By: Morgan Hannah MacDonald

Stumbling into the bathroom, Thomas leaned against the wall as he relieved himself, then sidestepped to the sink to splash his face with cold water. Bracing himself on the sides, he leaned into his reflection in the mirror. He felt like shit and looked even worse.

He opened the medicine cabinet and after careful deliberation, grabbed the mouthwash to take a swig. He swirled it around in his mouth a few times before spitting it into the sink. He walked back into his room with a much sturdier gait and pulled on the pants that hung over a nearby chair.

All but stumbling down the stairs, he glanced into the living room and noticed the empty bottle of Chivas Regal lying on its side next to his favorite chair. His step quickened as the aroma of fresh-brewed coffee pulled him to the kitchen as if under a spell. He silently thanked the Gods for inventing coffee makers with automated timers.

Minutes later, Thomas was speeding south down Pacific Coast Highway away from Laguna Beach, his black BMW 330i cutting in and out of commuter traffic. Head still pounding, he opened the glove box, found the aspirin, and shook out four. He tossed them into his mouth and washed them down with the steaming hot liquid, feeling the burn down the back of his throat.

Thomas arrived at the top of the trail about the same time as the medical examiner. The sun was well into the sky, but the dark clouds moving in looked threatening.

The coroner was Cheryl Gardner, a fifty-five-year old veteran in the trade. She stood an even six feet tall, five inches shorter than Thomas. Her spiky blonde hair went well with the numerous punk-rock t-shirts she owned. Today she wore a Talking Heads one in bright orange, with “Psycho Killer” emblazoned across the front in lime green. Her crystal blue eyes always twinkled like she knew a secret.

Her age showed on her face. It was obvious that at one time she was a serious sun worshiper. Her gruff demeanor intimidated most rookies, but Thomas knew she was just blowing smoke up their asses. Inside she was mush, if you knew where to look.

“And how are you doing this fine morning, Ms. Gardner?” Thomas walked over to greet her.

A set of keys dropped to the ground. “Son of a bitch!” She slid out of the van to retrieve them. Looking up as if noticing Thomas for the first time she said, in her gravelly smoker’s voice, “Hey, ugly. How they hangin’? When are you going to marry me and take me away from all this shit?”

“Soon, Cheryl, very soon.” Thomas smiled and delivered a peck to her cheek.

“Well, it ain’t soon enough for me.” She pocketed her keys.

Overdramatic as usual, Cheryl’s complaints spewed forth like Old Faithful. But Thomas knew that she’d probably be slicing and dicing cadavers until her last breath. She was married to her work and no one had a happier marriage.

“You been down there yet?” She reached into the van to retrieve her kit.

“Just getting here same as you.” Thomas leaned over and took the bag from her.

“Then I guess we’re both in for a treat.” She headed toward the trail.

“Looks like that storm’s moving in pretty quickly. Won’t have much time before we’re working in water.” He talked to her back as he followed close behind.

“It wouldn’t be the first time, and it sure as shit won’t be the last.”

Once they hit the beach, they headed down toward the crew. Trudging through the sand, Cheryl screwed up her face in disgust. “Fuck me, I hate getting sand in my shoes. Why couldn’t the killer have been thoughtful enough to leave the vic up there by the road?” She hooked her thumb like a hitchhiker in the direction they had just come.

Thomas just smiled.

When they reached the others, Thomas handed Cheryl her kit. The CSU was unpacking its gear. He greeted the uniformed officer walking toward him.

“Morning, Cooper, you first on the scene?”

“Yes, sir, the body was discovered by that guy over there.” He pointed to a man sitting on a rock about a hundred yards down the beach, hands covering his face. “He came down here to surf early this morning. It was still dark when he arrived.

“Dropped his gear right on top of what he thought was a pile of seaweed, but by the light of day was actually the vic. Boy, did he get the surprise of his life. By the time he came back to retrieve his goods, the sun had been up awhile. Claimed he smelled her first.”

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