I have just started work on my eighth Claire Watkins mystery, tentatively titled Lost Creek.This is the working opening but I’m not sure it will end up being the final beginning. We've had a brutally cold winter this year and it obviously has affected me.  Don't let this scare you off of saunas.

New Year’s Eve



This was the life.  Twenty below zero outside, wind blowing up a storm, and a beyond balmy 200 hundred degrees in his new sauna.  Sweating like a boxer, Dan Walker tilted his head back and blew smoke from his Davidoff cigar up toward the cedar ceiling.  The cigar wrapping was unraveling, but he was almost done.   A bottle of Stolychniya frozen into a block of ice sat on the wooden bench next to him.  Wynton Marsalis was tooting his horn through the Bose speakers.

All was so calm.  He could feel the vodka easing its way into his veins while the sweat beaded up all over his naked body.  Toxins in, toxins out. 

He slowly poured another shot of vodka down his throat.  He had much to celebrate—a terrific  new land deal that was going to save his ass.  And he was pretty sure he was going to be able to step out of his marriage without giving Sherri a penny, bless his pre-nup. 

Dan wouldn’t have minded some sweet young thing in her birthday suit sitting next to him, ready to massage any part of his anatomy that required it, but women did bring problems no matter  how careful you were.  He tried not to think about his latest fiasco.

He wondered what Danielle was up to tonight.  She certainly took after him, enjoying partying as much as anyone he knew.  Too busy to come out and see her old dad.  But you were only young once.  He invited her to join him in a sauna to see in the new year, but she laughed and said she had a better offer.  That was his kid!

Being alone wouldn’t hurt him.  Glancing up at the clock in the sauna, he saw it was close to midnight.  Perfect timing.  He was so hot he thought he was going to burst into flames.  He banged through the sauna door, took a gulp of the cooler air in the basement.  Not cool enough.  He braced himself, then pushed open the back door and stepped outside.

Glorious.  Not a house to be seen from here to Lost Creek.  The snow glittered like the exterior of a new white car. 

Taking a couple long strides, he threw himself into a snow drift.  His skin pulsed hard and deep all over his body.  He felt so incredibly alive.  He rolled over on his back and looked up at the diamond-shaped stars.  Who needed anything more than this?  His breath rose up in plumes.  He was his own Mt. Vesuvius.

His skin felt like it had been scrubbed with a hard brush.  Pins and needles all over.  He crawled to his knees, then stood up and spread his arms wide. 

Happy New Year to me!

His feet were freezing and he could feel the warmth of his core leaving him.  Time to get back into the sauna to warm up before he headed off to bed. 

He hopped to the door and, shivering, pushed down the latch.  Nothing happened.  Must be stuck.  He pressed it down harder, but it wouldn’t budge.  Then he slammed his shoulder into the door, but no movement.

Stepping back, he thought of running around the house, but remembered that he had already locked the front door for the night. 

Dan shivered hard—fear and cold cracking down on him.  He had to get into the house.  He slammed his whole body against the door, but it wouldn’t open.

Break a window, that’s what he needed to do.  He pounded on the window, but his hands were worthless.  That wasn’t going to work.  He tried digging into the snow to find a rock, a branch, anything, but he was getting so cold.  His hands had turned to stumps, his fingers wouldn’t work, he couldn’t feel his nose, his feet. 

He sat down.  The snow burned against his skin.  He felt emptied of all warmth and so tired all of a sudden.  He looked back toward the door and that’s when he saw the face of the last person he would see on earth.


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