In Mark Richard Zubro's Nerds Who Kill, Paul Turner is a widowed father of two teenaged boys, one of whom has spina bifida, rapidly approaching middle age, and used to dealing gracefully with all the challenges these things entail. Turner, however, is slightly different from others in his situation - he's openly gay and a homicide detective for the Chicago Police Department. Despite everything, his personal and family life is relatively ...
In Mark Richard Zubro's Nerds Who Kill, Paul Turner is a widowed father of two teenaged boys, one of whom has spina bifida, rapidly approaching middle age, and used to dealing gracefully with all the challenges these things entail. Turner, however, is slightly different from others in his situation - he's openly gay and a homicide detective for the Chicago Police Department. Despite everything, his personal and family life is relatively placid. Until right now.
This time, his life couldn't possibly get more complex and problematic: there's a Science Fiction and Media convention in Chicago this weekend - one of the world's largest such gathering - and his sons are both attending. In full costume. And Paul Turner, like any good father, is going with them. If the prospect of that weren't bad enough, one of the convention's guests - one of the field's most successful fantasy writers - is found murdered, mostly likely by the broadsword found rammed through the corpse's chest. In most circumstances, a broadsword would be a unique murder weapon, but this time there are hundreds of attendees carrying similar ones as part of their costumes. Including his own son.
That one gruesome murder is just the beginning - the dead bodies amidst the revelers are starting to pile up - and Turner must sort through a confusing array of suspects in short order if he's to find the killer in time.
A science fiction convention serves as the setting for murder in Mark Richard Zubro's diverting Nerds Who Kill: A Paul Turner Mystery, the eighth outing for the gay Chicago police detective (after 2003's Dead Egotistical Morons). While the many suspects parade past rather too quickly for the reader to care about them, Zubro nicely skewers the convention scene, with its bizarre costumes and characters as well as ego and turf battles among authors, agents and fans. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Mark Richard Zubro is the author of numerous mysteries in both the Paul Turner Series, most recently Dead Egotistical Morons, and the Tom Mason/Scott Carpenter series. He is a junior high teacher and lives in Mokena, Illinois.
Nerds Who Kill 1A tremendous crash woke Paul Turner out of a sound sleep. He was on his feet and out his bedroom door in seconds. Ben, his lover, was right behind him. When he got to the top of the stairs, he heard the tinkle of shattering glass. His son Brian, baseball bat in hand, emerged from his room. Paul rushed down the stairs and banged open his younger son's bedroom door. The bed was empty. He listened for a moment. The source of the noise was the kitchen. He dashed in that direction.In the light from the hall, he saw his eleven-year-old son, Jeff's, wheelchair on its side, up against the far cabinets. Using his hands, arms, and elbows, Jeff was crawling along the floor. Paul hurried to him. Jeff looked up at his father. He said, "I'm fine. I don't need help."Paul knelt over his son. Jeff very much needed help, but the boy had been insisting on being more independent lately. Paul hovered inches away, set to help or guide, lift or carry, as his son wished or needed.Ben flipped on the kitchen light. The room looked as if every pot in the house was on the stove or on the floor. Strings of translucent metal criss-crossed the kitchen table. Metallic paint and silver-colored plastic shimmered in a varietyof bowls, pots, and pans. Shards of a glass pitcher were strewn over half the floor. A metallic, burnt plastic smell wafted through the air. A cool breeze flowed in from the open back door.Jeff stopped trying to right himself and breathed heavily. He saw his brother with the bat. "What's that for?" Jeff asked.Brian said, "For bashing little brothers.""Hah."Jeff was in his blue X-Men pajamas. The two adults were in white briefs. Brian wore black silk boxer shorts and a black T-shirt."What were you trying to do?" Paul asked. "It's two in the morning." He shut the back