People Who Enjoy Meetings Should Not Be In Charge of Anything


Summary: Life at a multi-genre book convention. A weekend of dealers, autograph sessions, murder mystery games, a banquet, and just a wee bit of chaos.

Note: Mildly AU.

Betas and cheerleaders: A throwaway comment about my hair stick ("You could kill someone with that, and in this crowd, nobody would probably notice.") started it all. Thank you, Dixie and Lianne! And thank you to Rose for a line that made me laugh out loud and scare the cat. Thank you to Shannon and Dixie for Beta and proofing; any errors are 100% at my doorstep.

Genre: Drama/Minor casefic

Pairing: Ducky/Sandy (OC)

Rating/Warnings: T (mostly for language and references to adult situations including criminal ones (you've seen worse on prime time TV and heard worse on HBO, trust me), plus the odd dead body)

Spoilers: None; however, I had need to borrow Dr. Hampton. Since Identity Crisis, the episode where Ducky meets Dr. Hampton, aired October 2007 and my universe has Ducky and Sandy getting married two months after that… we're just going to teleport Identity Crisis and Broken Bird into the "somewhere before Witch Hunt" (which is about the time Ducky and Sandy met) period. Work with me, people.

Time frame: Spring, 2014 (setup Spring, 2013)

Disclaimer: All NCIS characters are the property of Bellisarius Productions, Paramount, CBS and the appropriate copyright holders within those companies. All other characters for this story (barring real persons mentioned in passing) are my original creation and property.

I recommend that you read TGIF, OHIM, Life Is What Happens, CHAOS! and, if you have the time, My Life. If not, a very short synopsis: Ducky is married to Cassandra Talmage, a bookseller in DC, and they have a daughter, Alexandra (Lexi). Their relationship has included murder, attempted murder, fraud, impersonation of a medical professional and assorted mayhem. (Told you it was short.)


People Who Enjoy Meetings Should Not Be In Charge of Anything
(Thomas Sowell)

Chapter One

Opening Gambit: Stop Me Before I Volunteer Again!

May, 2013 – March, 2104


~ ~ ~ ~ ~ LibriCon 2013 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
March 7-11, 2013

Concom Closing Comments

The Concom will be holding a post-con meeting (TBA). If you didn't leave comments at registration, please feel free to let us know HERE what we did well, what could be improved, etc.

COMMENT 1 of 203
Awesome stuff for the charity auction. Hope you do another murder mystery at the banquet (even though my team lost). Maybe even more than one? See you next year!

IMPORTANT NOTICE! IMPORTANT NOTICE! IMPORTANT NOTICE!
READ THIS
NOW!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ LibriCon 2014 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
May 15-19, 2014

WE'VE MOVED!

AFTER 17 YEARS AT THE REGENCY AMBASSADOR, THEY ARE CLOSING AND CONVERTING TO STUDENT HOUSING. WE ARE MOVING TO THE GORGEOUS MILLENIUM HOTEL! CLICK HERE FOR HOTEL DETAILS AND RESERVATION LINK.

IF YOU'VE EATEN AT THE MILLENIUM, YOU KNOW THE BANQUET WILL SELL OUT FAST. IF YOU HAVEN'T, YOU ARE IN FOR A TREAT!
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(1 full membership with each table)

PRE-REGISTRATION
THROUGH 10/31/2013: FULL $50/FRIDAY $20/SATURDAY $35/SUNDAY $35/MONDAY $20
11/1/2013 — 12/31/2013: FULL $60/FRIDAY $25/SATURDAY $40/SUNDAY $40/MONDAY $25
1/1/2014 — 4/1/2104: FULL $80/ FRIDAY $35/SATURDAY $50/SUNDAY $50/MONDAY $35
PRE-REGISTRATION CUTOFF 4/1/2014
REGISTRATION AT THE DOOR
FULL $100/ FRIDAY $35/SATURDAY $60/SUNDAY $60/MONDAY $35
DEALERS ROOM ONLY PASSES AVAILABLE ONLY AT THE DOOR: $25 (UNLIMITED ACCESS)

GUEST LIST TBA—LOOK AT THE PRIOR YEARS FOR A GENERAL IDEA OF ATTENDEES

PROGRAMMING—AS WE ADD PANELS, EVENTS AND OTHER PROGRAMMING, NEW ITEMS WILL BE LISTED HERE IN THE VARIOUS PROGRESS REPORTS (NO SCHEDULE, MERELY AS INFORMATION IS UPDATED—CHECK IN OFTEN); PRIOR DATA WILL BE ACCESABLE VIA EMBEDDED LINK.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
click HERE to suggest topics and panelists; deadline 4/1/14


Once upon a time, when hotels were cheap and so were the guests, I attended probably a convention a month: fantasy and s-f, mystery, and the good ol' Star Trek conventions. (Back when I was younger and healthier, I even went running with a pack of other fen in the wake of George Takei—I wasn't the first to fold, but I only made it four miles; I think three finished the whole ten.) Conventions are like SCA wars: captive audience, money saved up just to spend, spend, spend—and, hey, it was fun. I started off as an attendee until I stumbled over CarbonCopyCon, a science fiction/fantasy convention aimed not toward fans of movies and television shows but focusing on books. I could attend, have tables in the hucksters' room and write off the whole weekend as a legitimate business expense.

