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Grace on Ice -- Chpts 5 - 8 & the start of nine

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Lisa M



Joined: 08 Jul 2004
Posts: 1844
Location: Rhode Island
Grace on Ice -- Chpts 5 - 8 & the start of nine  Reply with quote  

Still having punctuation issues.


RULE 2: Teams
Section 1.a. A team shall have not more than six players on the ice at any one time while play is in progress. These six players shall be designated as follows: goalkeeper, right defense, left defense, center, right wing and left wing.

Chapter Five

Nicole was nearly finished with her morning yoga routine when her doorbell rang.
With a groan she relaxed her position and called out, just a second. She stretched out and slowly got to her feet, draping a towel around her neck. She opened the door without looking out first and thought no one was there. She blinked, and Ginger and Todd stepped into view. Ginger hefted a jug of orange juice, and Todd showcased a bag of bagels and a tub of cream cheese. Each had figure skates hanging from their shoulders.

“Oh, welcome, my friends! Come in. What a nice surprise, guys.”

Todd and Ginger walked in, parking their skates and jackets by the door.

“Mum dropped us off, Todd announced. She thought you might need some company.”

“And food, Ginger added. “We can’t stay too long. Mr. Yates Zambonied the rink and Todd’s Mom has insisted we keep to our schedule.

Nicole smiled. “I know it’s your favorite practice of the week.

“Yeah, whatever, Todd mumbled. “At least we’re on the ice. Tuesday and Thursday dance classes are just plain embarrassing. He stepped around his hockey coach to go to the kitchen for glasses and plates. “It’s like nasty-tasting medicine, he said over his shoulder. I know it’s good for me, but yuck.

“No offense, Ging. You are so much better at it than I am. I just suck.

Nicole chuckled, helping Ginger set out the bagels and cream cheese. “Should we toast these?

“Nah, not for me. They’re still warm.

The three munched companionably for several seconds.

“So, coach, are you going to win today? You have the home rink advantage.

“We’ll see, Todd. Will you be there?”

“You bet. Dad scored us some tickets on Friday.”

“Who is playing center,” Ginger asked.

“Jennifer.”

“Hrumph”.

“Why hrumph, Ginger?” Nicole sipped her juice.

“She’s mean. She skates dirty.

“How so?”

“I’ve watched her. She’s snaky. She hooks skates.”

Nicole absorbed this thoughtfully. Well, yes, maybe it was true.

* * *

The university arena, fondly known as the Frank ’n Jane in honor of the family who had helped pay for it, was packed. The team was enjoying its first season in the sparkling facility, and the fans were loving it.

There were a surprising number of URI supporters who had traveled down from New England. Nonetheless, the Snapper’s red and silver were the dominant colors in the stands. The pep band was sounding good, and many in the student section sported red and silver face paint. Even during the warm-up they were loud and enthusiastic.

After the warm-up the two teams flowed off the ice into the bench areas on opposite sides of the rink. Snapper, the home team mascot, charged into the rink in front of the Zamboni, delighting the crowd with skating antics. The school was perennially the brunt of jokes about the skating lobster, but many suspected a deeply-rooted envy. Snapper could skate. Spins, jumps and fancy footwork entertained and awed the crowd, no easy fee for someone dressed in a hot, padded lobster costume. On cue, at Snappy’s entrance, thousands donned foam Snappy hats.

* * *

As Snapper led the Zamboni around the rink, Nicole sat in the locker room with her team. As Coach La Rossa gave his usual pre-game speech, she zoned, watching the faces of her team mates and noticing small details of emotion. She expanded her view to the room, idly admiring the symmetry of the hockey sticks in the rack along the wall. Every player had an almost superstitious thing about taping their sticks. Most wrapped them carefully in plain friction tape to help with puck control. The one Nicole was looking at was different. It was a piece of art.

Wrapped in red tape, the stick also had a horizontal silver strip running its length, with lobsters seemingly stenciled evenly the entire way.

’Neat. Maybe we should all do that,’ Nicole thought. It’s a nice touch. I wonder whose stick it is?

* * *

When the Snappers took to the ice as the announcer announced the line-up, the crowd went wild. Now brandishing lobster-claw mitts, they hollered and yelled and screamed. Nicole was the last onto the ice, taking a smooth lap around to her goal. She paused for a moment, then set about roughing the ice in her crease. Her bulky leg pads and gloves belied her slender, wirery, strong frame. She circled her net three times, then did the skating equivalent of pacing as she waited for the game to begin.

