Disclaimer: while Minaverse happenings typically may or may not allude to real events, the murder in this case is entirely fictional and owes more to Agatha Christie than anything that ever actually happened, as I hope will be apparent from the text.
Of course, I never intended to go near the blasted con in the first place. It was entirely Warr1or’s fault, as I’m sure you’ll agree when I explain. And I assure you that it is me, explaining that is, and that any “other” versions you may have heard are quite overblown and inaccurate. Honestly, the waters surrounding the whole matter have been so muddied that I wouldn’t even have ventured to put stylus to tablet if it weren’t for Charlotte’s reading public demanding a full and frank account. I suppose, after avidly consuming The Case of the Disappearing Nanny and the Strange Affair of the Million Sockpuppets, they’d become accustomed to her meticulous information-gathering methods and incisive analyses and felt entitled to know the full story of the affair at ConFanLitCon. And of course I was in the best position to know all of the sordid details. When Charlotte eventually IM’d me to say “Mina, old bean, you might as well go ahead and do one of your write-ups for the polloi,” or words to that effect, I thought that really there was no reason not to. Even if I’d retired the old pseud… but you can judge for yourself how well that went.
I had other issues on my mind the night all the troubles decided to kick off. Josh, as was his wont, was being… importunate.
He’d turned his intense gaze to full intensity and had trained it on me, stroking my right hand over the crowded tray of scones and jam, and smirking, no doubt in the full knowledge that in another second he’d have me agreeing to his scheme. In an attempt to break the tension I grabbed the nearest of the afternoon tea delicacies – it was a chocolate caramel – and attempted to gnaw on it in a nonchalant manner. The band played on, wildly and distractingly. I couldn’t for the life of me work out why Josh had decided to have this conversation here in the front row of a traditional music session in an Irish pub. We’d already been shushed twice by aggrieved world music appreciators.
“So,” Josh said meaningfully, leaning forward and showing off his new blond highlights to their best advantage. “Do we have a plan, then?”
“You’ll let me bury the corpse in your back yard?”
Thankfully, we were interrupted by the highly irritating chiming of my newish smartphone thingy. I was only partially conversant with its many features and couldn’t figure out how to silence it straight away, which garnered us some further “Shhh!”-ing and glares from the assembled. Fumbling with it, I rolled over to find myself tangled in the sheets. Extricating myself and the confounded phone, I noted the name “Warr1or” flashing on its screen, along with the time, which was 3:42 AM. Well, this was unlikely to be anything good.
Vainly hoping that Warr1or had merely found a new target in his ongoing crusade against fannish immorality, and for some reason had chosen to ring me, on the number he wasn’t technically supposed to have, in the middle of the night, instead of emailing like a sane person, I managed to answer the thing. Of course his anguished cry of “Mina!” disabused me of that notion straight away.
Quite a few people have asked me exactly what I was thinking, getting involved in the whole affair. This is the point in my tale that I’m not proud of, and so I’ll just run over it quickly, if you don’t mind. The fact that Warr1or was downstairs outside my apartment, and that he insisted on my leaving the house and getting in the truck without so much as stopping to put on proper clothes, should have been a clue as to how things were going to go. Really, I should have agreed to no such thing. I blame exhausted befuddlement, and a lingering if ridiculous feeling of relief at having had a narrow escape from Josh’s latest escapade. However, as we drove deeper, or perhaps “further” is the word I’m looking for, into the night, I began to have serious and profound misgivings.
My case of the old s. and p. m.’s was not assuaged by Warr1or’s refusal to tell me exactly what was going on. He did go so far as to disclose that it had to do with a notorious RPFiccer I’d lately had a run-in with, which was not good news, and ConFanLitCon, which was definitely bad news. But I’d already guessed that that that den of inanity must have had something to do with the present sitch; Warr1or and half of our mutual online acquaintance had upped sticks to the convention (if the term even applied; I wasn’t convinced) that very weekend. A hope briefly arose in me that Arc would appear once we got to the con and sort out, I mean help sort out, whatever the mess was, but I knew she wasn’t going to be there. Not that she’d told me where she’d disappeared off to; it just wasn’t ConFanLitCon. She was very definite on that point.
Speaking of points, I may unavoidably need to clarify one or two at this juncture. A year or two previously, the denizens of Fandom Gossip had been highly amused when one of their number unearthed a whole series of RPF imaginings written from “my” POV, supposedly to give the huddled fen an idea of what life as a BNF was “really” like. Highly fictionalised, of course; obviously written by someone with a serious case of addiction to Fandom Gossip and, more worryingly, access to certain friendslocked posts made by yours truly – among others. I’d skimmed a few and I won’t deny the RPFiccer had a talent for mimicry and a few amusing turns of phrase, but really, some people have a lot of cheek. (You’ll forgive me if I don’t mention her real name. I feel that it’s better even at this juncture not to give her more Google hits than is absolutely necessary; I’ll just call her That Author.) Of course, my loyal fans rode out and defended me to the hilt, while equally predictably, others took the opportunity to have a good laugh at my expense. At the time, though, I’d let it pass by without comment. Being a BNF of considerable stature, it wasn’t as though I was unused to being the subject of other people’s bizarre conjectures; there were all too many cringe-inducing examples archived online as proof, as That Author herself had gleefully pointed out, perhaps in an attempt to be meta. (Regrettably, some of my friends in the Tented Tartan had recently decided to honour me with a barrage of drabbles, featuring a series of increasingly unlikely and frenzied pairings between myself and a variety of gentlemen of textual origin and unmistakeable masculine credentials. “Astral Speed Dating” was what Mrs Sev. had called it; apparently they hadn’t yet given up hope of my coming in line with their het agenda.)
