The wall of raw bricks behind the darkened stage held a red neon pentagram flashing inside a larger blue one, both timed to mimic the throb of a heartbeat. Four people in black skintight body suits with high collars stood like sentinels on opposite sides. A red velvet curtain hung at the stage’s front hid the proceedings from the crowd gathering in the building's secluded courtyard. A select group of disciples watched from below. Each held up a single hand thrust forward with palm down.
Chemical smoke swirled across the floor, and wisps whirled around the legs of a donkey and a woman leading the animal to a stone altar.
A tiny leader limped to the altar. In minutes, his disciples would open the curtain, and a black mass would begin for the neophytes. But first serious business. The power of the dark lord must be summoned. Only the worthy could take part in this special ceremony. At the altar, he turned to glance at the young man beside him who bowed and with upturned hands delivered a short sword with a jewel-embedded handle.
Two fingers flipped gray hair from blue eyes. The leader held the sword aloft, point down. Using a velvet cord, the woman positioned the donkey inches away.
"Deliver us, oh dark lord, from all past errors and delusions so we may set our feet upon the path of darkness," the leader chanted in a warbling soprano. "We vowed ourselves to thy service that we may not weaken in our resolve, but with thy assistance grow in wisdom and strength."
A single swipe of the sharp blade slashed across the donkey's windpipe.
It fell, collapsing onto the black marble floor with a thud. The putrid metallic smell of blood filled the leader's nostrils, turning glowing irises the color of rust.
"Give voice as one to the Greater Magic along with me," said the leader. "I am the tempter of life who lurks in every beast and belly,” the group repeated as one. “I am a thrusting rod with a head of iron. Through jagged ice my father lies with cavernous eyes, below the sphere of the earth. My body is a temple, wherein all demons dwell. We call forth Baal-Berith, the Scriptor and pontiff and chief secretary of hell, the ruler of blasphemy and murder. It is he who will make official this covenant we offer to you, lord of the air."
As the leader, he knew Baal-Berith in Hebrew meant Lord of the Covenant. He knew how centuries ago, an aged Gideon saw the correct path and turned his enemy's golden earrings into an ephod the people worshiped. Satan honored the supplication. He empowered the Canaanites to trick the Israelites into making a covenant that kept them and their leader Bene Hamor alive despite God's order to destroy them all. The family, called "Sons of the Ass," sacrificed an ass to commemorate the fraud.
When Gideon died, Baal-Berith's spirit lived on in Gideon's son Abimelech. He stole seventy shekels from the temple and used it to send men to his dead father's house to confront his seventy brothers, all rivals for the throne. There, Gideon's son saw to their beheading. As they screamed, and heads fell one-by-one onto a single stone, Abimelech laughed.
How fitting. The leader kneeled to dip fingers in the blood and rose to make the sign of the cross over his chest. He had consulted Baal-Berith, the master's counselor. The chief secretary of Hell had been consulted. The Master will honor the sacrifice.
The spirit of Satan and his four chief angels under the Euphrates would be their advocate.
The others saluted the dead animal with hands palms down, and chanted over and over, "Hail to the dark lord, the prince of the air, our lord who giveth all power and honor and glory."
The leader's eyes widened into a non-focus, allowing a view into the realm beyond, a dimension only the very holy and unholy could effect. Reassuring power swelled the leader's body, threatening to rip the thin, silver fiber of his one-piece jumpsuit. The rhythm of the cosmos brought a humming vibration in perfect harmony with all that existed beyond the veil.
He raised the bloody sword with both hands and screamed in a screechy soprano. "The most unholy lord defined my destiny at conception. The covenant is in place. The purpose for which I was born will come to pass. God's angels can no longer stop me."
You can't kill a demon, and only God can move one out. Pastor Casey Carl thought as he sat in his Volvo and squinted up through pouring rain. Fingers of fog flowed over the old tower's turrets and clung to the parapets like needy spirits seeking a cozy home. He zipped his leather jacket. "God is God and I'm not," he said out loud. Leaning back, the seat creaked in protest. He stared across the street at Hollywood's Amsterdam Apartments and considered his next move.
