24 August 2006

Death on Ice - A Dag Hamar Story

The sun dawned bright in a clear sky over the Columbia River announcing that by mid-afternoon it would be hotter than hell in the Tri Cities. I don't usually do field work, but my old friend Tyler Robinson asked me to come out from Seattle to audit the books at the sports arena. Tier two hockey and basketball teams share the arena and it is used for community events from concerts to car shows. I was out on the weekend as a favor to Tyler and finished the audit Saturday night.

A Figure Skating Competition was taking place on the small ice that weekend and I'd noticed the crowds watching the spinning and jumping girls. I was to meet Tyler at noon to give him the results of the audit, some with which I was pretty sure he wouldn't be pleased. I decided to go over early and watch some of the competition.

It was none of the stuff you see on television. There were a hundred Michele Kwan wannabes ranging in age from about 7 to 17. The intermediate, novice, and junior freeskates were on the event list for the morning along with a number of showcases. It would be a fun (and cool way to spend the morning). I settled in with a cup of coffee for warmth and enjoyed the show.

I don't know much about figure skating, but if I were a 12-year-old boy, I'd be all over that sport. I grant you its a tough sport, but it has limited competition. While there were over a hundred girls signed up to compete, there were less than 20 boys. No boys event had more than four competitors. You just about have to get a medal. But watching the events showed that the 5 to 1 ratio of girls to boys could also be something to skate for. The girls watched the boys events and screamed for their favorites (which were all of them) and greated them with hugs and kisses as they came off the ice. I saw a few boy-boy hugs and kisses as well. It seems that this is the place to be no matter which way you swing.

There was some fine skating and more than a few falls on the ice. You put together a hard slippery surface, sharp objects, and speed and it's a wonder any of those kids lived to see puberty. I yelled for every successful jump and gasped at every fall. I was totally into the ice mystique. The announcer called out a 15 minute intermission while they resurfaced the ice. It was nearly noon and I figured Tyler would be meeting me in the lobby soon. I turned to go find another cup of coffee as the zamboni drove onto the ice. I was nearly to the door when a single scream pierced the air. It was quickly followed by a chorus as parents and skaters stampeded for the exit. I turned and saw the zamboni halting half way across the ice. Behind it, a body was being dragged leaving a crimson stain on the ice behind it.

My friend Tyler had been well and truly iced.

I had 911 on the line on my cell phone before the zamboni had slid to a stop. By the time I made it to the ice my heart was pounding threateningly and I could already hear the sirens outside the building. They tried to stop me from walking out onto the ice, but I flashed my PI license and started shouting orders to line up the ice crew keep them from moving the body. Sometimes all you need to do is flash something that looks official and if people are confused enough they obey you whether they need to or not. I was lucky. Tyler was not.

I could tell without touching that he was dead. There's no way to survive a slashed throat like that. I shuffled across the ice toward the gate through which the zamboni had enter the rink. I was looking for a murder weapon and clutching at my chest where my heart was threatening to explode. My vision was blurring and I stumbled. I forced myself to take slow measured breaths. This is not where I'm going to die, I told myself. Breath, damn it!

I stumbled around a rolling toolbox and almost into my last chapter. A figure arose and slashed at me with a blade in a huge white fist. I ducked and heard it clang against the toolbox. I don't carry weapons, and I'm not a strong man, but I came up fast with both hands clenched into a hammer fist and caught him under the chin. My assailant went down hard and I fell on top of him.

The next thing I knew, I was being pulled off by men in blue and rolled onto a gurney. I opened my eyes to see that the man I fought so valiantly was a woman, and the bloody blade she swung was attached to a white figure skating boot. Tyler had been killed by a skate blade. She stared directly at me with a look of hatred that I hardly felt I deserved. But I knew from the audit who she must be. The skating director of the arena. The last desperate act of a cornered embezzler is to strike out at those who have discovered her.

Tyler paid the full price.

I got a discounted ticket.