Dark winter nights, filled with drifts of snow and gusts of wind, are a fine time to spend behind an antique picture window with a blazing fire in the hearth.

They are not the best time to be on the road.

On this particular occasion, the prayers of thousands of schoolchildren had given the asphalt a sheath of ice and a sprinkling of snow. The moonless night had sheathed the hazard beneath a light crystalline dust.

Harry, preoccupied, didn’t even notice that his Buick had begun to spin out of control until the front tires had already skidded off the road. By the time he stood on the brake, the hydraulics were snarled in the foliage and snapped.

A cold sort of darkness closed in; Harry’s last conscious thoughts turned to the package on the seat beside him.