Despite her official status as the now-sole team captain, the Snappers rotate the game-day honor amongst the starting players. Nicole watched as Sara Leigh, the right wing, conferred with the ref, providing numbers and positions. Finally, the centers were facing off. The opening fell to URI’s favor and Nicole now saw nothing but the puck.

* * *

At the end of the first period, URI was up by one. This served only to inspire the crowd to ever-higher chants, ever more exuberant waves. When Snapper came back on the ice, followed by tiny kids on skates, the din was astounding.

The kids were priceless. Four and five-years old, wearing tiny Snapper jerseys, they were a crowd favorite. Few left their seats when the budding hockey stars came onto the ice. The game was shots on goal: a board with a hole was placed in front of the goal, through which the kids were to try and send the puck. It was a pretty big hole. Even so, most of the pucks went wide and most of the kids fell down. At the end of five minutes, four of the twelve players had scored goals, and Snappy gave each a university t-shirt. The Zamboni came onto the rink to ready it for the second period.

* * *

Ginger and Todd walked up to the concession stand to get snacks. Each came away with a big hot pretzel with mustard, and a strawberry Snapple, the official beverage of the team. They returned to their seats, stopping frequently to chat with friends. By the time they sat down the skaters were back on the ice.

I hate to admit it, Todd, but Jennifer is playing pretty well. I like the silver stripe on her stick.

Yeah, I noticed that. Maybe it is sticky and helps catch a pass.

The two continued to critique the game so far, noticing that while the Snappers were down a goal – the score was 2-1 – Nicole had blocked a lot more shots than URIs goalie.

But that also means that they were able to take more shots, Todd observed. We had a few penalties that hurt us. Stupid, stuff, too.

Oh, look, Ginger said. Nicole isn’t starting this period. Its Susan, instead.

Hey, cool. Shes good.

Not as good as Nicole.

Nope.

Not as good as me.

Todd rolled his eyes. Oh, please.

* * *

Nicole pulled her left skate on over her now wrapped ankle and foot. Thanks, Olga, she said to the team trainer. It is just a precaution, but I feel more confident with the ace. I must have wrenched it harder than I thought the other day.


Nicole pulled her left skate on over her now wrapped ankle. Thanks, Olga, she said to the team trainer. It is just a precaution, but I feel more confident with the ace. Youd think the boot would be enough. I must have wrenched it harder that I thought the other day.

The slender trainer nodded. Yeah, funny how the Puss-in-Boots thing works.

Olga. You really are a good skater. What would it take to get you to come over to the dark side? Nicole gathered her helmet and gloves. Standing, she tested her ankle. Good. She bent down to get her throat an mouth guards. I don’t have enough hands for all this gear.

Olga laughed, her fawn-colored curls bouncing. It would take a lot. I like the jumps and spins. Im not so much a fan of broken teeth.

Well, let me know if you change your mind. Nicole made her way to the players bench, nodding to her coach. Soon after, a penalty was called on URI and La Rossa nodded her into the game, while Jennifer prepared to face off against the URI center.

Back in the crease, Nicole had an opportunity to take stock of the players. Jennifer had controlled the face-off and her tem mates were clearly out-skating their opponents. Cheers erupted from the stands when the Snappers wing slammed the puck into the net, just as the second period buzzer sounded.

The final 20 minutes of play resulted in one more goal for the Snappers. Jubilent, the team acknowledged the URI Rams and left the rink for the locker room.

A peculiar silence fell as the women shed their skates, uniforms and pads. Their victory exuberance on the ice gave way to fatigue. They gathered briefly for congratulations from their coach, then straggled home.

Leaving the arena, Nicole was surprised and pleased to see her young protégés waiting for her. Hey, guys! Whadya think of the game? Lets go get some nourishment!

* * *

Chapter Six

Walking down the steps from their seats in the upper tier of the arena, detectives Gibson and Hollstrom compared notes.

The preliminary MEs repot indicates bruises , old and new, on her arms, legs and neck. She also had been struck across her neck with what was likely a hockey stick. The blow not only crushed her hyoid bone, but broke her neck. Nonetheless, it was the impact of striking her head on the ice that killed her.

So, murder or manslaughter. Angela mused. A crime premeditated, or one of opportunity?

Could be anything, Gibson replied. It is curious that her gloves are missing. That seems odd to me.

I thought it was interesting that Mr. and Mrs. Yates agreed that the victim may have been skating with La Rossa, the coach. He has denied it, but we need to have another conversation with him, and we need to talk to all the team members. Her room mates alibi checks out – she was working at the Italian restaurant all that evening. It doesn’t close until 2 a.m., so she left sometime after that. The ME sets time of death between ten and midnight, although what with the ice, there is some wiggle room there.