door. The smell became stronger immediately. Seconds later the smoke detector began beeping. Paul turned off all the burners on the stove, removed all the pots on top of it, and then opened the door again. Ben stood on a chair and disconnected the battery. The beeping stopped. Hands on hips, Paul turned to his son.Jeff said, "I had to make some last-minute adjustments on my costume. I was trying to heat the plastic so I could form it into the right shapes."Paul knew his sons were excited about going to the World's Ultimate Science Fiction Convention, which was being held this weekend in Chicago. The younger boy, Jeff, had dinned whole symphonies of enthusiasm into his ears for months. Jeff wanted to wear a superhero costume. Paul thought that being confined to a wheelchair might limit his son's possibilities. Jeff had decided he was going as Charles Xavier from X-Men and he'd insisted on a new suit. Ben had spent hours creating a headpiece that Jeff claimed the character wore in the movies to enhance his mind control abilities.Paul hadn't seen the movies. He knew Jeff had stacks of comic books in chronological order, carefully arranged by superhero or heroes. Most of the attachment to the wheelchair apparatus, tendrils of twisted coat hangers, plastic, glue,and aluminum foil, was on the back porch awaiting transport for the occasion."We could have helped you," Paul said."I know. I wanted to try doing it myself."Paul said, "Wanting to try doing it yourself is a good thing. Doing it at this hour of the morning is a bad thing. And next time you want to try doing it yourself, you need to have one of us supervise.""Dad!"Paul held his younger son's eyes. He was not going to debate with an eleven year old. Jeff was not above trying to use his spina bifida as a ploy for getting attention or for avoiding punishments, but Paul was immune to the manipulations of his son. The kid knew his big, deep brown eyes and his disability worked well, mostly with strangers. Paul gazed silently until the boy lowered his eyes."Sorry," Jeff said. He glanced around at the mess. Again, he tried to get up. This time, he allowed Paul to lift him into his wheelchair, which Brian had righted. When Jeff was seated, the youngster said, "I'll clean up the mess."Brian trudged back up to bed."You need some help?" Ben asked."I think we've got it covered," Paul said. "I'll be up in a few minutes." Ben went upstairs and brought Paul back a pair of jeans. He gave Paul a brief hug and went back up to bed.Paul helped Jeff clean. Plastic had congealed in the bottom of two pots. They were ruined. Paul held them out for Jeff to inspect. The boy said, "That'll shoot my allowance for half a year.""About that," Paul agreed.Into the silence, Jeff asked, "I can still go to the convention?" His voice quavered.Paul said, "This wasn't malicious, but it could have turned into something dangerous. There could have been a fire. You know I'm serious about you asking one of us for help.""I know. I will.""You can go to the convention.""Yes!" The boy began to pump his arm up and down in triumph."And your consequence will commence the day after."The boy eyed his dad. "I understand," he said softly."Good." Paul ruffled the boy's hair. "I'm glad you didn't try and turn this into a debate. It is far too late, and you've been trying that far too much lately. That has to stop as well.""Okay."Father and son cleaned together in the quiet house. When the ruined pans were trashed and everything else was back in its place, Paul said, "Show me what you were trying to do."Jeff took his materials and spread them out on the table. He explained the complicated changes he wanted to make to the part that attached to his wheelchair. Paul said, "Do you want me to try it?""You could show me."Paul began to explain the process as he put together the parts and used heat and cooling as the plastic took on another shape. When he looked up, Jeff's head was sunk on his chest. The boy was fast asleep.Paul shut the back door, then reinstalled the battery in the smoke detector. Then he wheeled Jeff to his room and lifted him into bed. He pulled the blanket over his son. He went back to the kitchen and finished the costume. It was nearly three-thirty when he crawled into bed. Ben woke briefly. "Everything okay?" he asked.Paul murmured, "The aliens have not landed." He snuggled close and fell asleep.
