunity to haul in the big bucks.
That achievement alone had garnered the guy a shot at the really big hitters--
the power endorsements.
Well, big stinkin' deal. Lon wasn't busting his chops with
envy. He was due to be released soon; then he, too, was climbing on the
gravy train. It was all out there, just waiting for him.
All he needed was a little inside help. And for that he
Weary beyond belief, Mick Vinicor looked at the activity
going on all around him. And felt ambivalent as hell. The good news was,
it had been a successful knock-off. This raid, the tail end of which was
currently being cleaned up, was the payoff for several weeks of deep cover
and it was a beaut, resulting in the arrests of several high ranking suppliers
and dealers and one top drug czar.
The bad news was, he was surrounded by suits. And like most
field agents, he despised suits.
He couldn't sit around on his butt and sulk about it forever,
however, while other people did his work for him. Mick shot the cuffs
of his silk shirt, dusted imaginary lint from the two thousand dollar
jacket he wore, consulted his outrageously pricy Rolex, and climbed to
He was immediately shoved back onto the couch cushions and
not with a gentle hand, either. "Stay put, asshole," the suit growled
down at him. "I'll tell you when it's time to move."
The lines between the good guys and the bad guys had been
growing increasingly blurred in Mick's mind lately and he didn't stop
to think; he simply reacted. Before the suit knew what had hit him, the
man he'd obviously taken for one of the big-money drug dealers was on
his feet again. The agent's head was hauled back in a rough fist and he
felt the cool press of blued steel against the carotid artery beneath
his jaw. The pistol's barrel constricted his breathing as he involuntarily
"That's Special Agent Asshole to you, cocksucker," Mick
informed him, dangling his DEA shield in front of the bureaucrat's eyes.
He turned him loose. "Jesus," he complained to the field agent over in
the corner who was trying his damnedest to restrain a smile, "where do
they get these guys, anyway, Epcot Center?" Small wonder the field men
joked the agency's initials stood for 'Don't Expect Anything.'
He heard about his actions when he came into headquarters
the next morning, of course. Now there was a big surprise.
"You don't pull your gun on a fellow agent," ranted the
head suit at the conclusion of his tirade, pacing back and forth in front
of Special Agent Vinicor, who leaned his jean-clad hip against a battered
wooden desk and with arms crossed over his sweatshirt covered chest, watched
his superior add some additional wear and tear to the already played-out
Mick had been following the diatribe with a certain amount
of cynical amusement, but that particular emotion disappeared quickly
when he heard the phase that triggered his own temper. "Fellow agent?"
he snarled, pushing himself upright. "No pencil pushing bureaucrat is
my fellow ag..." He ground to a halt, forcing down the rest of the condemnation
like a bitter tonic. It left an acrid taste that was hard to swallow,
but he wasn't entirely suicidal when it came to his career. A harangue
against pencil-pushing suits to McMahon, who was the biggest pencil pusher
of them all, probably wasn't the wisest course of action he could take.
Swallowing his pride with great difficulty, he mumbled,
"My apologies." God, that hurt. But he had no desire to end up humping
a desk in Waaskooskie Peoria. He gave it a little more thought and then
limped out a grudgingly tacked on, "Sir."
"You called him a cocksucker, Vinicor!"
"Yeah, well, sorry about that, too. But in my own defense,
sir, he called me an asshole. Now you know as well as I do that assholes
are anyone who's not DEA, sir-- and especially not a DEA street
hump." Vinicor grinned crookedly. "Lets me out."
"Oh, what the hell," McMahon suddenly capitulated. "He was
only FBI anyhow."
Mick swallowed a laugh. His butt was saved only because
he'd had the good fortune to threaten an FBI agent instead of one of the
DEA's own. You had to love it.
The Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau
of Investigations had a standing rivalry. A 1982 Attorney General's order
directing a coordinated effort between the two agencies had set the tone
when it required the DEA administrator to report to the AG through the
Director of the FBI.
It was an order that had never once been followed and one
the Attorney General was wisely considering rescinding. He much preferred
that both agency heads continued to report directly to him anyway, having
learned the hard way that day to day informal coordination worked much
more successfully than any attempts at a formal arrangement. Even then
it required the Deputy Attorney General to oversee operational matters
and resolve disputes between the two agencies.
Mick's supervisor had been shuffling through some papers
on his desk. Finding what he wanted, he looked up at him. "So. You ready
for a new assignment?"
Mick hesitated. The truth was he knew he was in serious
danger of burning out. Deep cover required an agent to sleep, breathe,
and eat his role twenty-four hours a day, for however many days were necessary
to see an assignment through to its completion. A field agent, or hump
as they were known in the lexicon, was out there all on his own with no
one to back him up and armed, more often than not, with nothing more substantial
than a bullshit story and his acting ability.
That part Mick could live with. Hell, his own mother had
once said he was such a good liar that he was bound to end up either a
con artist or a politician... and of the two, she had added, she sort
of hoped he'd opt for con artist. No, the part that affected his general
attitude these days was that even when he did make a righteous bust, it
seemed the suits and the politicians were invariably standing in line
just waiting for an opportunity to undo all his hard work. Mick's belief
in actually making any kind of difference in the war on drugs had been
wearing increasingly thin.
Then McMahon said persuasively, "This is undercover, Vinicor,
not deep cover. Hell, it'd be like a day at the beach for you." He tossed
a file on the desk.
Mick resisted the temptation to see what it contained for
about forty five seconds before he broke down and scooped it up. A loose
snapshot slid from the folder and he plucked it off the desktop.