Should he give up on holding what Catholics called an exorcism and Protestants like himself call a deliverance service? Seconds earlier, his partner called saying he needed to go check on a kid threatening suicide.
Jesus sent his disciples out in pairs and even then, demons once sent them home disgraced. Christ warned that some demons could only be exorcised through prayer and fasting. Casey was too busy the past week for much of either. But being too tired to confront a demon was not part of his theology. A teenager showed up at his church's Addicts for Jesus classes a few weeks earlier asking for help with his depression. Tonight, the boy called Casey and insisted he come pray.
But he was alone. His body ached to recline. Unrest pricked his spirit. Rain pelted the black asphalt. Traffic sloshed spray against his dented station wagon. He couldn't remember if he even had an umbrella. That's it, he thought. I'm going home. Turning the key, his cranky car sputtered then came to life.
A girl screamed and pounded his passenger side window.
"Luther's freaking out. You got to help."
Casey killed the engine, flung open the car door, and jumped to the pavement. A horn sounded. He ran to the car’s front and confronted a girl with skin so white it looked drained of blood. She grabbed his jacket and pulled him so close he could see her tongue stud darting between black lipstick. "He said you were coming to help him. I been waiting for your car." She backed up and eyed him like a cornered cat appraising a German shepherd. "Luther said you were real."
In Casey's universe, you were real if you sat up with a kid and let him talk all night as he tweaked on Meth. You were real if you strolled into one of their abandoned building squats and ignored the needles and condoms as you gave out coffee and donuts. You were real if you didn't contact their parents. He gazed into the girl’s pleading eyes. “I got scars to prove it."
Oblivious to traffic, she darted across the street. A car slid sideways, and a young man jumped out cursing. Casey took advantage of the stopped traffic to cross behind her. She unlocked the building's front door and raced to the elevator. He hurried inside, panting and trying to calm down. She ignored his stare and focused on the elevator's panel lights. "Your friend," he said. "He's not threatening suicide, is he?"
"Just weirded out," she said, "No telling what he'll do." Her startled blue eyes dissolved into an inspection that started at the black Triple X Stetson atop his silver hair and ended at the beads of water on his spit-shined Tony Lama’s. He cleared his throat and tried not to stare back. Raindrops dripped to the floor from her silver zip up jacket, above a knee-length denim skirt with intricate rhinestone fleur-de-lis patterns. This girl was no street urchin. The elevator jerked to a halt. She rushed past him.
He followed her into a ninth-floor studio apartment that resembled something out of a 1930s movie. Beneath its tin ceiling of engraved squares, pairs of fake-candle wall lights dimly lit the room. Despite its dented radiators and faded yellow blinds, it looked too neat to be lived in. Musty and cool, it smelled of uncleaned sickness and burned candles.
The boy, clad only in shorts, lay barefoot on his back atop a sagging sofa covered with a brown chenille bedspread. His eyes stared at the ceiling with a stillness that made him look dead . . . or overdosed. A circle drawn in red chalk along the hardwood floor enclosed the couch. The boy was either keeping demons in or out.
Casey went to one knee beside him, took off his soaked hat and held it.
"Can you tell me your name again son?"
"It's not important."
"Names are very important, especially to God."
"Then you should remember mine." Hate flashed in his dark eyes. "My name's Luther."
Despite his German name, the boy's olive skin and coal black hair looked Hispanic. Casey kept his voice soft. "So, Luther, tell me what's happening."
"You know, they're back again. The great old ones. They're telling me I need to join them. Some of them are in the heavens you know. The veil's getting thinner all the time. You understand the Bible, preacher. You should know too."
Casey nodded, realizing he didn't. "I think you should be in an emergency room."
Panic bulged his eyes. "No!" he shouted. "I don’t want a doctor. I want you. . . I mean to pray. You told me you'd pray."