To quote Gru in Despicable Me: "Light. Bulb."

LibriCon was another annual event, booked on or around the anniversary of Shakespeare's birth and death—as best hotel availability can manage. It's been as early as the end of February, as late as the middle of June, and they try to work around Book Expo. The name of the convention—from the Latin word libris—and the date of the convention were the only real links to taste and literature. Everything else was pulp fiction: mostly mysteries and thrillers, some fantasy, s-f, horror, romance, you name it.

It was hit or miss. The convention didn't attract high rollers; you wouldn't find Stephen King or James Patterson. You would find JoEllen Bransford, Frank Eugene Campbell, Tristan Isolde (yeah, I know; I hope it's a pseudonym), Melissa Kino—people who sold a fair number of books but their names never hit the NY Times Bestseller lists. People who sometimes made a living as a writer, even if they might pull down more working as a cashier at Target—and some who supplemented their income as a writer by also working at Target. You found people with small but loyal throngs of fans, fans who gladly trudged to independent booksellers like my little palace of printed gems for book signing events or to small conventions like LibriCon in the hopes of getting an autograph or even a picture with said author.

In addition to fans you got unpublished writers, there for the tips of the trade in the hope that the gold plate of these minor gods might rub off. You found people willing to come to the convention for a guest fee or just expenses, in the hope that they would pump up sales of their literary wonders. (Many came trucking boxes of their latest book, selling at a discount. These writers were from publishing houses lucky to rate a back corner with a dozen copies on their tables at Book Expo. This took more effort, but the audience was a paying audience, not booksellers and reviewers looking for a pile of freebies.)

The worst I did was break even and I figured it was worthwhile as an advertising expense. The best? Ah, that was the year Vivian Austin attended. She ripped around the con in an electric wheelchair, snorting, "Oh, pshaw!" (yes, really, 'pshaw') at anyone who asked about her rumored 6-9 month life expectancy. "I'm not a carton of yogurt with an expiry date!" She found my corner of the dealers' room, checked her name on the first bookcase and yelled, "Maud! Mercy, Maud! Mercy, mercy, Maud! Purple spotted Dalmatians and hand-tatted antimacassars! I don't even have a copy of Blood Lines any more!"

Of course I had to offer to make a gift of it; she graciously declined and opened the cover. "Is it really worth that much?" she gasped.

"First edition hardback, jacket in excellent condition, original brodart, prior owner's name in ink on flyleaf, no other markings. Out of print. Very minor shelf wear. The prices range from one-fifty—the seller tends to undervalue her stock so she gets a faster turnover—to three-seventy-five." She gasped even more broadly and splayed her hands on her chest dramatically. "It's…well, he overvalues his stock, based on the fact that it passed through his gifted hands." I flicked my eyes toward the far corner.

"Wondrous Winston," she murmured. "Gotcha, pumpkin. You take checks?"

I'd had a decent run of customers all weekend, but within an hour I had a flood of people. Every person who saw the copy of Blood Lines in her jealously protective grasp was told about the little redheaded girl (I felt like Charlie Brown's girlfriend) who was honest and ethical and had a fabulous range of books. I should have paid her for her advertising services.

And those doomsayers asking about her health? Oh, pshaw. She was with us another 7 years, finishing Uncommon Law and mailing it off two weeks before passing away peacefully in her sleep at 94. She left detailed outlines for another 20-plus books and her granddaughter has been "co-authoring" them for the past 15 years. Even if she didn't have the draw of her grandmother's loyal fans (grandma had started writing when Agatha Christie was in first print run, for Pete's sake), this girl would do well on her own. (Grandma left detailed outlines, yes; but she had to bring them to life.) She comes to LibriCon every year because her grandmother had devotedly attended and she had come with her grandmother all those years—and she had very fond memories.

"Millennium? Dare we attend?" Ducky teased, looking over my shoulder at the website.

"Hey, we had an attempted murder—which you solved, thank-you-very-much—and a whiz-bang wedding and reception. Why shouldn't we dare?"

"Luck of the Scots," he misquoted.

"Captive audience of small interest authors. Of course I'm going." I pointed to the meager list of attending authors (it was early days; the list would grow). "Janet will be there, I get a huge run on her books when she does a signing at the store, or at Libri."

"Along with that vile cat of hers," he said with a disgusted look.

"Mimsy is the star of the books, of course she's going. You just don't like her because she barfed on your shoe. She has a nervous stomach. The other Mimsys never did, she's really not suited to the limelight." Janet has gone through at least four of the long-haired black cats in the years I've known her. The original Mimsy was already getting up in years when Janet started going to conventions; Mimsy the First was an insulin-dependent diabetic and Janet didn't trust anyone else to take care of her. She lived to the ripe old age of 23, so Janet must have been on the right track. Interestingly enough, nobody has commented that Mimsy had been around over 30 years… For mystery fans, they aren't that observant.

Imitating Underfoot, Lexi sidled up and nudged under my arm. "What's for dinner?"

"Don't do that, dingdong, you don't like having your arm jostled when you're drawing, do you?"

"Sorry… what's for dinner?"

One-track mind. "Daddy's turn to cook. Ask him."

"What did we have last night?" Ducky asked, beating her to the punch.

She frowned. "Uh… wemon meringue pie." Working backwards, clearly. "Wamb! We had wamb."

