“Yes, Mina de Malfois,” said the harried-looking receptionist. “You checked in yesterday afternoon at 2pm, according to our records. Is there a problem with the room?”
I shook my head mutely. PrinceC was giving me a very strange look. Warr1or, however, who was still loitering in a hangdog fashion, broke in and assured the receptionist that I had only arrived in the small hours of the morning. The conversation went around in a circular manner for a while, until someone had the sense to summon the staff member who had checked in “Mina de Malfois”. Thankfully, he recalled both the circumstances and the short, dark, curly-haired individual in a leather jacket who had shown up at the front desk yesterday afternoon.
Receptionist Number 1 was almost as unimpressed as I was. “That’s identity fraud,” she pointed out frostily, as though I had arranged it myself. “Do you want to make a report to the police? There are certainly enough of them hanging around.”
“No, no, that’s fine!” I gabbled. The last thing I needed at this point was to have to explain Jen’s involvement to the authorities, assuming I could work out myself exactly what that was. “She’s my roommate, or rather, she’s my former roommate… I’m sure she, ah… This is all probably just a misunderstanding. Or something. Look, I’ll sort it out, please don’t worry about it.”
The receptionist, who was rather of the same mould as my old house mistress at St Scholasticas, seemed unconvinced, but the queue of befurred and cranky hotel guests assembling behind me persuaded her to wrap things up. I collected a key-card and attempted to gather my wits together. PrinceC was still looking at me with that funny expression, and I wanted nothing more than to hide under the covers for an extended period while somebody else, preferably, sorted the whole business out. I made my escape and located room 404. Pausing only to determine whether Jen had left any clothes behind (she hadn’t, of course) and to see what sort of shower gel-type things were in the bathroom (I defy anyone to pretend they don’t do this when they arrive in a fresh new hotel room), I got between the relatively crisp sheets and put the pillow over my head.
Two hours of somewhat refreshing dozing later, I emerged and ran a bath. The hot water cleared my mind somewhat, and mulling things over among the suds, I saw that Jen had most likely stolen my identity for some form of scam or another, and disappeared when the police unexpectedly arrived to investigate the murder. Well, it had been years since she’d perpetrated a con at a con. One more for old times’ sake, I suppose. The idea was comforting, really; I had never really given much credence to the possibility of Jen as a murderer, aside from that one brief moment of confusion over the whole who-killed -Razzberry-Martini incident. Still, there was definitely something strange afoot. This was no random act of violence; this was a cold-blooded, premeditated crime, and I was willing to bet that it had something to do with fandom. You see, one doesn’t get to be as experienced and well-travelled a BNF as I am without becoming all too familiar with the darker side of fan territory. Fan communities tend to wear their crazy on their sleeves, admittedly, but the top layer only serves to disguise deeper undercurrents percolating away beneath the surface. Frankly, I really didn’t think that the police would get anywhere at all without help from someone with insider knowledge. Getting out of the tub with a new sense of purpose, I donned my pyjamas and dressing gown – I really was going to have to do something about my sartorial problems – and formulated what I have to say was rather an excellent plan. I would leave my hotel room, unobtrusively locate the storage space for the generic white uniforms I’d seen on a number of staff members, steal one, and conduct my investigations incognito. In a detective novel, that’d be just the ticket.
Real life is so badly paced and awkwardly plotted, though. The first part of my plan went off without a hitch, and I was just conducting a preliminary reconnoitre around the kitchens in my new catering-employee disguise, when I got nabbed by some form of senior chef and forced to wash dishes for three solid hours. My only consolation, while I fretted about the simultaneous possibilities of my cover being blown and someone else solving the case, was that my previous employment history fitted me admirably for the role. I blended in among the other workers like a charm. Still, at the first possible opportunity I made good my escape, fleeing to my hotel room and bundling my stolen uniform out of sight under the bed. I was beginning to feel somewhat out of my depth.
Seating myself behind the hotel room desk and cranking up the old laptop, I mulled over my options. I needed somebody knowledgeable to bounce some ideas off of. There was still no word from Arc, and I rather thought I’d like to clear up one or two potentially ambiguous circumstances before getting in touch with her. You know, just to make absolutely certain there weren’t any… misunderstandings. Xena would no doubt be willing to help, but perhaps was also best left out of police matters for the time being. I wasn’t entirely sure there were no outstanding warrants in her name, for a start. Josh, or possibly Jen, certainly owed me a number of favours, the most recent being the free hotel room and whatever else he’d charged to my credit card; I reminded myself to cancel it at the earliest opportunity. However, he’d no doubt be lying low for the next while. I drummed my fingers on the table thoughtfully, and then dug out an email address I hadn’t made use of for quite some time.
I was heartened at receiving a response within ten minutes of pressing “send”; perhaps my good friend Charlotte wasn’t quite so retired as she claimed. I accepted her invitation to meet in a particular chatroom – goodness, that part of the internet might as well have had boarded-up windows and burnt-out cars strewn about the place – and two minutes later was regaling her with the whole sorry tale.
