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Authors: Kenneth L. Levinson

Tags: #Mystery, #Murder - Investigation, #writing, #Colorado

An Unconventional Murder

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An Unconventional Murder

 

By

Kenneth L. Levinson

 

 

Uncial Press       Aloha, Oregon
2009

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and events described herein are products
of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any
resemblance to actual events, locations, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely
coincidental.

ISBN 13: 978-1-60174-064-9
ISBN 10: 1-60174-064-6

Copyright © 2009 by Kenneth L. Levinson

Cover design
Copyright © 2009 by Judith B. Glad

All rights reserved. Except for use in review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in
whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means now known or
hereafter invented, is forbidden without the written permission of the author or publisher.

Published by Uncial Press,
an imprint of GCT, Inc.

Visit us at http://www.uncialpress.com

CHAPTER ONE

Arthur Upton burst into the lobby of the Marquis Hotel like a runaway train. His heart
was thumping wildly from his hurried trek through the raging blizzard outside. Even though his
face felt numb from the cold and his head and shoulders were covered with a white layer of
snow, he was sweating profusely. He swept through the lobby, deliberately stamping his feet
heavily against the marble floor to knock the clumps of snow off his shoes. He barely noticed the
newly-remodeled main level of the hotel: the plush blue and gray carpeting, the shiny brass
railings, and the richly textured creme-colored wallpaper. He had more important things on his
mind.

He kept up his pace as he scowled at the large clock suspended above the registration
desk. Nine twenty-five! Damn it! A lot of people were waiting to hear his presentation. A
lot
of people. He had left home with time to spare, but what should have been a twenty minute
drive ended up taking more than an hour.

Why did the storm have to hit Denver today, of all days?

After all, how did it look for the President of the Colorado Fiction Writers Association
to be late to his own seminar?

And what was this going to do to his book sales?

A fog was forming on the lenses of his metal-framed eyeglasses. He nearly collided with
the sign marked,
Daily Events
as he rushed toward the escalators. Despite his irritation
at the weather--and himself--he felt a flush of pride when he spotted the topmost entry, spelled
out in white letters against a black felt background:

COLORADO FICTION WRITERS ASSOCIATION
(CFWA)
CONVENTION 2008
Second Floor

Rooms: Aspen, Birch, Elm, Evergreen, and Oak

He stepped onto the UP escalator, reaching to unzip his bulky ski parka with fingers still
numb from the cold. The welcome heat of the building began to warm his face and hands,
sending an involuntary shiver through his body.

The convention level was a large gathering area, decorated with the same blue and gray
carpet and créme-colored wallpaper as the lobby downstairs. In the center, a large crystal
chandelier hung from the high ceiling. A long line of people stretched out from the check-in
table. Dozens more were just milling around.

Upton urgently scanned the crowded room, searching for any familiar faces. Finally, he
spotted Rena Oberhaus, the chairwoman of the Convention Committee, standing alone beside the
row of coat racks. Even from this distance, he could see that her oval face was strained with
worry, presumably fretting that the President of the CFWA still hadn't arrived for his
presentation.

Heading directly toward her, he worked his way impatiently through the mass of people.
She was wearing an expensive black sweater and a matching ankle-length skirt that accentuated
the supple lines of her youthful body.

As he approached, her expression brightened. "Art!" she exclaimed, catching him by the
arm. "I was getting really worried!"

"I know," he panted. "The snow..." That sounded lame to him and he added, "As though
that's any kind of excuse. I tried calling the hotel, but all I got was someone's voice mail."

"They're short staffed today," she explained. "Because of the blizzard. You should have
tried my cell phone," she added with a motherly scold.

He stared at her. "Oh. I didn't think of that. I was so worked up about being late..."

"It doesn't matter," she said with a shrug, gesturing toward the registration line.
"Everyone and everything are running late this morning." She added, "You've got a few minutes
to catch your breath."

"I'll be fine. We've got to get things back on track. I want this convention to run like
clockwork."

"Things will get back on track," she assured him. "Hopefully, by mid-afternoon. We've
let everyone know that the first session won't begin until 9:45."

"That should do it." Sensing that there was more, he prompted, "What else?"

Rena waved his question aside with a flip of her hand. "I'll deal with it. You've got
enough on your mind." She pointed toward the splotches of snow on his head and added with a
little chuckle, "I swear, you look like Nanook of the North!"

"That's just about how I feel," he conceded, brushing a hand through his thinning hair.
"The storm seems to be getting worse by the minute."

"This is Colorado," she replied, as though that explained everything. "You never know
what to expect."

"And apparently I left my hat lying around here somewhere last night," he added with a
scowl. He squirmed out of his bulky jacket and carefully arranged it on a hanger. "It's navy blue
with red stripes, a relic from the days when I had the time for frivolous activities such as skiing. I
don't suppose you've seen it?"

"Sorry," she said. "No one's turned it in so far. But I'll keep my eyes open. By the way,
you're going to be in the Aspen Room this morning. That's the big one down the main hallway.
Off to the left."

"The auditorium?" He bowed slightly at the waist. "I'm honored."

"I try to take good care of my speakers." Touching him fondly on the arm, she added,
"Especially the good ones."

Her show of affection made him uncomfortable and he deliberately changed the subject.
"You know, I've planned a few of these conventions myself."

"I know. And remind me next year to keep my mouth shut when they ask for
volunteers."

"I will not," he retorted. "We need people like you. From everything I hear, you've done
a hell of a job."

Her face flushed with pleasure. "Thank you."

"You're welcome." He shifted his gaze toward the registration table and the people in
line, waiting to receive their orientation package and the precious slip of paper titled, "Agent and
Editor Appointments." For most of the fledgling writers, the opportunity to meet one-on-one with
a literary agent--or, better yet, an editor from one of the major publishing houses--was the
highlight of the convention.