"What would be a good way to use leftover lamb?"

"Gyros!" she said with great enthusiasm. We had gone to the Greek Festival a couple of weeks ago and she had chowed her way through three gyros throughout the day.

"Wrong kind of lamb. I was thinking the lamb and the leftover potatoes and carrots—"

"Wamb stew?" She clapped her hands. Our kid is an enthusiastic eater, bless her growth spurts.

"Sounds good. Give me a hand?" The second comment was to me.

"I'll be in to help as soon as I finish my registration. I'll have four tables, four memberships. You coming?"

Ducky shrugged noncommittally. "Work permitting."

"Con?" Lexi perked up. She'd gone to a half a dozen already.

"Yeah, but it's not a kid-con. Panels and talks, dealer's room, film room. Gamers room for oldsters, no kids room."

"Oh. Okay." She had insisted on going to UniCon and been bored stiff. She knew not to argue if I said it wasn't a kid friendly convention. She gave me a prissy, scolding look. "Mommy, you'ww ruin your eyes wooking at the computer in this wight."

She's heard me scold Mother probably fifty times. It's irritating to hear your words coming out of your kid's face, especially when she's only four.

"For heaven's sake—" Good grief, now she sounded like my mother. "—turn on the dawnzer!"

I laughed and she grinned, pleased I'd gotten the joke. "Pardon?" Ducky asked politely. He hadn't gotten the joke.

"Dawnzer," I repeated.

"Oh, say can you see," Lexi belted out. "By the dawnzer wee wight."

Light dawned, if you'll pardon the pun. "Ah. Dawn's early light," he enunciated.

"We've been reading Ramona the Pest in the afternoon," I explained. "Ramona learns the song in kindergarten and misunderstands the lyrics. Lexi thought it was particularly amusing."

"Do you know what that is?" Ducky asked.

"Dawnzer? It's a wamp."

"I meant mishearing the lyrics."

"Uh—I made a mistake?" she guessed.

"Well, Ramona made the mistake. But it's a particular type of mistake. Misunderstood lyrics are called mondegreens," Lexi looked baffled. "A young woman wrote an article wherein she described her chagrin at learning that she had misunderstood the lyric in the song The Bonny Earl of Murray. What should have been:

Ye Highlands and ye Lawlands,
Oh! Where ha'e ye been:
They ha'e slain the Earl of Murray,
And they
laid him on the Green.

She misunderstood as:

And LadyMondegreen."

He explained by singing the lyrics in his pleasant tenor and enunciating carefully.

"I'm sure I have a copy of 'Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy at the store, I'll bring it home." Now Ducky looked baffled. "It's a common mondegreen. Misunderstanding ''scuse me while I kiss the sky' from Jimi Hendrix." Ducky nodded in understanding. "Another mistake named after someone—this one is a real person, not like 'Lady Mondegreen'—is a Spoonerism. Poor Professor Spooner—back in the eighteen hundreds, he was known for switching syllables around. Like—" I searched my memory. "Like Auntie Evvie's 'hucking fungry' instead of the rude comment about being hungry. Or, oh, yes—instead of is it customary to kiss the bride at the wedding, it came out is it kisstomary to cuss the bride."

"Only when she burns dinner," Ducky said cheerfully.

"Bite me." I pointed to the kitchen. "Go thou and do what you do so well. I'm going to finish registration, then we will flip through Joy of Lex." I pointed to the third bookcase. "See the matroyshka kitties on the second shelf? That's the etymology shelf. Those are all books about word origins and language. See if you can find Joy of Lex. It looks almost like your name, just missing the 'i.'" I clicked on the registration link, did a authorization for the four tables, then clicked on the volunteer link and said I'd help out with the autograph sessions or the special events. I'd been called upon to help maybe twice in thirty plus years; I had a better track record than I did at Bar Harbor Preschool, for sure. "That's the one," I called as Lexi held up a fat paperback book. I clicked the email progress reports radio button, typed in my email address and Ducky's, signed off and sat on the couch with my daughter and a favorite book for the next half hour. By the time we went in to our brand spanking new kitchen (the result of a fire that still gave me nightmares) to help Ducky with dinner, she had learned a favorite from an old children's book. If at first you don't fricassee, fry, fry a hen. When she recited this at the dinner table, Mother thought it was hysterical.

The rest of the year seemed to speed by at Warp 9. Only a few weeks later my best friend from childhood, Laurie Taylor (née Peadie), came to visit for a long weekend and then, whammo, it was September and Lexi was going into kindergarten. We survived the trauma of all that went with that momentous occasion (barely survived, when I discovered she had destroyed her hair just before picture day), the shock of Daisies being expected to sell Girl Scout cookies, Christmas—oh, boy, Christmas—and then it was a new year all over again.

And 2014 was the year of Charlie's magic birthday. I remember my Sweet Sixteen—my mother, sentimental to a fault, had a dozen white roses delivered to the house during dinner. I've loved white roses ever since. The first flowers Ducky sent to me? White and sterling roses.

Charlie, being Charlie, was more wrapped up in her last semester of high school and heading off to college in the fall than she was in getting her license or her Sweet Sixteen party. Finally her mothers just threw up their hands and Lily said, "Fine, if you won't give us input, you live with what we select for your party."

