By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
My wife was still in dreamland on the motel pillow when I woke up. It was dawn in Cayucos, the small, perfect beach town three hours north of L.A. that nobody knows about. The beach was right there, at this sort of dead-end street that gave way to the sand where the high tide had left massive swaths of bruise-colored seaweed. I stepped into it, and was immediately attacked by thousands of flies. Seaweed flies. Insidious motherfuckers. They didn’t simply fly, they rose like helicopters, straight up, buzzing their shrill National Geographic insect hate tone all around my head. I began swatting and running. I felt like a helpless carcass of a veldt beast, wounded and flailing in terror.
About eight feet later the flies forgot about me. The bastards hunkered back down into their seaweed beds as quickly as they had risen. That’s when I noticed things looked a bit blurry. Oh yes, my glasses were gone, knocked off in my Don Knotts freak-spasm. I went back to look for them. I no longer gave a shit about the flies and leaned into the kelp. A few dozen zoomed up, but I waved them off casually, swiftly.
Then I found the glasses, lying in the seaweed next to a rib cage.
Yes, as in rib cage.
Index-finger-thick white bones in slightly curving vertical rows, sticking out of a chunk of seaweed. There was some decayed, gray, meatlike matter clinging to the spine.
I picked up the glasses and looked through them at those ribs. Picked clean by innocent sea creatures, one would guess, bones that once held guts and buttressed a beating heart. I can tell you right now, I wanted those bones to be human. Why? I’m not a morbid guy, I’ve never rented Faces of Death, I don’t slow down for car wrecks. But still . . .
I blame Bill Curtis.
You know who I’m talking about, the frothy, drama-queen host of Investigative Reports, Cold Case Files and American Justice. I got sucked into his true-crime cable cult and quickly became a heavy user. I followed my insatiable jones to other, non-Curtis shows: Forensic Files, Masterminds, The Investigators, City Confidential, North Mission Road. And of course Body of Evidence, stories taken from the files of the shellacked-blond crime-solving goddess Dayle Hinman. Watch enough of this stuff, and you almost need to find a body.
Growing up in L.A., it almost seems inevitable. I was six when the Manson people entered pop culture, when Mommy warned me to stay away from the hippies. (To this day I detest hippies.) Being a local girl, she had vintage stories of her own: the Black Dahlia, and Caryl Chessman, the Red Light Bandit. Bandit — how quaint. Those were the days.
In the following decades, the headlines christened various splashy psychopaths as they popped up with their unique spats of horror. Stalkers, stranglers, slashers, killers of all types. Their works were unavoidable, and they made an impression on me.
So, there I was on the beach, looking at this calm, wretched display, ready for it at last. I had found my body. This moment had to be shared. I went back to the motel, entered the room quietly and said:
"Honey? There’s a rib cage on the beach."
My wife sleeps like a log, if you can envision a log being beautiful. But her addiction to true crime surpasses even mine, and she woke up instantly, grabbed her camera and followed me out the door. I led her to the rib cage, then went back to the motel and found the lady who runs the joint. I filled her in. She was stunned, shocked, excited. She offered me a bagel, then picked up the phone, looked at me and said, "Who do I call?"
I didn’t know. I told her 911. She punched it in and said, "Some tourists have discovered a skeleton on the beach!"
Now, when I hear "skeleton," I think of the lank and dangling "Mr. Bones" fun-house variety that scared Shemp Howard in all those Three Stooges shorts. I tried to tell her this wasn’t that. She offered me a rake and said the cops would arrive soon. I went back to the rib cage, where my wife was snapping away, horrified and entranced. A cop car pulled up, and out stepped one Officer Fields. A young chap with a crewcut. He took the rake from me and poked at the bones.
"I think this is a dog," he said. "But I’ll collect it and find out."
Just then a wave came in and embraced the rib cage and seaweed, pulling the whole mess slowly back toward the sea.
"Aren’t you going to get it?" I asked. I mean, this thing had to be analyzed by the proper authorities, right? Fields squinted at the Pacific Ocean.
He handed me the rake, got into his squad car and drove off. My wife and I stood there, crestfallen, robbed. Some other people walked up, a tourist family. The dad was sipping a Diet Pepsi and wearing a T-shirt against his gut that said, "Prison Bowling Team — I’ve Got Time To Spare." He examined the evidence. He pointed.