Casey stood, placed his hat on a stained end table and retrieved from his jeans a tiny capsule of oil inside a silver holder attached to his key chain. A week earlier, the man who looked in his early twenties showed up at his Addicts for Jesus meeting then came to his office yesterday, sat on his couch and said he was depressed, telling Casey his mother was a prostitute, and she and her friends had "freak parties" with him. Casey prayed for him, and he left.
"Luther, you want to be set free?"
The boy sat up and scanned the room as if searching for something unseen. "I'm ready to go through the gate. End all the bull on this side."
Casey pulled up a straight-backed chair and sat close. He opened the cylinder and poured oil on two fingers. The girl sat nearby, her mouth pursed in pleasure, her eyes blinking in anticipation. She parted her legs beneath her wraparound skirt. He moved his eyes to the boy.
"Luther, do you believe Jesus has the power to cast out demons?"
Luther's eyes clinched. The raised pupils beneath his eyelids darted about as if he was having a conversation. His eyes opened to stare at something only he saw. His lips curled back, exposing a snarl that expelled a growl, guttural and coarse.
A familiar force swelled Casey's chest, elevated his chin and narrowed his focus. "Jesus came out of the tomb and said, 'all authority has been given unto me in Heaven and on Earth.’" Casey didn't recite the verse to convince himself. It was important the demons hear Christ's words.
"Jesus is the Name above all Names. I declare in His name that you come forth and identify yourself. What's your name, demon?"
The growl grew into a blast of sound and breathe, blowing into Casey’s face, gale force. "What are you to me, preacher?" The voice crosscut Casey's soul. A gusting squall splattered rain against the window, swayed the old tower and howled across the room.
"I come in the name and authority of Jesus Christ, Yeshua of Nazareth," Casey said. "Jesus has conquered all demons. You have no power over Christ, and you know it."
The boy's eyes regained a presence. They registered surprise. Encouraged, Casey spoke words in his heavenly prayer language given him years ago in a jail cell. Words with meaning known only to God. "Who are you?" Casey asked, returning to English. "I command you in the Name of Jesus."
The boy's shoulders shook. His purple lips quivered. His eyes went empty. A thin tortured moan thickened into anger. "Your soul will be scorched."
The words seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere at once, booming and echoing off the tin ceiling. "He is my chosen son. I am Dagon."
Casey raised two fingers wet with anointing oil and moved them toward the boy. "You have no son and no authority, Dagon. Jesus Christ sends you back to the abyss, the pit from where you came."
"It's you who has no authority. You're not God's Son. You put your own father in jail."
Pain pierced his temple. How did the demon know? Shaking his head, he fought to concentrate. His fingers touched the boy's forehead. A long wail speared the air. The boy blinked rapid-fire, jerked forward and retched. A stream of yellowish bile hung from his open mouth. His eyes cleared, cascading with wonder.
Screams, like an angry cougar, came from behind Casey. He sprang to his feet. A form leaped on his back, vice-clamped knees around his hips. It was the girl.
Her elbows braced against his shoulder blades, long black fingernails dug into his eyes, searching for purchase behind the corners of his eyeballs.
Staggering, he dropped the oil and clutched at her hands. His foot caught in the chair leg. He tumbled forward. The chair fell over with them and he landed atop it. Rolling to the floor, he wound up on his back. Bare legs straddled his hips. Hands with black half-inch fingernails moved toward his face. Growling with teeth parted, she eyed his neck. From the corners of her mouth, gray foam dripped to his cheeks.
He grabbed at her hands. They clasped only air. Her head sank toward his neck. Mouth open, her forehead slammed into his temple. Teeth closed around his throat. He squeezed the sides of her head with palms and thumbs, and slowly raised it. A pendant and gold chain dangled inches from his face. A star with a diamond at each point. She wore nothing else.
Somewhere, as if it came from above the ceiling or another room, hoots of laughter and jeers echoed. Sounds of insanity rooting her on.