Lets talk to the roommate again. See if shes thought of anything new.

* * *

Nicole was not surprised to see the two detectives outside the locker room, but she sighed heavily. All she wanted was to put on her flannel pajamas, fix a cup of tea and watch the Sci-Fi channel with her cat. Detectives. She set her gym bag on the floor. Im guessing you have some questions?

Ben La Rossa appeared, stepping out of his office. Anything I can help with, he asked.

Actually, wed like to talk with Ms. Loebick. Is there an office or room we can use? Gibson asked.

Oh, sure. Come this way. La Rossa led the ensemble to the team conference room a few steps away. Nicole entered, along with the two detectives. La Rossa started to follow, but detective Gibson put a hand up to stop him.

Wed prefer to speak to Ms. Loebick alone, sir.

La Rossa looked at Nicole. Are you alright with that?

Sure, Coach. Im fine. I want to help.

La Rossa glanced at the detectives. Let me know if there is anything I can do, he said, closing the door as he left.

Gibson gestured to Nicole to have a seat. She sat at the corner of the conference table. Hollstrom took a seat at the end and Gibson sat directly opposite the hockey player. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us.

I do want to help. Nicole looked from one detective to the other. Do you know who killed Grace?

We know how she died, Hollstrom replied. Officially, she died because her head hit the ice with sufficient force to crack her skull. There was an additional injury to her throat, a blow that shattered her hyoid bone. It appears she was struck with a hockey stick. Either was sufficient to cause her death.

Nicole absorbed this information. I thought there had to be someone else there, as I said yesterday.

The question is, Ms. Loebick, Gibson said, who?

Nicole shrugged helplessly. I don’t know. Everyone loved Grace.

The detectives went over many of the same questions from the previous day: were any of the team mates jealous, were there any serious grudges, what did Grace normally do and where did she go? Finally, Hollstrom leaned into the table. What about your coach, Mr. La Rossa? We have been told he was likely having an affair with Ms. Robertson.

Oh, shit.

Ma’am?

Sorry, Ms. Hollstrom., I guess I am just naïve. I really didn’t think anyone knew. I did, but I was her roommate and best friend. I guess I should have told you yesterday.

Who told you? After a beat she continued. No, of course you cant say. Nicole gathered her thoughts. Grace was beautiful. She was smart, graceful, funny and sexy. She attracted guys like a magnet snags iron filings. She was a flirt, too, totally aware of her power.

I don’t think she set out to snag Coach La Rossa, but even so, he didn’t stand a chance. You’ve seen him. He’s young, cute . . . Nicoles voice trailed off. He can be a real jerk, too. He’s vain and arrogant. He’s also a very good coach.

The detectives prodded for details and Nicole reluctantly gave them up. They were a serious item beginning in September, just after the semester started. By Christmas break, though, they were having some problems. By last month they were hardly speaking. I thought they were done with each other.

And, really, they were very discreet, I thought. The schools administrative policy about student-faculty relationships notwithstanding, his pending divorce has been nasty. I guess others knew, she finished.

The detectives went over it all again, but not much new came to light. Well, thank you, Ms. Loebick. You have been quite helpful, and very patient. Gibson rose, as did Hollstrom. Nicole also stood, resting a hand on the back of her chair. Well, you know where to find me, then. Good luck. Please find the bastard who killed my friend.



Chapter Seven

Becky took off the Snapper costume with relief. Hot, lordy it was hot. And yet, she loved it. Playing to the crowd, the kids – it was great. She quickly showered, dressed, and hung Snapper on the door to be cleaned. As she walked towards the exit she looked for Rob, who would be just putting the Zamboni away. Instead, she saw her son. Hey, Todd, Ginger! Great game, wasn’t it?

Yeah, Todd said. You were good, too.

Thanks, kid. Becky put her arms around her son and his friend. But that suit, boy is it hot!

Ginger was one of only a very few people who knew Becky was Snappy. Mrs. Yates, it is amazing you can do a Lutz in that costume.

Thank you, Ginger. It isn’t so bad, really, Snappy doesn’t weigh much, and inside it is very snug. More than a single, though, probably wouldn’t work. Let’s go home and get some supper, kids.

The trio walked towards the entrance and Todd and Ginger continued their analysis of the game, and telling Becky that Nicole had been taken aside by the cops.

Mum, Todd asked. Does she need an attorney?