“There are certainly one or two intriguing details,” she mused, in a businesslike navy font. “I don’t suppose you’ll have managed to get a photograph of the crime scene when you were there last night?”
I admitted I had not, and accepted her inevitable dressing-down. She was an investigator of some renown – no doubt you’ll be familiar with her work on The Case of the Racist Icons or The Strange Affair of the Alleged Firing – so no doubt she knew better than I did how the situation should have been handled. Besides, I particularly wanted her on-side; I couldn’t really afford for her to say no. The game, as they say, was afoot.
“I suppose I could consider it a bit more closely,” she acceded. “You’ll have to do the legwork for me, though, as for obvious reasons I won’t be able to be there in person. First of all, go and speak to all of the prominent figures from the Mina Diaries who were present on the night of the murder. And for heaven’s sake, Mina, don’t miss out any of the details. I want dates, locations, timestamps, witness names, IP addresses, and screencaps where possible. The smallest details could be relevant to the case.”
I knew better than to question her methods of detection, unorthodox though they might seem in an offline setting. We spent a confusing half hour synchronising our devices; Charlotte has a regrettable penchant for cloak-and-dagger subterfuge, which meant that we couldn’t just talk on the phone like normal people, but I suppose one has to accept the little idiosyncrasies of genius. Then I made my way downstairs into the warm, vaguely musty embrace of the con.
It was an interval between sessions, and the public areas of the hotel were abuzz. Murder or no murder, many of the con’s attendees seemed determined to enjoy themselves; in fact, those who had come for the CSI panels were probably thrilled to their jaded, unshockable cores. I did a brief circuit of the main areas, ignoring the few odd looks I received, and really, it takes away somewhat from the effect of a pointedly raised eyebrow, when the person raising it pointedly is dressed as a Smurf. (Had I missed a gritty Smurfs reboot somewhere along the way?) Still, it was gratifying to know that even in my semi-retired state, I was still a fandom personage of some standing. Although admittedly it could have been the purple fluffy dressing gown that was drawing glances. Spotting PrinceC perched on a high stool in the bar, moodily scribbling, I made my way through the throng.
“You know I can’t talk to you, Mina,” he said, without a trace of his usual good humour. “Much as it pains me to admit it, you’re a suspect now, and as an adjunct to the investigating team, I can’t be seen fraternising with you in a non-official capacity.”
I could have pointed out that he didn’t look pained, but decided that it would be better to adopt an air of lofty unconcern at his impertinence rather than to admit to any hurt feelings. “I assure you, I didn’t come here with the remotest intention of fraternising,” I said frostily. “You can confirm my whereabouts at the time of the murder with Warr1or, anyway. What do you mean, an adjunct to the investigating team?”
“Officer Ponytail has asked for my insights into the case, as a well-known and respected member of the fan community,” he replied, raising his nose higher in the air than my own by a degree or two. “Technically, you could call me a consultant. Now if you’ll excuse me, I do in fact intend to speak to Warr1or; we’re by no means convinced of his ‘alibi’, either. His whereabouts at the time of death may be accounted for, but if it was the room service meal, then that doesn’t mean much.”
“Room service, eh?” I said, pleased to see his obvious annoyance with himself at letting that detail slip. “Well, I’d hate to keep you from your … investigations. All my best to Officer Ponytail, and do let her know that I’m willing to be interviewed whenever it’s most convenient. For her.”
Officer Ponytail, by the way, obviously isn’t her real name – it was a sort of authorial conceit of mine, calling her that, since we hadn’t been introduced, but as it happens she’s been in touch since the first chapter of the write-up came out and asked if I’d mind keeping her real identity secret, so as not to prejudice an ongoing investigation. So Officer Ponytail it is. Anyway, PrinceC stalked off, glowering and officiously shuffling his papers. One scrap fell to the floor by the entrance to the bar, and I surreptitiously scooped it up and stuffed it in a dressing gown pocket. I didn’t hang about to read it, though; I knew where Warr1or was, and I was damned if I was going to let PrinceC debrief him before I’d had a chance.
Not too long previously, I had spotted Warr1or in the main exhibition hall, loitering by the first-aid stand in a yellow hi-vis vest and a blue funk. I now made my way back there as quickly as possible, coming up from behind and grabbing him by the arm. “Warr1or, take fifteen,” I hissed, ignoring his hoarse bark of surprise. “Come up to my hotel room. I need to debrief you.”
Warr1or looked appalled, eyes darting every which way. “Mina, think of your reputation!”
I sighed impatiently. Between Warr1or’s obsession with the wrong sort of morality, PrinceC’s determined imitation of a socially-inept genius detective, minus the genius part, and the CGI fen gleefully promoting the ConFanLitCon Murder Tour, I was apparently the only person on site concerned with actually getting the case solved. Apart from the police, I suppose. “Never mind my reputation,” I snapped back. “You’re the one who besmirched it by bringing me here in the first place. Now get a move on!”