The next morning it was a struggle to get his younger son to go to school. Normally, the boy loved to attend, but his distraction by the imminent opening of the convention was nearly total.Jeff inspected his costume where Paul had left it on the back porch. The boy declared the final shape to be "cool." Paul didn't think it looked half bad.Paul Turner spent a full day at his job as a detective for the city of Chicago. They had a call late in their shift from the new movie complex just east of Halsted and Randolph. The case was a no-brainer. At a Friday matinee a gray-haired man in his seventies had shot the teenager sitting next to him through the head. The teenager and his friend had sat through an early movie talking, laughing, and hitting each other. During the closing credits, the man had simply pulled a gun and fired. One teen lay dead. His partner in movie dis-etiquette was on the floor. He had shit and pissed his pants and, between sobs and tears, was begging for mercy. When the police arrived, the older gentleman simply turned over his gun to the cops and said, "That's one for the good guys." Buck Fenwick, Turner's partner on the police department, had been willing to argue for justifiable homicide. As he'd succinctly put it, "What exactly about this scenario was wrong?" Making noise in theaters was right up there in Fenwick's "done wrong" pantheon, just behind Cubs relief pitchers who blew saves but ahead of criminals who disturbed his lunch.Unfortunately, the cowards in the row behind the man-versus-teenager drama--cowards who had been unwilling to verify the older gentleman's initial complaint--were now insistent upon seeing the person who shot the gun arrested. Fenwick had grumbled, "Some witnesses don't know when they've got it good." The arrest and paperwork had put Turner behind schedule for the evening's activities. As prearranged, he met everyone down at his lover's auto shop. He looked forward to something completely different.Brian had kept his costume a secret. Paul wondered why his older boy, Brian, had gotten so interested in the convention. Paul hadn't known the older boy was particularly interested in science fiction or superheroes. He'd grown out ofhis Star Wars mania and his interest in comic books a few years ago.When Paul entered the shop, he saw that Mrs. Talucci, their ninetysomething next-door neighbor, was present, along with Myra, the most famous lesbian mechanic in the city. The two of them would be driving to the convention together. Mrs. Talucci was attending as an elderly Tribble. With all the extra padding she'd added to her slight frame, Mrs. Talucci now looked like a medicine ball covered in fur. Paul's son Jeff had worked up a small computer-guided electrical device so that Mrs. Talucci could cause the outer layer of her costume to wiggle and a hidden microphone to give off chirpy squeaks. Turner had to admit, it was pretty effective.They were discussing Myra's lack of a costume. She said, "Half the dykes in the hall are going to look like Xena. What's the point if you can't stand out? I've got no imagination and no creativity. I'm going to watch the spectacle. And it's going to be quite a spectacle."Jeff asked, "Why is it going to be a spectacle?"Myra's eyes gleamed. "I call it the Michelin tire effect.""What's that?"Myra leaned closer to the boy. "Most of the women in those Xena costumes should have gone on every diet on the planet years ago. They've got all this metal surrounded by a leather skirt that might be adequate protection on a vehicle, but is not going to make it on their three-hundred-pound frames."When Paul saw Brian, he realized why his older son had been totally mum about his costume. The teenager was in a butt flap and leather harness. The bit of brown leather covered by an eighth of an inch the front of the bottom of his torso, and his butt by slightly less. A broadsword dangled from a strap on his back. He was leaning one elbow on the side of their blue van. Myra began helping him cinch up the harness on the torso underneath."They let you bring those things?" Paul asked."The sword? Yeah. You've got to get special permission, and you've got to get bonded. You also have to be at least sixteen."Paul examined the sword in its scabbard. "Is it real?"Brian reached over his head, took out the sword, and handed it, hilt first, to his dad. "Try it."It took two hands to heft it. The thing was as