"'When you have to make a choice and don't make it, that is in itself a choice,'" Charlie said absently, not even looking up from her Xeroxed pages of 1984 and The Handmaid's Tale and her industrious multicolored highlighting of same.

"William James," I identified. I had used the quote in a Sociology class in college when debating the recent Roe v. Wade ruling and it had stuck with me. Interesting nod to the compare/contrast paper she was writing.

Charlie held up a thumb to acknowledge my correct answer and grabbed a pen to make neatly printed notes in the margin of the page with an arrow pointing to the highlighted quote.

"Elaborate, please?" Lily asked.

Charlie stuck a finger on the paragraph to mark her place and actually looked up. "Tell me the date. Tell me the time. Throw me in the car. I shall eat, drink and be merry and promise not to review my physics notes on the sly. But please do not ask me to make any decisions, for I cannot." She gave them a most winsome smile. "I shall enjoy whatever you plan. But now—" She peeled a red post it flag from the dispenser and stuck it where her finger had rested. "Grandma is waiting for me to read to her before bedtime."

Ducky smiled, a slightly sad smile. "Sophy?" Georgette Heyer's The Grand Sophy is one of Mother's favorite books.

Charlie nodded and cocked her head. "I don't know if it's because she doesn't remember that we read it a last month… or that she so enjoys it, she wants to hear it at least once a month. Either reason is acceptable." On the way to Mother's room, she paused briefly to plant a smooch on Lily and Evvie's cheeks. "Plan as thou wilt," she said mock-dramatically. "I shall attend—and I know I shall enjoy."

I guess she was listening in years ago when Ducky and I were planning our wedding and I told him, 'Just choose whatever you want, whomever you want, wherever you want, tell me when and where and I'll show up—I don't care! Just, please, for my sake, choose something. Anything!' Of course there were going to be more people attending her Sweet Sixteen than our wedding (we worked to keep it small), but abdicating a lot of the responsibility turned out okay for me. And our Christmas party not quite 3 weeks later was close to the guest list for her upcoming party. Close.

While Charlie read the escapades of Sophia Stanton-Lacey and her hapless relatives (I had read it several times to Mother myself, and could almost recite it from two rooms away), her moms plotted ideas for her party. Unfortunately, they were still stuck in 'theme' mode. They batted ideas back and forth: science-fiction, superheroes, ballet, pirates, zombies—each idea more unlikely than the rest.

Ducky was keeping quiet, but when it hit 'zombies' the roll of my eyes was probably audible.

"Care to weigh in?" Ev asked with scathing politeness.

"Yes. You—both of you—of all people should know you're not dealing with a nine year old little kid and pin the tail on the donkey. I'm not saying go to the extreme of some of those insecure, insane parents on that stupid Sweet Sixteen show—"

"So I shouldn't try to hire Justin Beiber to entertain?" Ev asked innocently.

"D-I-V-O-R-C-E," Lily sang and literally spelled out in no uncertain terms.

"No ballerina décor, either," I said firmly. "But make it pretty. Girly. Fluffy. Sparkly."

"Charlie?" Ev said dubiously.

"I don't want to go all facts of life on you—but she's a young woman now, not the tomboy from six years ago. Sure, she has her rough and tumble moments. Plenty of them. But you saw her at Christmas. Boyfriend. Velvet, lace and a hint of makeup."

"Makeup?" they chorused, horrified.

"Just a teensy bit. You didn't even notice! Point is: she's a young lady, not a little girl."

"So do you have any concrete ideas?" Lily asked.

I thought. Hard. From behind me, I heard my husband softly say, "Winter wonderland. Fairy lights. Crystal snowflakes." I turned around. "Frozen?" he said with an apologetic smile. Like almost every other little girl, Lexi had fallen in love with the movie and we had seen it several times. If he could pull off the ice castle, more power to him. As I turned back to Ev and Lily, he quietly added, "White roses…"

White roses.

I thought back to my own sixteenth birthday. The roses that arrived during dinner. The most beautiful roses I had ever seen in my life. Magical, how a dozen simple flowers could transform you into a grown up—or close, anyway.

"Roses," I echoed. "White roses. Go from there."

Charlie approved. And the party was a smash. They're going to have to work hard to surpass it when she gets married—which, hopefully, will not be for many years to come.


Charlie's birthday is followed in short order by Mother's (a couple of times we have had joint parties). I had barely chased down the last snowflake when I started ordering supplies and making plans for Mother's 106th birthday. (It was a handy cheat. By December of a given year, Mother would be 100 years older than Lexi and 90 years older than Charlie. So long as I could keep one of them straight, the others fell in line.) Her party wouldn't be nearly as crowded as Charlie's (to be blunt, most of her friends are dead) but we still figured on thirty or forty people.

I was in the middle of thumbing through novelty item catalogs (Mother wanted a piñata filled with candy and toys and treat bags for all attendees) when the phone rang. I grabbed the receiver automatically with an absent "Mallard residence" for good measure.

"Sandy? Sandy Talmage?"

"Uh—yeah." I respond to anything close. "Can I—"

"Sorry, sorry! It's Cilly, Cilly Ting."

Cecelia had been "Cilly" since birth. Unlike one of my part-timers, Chanda Davis, who married out of her 'was your mother stoned?' name of Chanda Lear, Cilly married Dr. Raymond Ting, a microbiologist with NIH, and took the name "Silly Thing" with great glee.