Letting go, he twisted from beneath her, turned onto his stomach, and fought to rise to his knees. She rode him like a horse. He thrust a shoulder to one side, ducked back the other way and grabbed the opposite calf. She tumbled beside him. He planted a knee on each side of her twisting body, captured flailing arms and used every ounce of his 175 pounds to pin her hands to the hardwood floor.
He gasped for air. She writhed beneath him. Her eyes were locked into a different sphere. A wry smile parted black lipstick. She cleared her throat and spat. The boiling hot spittle caused one eye to burn and close.
The apartment door flung open. She screamed again; this one rippled with a fear that wasn't real. Two men charged into the room and stopped, wide-eyed.
"Help us," Luther screeched as he struggled to rise from the couch. "For the love of God, stop him. He's raping her."
Casey sat on the torn bench seat of Rev. Riley O'Donald's black pickup and watched the Hollywood police station disappear in a side mirror. He'd spent the night in jail trying to make sense out of the exorcism while pretending to listen to a grizzled Army vet on speed. Riley responded to his lone phone call and came before dawn to bail him out.
Riley quietly absorbed his story without comment. Finished, Casey glanced at himself in the rearview mirror. He looked like he needed to get better to die. His beard was hours past a five o'clock shadow, his skin the color of a battleship and he sported thin, reddish-black scratches on both cheeks, something the police had photographed. His stomach had hard-shell heartburn. He removed his hat and fluffed up his short hair, hair turned white by a seldom visited incident, one that happened at only fourteen.
Luther’s demon Dagon somehow knew.
Dagon said his soul would be scorched. The girl was buck naked. He’d gone in alone. His charge, attempted rape. His ministry was fading faster than the sidewalk in the truck's rearview mirror.
"Who you think wants to bring you down?" Riley asked.
"Devil's the only enemy I know of," Casey said. "Unless you count the Venice Beach City Council, who wants to shut down our weekly feedings."
Thin, wiry and pushing seventy, Riley had enough degrees to fill a gymnasium wall. He gave up teaching eschatology at Fuller to start Hope for Hopeless Youth. Fresh out of jail, Casey moved into a single room at the Refuge Center. After four years, two-dozen college level Bible courses and several hundred outreaches for Riley, his friend recommended him for a clergy credential. Minutes earlier, the plastic license Casey carried in his wallet was returned to him by a police sergeant.
Riley gripped the wheel and leaned forward. "Last night, I was driving to meet you and help with Luther when a man I never met called my cell saying he was addicted and about shoot himself. Sounded real. I hurried to the address. Wound up being phony.”
"Riley, the whole thing was a setup. The boy was possessed, but I still think he's a plant. That girl, she took pains to look Goth, but I kept thinking cheerleader. Weird on top of weird. But I got the feeling the demon who said he was Dagon left the boy and wound up in her."
Casey used palms to rub his eyes. "Doubt that part was planned."
Casey knew most of what the Bible said about demons and Christ's authority over them. Before today, it seemed a given. But this demon knew his past’s darkest moment. He felt dirty. More than jailhouse dirty. His head drooped, and he sighed. Hope was seeping out of him like a slow leak in a used tire.
"Dagon's the Philistine god who kept falling to the floor when they put him in the room with the Ark of the Covenant," Riley said. "Samson's last act was pulling down the pillars in a temple dedicated to Dagon. It's where they mounted King Saul's head. Dagon goes all the way back to Babylon."
Casey gave him a puzzled glare. Riley grinned. "I once tried to teach a course on Biblical Demons and Modern Satanism, but the provost shot it down."
"I'm way too tired to wrap my head around any of that. But I do need to find the girl. Seen way too many kids off themselves."
"You're not thinking straight. Mess with her and you're back inside for witness tampering." Riley's face went soft. "But don't worry Casey, I'll find her for you."