heavy as it looked. "You sharpen this?" Paul asked."No, the place you rent it from says you're not supposed to do anything with it."The hilt had a bright blue stone in the center and glittery stuff that sparkled and rubbed off on his hands. "What's the glittery stuff?" Paul asked.Brian said, "I think the technical term is 'glittery stuff.'"Paul gave it back to his son. "Be careful with the thing."Brian held out a metal clasp. "I have to have this attached so it can't be drawn. Convention rules."Paul had asked Jeff if everyone would be in costume. Jeff had said, "Usually there's just like this one big costume deal on Saturday night." His son spoke as if he were an old hand at attending conventions as opposed to the reality, which was that he found these answers on the Internet. "There's so many people attending this convention that they divided the costume competition into categories for Friday night, with the top winners in each category as finalists on Saturday night.""Who are you supposed to be?" Myra asked Paul.Paul was in his navy blue sport jacket, beige pants, white shirt, and tie. Turner said, "A boring police detective.""Got that in one," Myra said.Paul said to Brian, "Who are you supposed to be, Tarzan?""No. The Beastmaster." Brian was in excellent shape and the costume revealed far more muscles than Turner thought appropriate. It wasn't an obscene costume, but it was trying to be."This costume is appropriate," Brian said."It's obscene," Myra said.Jeff came around the van from the front. He said, "Ben told him he had to wear something under the butt flap.""I knew that," Brian said.Jeff said, "You're not going to make him change?"Paul was not about to fight his sixteen year old over the costume. He knew he had to pick his battles, and this wasn't one of them. Going to the convention in this get-up might fill Brian's need to try to get himself attention. The boy wasn't doing drugs, he didn't come home drunk, and he hadn't gotten a girl pregnant. He didn't come home late or try to sneak in or out. His grades were excellent and, at least for now, he'd given up trying to get a tattoo and/or a motorcycle. A costume wasn't worth a hassle.Ben came in. He wore jeans and a black T-shirt. He and Paul kissed. Ben said, "You've seen Tarzan here?" He patted Brian on his leather shoulder strap."The Beastmaster," Brian corrected.Jeff said, "Could that be a master beaster?"Brian glared at his younger brother. "If you're implying ..." Jeff said, "That you're like everybody else."Brian said, "You know far too much and are much too young.""Am not.""Round one for tonight is over," Paul said. "And all sexual innuendo stops right there, no matter how remote."Both boys huffed.Ben said, "I think Fenwick might say, 'Maybe he's trying to work undercover.'"Mrs. Talucci said, "Fenwick would come up with a much worse and more clear pun.""They can't all be gems," Paul said. He patted Brian on the shoulder. "I imagine you will probably be cold. If that doesn't bother you, it doesn't bother me." The weather forMarch had been seasonal, which meant a butt flap, harness, and Speedo were not a lot of protection. Paul suspected Brian would be too stubborn to admit he was cold. If the kid was willing to pay the price, Paul wasn't going to bug him about it.Ian Hume walked in. He was a reporter, a former cop, and had been Turner's first lover. Ian was covering the convention for the local gay paper, the Gay Tribune.Ian said, "Nice butt flap."Brian said, "I wore it for you."Paul said, "No more comments about butt flaps."Ian wore his usual slouch fedora, khaki pants, blue shirt, and subdued tie. Myra looked him up and down, and said, "And you're going disguised as Indiana Jones on dress-up day?""I'm going as a bored reporter who covers this kind of shit for a paper whose stringer who covers these things has the flu.""A perfect disguise then," said Mrs. Talucci.Ian said, "And I'm going to be there for all three days. The idiot stringer set up all these interviews ages ago. I'd rather have root-canal surgery."Myra said, "I shall begin weeping for your plight immediately."They used their van to tote all of the paraphernalia for Jeff's costume. He would only actually don the cumbersome headpiece during the competition. When completely assembled it stretched nearly ten feet in every direction. According to Jeff, if it had been truly realistic, it would have extended past the ceiling.