But instead of her usual happy-go-lucky chirp, the chairman of LibriCon sounded ready to cry. Or like she had been crying. A lot. "Cilly, Cilly, what's wrong? Are you okay? Ray? The kids? What's wrong?!" We had a typical convention friendship. No contact for most of 360 or so days and a sudden break of four or five days of intense convention playtime mixed in.

"We're fine, we're fine, it's Melanie and Wes!"

Blank. "Uh…."

"Seen At The Crime!"

"Oh, yeah, right. Got it. What happened? Are they okay?"

"Oh, my god, you haven't heard? Oh, my god. You haven't heard!"

I listened as she rambled. Melanie and Wes Alberts were the owners of Seen At the Crime Books (another store having long since snagged the more logical name Scene Of the Crime when Wes and Mel opened). After some 20 years in the crime and mystery book selling business, Melanie put practical study to work. She was good, but her timing wasn't. When the bomb she'd wired to the engine went off, Wes was all the way in the back yard. Bombs, she could do. Timers, not so much.

Cue lawyer one (attempted murder) and lawyers two and three (divorce). For them, the convention was off (and Thanksgiving would be very awkward, given that Mel's sister could be listed as a co-respondent if they cared about that any more). The store was closed and being liquidated and—

"The autograph sessions have totally fallen apart! Mel and Wes were taking care of it all, this close to the con, I don't know who, I'm tearing my hair out, can you help, please, I don't know—"

"Cilly, of course—" Oooh, Chinese yo-yos, Mother loves those, good for the treat bags. "Um—what? Oh, yeah, I can help. You need me to call some friends, get them to show—?" She started to babble her thanks. Her cool was totally blown. Normally she was so calm and collected that if Island in the Sea of Time became reality and Nantucket disappeared in a flash, she would note the date, time, temperature and humidity without batting an eyelash. Mess with her convention, her baby of almost forty years, older than her own children? Fall apart time. "Cilly, I'm happy to help—but could you send this to me? Email? I'll do whatever you need, it's just that it's my mother-in-law's birthday in two weeks, she's turning a hundred and six—"

"Wow!" Now that disaster was, if not diverted, at least lessened, Cilly could look at the rest of the world with something less than panic. "I met her at your Christmas party, right after you got married. She's a hoot!"

"Understatement," I said dryly, thinking of some of Mother's escapades over the years. "Send me the email—who, what, yadda, yadda. And—you owe me a margarita in the consuite."

"Strawberry. Double."

"You know me so well."

I hung up the phone and turned back to the catalogue, and promptly forgot the whole thing.

Out of sight, out of mind.
Out of mind, back in a moment.
Out of mind, period

Mother's birthday was as much a blast as Charlie's—just very different. She had her heart set on a traditional kid's party, like we'd had for Lexi: pin the tail on the donkey, pass the grapefruit, clothespin drop—we left off things like musical chairs, just to be safe. And, of course, the piñata.

Did we have fun? You bet we did. Even "Gunny" Gibbs had a blast (and provided the coup de grâce to the stubborn piñata (Spongebob Squarepants—don't ask)). Even the weather cooperated. Sunny and a little cool, but not yet another day of traffic–jingering snow.

While Mrs. McKirk was gathering her booty (with four great-grandkids, she wiped out the competition on the party games; Suzy came in a close second), she caught me as I was collecting debris in the back yard. "Lovely party, Cassandra. Such a fun idea!"

"Yeah, I think Mother just knocked the hundred off and decided to have another sixth birthday."

"Eternal youth," she laughed.

"Something like that."

"I… need to ask you a professional question."

"Fire away." I tossed a handful of sticky plates in the trash and leaned my butt against the table.

"Mr. McKirk collected magazines." She never called her late husband by his first name, always a gently deferential 'Mr. McKirk.' "Alfred Hitchcock, Mike Shayne, Ellery Queen, all those old mystery magazines. I boxed them up when he passed and I just found them in the attic when I was cleaning. Could you… take a look? Take a look at them? Tell me if they're worth anything?"

"I have to be honest, I don't deal much in pulps and periodicals," I admitted. "But I'd be happy to check them out. I love old mystery magazines." True enough. I grew up sneaking up to our attic to read Dad's old mystery and sci-fi magazines. "Mother's going down for a nap, I could come over now if you want—"

"Oh, could you, please? I'm so wishy-washy about selling them…"

"I'm going to a convention in a couple of months, there's a dealer who specializes in paperbacks and pulps from the first half of the twentieth century. If you decide to sell, he's a square deal. I'll get his number for you." I looked around for Ducky. "Hon? I'm running over to Joan's for a sec—"

Ducky looked up from the tray of wilted veggie bits he was scraping into the rabbit's bowl. "'A sec?'" he echoed. He raised an eyebrow. "Shall I time you?"

"Smartass. I'll be back in twenty. Thirty, tops."

"You don't have to climb all the way to the attic," Mrs. McKirk said as we trudged over to her house. "My grandson brought them all down last weekend and put them in my husband's old office. I've paid attention to what you do for selling books, so I started making a list of the titles and dates." I nodded approvingly. "I just didn't realize what a task it would be! It would be easier in the garage, you can barely walk through the room—but I was worried the garage would leak, all that paper—it would be such a mess…"

Understatement.