"Riley," he said, "Remember the kid who showed up at the Refuge Center toting the coffin he slept in? Had these surgically sharpened teeth and drank real blood. You had me come, lay hands on the boy and help pray for him all night. I’d been there only a month. Why'd you think I was ready?"
"The Holy Spirit put his brand on you the day you got saved in that jail cell. Some people mature one step at a time, and that's all right. But God put you on the fast track for some reason. Maybe last night had something to do with it."
"I can't imagine how."
Riley shot him a broad smile, one Casey knew coaxed hundreds to leave the street. "You've walked a narrow path a while now. Had some bumps, but you kept going."
Riley referred to the death of Casey's second wife, Katie, killed on a Hollywood street by a hit and run driver two years earlier. Casey stared at the steel plates used to patch the floorboard and thought about Bridgett, his only child, born in his first marriage.
"I need to call Bridgett," he said. "She's only sixteen. Her mom hates me. Considering all I did to Doris when we were married, I can't say I blame her. Last night I handed her a crowbar to rip up what Bridgett and I built the last six years."
"Casey, the girl loves you. She'll want to help."
Casey lifted his head, hearing his voice thin. "It's amazing, I ran off when she was only five. I missed a huge chunk of her life and all she wants to do is make it up."
He coughed to clear the mass in his throat. That same awe made him cry with joy the day he repented in a jail cell twelve years earlier, and now made his eyes well up. He cried a bucket full for Katie. But these tears were different. They sometimes showed up unannounced during prayer, a soaring hymn or at the sight of tears running down the face of a teen letting go of drugs or survivor sex.
He used knuckles to wipe away the moisture, not caring if Riley noticed. Some tears were godly.
His cell phone rang. Perhaps Bridgett knows, or even my church council. He answered and an unknown woman introduced herself as Haley Woodhouse, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. "I'd like to ask you a few questions about last night," she said, her polished New England voice humming along in professional neutral.
He covered the phone and whispered to Riley. "Reporter." Riley's head gave a warning shake. "You haven't even hired a lawyer."
Casey nodded and put the phone to his ear. "It Sounds like you were talking it over," she said. "You're not guilty, are you, pastor?"
"I'm not," he said, thinking it sounded too pat.
"I read your . . . what do you call it, your testimony on your website? How you went from a jail cell to the pulpit in five years. I dug up a couple of people you listed on the site and talked to LAPD. Got a short piece in our late edition this morning." She paused as if waiting for him to be impressed. "Want to give your side of it?"
"Not now. Haven't even had time to think," he said, realizing it sounded like stalling.
"I imagine you'll make the front page tomorrow. Of course, tonight's TV news will show something, but I have some things I doubt they'll find. We need to talk."
"Give me your number. I'll call later."
She snickered. "You mean that?"
"I don't lie."
"Is that on the record?"
"Anything I say is on the record. I got nothing to hide."
He borrowed a pen from Riley and wrote her number on the back of a dry cleaning ticket.
"I'll wait for your call then," she said. "I'll file my story tomorrow evening at seven. If I don't get a call back from you, I'll have to mention your broken promise."
He hung up. Riley raised an expectant eyebrow. Casey shrugged. "Told her I'd talk to her."
Riley shook his head. "Let's see now. You're a pastor accused of trying to rape a teenager. Now you're going to tell a reporter you were there to excise a demon from a boy. Then it went into his girlfriend and caused her to rip off her clothes and attack you."
"Far as I can tell, it's the truth."
"Lord have mercy! If I were you, I'd talk to a lawyer first. Have him talk to her."
Casey stared at his scuffed boots. Fatigue and dread enveloped him like a scratchy blanket thrown over a panicked cat.
Casey parked in view of his church, a block away. No reporters in sight. He jogged down an alley to the wrought iron gate, unlocked it, and ran up the steps to his apartment above the sanctuary. Once inside, he pressed his back against the door, hating he puffed so hard.