No, I don’t think so, Becky replied. Im thinking they just want to re-evaluate what she knows. Between yesterday and today they have learned more, and Nicole may have remembered something important.

Okay. Todd was silent for a moment. You and dad will take care of her, right?

You bet, kiddo.

* * *

Nicole let herself into the apartment, kicking off her shoes and collapsing on the sofa, letting her dog give her an enthusiastic greeting. After letting Ice out into the back yard she pulled the fleece throw up to her chin and was asleep within a minute, her Maine Coon cat snuggled in her arms. She awoke some time later, when Ice barked at the back door and Puck jumped down to the floor. There was someone in the room. Greg!

* * *

Ben La Rossa sat watching the game, without benefit of sound: no ice scraping, no crowd, no announcers. It was the last game Grace had`skated. God, she was beautiful. He sipped his drink. Beautiful.

* * *

Todd toyed with the noodles on his plate, idly moving the spirals in and out of the sauce. Todd? His mothers voice broke his spell. Do you want to talk about anything?
Todd looked up. No, mum. May I be excused?

Sure, honey.

Todd set his fork down and got up from his chair, picking up his palte. Its good, mum. Im just not hungry. He carried his plate to the kitchen, scraping the remains of his dinner into Creases dish. The Corgi wiggled in excitement.

No scraps for the dog, Todd! Rob called.

No, Dad.

Todd stroked his dog as she gobbled the left-over spaghetti. He slid down against the cabinet to be at her level. After licking the bowl clean, Crease nudged her head and flopped next to him. When Becky came into the kitchen a while later, both were fast asleep. Rob gently picked his son up, smiling as the dog tried to way her non-existent tail. Come eon, Crease, lets go to bed.


* * *

Ice, stop doing that! Nicole scolded her shepherd-lab mix, who had a bad habit of bouncing her forelegs off Nicoles back. More than once the dog had pushed hard enough to send her against the counter. This morning, though, she just sloshed her orange juice.

Nicole wiped up the spilled juice , her mind straying to Gregs un-announced visit. They had been dating just a couple of months and Nicole was more than a little disconcerted that he had a key to the apartment, a key she had not given him. Why Grace had given one to him without telling her was upsetting. Grace, Grace. You know I would not like that. With a sign, Nicole finished her juice and put the glass in the sink.
Okay, I ll be home about four. In the meantime, don’t let any strangers in, or Greg, either, for that matter. Oh, and if youd care to vacuum, that would be good. Nicole gathered her coat and gloves, found her keys and set off for practice. On her way to the Yates rink,, she thought about Gingers comment about Jennifer and dirty skating. It was nearly impossible, from her goal-based vantage pint, to focus on an individual player. She pulled into to the parking lot and punched a number into her cell phone. Coach La Rossa? Its Nicole.

It was early when Becky dropped Ginger and Todd off for their practice and continued on to the grocery store. The weekly chore was unavoidable; when the cupboards were bare, they were bare. Double-checking her list, she pushed her cart into a check-out line. She perfunctorily glanced at the tabloids, noting that aliens had once again landed in Rosewell, when a conversation in the adjacent line caught her attention.

Oh, yeah, Grace was a saint. Give me a break.

Well, Jen, whether you liked her or not doesn’t matter.

Becky peered over the tabloid rack to see the face behind the baritone voice. Hunh. Michael Gregory. She watched as the young man and woman unloaded their car, still bickering.

Jen, Greg continued. Most everyone loved her. Your being center now will be hard. Not only do you have to skate well, you have to think about how your team relates to you. All Im saying is, be aware.

Paper or plastic? Ma`am? Paper or plastic? The clerk scanning her groceries finally got Becky`s attention.

Oh, sorry. Here, I have some totes. She put her canvas bags at the end of the conveyor belt. Becky looked up to see Nicole`s teammate in a lip-lock with Nicole`s supposed boy friend.
* * *

Nicole blew her whistle. Okay, guys. Good practice. Well meet again on Tuesday and Friday. She made a lap of the rink, ensuring the goal nets were taken off the rink and stored properly. After her young charges were showered and gone, she changed from her hockey skates to her speed skates, and slid back onto the ice. Hands clasped behind her back, she glided in graceful ovals, around and around.


* * *
Robb?

Hunh? Rob looked up from the spreadsheet on his computer. Hon?

What do you know about Nicoles boyfriend?

Not a lot. He seems a nice chap. I think hes from Canada. Sorry, canadia. Why?