There would have been papiermâchéfor the masses. The boxes of used books we had dodged for the winter carnival? Nothing. The crates of Girl Scout cookies we had finally, mostly, cleared out? Close…

She had a wall of boxes reminiscent of when I cleared out Chanda's grandmother's books several years ago. The idea that these were all old mystery magazines was frightening.

(And intriguing.)

"May I…?"

"Oh, please!"

I started with the box she was in the middle of neatly listing on a legal notepad and within minutes I was tenderly paging through digest magazines that were as old as Mother, or nearly so. Dime magazines—a row of them literally called Dime Mysteries. Real Mystery. Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine. Thrilling Mystery. Hutchinson's Mystery Story. Mystery Novels Magazine. Mercury Mystery. Many were older than the ones I remembered reading at midnight with a flashlight.

"These are so cool! I love how language changes over time. Listen: 'A motorcar!' Caroline clasped her hands in a paroxysm of joy. 'Oh, Papa, how cunning!' Her aunt, the Dowager Lady Chillingham, was of another mind. She had willingly taken her widowed brother-in-law and niece into her home but was averse to championing his myriad interests—many of which involved frightening chemicals, such as his incessant photography or dangerous machinery such as the touring car that now sat in front of Willowstoke. But she was a mild, complaisant woman who could never even scold the cook over a burnt roast. She managed a timid, 'Oh, Francis…' but said no more." I gently set the magazine back in the box. "Joan, if I had the room, I'd buy these—not to sell, to keep!"

She laughed. "I could at least visit them, then."

She was clearly unsure about parting with the magazines. "Everything is in great shape, what I've seen. No silverfish nibbling on the paper, no termites…I'll see if I can find price guides online, that will give you an idea if you should bother listing the rest."

"I'll continue—that way if I decide to sell them, I have some of the work done, rather than playing 'catch up.'"

Ducky was working on dinner when I entered the kitchen. I gave a guilty look at the clock. Had I really been gone over three hours? Damn; I had. "Sorry."

"Oh, that's all right…" he said casually, smashing leftover boiled potatoes to make potato cakes. A little too casually. "I figured since you had lost your mind, you had probably lost track of time, too."

"Hey," I protested. "Not nice!" He stopped smashing and gave me a scolding look. "What?"

He crooked his finger and headed toward the office. Still a little perturbed, I followed. At his desk, he pointed to the computer screen. "I was checking the progress report to see if there were additions to the authors list…"

Knowing that I had a convention looming, I had been checking the author list every week or two since New Year's. Ducky had been helping, going online and playing Amazon—you know, "if you like x, you might like y" and discovering all sorts of fun stuff I had never heard of, which was why I had the progress reports going to his email as well as mine. "Yeah?"

He clicked back to the first page of the progress report.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ LibriCon 2014 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
May 15-19
Millennium Hotel, Washington DC

ConCom
Chairthing: Cecelia Ting
Registration: Raul Fournier
Dealers Room: Norma Edwards
Art Show: Rosalie Nathan
Security: Dorsai Irregulars and KDC (Keith Williams)
Masquerade/Cosplay: Zoe Lasko
Charity Auction: Marc Lexton
Consuite: Patrick and Anne Sheldon
Film Room: Kyle Cooper
Panels: Gary Hayes
Banquet: Patrick and Anne Sheldon
Murder Mystery: Anne Sheldon, Rosalie Nathan, Cecelia Ting
Special Event Tickets: Robbie Andres

And at the bottom of the list:

Autograph Sessions/Author Receptions: Cassandra Talmage-Mallard

"Oh, crap," I groaned.

"NAVY?" he asked with a smirk. Never Again Volunteer Yourself.

"Crap, crap, crappity, crap, crap! I told Cilly I'd help! When did help become run the show?"

After dinner I sifted through my emails. There it was, innocently tucked between my weekly coupons for Shari's Burgers and an email from my mother with a gazillion cute kitten pictures. Including spam, I averaged 60 or 70 emails a day. No wonder it got lost.

Sandy:

Here's the current list of authors and contact info. If you could get in touch with them, let them know you're taking over for Wes and Mel? And if you have any names you might be able to get at this late date, I'd appreciate it. Wes and Mel were always a little lax getting the updates to me, but this time they were kind of late doing anything. They were planning a reception of some kind, it was on their website, but the website is shut down. They are really leaving us in the lurch. I understand what happened, but…!

They always absorbed the cost for the autograph sessions (room fee, etc.) and receptions and then wrote the expense off as advertising for the store. Let me know if you have any objection to following the same path; we could find the money in the budget if we had to. The speakers' fees are already coming out of the convention budget. Make sure to be very firm with Patrice Ingram-Ashcraft, Marguerite DuPres' assistant; she'll try to get away with murder. Don't let her. (I'm sure you remember her from prior years. Nothing has changed.)

I've attached 1) the list of authors 2) Marguerite DuPres' contract 3) standard contracts 1, 2 and 3 for any additions. Go for the lowest you can get, but you're authorized for any of the 3 agreements.

When you talk to Banquet Services at the hotel, ask for Scott. I kind of remember that you know the GM?

Unless I hear back, I'll assume everything is copacetic. Thank you again! I owe you big time. Oh—the dealer's tables and memberships are comped, just for a start. TY!

Cilly

Two weeks ago. Crap, crap, crappity, crap, crap.

