Best-selling author Bea Emerson finds love -- and murder -- at the Clue Con Writer’s Conference. Was it Miss Scarlett with the gun in the Library or Colonel Mustard with the wrench in the billiard room? But more importantly — can Bea and L.J. rescue their faltering love affair before someone makes her a victim?
It wasn’t until Lonigan whispered, “Come on, we’re up,” that I realized I’d zoned out completely and it was my turn to sit on the stage. I followed him up the four steps and we sat down at the rectangular table covered by a white linen tablecloth. I tried to slide my chair under the table, but it caught on the fabric of the cloth and threatened to tip the table, so I desisted, instead leaning back and taking the microphone from the stand on the table. After much tussling Lonigan and I got it out of its holder and I waved it to the crowd, who applauded our efforts with laughter.
Lonigan started by recapping my publishing career with Pittman and succinctly summarizing the events in Abilene the previous summer, where I’d inadvertently become involved in two murder cases. “We can only hope history doesn’t repeat itself here,” he finished with a grin at me then the audience.
“I hope not. I was in the middle of a shootout last time. I’d rather not go through again, thank you.” That near-death experience in Abilene had taught me with graphic clarity how deadly guns were. Fiction couldn’t begin to describe the smells and sounds of a gun battle.
Lonigan asked me the first of the questions on the list: “Tell us how you get ideas for the murders you craft.”
I had a ready answer for this and I launched into my modus operandi, which usually consisted of watching the news, daydreaming, reading the newspaper, daydreaming, and surfing the Internet and daydreaming.
We worked through the other questions he’d showed me and I started to relax. Despite having a thousand people staring at me, it wasn’t hard. Most of the questions had been tossed at me in other interviews in one form or another, so there were no surprises lurking. Lonigan was a good interviewer, prompting me when I appeared stalled and adding anecdotes of his own to enhance what I said.
As we were nearing the end of the prepared list and getting ready to take questions from the audience, he leaned back in his chair. I saw his attention wander as he shoved his legs under the table. He leaned over and moved the tablecloth so it didn’t drape over his sandaled feet. He jerked back and for a minute I thought he’d been stung by an insect. Color drained out of his face, leaving two dark splotches of red on his cheekbones, where his beard didn’t reach.
After a brief hesitation, he shifted his chair and turned so most of his body faced away from the audience. He put his microphone on the floor and leaned over slightly as though to touch his sandal.
“Look under the table,” he muttered.
I stumbled over whatever word was in my mouth and opened my eyes wide. I didn’t dare say anything because my microphone was still in my hot little hand and I was facing the audience, who stared expectantly at me as I gaped at him.
Lonigan picked up his microphone and fiddled with the index cards in his hand, slipping one out of the stack. “Whoops.” He dropped the cards and the mike, the small squares sliding across the rug to my feet. “Sorry,” he said loudly to the audience, his voice unamplified but carrying in the quiet room. “Thank goodness that was the last question I had.”
As we both leaned over to pick up the cards, he whispered, “Check under the table.”
I stretched forward and flicked aside the tablecloth draped down to the floor over the table. For a second I didn’t see anything then my eyes adjusted to the darker space.
Patrice Samuels was sprawled under the table, lying on her back. She wore a golden-brown pantsuit and her signature turquoise necklace, this one shaped like a dolphin, was resting on one ample breast.
The chain of the necklace was tangled in the knife stuck in her heart.
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