“Stop where you are,” said the mustachioed detective, with a European accent, as he entered the hemicycle.

“There’s been a murder here at the Capitol!”

Lawmakers seemed perplexed. Had they entered an Agatha Christie novel?

A Progressive Democrat said: ‘We are not aware of any murders, other than the murder of the careers of political moderates. Who is your victim?

The detective holds up a handkerchief bearing the monogram “HSR”.

” It is not possible ! shouted the governor, who had rushed to the bedroom on hearing that international media might be present. “The only bullet train we know of is the High Speed ​​Rail, America’s most ambitious project. And it’s not dead. »

The detective raised an eyebrow. “How can you be so sure?”

“Because I’m saving it,” the governor said, “by reducing the San Francisco to Los Angeles project to a Merced to Bakersfield route.”

“Governor, you just confessed! replied the detective. “Proposing a $100 billion train between two cities without a Michelin-starred restaurant between them demonstrates murderous intent toward the very concept of passenger rail travel.

“Next question: Governor, did you act alone? »

“Are you accusing me, Inspector?” said the Speaker of the Assembly from the dais. “Who are you anyway? How did you get here?”

“I am Mr. Hercule Poirot and I was on the express for Istanbul when Interpol called me. I flew Turkish Airlines to SFO, took BART to Amtrak to Sacramento which was lovely but empty. Then I made the mistake of trying the Sacramento light rail, which smelled like a crime scene…but, Mr. President, you didn’t answer my question.

“Well,” the speaker replied, “you can’t suggest that Southern California Democratic lawmakers killed it. We’re just trying to improve the bullet train by reallocating some of the money from the Central Valley to regional rail projects.

Poirot frowned. “Retraining? Curious choice of words. And you do it by denying the project $4.2 billion in voter-approved bond funds. Mr. Speaker, the legislature tops my list of suspects. I don’t care about your campaigns; none of you can leave Sacramento.

“Why do you attribute the murder to the Democrats? interjected the Republican leader. “We have been working for years to kill high-speed rail.”

“What good is the confession of a party that claims the last election was rigged. High-speed rail is a major economic stimulus for the Central Valley, which many Republicans represent. What does killing him mean? You are engaged in self-harm. I’m having you kept for observation and psychological evaluation.

There was noise from the gallery, as the lobbyist streamed in to watch. One of them stood up and said, “Inspector, I come from the building and construction trades. You are wrong. Our trade union organizations want to build this. We have protected high-speed rail for years from legislative oversight.

“Didn’t it work out well?” the detective asked sarcastically “Furthermore, you demand salaries that would make building a high-speed train, or anything else, outrageously expensive. Please consider yourself a suspect.

Another visitor spoke. “I represent the California High-Speed ​​Rail Authority, and I assure you that we are building a high-speed rail and will complete the project.”

“But have you gathered all the necessary land, 14 years after voters approved the project?”

“Not yet …”

“And the removals of public services? »

“We’re almost halfway down the valley.”

“Does the authority have the personnel to manage such a project?

“I can’t talk about that. I’m just one of the consultants.

The detective inspected a legislative chamber full of suspects. He thinks for a minute.

“It reminds me of a case much earlier in my career, recounted in Murder on the Orient Express. A man was murdered on the train.

“There were many suspects on board. The passengers all denied at first. But all were guilty.

“The difference between the high-speed train and this railroad murder is that on the Orient Express, these killers ended up acknowledging what they had done.

“You have already killed HSR. But you can’t admit that you did.

Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square.