I started wracking my brains. Who did I know who wasn't on the list? McGee, if he was willing. He's actually kind of a big name—it would make a good "draw" to make up for such a late start on the reception. Receptions?

Oh, man, receptions! What was I getting into? How much was this going to set me back?

There was a rustle behind me; one of the kitchen canisters appeared at my elbow. "Sucker?" Ducky asked innocently.

I pulled out a root beer Dum Dum. "Sucker."


I spent the weekend exchanging emails with the already invited guests and typing 'I don't know' over and over in response to the 'WTF?' questions regarding Wes and Mel. I canvassed my 'take my card' collection and sent out another twenty invites to writers I'd met at other conventions and did my best to phrase things in such a way that it didn't sound like they were last minute choices. Eighteen accepted, and all of them were happy to come for expenses and a chance to sell their books. Tim, bless his heart, was glad to help out—work permitting. Ducky even put out a call to his old pal Tempe Brennan; unfortunately, she had to decline, but she volunteered to give us a victim spot in her next book for the charity auction. I wanted to kiss her.

I had left a message for Mrs. Islington asking her to call ASAP Monday morning. She's an early bird; I was still home when she called. While I packed lunches and made breakfast, I gave her a quick rundown of the situation.

"And here I thought this was going to be a dull little book convention."

I thought back on some of the wilder conventions over the years. "Well… fairly dull. And this didn't happen at the convention!"

"Thank heaven for small favors. My morning is free; I'd be happy to introduce you to Scott Chambers, our banquet services manager. I understand he's been getting calls from Wesley Alberts regarding a refund of the deposit. Normally we wouldn't do that, deposits are nonrefundable… but if you are taking over the functions—I'm sure we can work something out." Her voice dropped. "Did his wife really set a bomb off in his car?"

"So I hear."

"Oh, my…"

We met up at the hotel at ten and she introduced me to Mr. Chambers. He fits the hotel—about sixty, very tall, stately, reminded me of Ben Kingsley with silver hair. When he turned to lead us to the Georgian room, I bit back a smile. His hair was quite long in the back, neatly scraped into a ponytail and tucked under his shirt and jacket. SCA? Grunge band? One had to wonder.

I had read over the contact for the Georgian room, which was dedicated to the autograph sessions, and I had winced inwardly at the cost. Advertising expense, I kept telling myself. Mrs. Islington had offered to comp the autograph room and my hotel room because of our history. I politely declined, saying we couldn't trade on that goodwill forever and it had been enough to have our wedding and reception paid in full.

The Georgian was next to the Renaissance; the Georgian and Renaissance were the same size and the largest in that wing. The Renaissance was slated for the Dealers Room; on the other side of Renaissance was Regency, which would hold some of the panels in A/B and the art show in C/D. Tudor A/B and C/D were on the other side of the Georgian, and would hold the other (larger) panels and discussions. Speaking as a dealer, the layout was perfect; anyone going to an autograph session who needed something to sign would have plenty to buy in the dealers room—right next door.

Typical convention space: big, empty rooms that could be broken into smaller rooms or joined together for one big room. The layout for the autograph sessions was functional, if dull—six double tables on the east and west breakout walls, staggered so that the line from John Smith's table wouldn't run into Mary Jones' group.

"If the room has a food function, the cost of the room is waived for that day," Mr. Chambers said as we walked the length of the wing.

"Mmmh." Wes and Mel had opted for a finger foods buffet on Friday, so the room cost would be zero for Friday. Yes, the room was free, but they—now I—would be paying for the food. It was less, but still more than I wanted to pay (which was $0.00—I'm cheap). "Too bad I can't charge admission," I muttered.

"Such as… the banquet on Sunday?" Mrs. Islington suggested.

I stopped in my tracks. The tickets for the banquet had been sold out for over a month. $100, choice of chicken, beef or vegetarian. Dinner and a murder mystery. They had taken in $18,000. The cost was $3000 for the food… and the room was then free.

Light.

Bulb.

"Why don't we look at those food brochures?" I suggested with so much chipper enthusiasm that Mrs. Islington gave me a startled look. "Forget finger food. We're going with a theme!" And I will die before I tell Ev and Lily.

We sat at a small table in the Georgian room and Mr. Chambers opened the folio and started setting out colorful pages. "Perhaps a high tea? That sounds very 'Agatha Christie,'" he suggested.

"An excellent idea. How about Saturday?"

"Saturday it is. What about Sunday?"

"How about one each day? We've got close to 800 people already, maybe 1,000 by close, we may have a lot of people interested."

"Or schedule it for Saturday, with the notation that if there is enough interest, Sunday will be added? It would be easy enough for us to add it in as late as a day or two before."

"Good idea. I don't want to do anything really 'sit down,' other than the banquet—even though I know your food is fabulous."

"Are there many attendees under 21?" Mrs. Islington asked.

"Don't know. Not many that I recall from prior years."

"Perhaps a cheese and wine party?" she suggested.

Mr. Chambers set out a sheet that showed a number of ideas, from BYOB/corkage fee to the whole shebang. "We could have non-alcoholic beverages as well—Martinelli's, Welch's for those under 21 or those who don't care to imbibe—and you could have two colors of wristbands so they don't have to show ID every five minutes."