A one-hundred-foot-tall inflatable Starship Enterprise floated outside the Greater Chicago Hotel and Convention Center. The entry hall of the hotel had a vast atrium in the middle, aone-thousand-seat restaurant to its left, and the hotel registration desk to the right. Copious large signs on easels pointed the way to the convention.At the convention registration desk Turner saw a number of costumed individuals, but to his surprise most people were in ordinary attire.Ben said, "I thought I'd see odder costumes and more of them."Jeff said, "Boy, you guys are so out of it. There's like a hundred thousand people here. It's the biggest SF convention ever. Only maybe a couple thousand will be in costume. Most everybody who's going to be doing costumes will only have them on for the contest. Can I go to the game room first? I'm supposed to meet Bertram there as soon as I'm done registering."A crowd swept toward their small gathering."Who is it, Dad?" Jeff asked.Through a gap in the milling throng, Paul saw a woman dressed in a passionate purple evening gown. She carried a two-foot-long red ostrich feather in her right hand.Paul said, "A woman in an evening gown. She's carrying this gigantic feather-plume thing.""A red one?""Yeah.""That's Muriam Devers." Paul had heard the name. She was one of the most renowned female science fiction writers, and she trailed only J. K. Rowling for sales. Devers and her entourage swept past.Jeff pulled himself up as high as he could in his chair and craned his neck to look. When the milling mass had passed, Jeff said, "That was cool."Brian said, "I thought you didn't like her.books.""No, I used to like her books, just not so much anymore. But she's famous. I want to see all the famous people here at the convention.""What's with the feather?" Ben asked.Jeff said, "The red ostrich feather is in her first book as a big part of the main character's costume. She started wearing them to all these conventions. Then it became a big deal, like her trademark. She's always wearing one in her pictures on the book jackets."Bertram's parents and Paul and Ben had worked out a system so that one set of parents would be present at the convention at all times. Paul and Ben would take Bertram, Jeff's best buddy in fifth grade, home tonight and monitor activities on Sunday. Bertram's parents had the day shift Saturday. Everyone would be present Saturday night.Ian was planning to attend several panels at the convention on gay sensibility in the field. There were also several graphic novelists who were trying to start a gay group. Ian said, "I'm supposed to be interviewing some guy who just had the third volume of his great gay space-opera trilogy published.""How are you going to find him in this throng?" Paul asked."He's supposed to be this heavyset guy in a white beard."Paul said, "Find somebody with a Santa complex and you're all set."Ian said, "I set it up to meet him at the third pillar from the left at Pierre's.""More intrigue than I care to know about," Paul said.Paul had to work the next day and would have preferred a quiet evening at home. He saw Brian with three people, one in a Spider-Man costume, the other two scantily clad nymphets. He understood now why the boy wanted to attend.Paul walked around the convention. In the dealers' room he saw people hawking posters and paraphernalia. It seemed to him that every second-rate television show that had anything to do with science fiction or fantasy had at least one booth trying to sell schlock souvenirs. There was another room with rows and rows of tables where people were demonstrating how to illustrate comic books to crowds clusteredthree or four deep. In another large hall, hundreds of people playing board games were gathered around octagonal tables. Paul was impressed with the level of seriousness and struck by the fact that the people all seemed to be intent and at ease at the same time.Mrs. Talucci stomped over. She was using a cane. She claimed it wasn't for getting around, it was for moving slow people out of her way. She still walked to the store every morning for her daily papers."Why did you come?" he asked.She smiled at him. "Never been to one of these. Thought I'd check it out. I haven't worn a costume since Halloween of nineteen forty-five and I don't get enough silliness in my life. Thought I'd try a little of that, too." She pointed at his outfit. "Wouldn't hurt you to unbend a little."Ben said, "I tried to talk him into wearing leather chaps and a vest."Mrs. Talucci said, "Hot as that would undoubtedly be, this isn't a leather bar or your bedroom. I think you'd look great as one of those X-Men.""You went to the movie?" Paul asked."I've got cable," Mrs. Talucci said.Paul said, "Ben's not in costume.""I don't do sci-fi drag," Ben said.