Attractive Bronze Age warrior types aside, RPF featuring me was really something I felt it best not to acknowledge. Besides, at the time the so-called “Mina Diaries” were being foisted on the public, I had more pressing concerns. I had naturally been quite pleased, if not remotely surprised, to observe the blossoming of a fan community dedicated to my original published fiction, and had judiciously encouraged it on its road toward becoming the vibrant and dynamic fandom that it is today. After all, with my fannish and educational background, I would hardly be likely to make the mistakes of so many other misguided copyright holders, and attempt to intervene in good healthy shipwars or issue decrees in contradiction of fanon. I maintained my stance as a dignified outsider, descending into fan territory on rare occasions, and then only as a benign observer, really. So I was aware that certain individuals were achieving MNF status, and even edging toward BNF-itude, on the various boards and communities. All very natural, I thought, and not something that should be interfered with. However, I hadn’t foreseen the extent of the perfidy that was lurking in the wings, and that would stretch my authorial patience to its utmost limit – although I should have done.
The scales were removed from my eyes, as they so often are, by Fandom Gossip. They and their satellite communities had been slavering to find something chronicle-worthy from the fandom ever since my book first came out, as the many posts on ClairvoyantGossip demonstrated all too clearly; I’d been careful to ensure that there was nothing to connect the name of Mina de Malfois with my new pseud, but somehow they appeared to have sensed that a rich vein of gossip was near. Anyway, after a time I became vaguely aware that a fic titled Defender of the Secrets had done the rounds rather more times than your average fanwork. When I wandered over to the Pit of Voles, purely to satisfy my curiosity, it turned out to be a bloated multi-chapter epic in two parts, and as far as I was concerned it just proved once again how forgiving the fen can be of awkward prose and iffy characterisation, when copious amounts of hardcore (if ethically debateable and occasionally baffling) pr0n is at stake. I shrugged and went about my business.
The scandal, when it broke, was also in two parts. The increasingly celebrated author of Defender of the Secrets was none other than my old frenemy, Ciyerra of Tyana. And worse was in store. Ciyerra, after participating in a charitable fandom effort (reluctantly, might I add), and discovering that a rather large number of chumps were prepared to pay money for her fevered scribblings, had decided to run the gauntlet of ridicule and denouncement by her peers and all right-thinking people, and offer the thing for sale. The serial numbers were duly filed off, during which process the characters lost their last remaining vestiges of personality, to the point of resembling not cardboard cutouts so much as cheap unlicensed knockoffs of inflatable sex-dolls based on second-rate manga. The thing was wrapped in a cunningly stylish and understated cover, and flogged to the public by a vanity press with ideas above its station. And they bought it.
So you’ll understand that I had more serious things to worry about at the time than That Author. Selling thinly-disguised, canonically inexact interpretations of my life was one thing. Selling thinly-disguised, canonically inexact interpretations of my book was quite another.
My state of mind when the hotel that was playing host to ConFanLitCon hove in sight should be hardly difficult to imagine, under the circs. The latest “book” in Ciyerra’s porntastic series (now a three-parter, complete with wedding-and-baby fanservice of the most slavish and obvious kind) had just come out, and consequently the fandom was humming. Ciyerra was tipped to appear as a special guest, and devotees of the newly-renamed By The Power of Grey had not only put a plenary two-panel session on the (admittedly sparse) schedule, but were following it with a full evening presentation of tribute works, including fan-made videos, poetry and interpretive dance based on the series. I had planned a nice vacation, possibly an Antarctic cruise, to coincide with the gushing descriptions of the event that would no doubt shortly be flooding my friendslist, but my publisher had rung up and given me a stern lecture on deadlines and authorial PR.
Warr1or parked and hustled me through the bland, impersonal hotel lobby and up two escalators. It was now nearly 7 AM and I was bleary-eyed. “Where, exactly, are we going?” I asked, for the umpteenth time.
“Just keep your wits about you, Mina,” he said tersely as we passed a large poster displaying yesterday’s ConFanLitCon event listings, now peeling sadly at one corner. With one hand on my back he steered me towards a large set of double doors. Inside of what must have been the main ballroom were gathered a surprisingly large number of exhausted con attendees, clearly identifiable as such by their none-too-fresh-looking costumes, and clutching paper cups of coffee.
Across the room I spotted a familiar face. PrinceC was impeccably dressed in a double-breasted dark grey wool coat and soft navy scarf, despite the fact that the room was rather warm. Unlike the assorted dejected-looking figures in fursuits and sailor garments that were slumped in the folding chairs about him, he looked alert and focused, if serious. Waving, I idly wondered which cop drama had provided the large number of cosplayers in evidence. Then I realised that the uniformed member of the constabulary he was conversing with, brow furrowed, was in fact the genuine article.
