GRACE’S HEART WAS pumping fast. She’d be next on the track as a jammer, and she didn’t want to let her team down. She glanced at the scoreboard, then back to the game, watching her friend Wheels of Whoa bust through the other team’s blockers and make four more points. There would be time for only one more jam before the end of the game. It would be up to her and her blockers. “Yes,” she said under her breath. The roar of the five-hundred-plus crowd cheering for their team was even more exciting. But she took a deep breath. She needed to stay calm and focused.
Thrash Panda lightly tapped a fist on Grace’s knee. “Gewurztrameaner, stop staring at the track. Tell us what you want us to do for you. Do you want us to do any offense when we get out there?” Grace checked the other team’s bench. Number 87 was putting the jammer cover on her helmet. “87’s the next jammer. If you feel you can keep her back with just three blockers, send me one skater for offense, and help me get through the pack.” Thrash Panda nodded. “Hear that?” He turned to the others set for the next blocking lineup. “I know we can keep 87 behind us. Patsy Sublime, you take the O and help get Gewurztrameaner through. Let’s make those points.” The crowd roared again, but Grace and her teammates didn’t look over. Everyone’s eyes were on Thrash Panda.
“Good. We got this.”
The jam whistle blew, and they jumped up and skated out to take their spots on the track. Grace couldn’t help glancing at the scoreboard. They were up by only ten points. She would have to get lead jammer and control this jam if they were going to be certain of a win. She glanced at 87. 87 wasn’t a strong jammer yet, which meant that Grace had a chance. Especially if Patsy Sublime could get her through the pack, and she could pass opponents to make points. The timekeeper called out, “Five seconds!”
She had five seconds until she had to use all her strength to make it past the blockers.
The jam-start whistle blew, and she pushed the other jammer off the track. Her team backed up. She could hear her coach yelling, “Go!”
Patsy knocked one of the opponent blockers off the track and was taking him back, leaving Grace with only three blockers to get past. She feigned left, watching the three overcompensate to her left, then jumped and spun past them on the right. She heard the whistle blow indicating that she was the lead jammer and felt a little thrill of excitement for making it through first. As she willed her tired legs to keep skating around the track, she glanced back and could see the other jammer still stuck behind the pack. At her bench, the coach was indicating for her to keep moving. She made it around.
She could make some points if she played this right. She remembered the words of her coach: Don’t ever approach the wall the same way twice. She skirted through her own teammates, who were working hard to keep 87 behind them.
This time she feigned right. Three of the blockers moved right; one stayed left, ruining her plans of taking the left side of the track. She went for the opening, but they closed in on it fast. She backed out and hit the line on the right side. One of the blockers wasn’t putting on his brakes fast enough and scooted out farther than the others. She took the small opening and was able to get past one skater—that was one point. She pivoted and turned, twisting around the forward skater. Now she was just ahead of all the opponents. That was three more points.
Coach was yelling and signaling for her to call the game. She tapped her hips twice, and the end-of-the-jam whistle blew. They had done it. They had won the game by fourteen points! Winding up after the game, her friend and fellow skater Eric, a.k.a. Jamurai, tapped Grace on the shoulder. “Great jam out there!”
“Are you coming to the after-party?”
“Yeah. I’ll be there. First though, I need to get something to eat.” Eric skated along with her. But the stand window was closed. The metal door looked forlorn, especially because Grace was hungry.
“That’s not right.” Grace tapped on the steel window cover. “Kit told me he’d have a cold Powerade ready for me, and one of those German sausages.” She couldn’t wait to get her skates off her sore feet, but food sounded so good right now.
“Hey, that reminds me. What do you call a pissed off German? A sauerkraut.” Eric snorted over his terrible joke. Grace rolled her eyes and moved to the side door and knocked. She could hear Kit’s radio playing, so he had to be around. One of the janitors was walking by, getting ready to clean up after the game.
“Hey, do you have the key to this stand? I’m worried about Kit. He said he’d be here.” The janitor walked up to the door and knocked. She could tell by the tilt of his head that he could hear the music too. He pulled on his keys at his hip and unlocked the door. He pushed the door open and they stood there staring, in shock. Eric put his arm around Grace.
“We should get security.” Grace nodded and gently removed Eric’s arm so she could skate forward and look closer at Kit’s crumpled body on the ground. His blood covered the floor. He was face down and a kitchen knife was sticking out of his back. “Go ahead. I’m going to check his pulse.”
Eric turned to go get a guard. The janitor was still standing there watching in silence.Grace scooted forward on her skates around the pool of blood, then tapped down on her knees near his face. Grace knew well before she even tried that there would be no pulse. She touched his neck at his pulse point and found that his body was warm, but there was definitely no life left in him. She felt tears come to her eyes. Kit was such a nice old man. Who in the world would have any reason to harm him?
She could see from the fabric on his back that he had been stabbed three times. She wanted to take that knife out and let him rest in peace, and then she wanted to find out who did it and give them an elbow to the face. “Get out of there!” The yell made her heart skip a beat. It was a young security guard for the fairgrounds. His face was red and he looked like he was going to pop a blood vessel.