For some, it was the only reason for attending.

Upton frowned. "Why are so many people registering today? Did all of these folks miss
yesterday's activities?"

"They did. That's the problem with starting these conventions on Friday. Some people
can't get off work. "

He turned toward the table along the wall behind Rena. Someone had hung Halloween
decorations around the edges. Stacks of books were neatly arranged on the table. A placard near a
pyramid of hardcover books announced,
Arthur Upton, best-selling creator of Frank
Diamond
.

"I see you've got
A Far Cry
on display," he noted approvingly. "Has anybody
bought anything?"

She nodded. "Six copies, so far."

He gawked at her. "That's it? Just six?"

She added quickly, "Plus two or three of
Dead Wrong
. But don't worry. We
don't expect to sell much of anything until the book fair this afternoon. Especially with all the
snow."

He grunted. "I heard on the radio this may be worse than the blizzard of eighty-two. Do
you remember that one?"

Her eyes widened. "Nineteen eighty-two? I was only seven years old. All I remember
from that part of my life is
Sesame Street
and pretending to be a superstar dancing to the
theme song from
Fame.
"

Upton peered down at her over the rims of his eyeglasses. "You make me feel like an old
geezer." She opened her mouth to protest, but he silenced her with a wave of his hand. "That's all
right. I
am
an old geezer. I turn fifty next week. In fact, I--"

"Oh, there you are!" a petulant voice cried out from behind them. "Thank God!"

Upton's jaw tightened as he recognized the ever-aggrieved voice of Royce Fontaine, one
of the CFWA's founding fathers. Fontaine, who had published nearly twenty historical novels,
was tall and thin with a pallid face and wavy white hair. He was wearing a pale green suit and
white leather shoes. Upton noticed through a corner of his eye that Rena had stiffened
visibly.

Was Fontaine one of those problems she hadn't wanted to talk about?

"Where have you been, Arthur?" Fontaine demanded in a tone approaching a whine.
"I've been practically ravaged with fear over the notion that you weren't coming!"

Turning unhurriedly to confront Fontaine, Upton said, "Oh, calm down, Royce. You'll
give yourself a stroke." He slipped a hint of mockery in his tone as he added, "Or should I say
apoplexy?"

Fontaine's face colored as he squinted peevishly. "Don't patronize me, Arthur! Just
because I prefer to speak English the way it is meant to be spoken does not mean that I am a
fool!"

"No," Upton observed philosophically, "A man can be a fool in spite of speaking proper
English. Speaking in the abstract, of course."

"Which you are not," Fontaine snapped. He wheeled toward Rena and aimed an accusing
finger toward the clock on the wall behind her. "It's nearly 9:30, Ms. Oberhaus. We were to have
begun at nine. I've been waiting since a quarter past eight for the opportunity to orient myself to
the room."

Upton deliberately interceded on Rena's behalf. "What's the problem? You've had well
over an hour to do anything you please."

Fontaine's thin lips compressed. "Arthur, unlike your so-called hard boiled detective,
Frank Diamond, I cannot enter locked rooms. Neither could he, if you didn't contrive those
implausibly absurd plot twists of yours. For mere mortals such as I, a key is required."

Upton felt the color rise in his face. "Absurd plot twists? I'll have you know--"

Fontaine smiled triumphantly and turned his back on Upton. "Now, Ms. Oberhaus, what
about the locked conference room?"

Rena frowned. "I don't know. The hotel staff promised that all the rooms would be open
before 7:30."

Upton realized he had been bested by the older writer, but decided to take the high road.
Assuming his best presidential demeanor, he said, "The hotel is probably short-handed because
of the snow." With a wink at Rena, he added, "And since Frank Diamond lives in New York City
and not Lakewood, Colorado, he'll be of no use to us whatsoever." He steered Royce in the
direction of the Aspen room. "Come on. Let's hunt up someone who has a key."

"Thank you, Arthur," Fontaine intoned with a satisfied expression.

As they marched off, Upton turned back toward Rena. "Blizzard or not, nothing's going
to ruin my convention."

He would soon find out how wrong he was.

CHAPTER TWO

Mitch Cameron edged his red Explorer along the snow-covered asphalt behind the
Marquis Hotel. He permitted himself a satisfied smile, pleased that despite the terrible weather he
had arrived on schedule. In fact, he was half an hour early for his ten o'clock presentation. It had
been slow going on the Sixth Avenue freeway but after he shifted into four-wheel-drive, the only
real hazard had been the other drivers. People seemed to drive their very worst in the snow.
Especially during the first major storm of the season. They seemed to have completely forgotten
over the summer how to drive in bad weather.

Even though there was no one around, Cameron signaled for a left turn before he headed
down the ramp into the parking structure beneath the hotel. After maneuvering methodically
through all three levels, he reluctantly conceded that there were no empty spaces. He shrugged
and retraced his path back up to the street level. He would just park in one of the uncovered
spaces behind the building. That, however, turned out to be easier said than done. People had
parked at all sorts of bizarre angles, leaving nearly a third of the spaces unusable.

Finally, he found an open slot and eased the Explorer into the narrow space. As he
switched off the ignition, he glanced upward. Big wet snowflakes were falling relentlessly. This
wasn't going to end any time soon. Should he take his heavy parka?

No, it would just be one more thing to keep track of. He wouldn't freeze just walking to
the hotel. Besides, Meg had warned him the National Weather Service was predicting up to ten
inches of snow, so he'd dressed for the conditions. He was off duty. Today, instead of his usual
dark blue suit, he has chosen his favorite plaid hunting shirt, corduroy pants, and a pair of
comfortable rubber-soled hiking boots. No need for a gun. This was just a dog-and-pony show
for a bunch of writers.

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