Blood on the Tracks

In 1991, Jeremy Garth and Thunder Lizzard were poised to become Detroit’s Next Big Thing. They went into the studio to cut the album that would make it all happen. Then Garth turned up dead in his car and took the unfinished album and the band with him.

Now Re-Run Records hires Chris “Woody” Guthrie to find those lost session tapes for a memorial CD, and Guthrie finds that all is not peace and harmony in the Motor City.

Three other people from that ill-fated session are also dead. Another is missing. All the cases are still open.

Talk about Number One with a bullet…

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Even without Garth’s stoop, Guthrie had several inches on him. They shook hands, but Garth flinched at the slight pressure: his knobby knuckles proclaimed his arthritis. His voice sounded rusty, too.

“Heath Roberts. Slimy little weasel.”

“You remember him, then?”

“Shit-eating smile like he wanted to sell you swamp land. Warned Leese about him, but she wouldn’t listen. Mildred-my wife-finally told me she wouldn’t until I shut up.”

“Sir, do you remember anything about the song Jeremy wrote for Heath Roberts’s band?”

Garth shook his head. “Nope. But it’s probably upstairs with the other stuff.”

Guthrie heard Lady Luck trumpet a fanfare. “Excuse me?”

“Jeremy’s music, it’s all upstairs. Leese and Mildred wouldn’t let me get rid of it. Then this Jewish fellow, smokes like a chimney, came along. Wanted to make an album.”

“David Epstein?”

“Guess so. Gave it to him, and he…what do you call it? Scanned it and gave it back. Said they might want it for liner notes.” The old man pushed himself to his feet. “Here, I’ll show you.” He started across the room with more speed than Guthrie expected.

Garth rappelled his way up the banister on stairs with carpeting so worn that Guthrie couldn’t discern its original color. “Leese says I’m getting too old for this place, the stairs and all. Mildred and I moved here in 1959. The kids grew up here.”

“Sure,” Guthrie said.

The stick man pointed to a room on his left. It held only a worn armchair with a lamp behind it and a wooden bookshelf overflowing with sheet music and song books. “I don’t know if that song you want is in here, but this is the stuff from the album and whatever else Jeremy had lying around.”

Guthrie flipped through the pages. Jeremy Garth’s manuscript notation looked as neat as professional printing.

“Do you mind if I take this with me?” Guthrie could read music just well enough to tell that some of the songs were beyond the average rock musician.

“Go ahead. Take your time.” A stack of loose-leaf paper lay under the notated music, and Garth pointed a knobby finger. “He scribbled lyrics in a notebook when he was still working with them.”

“Do you remember anything about the song he wrote for Lisa?”

“Nope. We sold his equipment after he died. One of the other fellows in the band got us a good price. What was his name, tall. Doesn’t matter. Our family died that night.”

Guthrie remembered the same pain in Lisa Standish’s voice when she talked about her brother’s funeral. The old man drifted toward the stairs. Guthrie scooped up the music and followed him, but Garth stopped on the landing and pointed out the window.

“Out there.”

“Sir?” The empty husk of the garage stared back at them.

“Where I found him. Jeremy.” Garth moved down the stairs and toward the back door as though he were made of Tinker Toys. Guthrie left the music on the kitchen counter and followed him outside.
“Right here,” Garth said. “He looked like he was asleep.”

“In his car?”

“Uh-huh. A red Mustang, a re-built ’65. He could hardly fit his equipment into it but he loved it. I loaned him the money. He paid me back when the band took off.”

“They actually made money, then?” Guthrie said.

“Not a fortune, but they were together about three years and played pretty often.” Garth’s knobby fists disappeared into the pockets of his pleated trousers. “I got up in the middle of the night and saw his car through the window. I knew right away something was wrong.”

“How did you know something was wrong?” Guthrie asked. “Because it was so late?”

“No, no, playing nights or rehearsing, he was always late. But he backed into the drive and parked by the door, even if he wasn’t unloading his stuff.” A leaf whipped across the yard, and Garth’s eyes flickered toward it. “When I saw the car, I could read his license plate in the moonlight. He paid extra for it.”

A vanity plate. “What was it, do you remember?”

“‘TUNES.’ He thought about ‘FUGUE U’ first, but Leese talked him out of it. Said it would piss Mildred off. Probably would’ve, too.” The old man’s eyes studied the driveway. “I still don’t know what happened.”

“What do you mean?” Guthrie wished he’d had time for more homework before this meeting.

“The police. They were searching for drugs at first. After all, my son was a rock musician. When they found syringes in the glove compartment, they figured they knew it all.” Garth’s eyes bored through Guthrie so he could almost feel heat.

“My son was a diabetic. He always had candy bars in the glove compartment with the syringes. His manager always made sure he had insulin around, too. But once those idiots found needles, they were off to the races.”
He hobbled over to the back steps. “They took fingerprints, they looked in the glove compartment, in the trunk. They even checked the gas tank. Didn’t find a damn’ thing. It’s a miracle I could even make them listen about the seat.”

“Seat?” Guthrie tried to visualize a red Mustang with a dead man ruining the serene tableau.

“In the car. The firemen forced the driver’s door. Mildred and I identified Jeremy, the doctor declared him dead, they took pictures and put his body on a stretcher. Then a tall man, taller than you are, sat in the seat and went through the glove compartment.”

Garth looked toward the garage again. “Mr. Guthrie, my son was only five-five. The seat was so far back he couldn’t have reached the pedals.”

Guthrie felt another jolt. “You mentioned it?”

“Sure. They said maybe he moved it to get at those drugs. Which they never found. When the autopsy showed that Jeremy had died of an insulin coma, they asked me how long he’d been a diabetic and I told them he was diagnosed when he was twelve.”

“Did you have insulin in the house the night your son died?”

“Of course.”

“So why didn’t he take any?”

“I don’t know. And nobody has explained to me where he went after the session, either.”

“Excuse me?”

“Well, the recording session ended late in the afternoon. He wasn’t here when I went to bed at midnight. I saw his car when I got up to go to the bathroom around three in the morning.”

“So you’re saying that your son’s death was never satisfactorily explained?”

Garth’s shoulders looked as rickety as the rose trellis against the garage.

“That’s what killed his mother.”