“She was checking his pulse.” Eric said to the guard then turned to Grace. “Anything?”
She shook her head.
“Then you don’t need to be in there anymore. The police will need this place cordoned off.” He glanced around, probably figuring out how he could cordon off the space.
“Oh my god. I can’t let anyone leave.” He looked back at the exit doors, which were filled with people on their way out to their cars.
“My god. What do I do?”
“Deep breath,” Grace suggested as she stood. “Maybe call the front gate and tell them to not let anyone out?”
The security guard nodded. “We’ve got three gates open tonight. Good idea. I’ll do that.”
He pulled out his radio. Grace took a look around the room. There was one German sausage lying on the grill and there was bread, sauerkraut, and chopped onions laid out in perfect piles on a plate, waiting for her. He had probably saved the last one for her. And there was a PowerAde sitting in ice on the counter. She felt the tears coming again but she took her own deep breath and scanned the room. She needed to see if there were any clues. She didn’t know anyone that had a problem with Kit, but she knew this place and a lot of these people better than anyone. Besides, she had known Kit well before becoming a roller derby player and she’d be damned if anyone was going to get away with murder. She spotted a strange shadow under the stove and hovered closer.
“What are you still doing in here?” The guard said. “Sorry!” Grace said, making sure it sounded like she meant it. She exited the way she had come. Making sure not to roll anywhere near Kit’s blood. She grabbed Eric’s hand as they skated to the team locker room and whispered in his ear. “There’s a mouthguard under the stove.”
“From which team?” She pointed at the locker room for their opponents. “The Rocket Rollers.”
“Do you think one of them could have killed him?” Grace nodded, “Had to be. How else could it have gotten there?” Eric shrugged. “Someone could just be trying to frame someone else. Isn’t that how it happens on all the TV shows? Or if they are the murderer, the police get DNA off of the mouthguard, they’d have their culprit.”
She shook her head. “I highly doubt that someone would get a hold of someone’s mouthguard as a clue to leave behind. Besides, the player could say all kinds of things to get out of this. I want to really know why this happened. Why would someone kill my friend?”
Eric stopped his rolling and held her shoulders. “Please tell me that you don’t have some crazy idea.”
“I don’t have some crazy idea. I have a great idea to catch the killer.” This time Eric rolled his eyes.
“Besides, I know who it is. I’m going to make her think I have the mouth guard and that I will extort her for money. Meet her somewhere that feels safe for her and see what happens.” Grace ducked Eric’s hands and moved to the locker room.
“First of all, I highly doubt you know exactly who it is. And, what’s the point? Besides possibly putting your life in danger?” Grace stopped at the door and turned to Eric. “I’ll record everything and get her to confess. Easy.”
“Before or after they try to kill you too, if they are guilty? So who do you think it is?”
“The murder happened before the end of the game. There’s only one person on the other team that got removed from the game for insubordination. It had to be Ginger Broad. But first, I have to get out of these skates.”
Opening the door to their team’s locker room was another shock. The team was happily celebrating their win and Berny Slamders had her music turned up. Berny and Thrash Panda were chair dancing and removing their gear to the rhythm of eighties music. Of course, they didn’t know Kit was dead. It had only happened moments ago and they were reveling in the win. But then, not everyone here even knew him by name. He had been a women’s volleyball coach at Grace’s high school once upon a time and Albuquerque was a big town with plenty of other high schools. Wheels of Whoa, aka Wendy, jumped up from her seat at the bench and hugged her.
“Grace! That was such a great game.” Grace nodded. She didn’t want to ruin anyone’s euphoria so she went to an open space on the bench and started taking off her gear. Eric sat down next to her. Escape Verocity held up her phone. “That’s weird, my mom just texted me that they aren’t letting anyone out of the fairgrounds. No one’s going anywhere fast right now, so I guess we should take our time.”
“I wonder why they aren’t letting anyone out?” Bitter Irony asked as she packed up her gear. Coach walked in and gave everyone his thumbs up. “Good game everyone. I’m proud of what you did out there today.”Eric spoke loudly over the other voices talking in the room. “Thanks, coach, but we have a problem. Someone’s killed Kit.”
There were a few gasps of breath and Berny Slamders reached over and turned down the music. “What?!” Goldie Rocks asked. “Killed? As in killed dead? Not some slang for something else?” Eric shook his head.
“Nope. Grace and I found him. Someone stabbed him in the back.” Out of the corner of her eye Grace noticed Pinky Ringer turn her head to look over at Coach and Coach looked back at Pinky with worried eyes. Why did they both look guilty about something? Did she have it wrong? Were they somehow involved? Her view of their exchange was suddenly blocked by Wheels of Whoa enveloped her in another hug. “Oh my gosh, Grace. I’m so sorry. I know he was a friend of yours. That’s so awful.”
“Thanks, Wheels.” Grace hugged her back and moved to take off the rest of her gear. Coach and Pinky were no longer giving each other looks, but Grace tried to think back to any times she had seen Coach or Pinky with Kit. Besides, they had both been at the game. Although, could something had happened at halftime?
