Cover by Margaret McCullough
Paperback by World Wide Mysteries
by Peter E. Abresch
Painted Lady was published in hardcover in April 2003 by Intrigue Press, and published in paperback
by World Wide Mysteries, an imprint of Harlequin, in April 2004. It was an Independent Mystery Booksellers Association's Best Seller for that month. If you would like to keep up with the happenings of Jim Dandy and Dodee Swisher on their Elderhostel adventures, please click on NEWSLETTERS at the end of the chapter and it will take you to the latest newsletter where you may sign on to receive them automatically.
Probably not a good thing for a sixty-plusser to be scarfing down, but, damnit, he deserved some compensation for being left in the lurch on his own. What the hell was he doing here, stuck in a hospitality room of a Denver hotel with a bunch of people he didn ’t know, didn ’t want to know, authors and fans of mystery novels at a convention called Bouchercon?
What the hell was a Bouchercon?
“Bouchercon is from a man ’s name; the title means the Boucher Conference,” a woman at the far end of the table said, addressing a group of people standing in the center of the room. They had apparently gotten curious about the conference and simply asked the hospitality room ’s hostess what the title meant.
He popped another bite-sized eclair into his mouth and drifted down to eavesdrop.
“Anthony Boucher wrote a weekly column about books in the New York Times in the ‘fifties and ‘sixties. He was the leading United States authority on mystery authors and their heroes, if not the world. He was an author himself, spoke seven languages, wrote opera reviews, did everything, but he ’s mostly remembered as a mentor to fellow authors.”
Sounded like she was just getting wound up. He retreated to his end of the table where a woman interloper was threatening to take his spot by the éclairs. “This is a lovely spread, isn ’t it?”
He glanced around to see that only the two of them were in conversational range, which meant the plump, fortyish interloper was talking to him.
Great, just great.
She picked up a cheese cube and motioned with it to take in the large room with two conversational groupings of easy chairs and couches. “It ’s really nice of the Denver Sisters in Crime chapter to put this on for us.”
“I ’m not part of us.”
Dark brown eyes in a chubby face blinked at him, as if wondering on whose authority he was scarfing up the éclairs.
“I mean, you know, I ’m not with the group.”
“You ’re not with Bouchercon?”
“My girlfriend is. She ’s an artist. Illustrated a book cover for someone.”
“Really? Which one?”
He shrugged. “A mystery to me.”
“What ’s her name?”
What was she doing, giving him the third degree?
“I might want her to illustrate my next book, ”she said.
“Oh. Dodee Swisher.” Never hurts to give out a little PR. Unless the woman had just wanted to sneak in the fact she was an author.
“Is she here?” the interloper asked, turning to the people in the room.
He shook his head. “She ’s finishing a painting of the two big horse statues down in the lobby.”
“And when she ’s finished? You have to forgive me, I ’m a mystery author and I have to know all the details.”
“When she ’s finished?” He grabbed a paper plate, turned his back on the woman, and pretended to study the snacks at the other end of the table.
“Yes, when you ’re finished ...?”
“We ’re heading out for an Elderhostel.”
“What are they, like a trip or something?”
He turned back to her, took a breath, and let it out. “They ’re learning adventures for those over fifty-five, each one with a theme. This one ’s on the Santa Fe Trail.”
“Really? My last book takes place in Santa Fe.”
He loaded his plate with five éclairs and walked to a corner window seven feet away. He set the goodies on the deep sill and stared down five floors at the intersection of Denver ’s Sixteenth Street Mall and Court Place, bright in the high-altitude sun.
“I think you ’d like it, ” the woman said, barging into his space and setting her plate next to his, like old friends sharing an alcove.
Great, just absolutely great.
“My novel, you ’d like it.”
He turned back to gaze across the street at the black-tarred flat roofs of the buildings facing out onto Court Place.
“It got terrific reviews.”
A silver utility penthouse perched on one of them, about twenty feet square, and as he watched, a woman in a tan dress emerged, came around to his side, and flattened against the wall as if she were catching the mid-morning sun.
“Some really, incredibly fantastic reviews.”
Wasn ’t she ever going to shut up?
“It ’s called Pick Your Friends, But Not their Noses.”
Jim rolled his eyes, popped an éclair into his mouth, and returned to watching the woman in the tan dress.
“You see, it ’s a play on words, and it contains a lot of humorous episodes, if I do say so myself.”
“I don ’t read mysteries.”
“Oh, you ’d like this one, even so.”
He turned from the window and searched the large room for a head covered with wheat-colored curls.
Where the hell was Dodee?
First she makes him come all the way in from the airport when they ’re only going all the way back out again, then she gives him a peck on the cheek and abandons him to the mercies of babbling mystery writers roaming the hospitality room.
“You can buy one downstairs in the convention sales area and I’ll autograph it for you.”
This after not seeing him for a couple of months.
“See, it starts out in Santa Fe.”
Did she think he was having fun?
“My heroine, Penelope Pentalope, meets Bixby Boyd in the Plaza.”
Maybe he should pack an emergency ration of éclairs and bug out. Except the damn woman would probably follow him even if he went into a men ’s room.
“Oh, my God! My God. Oh my God!”
He whirled around to the window and caught a fast glance of the woman on the roof going over the ledge, arms flailing and tan dress billowing out as she disappeared down into the canyon of Court Place.
“She was pushed, ” the woman said.
He swung back to her.“Call nine-one-one.”
“Oh, yes, she was pushed —”
“I saw her, she was —”
Jim grabbed her and gave her a little shake. “Call nine-one-one!”
Then he raced across the room, threading his way through the milling people, banging into a man as he reached the hall. He turned left and ran for the elevators, found the stairs and took them two and three at a time, breathing hard, and bounced out into the lobby.
He shouted at Dodee standing at her easel. “Stay there until I get back!” Then he barged through an outside door, darted between honking cars, and charged down Court Place.
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