The Time the Good Guys Won
One of the mainstays of fandom is the convention. Pros and fans gathering together, interacting, buying and selling stuff, getting shitfaced. Sometimes deals are made. Indelible relationships are born. A good time is generally had by all.
One year at a large convention held in the Mid-Atlantic area, something not so festive was going on.
There is a sizable contingent of horror people on the American East Coast. There have been quite a few really good conventions over the years. One such was an excellent choice for horror fans, because it featured both fiction and mass media programming. The situation I am about to describe occurred a little over a decade ago.
Going back a few steps, I’d see some of the same faces at book signings and other events. One individual was kind of an odd guy. Innocent enough, or so he seemed. I’ll call him, oh, JW. JW was becoming a fixture on the scene. I rather liked him, but then I tend to enjoy the company of people who read horror fiction. Especially those with knowledge and an affinity for the classics of the field. JW was that sort of guy.
So my family and I went to this con, expecting to have a stress-free escape from the mundane realities of everyday existence. Early on we were given a warning by a fellow conventioneer: Someone confided to me that there was a pedophile present at the convention. It was JW.
I was, unsurprisingly, shocked. I was unsure of how I should take the news. For one, I cannot damn a person on hearsay. Unsubstantiated rumors can be lethal for innocent people. On the other hand, how could I avoid a warning? When I had children with me at this convention?
It ate at me. I couldn’t ignore it, but I couldn’t act upon it either. I had to be careful with whom I might confide. I thought and thought, and this was not the sort of thing you want on your soul when you have spent a small fortune to attend a horror con.
I had an inspiration. I knew who I could talk to. I approached a friend, someone who has a longstanding relationship with Cemetery Dance Publications. I am talking about the renowned writer/editor/publisher Thomas F. Montelone. I needed someone not merely smart. Just about everyone who reads for pleasure is possessed of intelligence. I needed someone with wisdom. Experience. Honor. Yep, Tom was the guy to talk to.
People were socializing in the lobby of the hotel. I approached Tom, and told him that I needed to talk to him. He agreed. I said, “No, outside.” Looking concerned, he followed me out of the room.
I explained the situation. I only had to lay out the bare bones of it, and Tom understood immediately. He told me that we must not speak of this at the convention, because it was neither the time nor the place for it. But he said that we had to be vigilant. We had to keep our eyes open, because both of us had daughters at the con.
Tom taught me “The Italian Vow of Silence,” which I repeated after him (and which I have completely forgotten since). I felt an immense sense of relief. I had someone to share my burden.
If I said that the rest of the convention wasn’t awkward, that would be a lie. I felt oddly guilty, and I felt more than a little angry. It sucks, but I just wanted the weekend to end. Yeah, I did have a good time, but I certainly did not ask for that heap of crap to be deposited upon my shoulders.
What could I do, though? Bury my head in the sand? Just protect my own kids, and to hell with the rest of the world? That’s not how the good guys operate.
We went home. I was partially sad, and partially relieved.
My ex-wife dropped a bomb on me when we were back at our house. She said that JW had offered to let our daughter, my precious, beautiful, beloved little girl, carry some books to his room to earn some money.
“Italian Vow of Silence” or no, had I known about that “offer,” or had I been present when it was made…I would have gone berserk. I may well have killed JW.
When I told Tom about the rumor I had heard, he told me to let him handle it his way. The smart way. The way that gets real results, and does not put a despicable criminal into any sort of victim role. If it had been a Hap and Leonard novel, the guys probably would have whooped his ass but good. As gutsy and grueling as stories by Lansdale and other gifted writers may be, this was cold, hard, real life.
In the days following the convention, a few of us kept in contact about the situation. Eventually we learned the truth. JW had been in trouble before, for exposing himself to small children. He wasn’t supposed to leave his home state. He wasn’t supposed to be anywhere around children. And an incident had occurred at a different East Coast convention earlier that year. The FBI was on the case, and, as I heard the story, JW was apprehended trying to escape the country.
The whole ordeal gave me great pause. How could this man, this person who loved books so much—how could he be that kind of monster? His love of books was definitely sincere. I don’t know. I’m sure the shrinks have a lot of technological mumbo-jumbo to explain it. For me a person like that is a diseased individual. And disease must be eradicated so that healthy cells—or lives—may flourish.
This story has been kept quiet for over a decade, other than the occasional whispered accounting of the events. It’s a memory that makes me feel both good and bad. Bad, because it sickens me that this sort of thing had to surface in my favorite place to be, right in the middle of my tribe. I suppose it was inevitable. This kind of horror knows no bounds, or age restrictions, creed, color, political affinity, or demographic.
It makes me feel a little bit good that a few of us took the steps to make the world a little better.
Mark Sieber learned to love horror with Universal, Hammer, and AIP movies, a Scholastic edition of Poe’s Eight Tales of Terror, Sir Graves Ghastly Presents, The Twilight Zone, Shirley Jackson’s The Daemon Lover, The Night Stalker, and a hundred other dark influences. He came into his own in the great horror boom of the 1980’s, reading Charles L. Grant, F. Paul Wilson, Ray Russell, Skipp and Spector, David J. Schow, Stephen King, and countless others. Meanwhile he spent as many hours as possible at drive-in theaters, watching slasher sequels, horror comedies, monster movies, and every other imaginable type of exploitation movie. When the VHS revolution hit, he discovered the joys of Italian and other international horror gems. Trends come and go, but he still enjoys having the living crap scared out of him. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and at www.horrordrive-in.com.