SUN VALLEY — Two days after his killing, the final work of Cesar (Insta) Arce, graffiti tagger, could be seen in full glory at a Hollywood Freeway overpass here in the northern outskirts of the San Fernando Valley. With a borrowed can of black spray paint, Arce had scrawled in big, boxy letters "CFK" and "Insta."
What did these writings mean?
"CFK," a cousin of the fallen 18-year-old would explain through her tears, "stands for 'crew forever known,' or 'crew for kings,' whatever."
And what about "Insta?"
The girl, who had come to court hoping to catch a glimpse of the pistol-packing citizen who killed her cousin, looked down at her left hand. She had printed over her thumb in pen: "Insta RIP."
"Insta," she said, "was just what he liked to call himself. It means nothing."
Words to die for.
It happened Tuesday after midnight. Arce and a cohort were marking up the overpass: What fun. A part-time actor named William A. Masters II happened to walk by. He also happened to have a pistol in his fanny pack. He also happened not to appreciate Arce's handiwork. Not many people would. Graffiti is commonly seen as the rash that marks the city's cancer. Anyone will tell you: First they paint up the road signs, and next come the gangbangers and crackheads and mouthy teen-agers who wear baseball caps backward and spell "boys" with a 'z,' and then the bottom falls out of real estate, and then everybody moves to Idaho, and then the city eats itself. They make movies about it all the time.
A confrontation ensued. Later there would be questions, irresolvable, whether the vandals threatened Masters with a screwdriver and attempted to rob him of $3. There would be no question, however, that the pistol came out and Masters fired. Arce was shot at point-blank range in the side as he turned away. A second tagger was struck in the rear as he tried to run.
The incident produced a noisy, if one-sided, municipal debate over whether Masters should be prosecuted. The popular view was expressed Thursday by a motorist who spotted a reporter jotting down notes at the death scene--here the supermarket roses laid in tribute; there, the long, brown-red streak of dried blood. The motorist slowed down and honked his horn until the reporter looked. Then he jerked his thumb upward several times, flashed a jubilant smile and sped away: Good show, Mr. Masters, good show.
A minority opinion was articulated a bit later in a Van Nuys courtroom. Arce's sister and two cousins had come to see if charges would be filed against Masters. While the judge worked through the arraignment calendar, the young women held hands, wept, prayed in Spanish, cussed some in English, passed around a souvenir of Insta's last trip to Magic Mountain and spoke of the killer and the killed in whispered chants, just loud enough for the reporters to hear.
"He didn't have to shoot him like that."
"He could have shot him in the leg."
"Nobody takes a walk at 1 in the morning in the middle of nowhere. Nobody."
"Only the police are supposed to carry guns like that."
"What my brother was doing wasn't right, but he didn't deserve to die."
"He had no police record or nothing. He would never fight. He would talk his way out of it every time."
"He didn't have to shoot him like that."
This courtroom vigil would prove fruitless. Masters did not appear in arraignment court, because Masters was not to be charged. Robert Cohen, a deputy district attorney, stood before the cameras and explained. He spoke in lawyer-speak of "burden of proof" and "insufficient evidence" and "state of mind."
In the end, the prosecutor said, it boiled down to fear. Masters insisted he had been afraid of the taggers. It could not be proved otherwise. Thus, "this was a lawful shooting." And Masters was free to return home and take his place as the newest hero of a city infected with fear and armed to the teeth--a combination that, given the district attorney's legal interpretation of reasonable force, seems to promise some wild times ahead.
Masters for one intends to keep walking the streets in the midnight hours, ready for trouble. "I'm a Marine," he told reporters, determined to "take as many of the enemy with me" as need be. Should make for a hell of a movie.