day hiker found her body beneath the thorny skirts of a manzanita
bush in the Santa Monica Mountains just north of Malibu, her skin
white as sun-bleached bone against the baked earth. She did not
look dead to him at first glance and he thought she might be taking
sun but where she lay was not a spot for sunbathing and her clothes
lay twisted in the brush rather than folded within reach.
From a distance her body still retained some of the beauty it
possessed in life and so the hiker expected her to stir at his
approach but she didn't move, not at all. When he dropped down
from the trail and into the brush he saw the bruise circling her
neck and death's terrible vacancy in her face.
He gently grasped her wrist between his thumb and forefinger,
hoping to track a faint pulse of blood. Her skin felt cold and
dry to the touch, less alive than stone. He called 911 and hiked
back to the trailhead to wait for the responding officers, out
of sight of the body, because the woman was so young and beautiful,
even in death, that the only way he could prevent himself from
crying was not to look at her.
Later, when questioned by a reporter from a supermarket tabloid,
he described in photographic detail the ritual posing of the body's
limbs on the ground and the ruin strangulation had visited upon
her face, sordid details expected by the readers of tabloids but
ones I'll omit in this telling because I knew the girl and the
brutal manner of her death will haunt me for the rest of my days.
The last time I saw Christine she wore a glittering silver strap-dress
to the hanging of my show of photographs at Santa Monica's Leonora
Price gallery, the Betty Boop tattoo on her bared shoulder winking
suggestively at the muscular boy in cut-offs who mounted photographs
on the near wall. She planned to wear the dress to the opening
party two days later and claimed to want to know whether I liked
the style. The photographs were staged tableaux carefully composed
to look culled from the pages of the National Enquirer, Star,
or the paper I freelanced for, Scandal Times. Several of the images
depicted a blonde bombshell caught by a tabloid-style camera in
scandalous scenes involving cars, sex, drugs and guns. Christine
played the role of the blonde bombshell, her wholesome looks shaded
at twenty-one with a complicated sexual awareness, the lens capturing
little-girl innocence and anything-goes depravity in a single,
flashing glance. The depravity made her visually compelling but
in many ways she was far more innocent than depraved. She didn't
want my opinion about the dress - I realized that the moment I
saw how assertively she wore it. The dress clung to her body with
the fierce grace of a tango dancer. She knew she looked stunning.
She simply couldn't wait for the show to open. She wanted to see
what she looked like as a troubled movie starlet, unaware that
I cast her in a role she played well enough in real life.
The evening the show opened I was working late in the offices
of Scandal Times, trying to suppress my anxiety about exhibiting
my so called serious work, when Frank pitched a padded manila
envelope onto the desk. Frank was the tabloid's crack investigative
reporter, author of such seminal stories as The Truth About Two
Headed Sheep and James Dean's Body Stolen by Space Aliens, Worshipped
as God, practically required reading for every budding tabloid
reporter and true aficionado of the form. He'd been in the parking
lot, having a smoke, and the scent of cigarettes wafted from his
clothes and hair like a stale aura.
"Since when did you start getting mail here?" He asked.
I glanced at the envelope, addressed to me care of the tabloid,
with no return address and twenty Walt Disney commemorative Mickey
Mouse stamps pasted down the right side, as though the sender
had neither a clue how much postage the envelope required nor
the time to get it metered.
"I get mail here all the time." I dipped into the side
pocket of my camera bag for a Swiss Army Knife and slit open the
envelope's top flap. "Most of it's from people peddling information,
you know, the four W's of tabloid journalism: who's doing what
to whom, and where." I shook something that looked like a
CD loose from the envelope.
"I get mail too," Frank said.
"What kind?" I asked.
"Death threats mostly. Last week, Steven Seagal's PR girl
threatened not only to kill me but to make sure I was reincarnated
as a leech."
"You aren't one now?"
"According to her I'm currently one of the higher life forms."
He smirked. I'd nailed it.