It was my day off.
On my way to the Café Verité for a cuppa to celebrate my freedom, walking because I wanted to, not for any good PC reason, I made one big mistake. The cop cars, the ambulance--you'd think I would know better and take a detour.
"Hey, Nick!" Officer Mulligatawny hailed. "Something in your line."
Too late. I waved back and veered in her direction. "What's up, Rose?"
"We got a dead writer here," she replied, her voice quieter now that I was close. "Mary Sue Kaczfraze. Did you know her?"
"Can't say I did. Why?"
"Cause of death." Rose Mulligatawny shook her head and shifted her stance. I quelled my usual thought of how I'd like to see her out of that uniform. Completely. Cops shouldn't have that kind of shape, or top it with blonde curls. She continued, "The autopsy should tell us...but I thought maybe you'd have a clue. You know, like, was she suicidal? We're combing the apartment for empty bottles, but there's nothing obvious. Lot of paper, though, and her computer's on. Looks almost like she died writing."
"Huh." That's why she thought I'd know, but.... "No, the name doesn't ring a bell. What sort of stuff did she write?"
Rose shrugged, making her holster twitch. Very unbecoming. "Not my department. I hoped you might take a look...." She grinned. I was hooked.
The body was long gone from the small but nicely furnished apartment, and the fingerprint hunters nearly so, but Mary Sue Kaczfraze still looked over my shoulder while I riffled through a stack of printed sheets. It was a novel, apparently part of a series, your typical fantasy saga. Epic by the pound. I glanced over my shoulder. The photo on the wall stared back. The eyes had been touched up to match the description of her main character--emerald green. I was beginning to see a pattern here.
It wasn't the pattern I was looking for; not yet, anyway. Nothing in the manuscript that would indicate she had any problem with living. Writing, yeah. It was lukewarm syrup all the way. If there was a plot, I hadn't found it yet....
"You'll want to look in here too, huh?"
Mike-the-Geek caught me by surprise. I squinty-eyed the computer with distrust. "Yeah...I guess." Why the hell they couldn't still just use perfectly good typewriters...Mike gave me a grin that would've been a perfect fit on a watermelon. I probably looked like I'd bit a lemon.
He slid off the chair and pulled over one from the dining room table. "I'll hold your hand, Nick."
"Thanks," I growled.
An hour or so and a lot of Microsoft-bashing later, we had half a clue. The other half was in the wastebasket. Cops can look at crumpled pages all day and not see anything but bits of unfinished story. What I saw was pretty scary.
The computer docs were--as far as anyone could see--the same stuff, with minor differences, as the heaps of printouts. She had done some revision and note-taking, leaving a lot of chaotic odds and ends of renamed files. There was also a lot of temporary junk; the weird-named files that come from crashes, as I had learned fom Mike before. Mary Sue probably never saw any of them, Mike said, because they were "hidden". Makes you wonder.
All of the crumples ended at the same point. Some of the temp stuff, reclaimed by His Geekness, didn't. It looked like she had been trying to print, Mike said, and each time MS Word had crashed, leaving an unfinished page and one or more of those ~$-thingies.
In those last paragaphs of what would have been "Saga of the Worlds Beyond -- Marisu Triumphant" (sequel to "Marisu Crowned"), were fragments of a tale of horror. I read on despite the intense pain, over and over:
Out of the forest came the tall, dark figure that she had but briefly glimpsed so many times during her journey. As it drew nearer, into the light of the clearing, the sun light revealed the handsome face of Vaguery, the warrior-mage. Marisu drew herself to her full regal height. She felt outrage that he had thus tricked her into thinking that some evil creature had followed her, and yet her heart throbbed with joy at the sight of his lithe body.
"Vaguery!" She cried. "What mean you by this trickery?"
"My lady, I mean no harm." He replied, smiling at her look of outrage. How beautiful she is, he thought. "My only desire has been to see you safe to your destination, and to your glorious destiny."
That was where it came to a sudden end on the crumpled sheets of paper. The temp files didn't stop there; each one continued in a different way. In each one, the heroine's TD&H lover, sometimes abetted by several minor characters, refused to follow the script. One after another, the scenes ended with her mangled body littering the ground after she persistently refused to listen to the other characters' pleas for independence.
What could I say? I looked at Mike. He looked at me. We shook our heads.
The coroner would probably rule that Mary Sue Kaczfraze died of a heart attack or a stroke. That was close enough to the truth to pass, but I knew what had brought it on. Fear. Frustration. Rage. Call it what you like. I call it character rebellion, but I'll keep that to myself. Crazy, I'm not.
Case closed. Another wasted day in the life of Nick Wortschatz, Private Critic.