To Be Published: 4/11/23
A Widow Writer Mystery
Jaynie Floyd, a celebrated mystery writer, has a book on the New York Times bestseller list. It’s wonderful news and her agent wants to send her on a book tour to promote it. However, Jaynie is newly widowed and doesn’t want to go. As she works through her grief, a myriad of problems arise with family and life.
Once she finally decides to go on the book tour, partially to escape, all hell breaks loose. One of the other authors on the tour is murdered and Jaynie’s instincts as a mystery writer are called into action. Soon she is chasing down leads and suspects, all the while avoiding requests from police and family to keep out of it. Her skills and curiosity take Jaynie into dangerous territory, from which she may not escape. Bodies pile up as she gets closer to the truth. Truth that could make sure she bothers the killer no more.
Book Tour Madness is a story of survival after the death of a spouse, mixed with an old-fashioned murder mystery.
No one responded to my single knock on her door, so I pounded on the door. Still no answer.
My nose twitched. Her overpowering perfume from the other night drifted my way. There was no mistaking that pungent aroma. She had to be close by. Without thinking twice, I headed downstairs to find the hotel manager.
Even before the short, balding man put a magnetic card into the door lock, I had a sinking feeling that we weren’t going to like what we found. Chalk it up to writing murder mysteries for the past ten years, but I didn’t dismiss feelings. They were a natural part of the selection process and a dogged reminder of human frailty.
He opened the door wide.
At first, there was nothing to see, save an unmade bed, clothing and cosmetics scattered around and a standing ice bucket with a bottle of champagne.
We’d checked into the hotel at 11:30, Hilda and I had gone to lunch with Marliss begging off. She was entertaining at noon when we had the signing event at two? Curious.
The hotel manager stepped aside and I walked over by the ice bucket. I was about to pull out my cell phone to take pictures when a furry pink shoe on the floor by the massive bed caught my eye. We had been booked into suites with four-poster beds that occupied seemingly half of our bedrooms. Marliss’ room looked just like mine.
I walked two steps toward the furry shoe with heels too high for me when a leg suddenly stretched out not far from it. I froze in my tracks when the rest of the body came into view. Crystal clear.
My stomach pitched with the mixed aromas of perfume and body fluids. She lay crumpled on the floor with a small amount of blood oozing from the side of her head. Her eyes were open, yet unseeing. I didn’t expect to find a pulse.
I turned to the short man immediately behind me. He rubbed his eyes as if they were deceiving him and took a step back.
He looked from Marliss to me and back.
With a shaky breath, he nodded and backed all the way out of the room, shutting the door quietly behind him. The idiot.
I snapped to and remembered I had my phone on me. As I made the call, I was careful not to touch anything in the room, especially by the body. I had written scenes like this too many times to be unaware of the liability I had put myself into just by being here.
Marliss was dead. I knew that for sure, but my troubles were just beginning.
While waiting for the police to arrive, I stayed away from the body, but my eyes searched the room. Marliss’ suite, like mine, had a bedroom separated from a nice sitting area with a table and chairs situated by a large window overlooking the city. The sleek paneled doors were wide open to the sitting area. An ice bucket sat by the table, but a chair had tipped over. It lay on its side pointing the way to Marliss’ body in the next room. The champagne in the ice bucket hadn’t been opened and had to be plenty cold by now. Two champagne glasses sitting on the table indicated she had been expecting company.
The rest of the sitting room held little interest for me, so my eyes strayed back to the body. Marliss was wearing lingerie. Sexy lingerie. A frilly lavender number, I’m sure by a famous designer, with a barely-there bra, thong and tiny lace skirt. I couldn’t be sure from this distance, but the skirt appeared to be torn. The whole outfit didn’t cover much and I was tempted to reach for a blanket. Tempted, but I didn’t. The crime scene needed to be kept as it was.
Her face was turned to me and I was sad to see her blank eyes. The Marliss I’d known and, okay, disliked, had eyes that could look right through you or knock you down with her deadly glare. Hilda had been the recipient of that look more than once.
The blood splatter pattern indicated she’d been killed where she had fallen—yes, I knew about patterns from years of research—and the red mark on her face indicated a hard slap. Maybe the slap had caused her fall and she hit her head on the corner of the bed when she fell.
Maybe her death was an accident.
Maybe. Oh, no. My eyes saw more than I wanted. A small shaft of sunlight flashed on something shiny by the bedpost. My feet itched to move closer to see what it could be when my brain came back online.
Hilda’s emerald ring.
No, it couldn’t be.
I remembered my conversation with Hilda. She’d remarked that she had left it back in her room. But her body language belied her words. Her chin dipped to her chest as she spoke and she’d averted her eyes from mine. I could swear she was lying, and her comment hadn’t made sense. I knew how much she loved that ring because Antoine gave it to her.
Maybe Antoine had returned to the scene and asked for it back. Had he then gone to see Marliss, killed her and dropped the ring to implicate Hilda?
Food for thought.
