FROZEN STIFF Chapter 1
PART I - Trying to Walk
TWO WEEKS AGO
Chase eyed the man in the driver seat sporting aviator sunglasses that were too big even for his large features. His elbow was hanging casually out the window, and cold air wafted to them from inside the van. “You girls need a ride?” he said with a slight grin. Chase turned to her sister, at the sheen covering her button nose, the soft skin beneath her eyes. It was hot, too hot, and they still had at least two miles to cover before they got home. “We’re fine,” Chase said forcefully. She grabbed her sister’s hand and tugged her along. To her dismay, the man in the van kept pace. “You sure? It’s awfully hot out here.” Chase looked over at the driver, and was surprised to see that his smile had widened. A sudden buzzing, a thick, droning sound, bombarded Chase’s ears and she felt momentarily dizzy. He’s right. It’s so hot out here. When’s the last time we had something to drink? Was it the water? No, it was… oh, it was the syrupy Snocone… that was it. And mama said that those drinks will only make you more thirsty. “I said, we’re fine,” she snapped. The man opened his mouth to reply, but the only sound he made was more of that strange buzzing. It seemed to be inside her skull now, as if her brain had been replaced by a wasp hive. To her right, her sister was saying something and tugging her hand, probably telling her that they should, please, just take the ride, but Chase didn’t hear any words. All she heard was that damn buzzing, that incessant—
Chase’s eyes snapped open, her mouth open in a gasp. Her body was covered in sweat, an uncomfortable stickiness that coated her arms, her chest, her legs. Finally managing a full breath, she saw fog form in front of her face. Despite the sweat, she shivered, her gaze moving to the open window. It was frigid inside her small apartment and— Bzzzzz Chase’s eyes went from the window to her phone on the bedside table. As she stared at it, it buzzed again, the vibrations moving it toward the edge. Chase grabbed it before it fell. The number was unlisted, but she answered anyway. “Hello?” she asked, then cleared her throat when her voice came out hoarse and cracking. What time is it? “Alaska,” the male voice on the other end of the line said. Unlike her own, it was clear, distinct, not groggy with sleep. “What?” “Alaska. Head to the airport—flight leaves in two hours. Tickets are at the desk under your name. Bring the badge and gun that Agent Stitts gave you. Don’t be late.” Chase sat bolt upright. This was the call she was waiting for. She hadn’t expected it to be so obtuse, cryptic and informal, but that didn’t matter. It was the call. “I’m up, sir,” she said, but the other end of the line had already gone dead. Chase put the phone back on the bedside table and rubbed the last vestiges of sleep from her eyes. Then, when her vision was completely clear, she turned to the clock. It was four-fifteen in the morning. Her eyes naturally moved to the photograph beside the clock next, the one of Brad resting on a knee, a smile on his bearded face. His hand was wrapped around Felix’s shoulders, resting on his brightly-colored backpack. The photo had been taken three years ago on little Felix’s first day of school. Chase reached out with two fingers and pressed them gently on the glass. Then she rose, grabbed the bag that she had packed months ago from the foot of her bed, confirmed that her pistol and FBI badge rested on top, and started to dress.