Oh, I was thinking. I saw him in the grocery store today, with Jennifer Abramanoff. They seemed . . . intimate.

Rob looked at his wife. And?

Well, Ive not seen Nicole shopping with him.

Rob sighed, Beck. Decode, please.

Oh, you know. Just a gut feeling. I don’t trust him. Anyhow, I am going to take Crease to the park. Shes getting fat and it will be too late by the time Todd gets home. Becky took her mug to the kitchen snapped the leash on the Corgis collar, and nudged the excited dog into the car. It was only a few blocks to the park, but it would take too long to walk. Crease would stop at every blade of grass and lunge at every cat, squirrel and dog.

Becky pulled up to the curb. Crease leaped out, pulling against her leash. Hold on, kiddo. Becky followed the dog to the fenced area, opened the gate and stepped inside. She unclipped the leash and Crease took off, heading for her nearest canine friend. Becky laughed as her short legs pumped hard. She suddenly lurched forward as someone punched her in the lower back.

Ice! Dammit! Nicole was appalled. You are such a hellhound! Oh, Mrs. Yates, I am so sorry!

Becky turned around. Its okay, Nicole. She probably smells the biscuits in my pocket. Anyhow, it is better than her nose in my crotch. Becky took a treat from her jeans and wrapped her hand around it. Ice. Sit! The exuberant mutt sat, barely. Wait. Stay. Becky laughed. Here you go. She tossed the treat to the pretty dog. She is lovely, Nicole.

Yes. My lovely hellhound. I figure if I let her live until she is three or so, she just might be a good dog.

Becky laughed. Been there.

How are you, Nicole?

Okay. Todays practice went well. Todd is getting more shots into the net, and that is annoying Ginger to no end.

The two women watched their dogs romp, chatting comfortably.

Mrs. Yates, I need some advice.

Becky looked at her young friend. How can I help?

Well, you know I have been dating this guy, Greg. Hes from ***.

Sure. He seems like a nice enough kid.

Well, that’s the thing. I thought so, too, but lately hes been, oh, weird. Last night he showed up in my apartment. He let himself in with a key. I didn’t give him a key.

Becky looked at Nicole with concern. Who gave it to him?

He said Grace gave it to him, because he wanted to surprise me. Anyhow, he gave it back but he was just acting odd. Nicole sighed.

Becky watched the dogs, pondering whether to tell Nicole about the scene in the grocery store. Crease had treed a squirrel and Ice was jumping up the tree.

Hellhound, Nicole muttered. She never quits, never runs out of energy.

The moment had passed. Becky whistled for the Corgi. Nicole, I need to get home. The kids will be there soon. But lets meet tomorrow, if you have time.

Okay, that`ll be good. Maybe an early lunch? I have to be at lunch at two.

Sure. Come to the rink and we`ll find somewhere to go.


* * *

Nicole sat on her couch, Ice`s head in her lap, watching the tape of Grace`s last game. It was Jennifer, though, whom she focused on. The relief center and wing skated about ten minutes of the game, and Ginger was right. The girl was a sly and mean, wasting her considerable talents on illegal moves. Checks, hooks – skating just an edge away from penalties.

Shit. The girl was a Teflon shield for fouls. The refs called her on the most obvious, but they missed a lot. Nicole picked up the remote, reversing the tape and watching again.


* * *

Ben La Rossa hung up his phone. His hands were shaking and his forehead was damp. Twenty K. He`d bet against his own team and was down twenty grand. On top of the other fifty. He took out a handkerchief and wiped his face. He didn`t have good choices. Which, he ruefully noted, was a direct result of previous bad choices. Nonetheless, he was between a rock and a very hard place. He opened his desk drawer and poured a shot of whiskey into his coffee. The page torn from Greg`s ledger scared him shitless.


Chapter Nine

Todd and Ginger stood side-by-side, stunned. Dressed in mis-matched sweats, the skater lying on the ice was undeniably dead. The hair was frozen in blood. A helmet was a few feet away. There was no hockey stick, this time. Instead of a massive bruise to the neck, this corpse had a savage gash across the thorax. Todd threw up his breakfast.

Ginger was jolted out of her shock. Oh, gross. She pulled Toss`s arm to get him away from the grisly sight.

This time, the phone call was not all that coherent. Mum? Mum? I`s me, Todd?
Ohgod, he`s dead.

Todd? Where are you?

At the rink.

I`ll be right there.
It`s Coach La Rossa, right? Todd`s pale face looked at Ginger. He put his head back in his hands, his elbows braced on his thighs.


* * *

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