Deciding that discretion in this case was not the better part of valour, I announced to Warr1or’s scandalised-looking medical colleagues, and hopefully a large number of bystanders, that we were going upstairs to my hotel room. “That’s number 404! In case anyone should happen to be looking for Mina de Malfois later!” I successfully managed to hustle the heavily-sighing murder suspect out of the exhibition hall without encountering PrinceC, and while we were in the lift, I took out my purloined note and smoothed the crumpled Gryffindor-headed notepaper. Well, I no longer felt quite so threatened by PrinceC’s detective skills.
Poison: trademark of the Cult of Nice??
Some details resemble Klingon honour killing – query with Trek reboot fen. NB: Upcoming sequel may have fuelled lust for violence, glory.
Last month’s drama in demiromantic pangender transethnic otherkin Tumblr comms. Related?
Pseuicide, gone horribly wrong? Or faked by con committee to divert attention from financial irregularities? QUESTION ADAM BALDWIN ABOUT NON-ATTENDANCE
Note: Recent 4chan disturbances. The Bronies are revolting.
I made a mental note to scan the document and submit it to the next BNFSecrets, with a pointed caption. The final entry on the list caught my eye, however.
Cause of death: Strychnine, most likely in room service meal delivered at 2.30pm. Administered how? Fan disguised as member of catering staff? Fen with food industry background: Warr1or. Mina???!
Oh. Well, that might explain some of his hostility towards me. I thought nervously of my morning’s escapades; it was true that I’d had no trouble getting into the kitchens. Then I thought more nervously of my companion in this enclosed space. I mean, Warr1or generally meant well, but nobody would describe him as… stable. How long did it take an elevator to travel four floors, anyway? It was too late to conceal what I was reading, though; he was already peering over my shoulder.
“Nonsense!” he said sharply, as the lift doors pinged and slid open; I tried not to look overtly relieved. “Quite apart from the frankly ludicrous suggestion that I’d violate my Hippocratic Oath, no matter how offensive and libellous the provocation, whoever wrote this has the timing all wrong. If they’re right about it being strychnine poisoning, That Author died more than six hours after this room service meal was delivered. That’s much too long for it to be strychnine. If that’s how she was killed, it must have been administered within a couple of hours of the time of death, which was at 7.45, and I can confirm that because I was there.”
We stepped out onto my corridor and I eyed him thoughtfully. He did have the requisite medical knowledge for such an assertion; on the other hand, it could be a clever bluff. I gave him the benefit of the doubt, and sure enough, he made no attempt to murder me when we reached my hotel room, although I logged on to Charlotte and enabled my webcam the minute we got in, just in case. Judicious application of Google confirmed his views on the poisoning, too.
Happily, Charlotte took over the interviewing duties, and grilled Warr1or to her satisfaction while I stood well back and avoided any criticisms of my detecting that she might have felt compelled to make. No, Warr1or hadn’t murdered anyone. Yes, he had been present in the room at the time. No, he had no idea who it was, although it was characteristic of the sorry state of fandom, if you asked him (not that we had). Both the fact of the murder, and the fact that That Author’s works had been so widely circulated, to the detriment of everyone who featured in them.
“You understand,” he said, regrettably wild-eyed, “how much poor Mina suffered from those noxious RPFs. She was treated appallingly! The allegations! Plagiarism, fraudulent charitable appeals, self-interested manipulation of fandom to her own ends… Really, she was quite misconstrued. And,” he said, voice lowering, “I won’t even mention the immoral things she’s been accused of.”
I was not particularly happy with this line of argument, for more than one reason, and wondered if I should interrupt. Charlotte, however, remained in charge. “Quite,” she said. “Let’s discuss immoral acts. I understand that there were one or two things alleged about you that you were equally unhappy about… particularly as regards your relationship with PrinceC.”
Sputtering ensued, but Charlotte kept the interrogation on track, and it transpired that yes, Warr1or was not at all happy about the totally false and baseless accusations that there had been more than a purely professional relationship between himself and his chief moderator at Princely Plots. Particularly as said archive was supposed to be a haven for the godly and slash-fearing. Charlotte wrung a few more details from Warr1or, and then dispatched him back to his first-aid post.
“Well,” I said excitedly, returning to my spot at the keyboard. “What do you think of the poisoning theory, eh? Apparently we know something the police don’t!”
“Or they’re feeding PrinceC misinformation in order to keep him out from under their feet,” she responded. “Anyhow, it’s too soon to develop any theories, but I’ve found some additional eyewitness reports on LiveJournal, and I want you to interview their authors. We’ve got one hobbit, one Avatar National and one furry; go round up the usual suspects.”
I sighed, and resumed my purple fluffy dressing gown; once more into the breach.