Marie, Joyce, and Helen shared a room in the main hotel for an international mystery conference. They were booked into a big room on the sixtieth floor.
On Friday evening, they piled into their rental car to try out a famous restaurant across town.
When they got back, they discovered that the electricity had gone out and that the hotel was operating on emergency generators, which was not enough to power the elevators.
After a brief discussion, they decided that they were young and healthy, so they would climb the stairs to their room rather than wait for the power to come back on.
To distract themselves from the tedious climb, each would tell a story for twenty flights of stairs.
Marie was a cozy writer. She wove a comfortable tale of the murder of a local politician. Floresatina, the protagonist, owned a flower shop next to the courthouse. She clashed with the detective in charge of the case. After foolishly putting herself in danger, she uncovered the murderer, who gloatingly confessed as he prepared to kill her. Marie wrapped up all the hanging threads of the story and the detective came to appreciate Floresatina’s abilities, although he strongly cautioned her about the dangers of repeating such stunts. At the closing, the two of them had entered into a budding romantic relationship and the path was laid for further adventures. The climbing writers were relaxed and appreciative, barely noticing the passing floors.
Joyce, who wrote psychological thrillers, told of a serial murderer who stalked and kidnapped women in a small town, setting the entire populace on edge. No one knew who would be next, but it was pretty evident that the slaughter would continue until the killer was stopped. Accusations and mistrusts abounded, creating a great deal of animosity. By the time the murderer, a mild-mannered minister, was uncovered, several women had been killed, numerous families had been torn apart and the townspeople eyed one another with suspicion. As the writers climbed, they were looking over their shoulders, ears alert for echoing footsteps, and approaching each floor’s fire door with trepidation.
Helen’s legal novels featured Clinton Travers, a complex character with a multi-faceted life. The plots were multi-leveled with layers of blackmail, jealousy and financial shenanigans. Several believable suspects for the murder were presented, including the one who ultimately hired Clinton to defend him/herself. The stories culminated in a courtroom scene where a clever legal twist employed by Clinton allowed justice to prevail, often with the guilty party blurting out a confession. In the grand tradition of Perry Mason, Helen’s stories often revolved around a tragic occurrence depicted in the opening paragraphs.
When they reached the fortieth floor and it was Helen’s turn, she paused on the landing and faced her fellow authors. “I’ll begin with a disastrous confession,” she said. “I left the key card to the room down in the car.”