Barry finally roused himself out of bed, crippled by a throbbing headache. Last night’s overindulgence proved to be more excessive than his body could handle and getting up to face the day proved to be a daunting, if not impossible task. But the promise of her in a tempting sundress, her greased olive skin glistening in the Santa Barbara sunshine, was motivation enough to get his hung over ass out of bed. He splashed water on his face, threw on a pair of ragged jeans, and trudged the half mile to beach where Eva awaited him.
It had been nearly a year since his big escape to California, and he still wasn’t accustomed to the lack of seasons and accents. Boston at this time of year was rainy and the winter snow was surely just starting to thaw. Spending hour upon hour in his lab proved nearly impossible with his current surroundings, especially with Eva keeping him perfectly distracted. Long nights of tweaking temperature controls and adjusting lasers had turned into endless evenings in bed, fucking until sunrise. For the first time in months, he felt an inkling of affection for another human being. Love? No, not quite. Not this easily.
“Hey, B!” Eva spotted him lumbering towards her on the sand. His head hung low and his drooping sunglasses reminded her of a weary hound dog, tuckered out form the endless hunt. “You look like absolute shit, lover.”
“Funny. I feel accordingly,” kissing her on the cheek, Barry inhaled deeply and let the heavenly mixture of herbal shampoo and fresh pot taunt his nostrils.
“I got started without you, but it looks like you need this more than I do.”
“Well, I appreciate your charity,” she passed him the smoldering remnants of an immaculately rolled J. Barry eyed her craftsmanship admiringly and drew in a deep breath. The smoke went straight to his head and the contents of his skull finally settled upon the exhale. This was new. The drugs, yes, but mostly the freedom. Laura never let him smoke, even to east the pain of his faulty shoulder. The motorcycle accident his junior year of college permanently weakened the major joints of the left side of his body, but this mattered little to her. He gave up more than recreational drugs for her sake, more than she would ever know. But that was ages ago, before graduate school, before California, before that fateful night in the Physical Science parking lot, and long before Eva. The vivacious undergrad did crazy things to his body and even crazier things to his mind. Eva made him forget, made him feel. Hardly twenty years old, she was far too young and beautiful for the affections of a jaded physicist and Barry’s idiot friends urged him to proceed with caution…after asking if she had any available and attractive girlfriends, of course. She had become his peace of mind over the last few months, but all that changed upon the discovery of the body.
It peeked out of the drainage pipe where the lagoon met the Pacific and flowed outward. Like Ophelia, adorned with garlands of moss and muck rather than daisies and violets, the serene bluish female corpse bobbed just below the surface of the water with death and sorrow written all over her decaying face. Barry’s weak stomach betrayed him and he felt hot vomit churning deep within his abdomen.
“Jeezus, Barry!” Eva yelped as he unloaded the contents of his boiling belly mere inches away from her bare feet. Embarrassed, disgusted, and unable to explain himself, Barry collapsed on the sand and pointed to the woman that had undone his digestive tract. Eva approached the stagnant pool of salt water to get a better look. Indeed, a young woman barely Eva’s age lay beaten and nearly unrecognizable. Clothed only in the remains of a black halter-top emblazoned with an obnoxiously neon sports drink logo, she showed signs of sexual assault. Bruised thighs. Bashed face. Broken and helpless.
Soon enough, Eva and Barry were no longer the only sickly fascinated spectators. A crowd, paralyzed by curiosity, had quickly gathered to gawk at the freshly deceased woman. Someone must have called the police because within minutes, the SBPD arrived and demanded statements from the civilian onlookers. Eva hastily pocketed her paraphernalia and told the pigs everything they wanted to know about the body.
“Have they ID’d that poor girl yet?” Eva asked, sliding next to her distraught boyfriend on the couch as he started blankly at the evening news. “God, that could have been me, could have been any one of us.”
Her roommate Alex looked up from his laptop and scoffed. “Don’t sensationalize this, Eva. People die everyday. Women are raped, tortured, and murdered by the minute, but as soon as it happens in sleepy little Santa Barbara, pepper spray and rape whistle sales skyrocket.”
“Your callousness is astounding. Are you even capable of feeling, or is there just a black, tarry mess where your heart ought to be?” Eva turned to Barry for support, for empathy, for something. “You don’t think I’m being paranoid, do you? You saw here, that gaping mouth twisted in a terrified plea for help, her legs black and blue with bruises…”
Barry’s stomach did a triple aerial back flip just upon the mere mention of the Lady of the Lake. “Can we not talk about it. Her. The body? Whatever.”
“Hey, did you see the pictures I put up from Thursday night? There’s actually a pretty adorable shot of you two before you disappeared,” Alex, an obsessive Facebook user and a classic ADHD case, turned his Mac towards Eva and Barry.
“I can’t see that from here. Tilt your screen down a little,” Eva abandoned her position on the couch and snatched up Alex’s computer. “Aww, how disgustingly adorable.” Barry saw a look grow in her eye, the kind of dangerous feminine twinkle that hints at babies, homemaking, and eternal monogamy. Too soon for such a look, but he quickly forgot his commitment issues upon closer inspection of the tagged photograph.
“Hey, see that in the upper left, just above your head?” Barry pointed to a blurry advertisement, obscured by the low resolution of the digital photography. Further explanation proved unnecessary.
Eva gasped and put two and two together. “That logo…Jaxxx Energy Burst…that’s the logo…”
“On the girls shirt, right?” Indeed the chartreuse script surrounded by an electric magenta ellipse matched the icon on the tattered clothing they stumbled upon earlier in the afternoon. “Alex, do you have any other pictures from that night?”
“Let me look,” the stalkerish advantages of Facebook proved to be more valuable than Barry ever anticipated. Quite the amateur photographer, Alex documented and posted everything onto his virtual account. Clicking on an album cleverly dubbed “Getting Shitty, Spring 08”, he opened up a photo of Eva and her housemates posing, drinking, laughing, and dancing like careless undergrads.
“There,” Barry stopped Alex just past the original photo he had showed Eva of the two of them outside an apartment on Trigo. “Did you guys end up going upstairs to that party?”
“And do you have the pictures to prove it?”
“You know it, bro,” Alex clicked to the next photo of two of Eva’s other housemates shot-gunning cheap beer with the same logo in the background. It appeared to be hanging over a balcony, draped like an advertisement for all those roaming the streets of IV to see. The next few photos were more of the same; idiotic binge drinking, scantily clad coeds, glazed eyes, and crazed smiles.
“Wait, go back one,” he backtracked and an image slowly loaded back onto the screen of three men Barry had never seen before posing with two identically dressed, busty, blonde young women. Clad only in black miniskirts and that increasingly recognizable halter-top, Barry knew they were onto something.