Riley dropped him off at his car parked in front of the Amsterdam. He considered going in, but Riley told him no one answered when he pounded on the door late last night. Now, Casey made for his bedroom. Changing his mind, he went into his study and took a long breath. The place was small, but airy, with a slanting roof and big windows overlooking the main street and the beach two blocks beyond. He loved his study. Shelves housed rows of books, favorite photos, and ordination certificate lined the wall over a large desk. Beneath it was his computer's CPU.
He saw something odd. On hands and knees, his head inches from his computer's CPU; he eyed a faint smudge on his hardwood floor. His shoulders buckled, and his chest sank. Lowering his head to the floor, he saw it better. It was a heel print, indented and circular, the kind made by a hiking boot. He didn't hike. His only boots were cowboy, low heel and solid. Bending forward, he examined the screws attaching his computer's casing. No scratch marks.
In his bedroom, he examined the heels of every shoe and boot he owned. None matched. Grabbing the baseball bat beside his bed, he checked the entire apartment. Nothing was missing. He went to his belly again. The smudge was still there. Someone had got in without breaking the lock. Why? Maybe they messed with his computer, put something dirty on his hard drive. Maybe even swapped it out.
Using his cell phone camera, he took several shots of the heel prints, not sure they were pronounced enough to show up.
He sank onto his blue cloth couch, aching to lie down and sleep. A jail cell was only hours in his past. Would the police show up here? A reporter called. Could a TV truck with its retractable broadcasting dish be on its way? Did he have time to take out his CPU and drop it off a bridge somewhere? What if someone saw him carry it out? He'd make the six o'clock news and be back in jail.
He rubbed his forehead with his palm. The side of his head hurt. He again slid his cell from his jeans. It rang. He dropped it.
It was Chip Elliott, the youngest member of his Board of Elders. "I read the Times story, but I don't believe it," he said. "You want to tell me what really happened. You know I'm on your side. I think I proved it in some of our elder meetings.”
Casey considered telling the truth, but only for a second. "Right now, Chip, all I can say is you're right, don't believe it.”
"You sure you’re okay buddy? You been under a lot of stress lately what with the city council on your back."
"I'm okay, just tired."
"I know a lot of our members have given up and left for other churches because you pay so much attention to those crazy kids. But I want you to know you're still my pastor."
"I appreciate that."
After Katie died, Casey turned his focused on the neighborhood's homeless youth. At first he wondered if his efforts were in memory of her. But the kids' struggles rose above endless meetings with a board of elders who spent hours debating on whether members could smoke on the church's front steps. Katie managed to love and be loved by both groups. It was a balance he hadn't mastered.
"That girl, you never saw her before, right?" Chip asked.
"And the boy, he set you up, right. Any idea why? He'd be taking a big chance, lying to the police and all."
"No, I don't why. Wish I did." He stared at the computer and considered disconnecting it.
"Well, I'm not doubting you pastor. Just want to understand." There was a long pause as if he was getting his courage up. "It just seems like you're stressed . . . a lot I mean."
"Last month I came into that restaurant where you were eating, and we talked, right? Not a big deal really. Probably not worth mentioning. But then I think you had a problem with it before."
"It was an O'Doul's, Chip, non-alcoholic. I just like the taste of beer every once in a while. Haven't taken a real drink in twelve years."
"Sorry I even mentioned it, pastor. Didn't see the label." Casey didn't feel like explaining.
"I meant no offense," Chip said. "Take down this number of a lawyer I know. You call him, you hear. People going to be talking like you're one of those fallen pastors or something. My wife and I'll be praying for you. . . I promise."
Casey wrote the number, thanked him and hung up. The words, "fallen pastor" stuck to the inside of his forehead like eyestrain. Yeah, lots of people would be talking. The details too juicy. Run the truth through this tunnel and all that came out the other end was a "why.” he couldn't answer. What made a preacher with a congregation small enough to sit on a tennis court worth the trouble? Drive twenty minutes and run the same scam, and you could take down Bishop Charles Blake or Fred Price or Kenny Ulmer.
