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Speakers were hidden in every wall, their cloth covers painted over many times to render them invisible and to baffle the sound of Jean-Luc Pontys Civilized Evil. Throughout the evening, the dark sweet music of the jazz violin had been muted-strings and drums subdued to the level of a backdrop for a hundred inane conversations. A ripple of notes chaining into chords wove around the art gallery patrons as a subliminal entity. The crowd inhaled the music with every breath, and it hovered over their food and wine.

Dean Starrs head nodded, almost imperceptibly, to the beat of a drum just beyond the reach of his awareness. Much was beyond him this evening. In fact, he had just been stabbed and hadnt the wit to realize it.

Drugs and wine had sabotaged the switchboard operator of his brain. All internal lines of communication were botched, and trauma was never connected to pain. He had felt the contact, but knew not what it was, for he could not see inside himself, could not grasp the damage from the steel needle of the ice pick. And now the blood was leaking from the chambers of his heart. Weakening without understanding, Dean Starr slipped to the floor, his head gently settling to the hard wood as though to a pillow.

A card wafted down to his chest. His eyes rolled toward the small white rectangle, but he was unable to read it, and felt no inclination to lift his head. Liquid warmth was spreading outward from the center of his back where the tiny hole was-the small back door to his damaged heart.

Lizard skin shoes approached his prone body in the company of patent-leather pumps. Now, other shoe styles which he approved of joined this pair. His slow eyes roved from sequined bows to golden buckles. And there was the sound of shoes behind his head, a light dancing-shoe scuffle mingling with the tap-tap of stiletto heels, the tinkle of champagne glasses, and the chatter of mouths opening and closing to say nothing that was any longer intelligible to him-if ever it had been.

A womans gloved hand reached down for the white card and picked it up, the better to read it. The owner of the glove tilted the card as she was putting it back where she had found it- his chest. Now he was able to read the single word DEAD.

And then he was.

Long after all the pretty shoes had departed for the evening, a pair of black shoes approached the body. These shoes extended out from the blue cuffs of the gallery rent-a-cops uniform.

Christ, said the owner of the black shoes.

In this one word, he gave away his lack of sophistication and education, his utter ignorance of the fine arts, for he had instantly realized that this was a dead body lying in a red spread fan of blood-and not a piece of performance art.

Carol O Connell Killing Critics | Killing Critics | CHAPTER 1