The Unknown: The Red Line.

In Los Angeles nobody’s innocent. You can have been dead twenty years and still be guilty for murders you didn’t commit. It might be due to the sun. Its Los Angeles edges are so bright it makes an otherwise idyllic city dark. It cuts through the shit of life and by making you clear to yourself it shows how much dirt you’ve got in your heart and how much blood on your hands.

You don’t have to tell me I might be guilty because I might be. You may think you’re innocent when you’re in a crowd. A celebration may lead you to feel gay. Music puts the pleasure of life in a person’s chest, so what. California isn’t the bright edges and happy landscapes a New Yorker might mistake it for. It’s as dirty as Chicago but the dirt isn’t as apparent. And you need to know where to go to find it. There’s always a hard part. I tell you what you think and you don’t think it. But God started with something or someone and who’s going to knock it. The worst you can say is it’s fiction and if you look into your heart you’ll realize you participate in the same thing every day.

It was a murder bloody and sad. They wanted me to find the killer boo hoo. I’d followed the papers, I knew the story as well as anyone. But that doesn’t explain why they chose me. Maybe because I was Easy. Maybe because they’d heard about my work in times and places past. You don’t go looking for reasons unless you have to and you don’t have to unless love or money is involved. I didn’t feel any love for Dirk Stratton but the money was there and who am I to refuse it.

You take the facts of the case because you don’t have anything else: Dirk was famous; he was loved; and he was the guest of honor in a stadium of admirers. It was a hit, that’s what’s sure. The blood hadn’t had a chance to cool and his eyes were popping out of his head, you could see it on TV.

I did the usual investigating. I talked to those closest to the newly deceased. I dusted for prints and ran the battery of DNA tests and mapped out the crime scene. I used the gadgetry available to me at the proper spy stores and under the counter at gun shops and specialty dealers and over the Internet. But I knew in advance what I’d find. There were too many clues.

Witnesses said Scott had threatened the man the night before when they were taking shots of whiskey. He’d gone through a period during which he’d felt increasingly ineffectual, outshined by his former protegé. What easier way to take the main stage than to kill him. What better way to restore his self-confidence and writerly swagger.

William was off his gurney when it happened, his coma curiously ending about the time of Dirk’s murder. It doesn’t take two and two to draw a connection. There had been animosity between the two. William had grown angrier and meaner and some said Dirk was to blame. You don’t go around following a cult leader and completely escape psychological damage. Perhaps William’s physical problems were a mask for his mental anguish. He could claim insanity in a court of law and get off with time in the looney-bin, the judge would believe it. Or he could get away with it the way he’d got away with language games in how many stories and poems, crap that nobody caught until he let them know it was there. You can hide a motive one day and another it’s clear what it is.

And Frank, laughing and jumping around onstage. Nobody believed that fucker with his cagey smile. His motive was that of the child who hates his father. He wanted center stage and didn’t have it. Just like all the others, but worse; he’d been the one who gave Dirk the mind-reading trick when they’d been on tour, and Dirk had taken it, exploited it, and used it to get what secretly everybody knew that Frank guy always wanted: Love from strangers, respect from old friends, approval from a world he did not know.

There were other suspects. There was a stadium full of suspects and every one of them could be guilty, but these three stood out among the others, and I sniffed them like a dog sniffing shit.



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