Sleep could wait. Taking one last look at the computer he trooped outside and turned his key in the deadbolt lock, wondering why he even bothered.
It was Thursday in early October on the Venice Beach Promenade. Few tourists and beachside vendors were brave enough to face a chilling wind blowing in from the Pacific. The gusts kicked up the powder-fine granules and swept them across the beach and into Casey's face, stinging his cheeks. Just like he felt in Hollywood, his walks here brought a vague uneasiness, irritating his soul like a grain of sand inside an oyster.
On weekends, tens of thousands of visitors from around the world explored the ramshackle shops lining one side of the concrete promenade. On the beach side, they ogled street vendors in stands of plywood and crates beneath huge umbrellas. For sale were divine healing prayers, power crystals, Tarot card and palm readings, pentagram jewelry, voodoo masks, evil eye charms and soap made from hemp. Here, standing in defiance to all he believed, stood a three-story obelisk dedicated to the goddess Ashtoreth, a female version of Baal worshiped by King Ahab and his wife, Jezebel.
For homeless youth, Venice Beach, Santa Monica to the north and Hollywood to the northeast, were LA's Bermuda Triangle. They came, hung out, panhandled, got high, got drunk, got partners, got STDs, got medicated and got lost. Most came and went as fast as bad movies.
He quick-stepped a block off the beach and climbed steps beside a garage. Hoping he wouldn't find something embarrassing, he knocked on a bare metal door. Charlie Huang answered in khaki shorts and black tee shirt and invited him in. Square hard drives, bulky monitors, and stacks of keyboards lined cheap metal shelves. Desks were unfinished doors sitting on stacks of cinder blocks. A single unmade bed rested in a corner.
"What's up?" Charlie asked with an open box of Ramen Noodles in one hand.
Casey turned a metal folding chair backward and sat. "I need your help."
"You don't look too good," he said, stroking his thin Charlie Chan goatee. The Korean-born son of an American serviceman came to the US to study at USC, wound up addicted to coke and living on the beach. He came to the church for free soap and got salvation. Today, he was a leader in Casey's Addicts for Jesus group and all called him Charlie Chan.
Casey told him the story, describing Luther and feeling awkward; the mentor confessing to the disciple. "I made a mistake. When Riley didn't show up, I shoulda boogied."
"I'd gone in just like you did. What if he did kill himself?"
"Think you ever saw him?"
“I think once at Johnny Starrocket's crystal stand.”
Casey knew Starrocket. .Always dressed in a top hat and tails over shorts and a tee shirt, he carried a baton with the tip built to anchor various crystals. He often pointed it at Casey and mocked, "The Pope of Venice Beach is here to save our souls from sin and death. Turn or burn, change or be chained in hell."
"I was at the stand next to Starrocket's," Charlie said. "He told Starrocket he'd see him on the Eastside. A lot of Hispanic gang-bangers over there. He looked like the way you described. But he was dressed like he worked in a bank."
"Listen Charlie," Casey said getting up. "I need a favor."
A few minutes later, Charlie stood behind Casey as he unlocked the door of the church's wrought iron fence. A yell came from behind him. Casey handed Charlie his house keys and watched him hustle toward the apartment's entrance.
Casey turned to face a fat man waddling toward him. Saying he was a reporter for the Daily Journal, he asked Casey to comment on last night. He removed a pen from behind an ear and produced a thin notebook.
"I'm innocent. That’s all I can say now."
"So the girl and her friend accusing you are lying about your coming there to party? You know, a three-way thing, him included.”
Casey stiffened. "You talked to them?"
"The boy, yes. The girl's sixteen so we don't have her name, but yeah he's spilling his guts."
"I'm not gay, and I don't sleep with anybody."
Casey saw a TV mobile unit with a folded satellite dish on its roof parked a block down the street. "I'm a minister for heaven's sake."
The reporter poised his pen at his pad. "Talk to me about your ministry."