"I like it, I like it. One correction—" I snagged a red pen and put an arrow and an 'h.' "There. Cheese and Whine party. More accurate, given many of the crowd."

Mrs. Islington cracked a small smile (which, given her normally grave manner, equated to whoops of laughter). "Well, we will bill it as Cheese and Wine. But if you list it as Cheese and Whine…" She actually chuckled. "I want a copy of that program book. Just for my private files."

"Private. Gotcha." I gave her a sage nod. And winked.

We locked up the main door and headed back toward the office. "Will Mrs. Mallard be joining you?"

Mrs. Islington had found mother 'adorable' during the wedding. "I doubt it."

"What a shame. She wanted to see the garden in spring."

Wow. What a memory. "I can take some pictures today. And maybe we'll take her to dinner at Filene's one of these nights."

"We'd love to see you all." Ducky had told her the story of Mother crashing their opening night. She loved it.

"Oooh, hot tub. Man, that looks good."

"Open twenty four hours a day, as is the outdoor pool. Both are gated, only an adult would be able—are you all right?"

"Just—tripped. Too busy looking at the cell phone screen," I said in disgust. I had tripped over—ah, a hose. It had pulled up a metal spike with a curly-q at the top that almost looked like a treble clef. From my position on the ground, I held up the dirt-tipped spike.

"Hose guide. It should not have been so close to the outside edge of the flower bed." She took the guide and looped the hose through it, then pushed it into the ground a good foot from the edge of the walkway.

"Stuff happens, no harm done." I was dusting off the seat of my pants, and trying to make light of it. But the look on her face was clearly, 'Not on my watch.' Someone was going on report.

Glad it wasn't me. I already had enough to deal with.


Contracts signed (Cilly had texted back an enthusiastic "OMG, that sounds fantastic! Email the details, I'll update the progress report! I KNEW you'd save my ass!"), I hurried back to the store to get at least some work done before the family descended upon us.

Mother had been wanting to come to the store for a while and Suzy had readily agreed to picking up Lexi at noon and driving everyone into town. When I called Ducky and gave him a rundown of the morning and he heard that Mother, Suzy and Lexi would be at the store, he suggested we 'pop over' to Filene's for dinner and a stroll through the garden. No objections from my quarter. I called to warn Suzy and got back to work.

They arrived just before two. "You'll be fine," I soothed Suzy, who was sure that her khakis and polo shirt wouldn't cut the mustard at Filene's. "I wouldn't go there in my usual work grubbies, but I traded my offensive t-shirt du jour for something semi-grown up since I was going over for a business meeting. We look about the same. We'll both be fine."

"What about Lexi?" she fussed. Mother, she had dealt with, but Lexi was in her pants and t-shirt from school—now bedecked with paint, glitter and the remainders of lunch.

"No sweat. I always have a couple of outfits for her in the closet, just in case. Nothing fancy, but clean and whole. At this age, that's the best I can hope for."

"I remember. Victoria is occupied with that nice young man—"

"Geoff."

"Is there something I can do to help?"

"Yes. Find a book, grab a soda, put your feet up for a few minutes."

"But—"

"I know, I know. But we don't want you to burn out, young lady." I pointed toward the break room.

Laughing, she gave me a snappy salute. "Yes, ma'am!"

By the time Ducky arrived, Mother had helped Geoff shelve half a dozen boxes of books and regaled him with stories of her youth that had a grain or three of truth to them, then turned her assistance to helping Lexi alphabetize the Easy Reader/Littles section of the store (an area that needs perpetual clean up). The alphabet was painted on the top of each bookcase, so they didn't have to sing the "ABC" song the way I sometimes have to do while I'm shelving books.

Suzy was in a comfy armchair where she could keep an eye on Mother—the other eye being quite teary at the end of The Man Who Fell to Earth. "Better than the movie," I had commented as I passed by at one point.

"Isn't it always?" she answered.

Well, there were a couple of instances—but, yeah, the button You Can't Judge a Book By Its Movie on the spinner by the register is more often true than not.

"Oh, I loved that book!" Ducky said when she held it up for his inspection. "The movie was dreadful. The casting wasn't bad, but otherwise…" He shrugged. I gave Suzy a 'see?' look.

"Looking forward to this," I sing-songed as I ran the register tape so Valerie could take over.

"You deserve some special treat for the mess you've fallen into," Ducky said feelingly.

"Filene's? I should get conned into things more often."

"I just wish I could do more."

"Awwwww." I propped my chin on my cupped hands. "You mean that?"

"Of course."

"Good. You have a Saturday panel scheduled on correct terminology and procedures in autopsy and morgue scenes. Want to put anyone else on the spot with you?"

I waited for the minor explosion. It never happened. "Oh, that sounds like fun!" There was a giggle from Suzy. "How long will it be?"

"Ah, two hours…?" I said tentatively.

"That's all?"

Suzy and I both laughed. "You're always welcome to adjourn to the poolside tables. Happens a lot," I said. "We can always do a second panel… Let me know who you shanghai so I can get the guest badges."

"What, no red carpet?"

"Don't go there. I'm ready to blast Patrice Ingram-Ashcraft off the map. And it's only been two days."

"Does she want a red carpet for MargueriteDuPres?" Sad; he already recognized her name.

I copied the ending figures into the ledger and dropped it and the register tape in the top drawer. "I'm sure that's next."