"Ice skaters?" Mick looked incredulously from the picture
to his supervisor. "You want me to bust a coupla kid ice skaters?" Looking
back down, he ran the side of his thumb over the woman in the picture.
A definite looker-- too bad she was a baby.
"They're Miller and Morrison," McMahon said, coming around
the desk to stand next to Mick. He looked down at the snapshot. "Sasha
Miller and Lon Morrison. And they ain't kids no more; this was taken quite
a while ago."
"So what's the history?"
"Several years back they were some big deal, hot-shot sensation
on the amateur figure skating circuit. Won top prizes in about every competition
goin', I guess. Can't remember the exact dates, but if you need 'em they're
in here." He thumped his forefinger against the folder Mick still held.
Mick tore his eyes away from the woman's face in the photograph
and looked up at McMahon. "What's any of this got to do with me?"
"Well, a funny thing begin to happen around the ole ice
rink, Mick. Everywhere Miller and Morrison competed, high grade heroin
began showin' up on the streets. Skag so pure it had junkies dropping
like flies." McMahon rubbed his palm over his balding scalp and frowned.
"We got Morrison in a sting, nailed him dead to rights for distributing.
I'm pretty damn sure he was recruited by Quintero but we couldn't get
the kid to flip, not even when faced with murder two. Actually, because
he didn't show up in NADDIS -- hell, didn't have any priors at all-- in
the end he got off fairly lightly: seven-to-ten in minimum security. The
girl was never implicated and went her merry way without him. She's still
skating. She won the silver at the Winter Olympics, then went professional.
That shoulda been the end of the story."
"But there were kilos of heroin never accounted for, Vinicor,
and now the shit's turning up again. Gotta be the same stuff-- it's knockin'
off junkies like ducks in a shooting gallery. We've had reports from San
Diego, LA, San Francisco, Fresno. You name it; if it's a city of any size
in California, we've heard from them."
"So you want me to investigate Morrison."
"Nah, Morrison's due to be sprung soon, but at the moment
he's still in lockup." McMahon thumped his finger against the woman in
the snapshot. "I want you to nail Miller."
Mick felt a tiny pulse of excitement but sternly suppressed
it. "If she checked out clean the first time around," he said, deliberately
playing devil's advocate, "what makes you think she's got anything to
do with it now?"
McMahon passed him a full page advertisement from Variety
for an upcoming engagement for Follies on Ice. He pointed out Sasha Miller's
photograph. Leaning closer, Mick looked it over, studying it carefully.
He read her name in bold print beneath the full body shot and beneath
that, in finer print, U.S. champion and Olympic silver medalist.
"Now look at the itinerary," McMahon said.
Mick flipped to the next page and scanned the contents.
"San Diego, LA, Bakersfield, Fresno, San Jose, San Francisco," he murmured.
He looked up at his supervisor. "We've got a trail of dead junkies matching
the dates the ice show appeared in these cities, I take it."
McMahon pointed a finger at him and cocked his thumb. He
pulled the trigger. "Got it in one."
"How many kilos involved?" Mick inquired.
For the first time McMahon looked uncomfortable. "Uh...
"Oh for..." Mick tossed the folder aside in disgust, watching
as the advertisement floated to the desk in its wake. "Call the local
Narcs," he advised flatly. The DEA dealt in cases where seizure of heroin
and cocaine was counted in tonnage. It didn't say much for the American
way of life that they'd come such a long way since the seventy kilos seized
in the French Connection just thirty years ago.
McMahon shook his head. "Can't do that. The show stays in
one town maybe three-four days before it moves on to the next one. In
the bigger cities like LA and Frisco it maybe stays a week. It's due into
Sacramento tomorrow and when it leaves there it crosses state line into
"Let the FBI have them then."
McMahon just looked at him and Mick rolled his shoulders
uncomfortably. The FBI always attempted to dismantle an entire drug trafficking
organization in a single law enforcement operation. When they'd identified
principal members and gathered sufficient evidence to prosecute, they
tried to arrest all the leaders and key members at one time. One little
independent skater wasn't going to grab their attention, even if her product
was killing off junkies faster than you could say habeas corpus. "Shit,"
Mick muttered in disgust.
McMahon was looking down at the picture of Sasha Miller
on the desk. "Man, she had me fooled," he admitted. "Pure as the driven
snow, I woulda said." He frowned and scratched at his scalp. "Well, no,
that's not exactly right. You should see this girl skate, Vinicor. Babe's
so hot I'm surprised the ice don't melt-- hell, I didn't know they could
get away with that kind of sexy stuff in a family ice show."
Shaking off the memory, he met his agent's gaze. "But I
tell ya honestly, when it came to the scam I coulda sworn she was being
straight about not knowing what her partner was up to. His arrest sure
as hell seemed to knock her on her pretty little butt." He swore softly
and shook his head again. "Just goes to show you, I guess. There's no
fool like an old fool."
"Well, don't let it get you down," Mick advised, for once
feeling a trace of empathy for a suit. "We all get conned one time or
another and a pretty little honey with big baby blues and a patter that
makes her appear vulnerable is a better reason than most of the excuses
I've heard for an agent getting rooked."
rubbed his thumb back and forth over Sasha Miller's picture in the Variety
advertisement on the desk, tracing the pretty curl of her lips with the
edge of his nail. Then his eyes snapped up and met his supervisor's dead
on. "I'll promise you something, though," he flatly vowed. "If this is
the woman responsible for distributing the tainted skag up and down the
West Coast, I'll personally bring you her head. Hand delivered on a platter."
End of Excerpt.