I stopped waving, but I had already caught PrinceC’s eye. He didn’t look pleased to see me; in fact, quite the reverse. He levelled a brief but blistering glare at Warr1or, shook his head almost imperceptibly, and then returned his full attention to the police officer, who was writing in a small flip-top notebook. I turned to Warr1or with a glare of my own.
“What,” I asked once more, politely but firmly, “is going on?”
Behind us, the ballroom doors closed. A tall, besuited and ponytailed blonde strode to the front of the crowd. “Ladies and gentlemen,” she began, and then cast a shrewd eye over the audience, possibly recalling some form of cultural sensitivity seminar. “Gentlebeings. We apologise for keeping you waiting; I realise this has been a difficult experience for everyone. However, as the crime scene has now been secured, you’re free to return to your rooms.”
I elbowed Warr1or sharply. “They’ve secured the what?”
Officer Ponytail continued. “You may continue with your planned convention activities if you prefer, although obviously the room next door is off limits; however, I must ask that you all refrain from leaving the hotel until we’ve had a chance to complete our investigation. This shouldn’t be more than a day or so, but until such time as we inform you further, please be aware that we are considering this to be a murder investigation.”
“A what?” A background hum of worried chatter had broken out, and PrinceC was sidling across the room towards us, hampered by the large number of folding chairs. Warr1or, still avoiding my gaze, had removed his hat and was carefully examining the brim for signs of loose stitching. I momentarily considered doing taking it from him and doing something vindictive and implausible with it.
“Warr1or, have you involved me in an active murder investigation?”
“It was imperative that you came, Mina,” he said, without looking at me. “The fans needed your guidance. You’ve been gone from your fandoms for far too long. This crisis never would have come to pass if you hadn’t left. “
PrinceC had made his way over to us, and my initial surmise had been correct; he wasn’t pleased to see me, although he was doing his best to conceal it. “What in the name of Stovokor are you doing here?” he hissed. Only his momentary lapse into Klingon had betrayed his agitation, and he recovered himself quickly, I’ll say that for him. He did look surprisingly well in all that wool.
I gave him the Cliff’s Notes. He looked appalled. “Well, that’s just great. Warr1or, do you realise Mina’s now most likely a suspect?”
“Surely not. She’s far too prominent and well-respected a member of the fandom community.”
PrinceC eye-rolled, clearly frustrated with Warr1or’s ignorance of criminal detective practice. “Well, they’ve no proof she wasn’t here at the time, do they? I’ll bet she’s got no alibi whatsoever. I mean, we know she hasn’t been here, but the police don’t. And they’ll just use her fandom background to come up with a motive! I mean, something completely trumped-up and unlikely, of course,” he added hastily.
“What, exactly, am I now under suspicion of?” I ventured.
PrinceC sighed and shook his head again. By way of an answer, he took me by the arm – that was getting rather old, I must say – and steered me out the double doors and across an expanse of grey hotel carpet, and towards another doorway, this time leading into a much smaller room with no windows. This was guarded by further uniformed personnel, who wouldn’t let us within feet of the crime scene tape, but we could just about see inside. The place was set up for the inevitable panel presentations, AV equipment complete with trailing cables still forlornly in place, and a number of persons in full-body white suits were milling around looking for fibres or prints or whatever one does after graduating from CSI school. On the floor in front of the top table, looking for all the world like an outline laid out in dental floss on a bathroom floor, was a human shape drawn in white chalk.
“It was the author of the Mina Diaries,” said PrinceC grimly. “Happened right in the middle of the Q and A for the round table session on Fan Fanon vs. Canon Fanon: Authorial Intervention, Fan Intention and Problematizations of Competing Realities. They’re saying it was poison.”
With a title like that it wasn’t surprising that someone had felt driven to commit murder. A serious headache was threatening, and not just because of the acababble. I was sleep-deprived; I was stuck indefinitely in the last place on earth I would voluntarily have chosen; I was possibly a murder suspect; and I was in my jammies. Once I had worked out some form of solution for my current predicaments, I vowed to have a few well-chosen words with Warr1or.
PrinceC stuck his hands in his coat pockets and looked regretfully at the scene transpiring before us. “I told her not to publish, you know,” he said. “Those stories… well, they didn’t go down well in certain sections of the fandom.”
This was news to me, but I felt it was hardly the time to be considering his hurt feelings. You know, I may have legions of fans, but that doesn’t mean anyone necessarily listens to my advice on the subject of going public with ill-chosen fic, or not. Whatever sage counsel you provide, they mostly seem determined to publish and be damned anyway. Or is it publish and perish? I suppose given the situation both of those were somewhat inappropriate. Anyway, I didn’t have a suitable response, so I contented myself with sulking. Not that that made much impression on PrinceC, who was clearly on a roll.
“Yes,” he continued, looking into the middle distance with a touch of the old dramatic Shakespearian profile. “I always said that if anyone found out who’d written those diaries, there’d be hell to pay.”