Coach had been late getting back after halftime. She mentally shook her head at that. There was no way her coach could be responsible. She trusted him and Pinky. She was still going to try getting a confession out of her top suspect. A knock at the door echoed through the quiet locker room. Coach pulled the door open to a policewoman. She took a slight step back and wrinkled her nose.
She was probably hit with the derby smell of sweat and stinky gear, something Coach and everyone else involved in derby had long gotten used to.
“I’m Officer Kline. I’ll need to speak with each of you about a vendor here at your game. Christopher ‘Kit’ Lawrence. I’ll also have a sergeant come and take all of your contact information. Who wants to go first?”
Always the first to jump on the track or volunteer for anything, Wheels of Whoa stood up. “I’ll go.” The officer nodded and motioned her to follow. Grace turned to Eric. “I’m setting my plan in motion.” Eric sighed and shook his head.
“Grace, you’ve been watching too many mystery movies.” She pulled the game schedule off the wall and turned it over for some blank paper then wrote a note. She walked out of the locker room and down the secluded hallway to the other locker room and knocked. Helva Deer opened the door.
“Can I come in?”
Helva moved back to let Grace enter. Whipsconsin and Jamel Toe held up their hands for high fives from Grace. She loved playing against them and high-fived them back although it seemed somehow wrong with the Kit’s death, but they probably didn’t know yet either. Except for one person in their midst. Grace walked up to Ginger Broad and handed her the note. Ginger looked as if she had taken a shower. There were no showers here so she must have dunked her head under the sink. Her hair was wet and pulled back, all of her gear was put away, and her hand was bandaged. She was also in civilian clothes, her uniform put away.
Grace knew that wasn’t unusual for someone who had been removed from the game early to be out of her gear already, but if Ginger had gotten blood on her uniform, it would make sense she had changed. Ginger looked at the note and read it without a glimmer of change on her face. Grace didn’t wait for a response and walked back out, thinking that maybe Eric was right. Maybe she did watch too many mysteries.
She made her way to the parking lot in the back of the building, used only for roller derby players and refs. No one was out here yet. The police probably had plenty to handle with the crowd wanting to get out of the fairgrounds. Grace walked back and forth in the dark lot, waiting to hear the door open. Finally Ginger Broad came out. She paused just outside the door then made her way to the back corner where Grace stood.
“What’s this about you having my mouth guard and why would I pay you money for it?” Ginger asked as she approached. “Because it can prove that you murdered Kit. It was under the stove right next to his body.” Ginger folded her arms. “What are you talking about? Murder? Besides, If you had my mouth guard and if it was in a room with a murdered person, by removing it you have no proof that it was there in the first place. I can just say that you stole my mouthguard.”
Uh oh. She had her there. This wasn’t working out the way Grace had hoped. Maybe there was someone else involved. Then she remembered something that had been missing from the room. “I’m betting you have his towel.” Ginger took a step back. “What?”
“His towel. He always kept a towel on his shoulder. He doesn’t have one on his shoulder now. I bet I can just tell the police to search your things and they’ll find it with his blood on it. It will probably have your blood on it too since your hand is bandaged.” Ginger’s arms were still crossed, but her eyebrows were now furrowed and her eyes looked worried. Grace’s heart was starting to pound again as if she was about to jam in a game. This woman had definitely murdered Kit. “I was his friend. I go visit him at the stand every time before and after a game. I’ve seen him working and he always has a towel. What I don’t get is why you would murder him? He was such a nice man and you aren’t even from Albuquerque. How could you have even known him?”
Ginger put her hands down at her side, then glanced around the parking lot.
“Did you know your friend owned land in Texas? In fact, he owns my mom’s place that she rents. He was going to evict her.” Grace nodded. “He mentioned a few times that he owned property. He didn’t say it was in Texas though.”
Ginger continued. “I’ve met him a few times. He comes up to Texas to check on the property. I was only asking for a little reprieve, to give her a few months to get back on her feet.” The sound of her voice was louder and higher-pitched and she took a step toward Grace. “That bastard said he had given her enough chances. That she’d have to move out by the end of the month.” She took another step forward and brandished a knife from her pocket. “He got what he deserved and you will too!”
Grace jumped back in time to escape the wielded knife. She took a quick deep breath, ready to move in any direction to get away from the danger. Then, shadows came from behind the cars, and Ginger was tackled to the ground by five of Grace’s friends and team members. Thrash Panda and Eric safely worked the knife from Ginger’s hand. “Got it?” Eric asked.
Grace pulled the phone out of her pocket and hit rewind on her recording app. The sound of Ginger’s voice came through loud and clear “He got what he deserved and you will too!”
“I’ll go get the police,” Coach called and ran to the building. “Meanwhile,” said Escape Verocity, “Let’s make sure she doesn’t go anywhere.” She pulled out a roll of duct tape and by the time the policewoman got to them, a guilty Ginger was trussed like a turkey, ready to face justice.