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   A 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."

"A hyena?"

He smirked. I'd nailed it.