Where could I find Antoine?
I checked back through my texts from Marliss. She’d mentioned something I was trying to remember. Ah, here it was. She had to miss lunch because she had a quick meeting with a secret admirer. Apparently, the “meeting” was code for a nooner and needed to be quick because the signing event would be starting at two.
So whatever happened to her, happened between noon and two o’clock. I glanced at the door’s heavy security locks. She must have let him in, another indication she knew the killer. It would have been nice if she’d let me inn on her little secret, but that was the way Marliss worked. She was always cloaked in secrecy, which didn’t save her.
The man opening the door wasted no time.
“I’m Detective Sloan from LAPD. You the one who found the body?”
“What’s your connection to the deceased?”
“I was on a book tour with her.”
Although the man wore wire-framed glasses, I could see the squint aimed my way. His fake smile wasn’t filling me with confidence.
“A book tour?”
“Yes, sir. We’re fellow authors at a book signing event.”
I could tell he didn’t have a clue what I was talking about, so I babbled some more.
“It’s when authors go to bookstores to sign books purchased by readers.”
While he stood still sizing me up, I suppose, I had a good look at him too. A wrinkled jacket over jeans with a crooked tie. All that was missing from his costume was the felt hat and he could have been straight out of a Mickey Spillane novel. He looked more like Spillane’s detective, Mike Hammer, from what I read, than Stacy Keach from the old television show. A hard-boiled detective faced me as the color bleached from the hotel room placing me in the middle of a classic film noir.
I knew there’d be a holstered gun under the jacket, and a badge peeked out from his belt. He wasn’t any happier to see me than I was to see him. If more minutes ticked by, I would be breaking into a cold sweat.
His gaze dropped to the body and he moved toward it. A uniformed officer stood by the door keeping me in his sight at all times. What did he think I was going to do? Make a run for it? I sure did think about doing exactly that, but I was pinned in place by his steely look. My knees had locked up and I seriously hoped I wouldn’t tip over. I’d be lying next to poor Marliss.
The detective’s gaze flicked over Marliss, taking her in. I bet he had a snapshot of her in his head and details would come back to him as he thought over the scene. I’d written about detectives like Sloan, so I wasn’t uncomfortable being around him. I just didn’t appreciate being considered a suspect because I happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
When a police photographer entered the room, Detective Sloan moved me into the sitting area. His questioning look returned to an otherwise neutral face.
“How did you happen to find the body?”
“She missed the signing event today at Book Soup and I came to look for her.”
“She hadn’t said anything to you about possibly being detained?”
“Actually, she did.” When I reached for my cell phone in my pocket, the detective took a step back as the uniformed officer at the door took a step forward.
“Easy, guys,” I said. “I’m getting my phone out.”
Sloan didn’t exactly relax, but his shoulders weren’t hunched around his ears anymore.
I scrolled through my text messages until I found what I was looking for.
He took my phone and read the message. His face remained as vacant as a blank chalkboard. I bet he was a good poker player. He handed the phone back.
“We’ll need to copy all your messages from Marliss Kendall. Could you come down to the station today?”
He jerked his head toward the officer at the door. “Officer Petrie will give you the information you need.”
I glanced at Petrie who embodied those uniformed guards at Buckingham Palace. An expression on his face was as useless as my presence in a hotel room with a dead body.
“Can you add anything else to what you’ve told me?” asked Sloan.
I could tell he thought I knew more than I was saying and maybe he was right. I didn’t mention the ring because I wasn’t supposed to have seen it. I had been closer to the body than I should have been and I wasn’t going to tattle on myself. Besides, Sloan didn’t appear to be a dummy. He’d learn whose ring it was in due course.
“Yes, sir. May I go?”
He nodded curtly. “Give your contact information to Officer Petrie and go down to the central station to make your deposition. I’ll need it as soon as possible.”
“I can do that.”
I left as quickly as possible. Being close to poor Marliss for so long had me rushing back to my room for a long, hot shower. With soapsuds rinsing off, several things occurred to me:
1. What was the Detroit connection?
2. Was she being blackmailed? The scene in the alley back in San Francisco could have been about blackmail. Maybe a rabid fan?
About the Author
SJ SLAGLE started her career as a language arts teacher. When she began writing, her initial interest was children’s stories, but then she moved on to western romance, mysteries and historical fiction. She has published 30 novels. Her website is http://www.sjslagle.com. SJ has established Twitter and Facebook fan bases, and a quarterly author newsletter.
SJ Slagle has written several western romance series including: THESE NEVADA BOYS, RANCHER, and THE WESTERNERS, as well as mystery series: FLOYD SISTERS MYSTERIES and SHERLOCK AND ME. All her books are distributed in digital, paper and audiobook formats.
Her first historical fiction novel, LONDON SPIES, was awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion in 2018. She was given the Silver Award with the International Independent Film Awards for her screenplay called REDEMPTION. She conducts writing/publishing symposiums in her local area.
SJ Slagle lives and works in Reno, Nevada.