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La Brea Tar Pits Los Angeles
A family of prehistoric mammoths posed around the edges of the bubbling tar pit. The life-size replicas drew wide-eyed stares from the throng of fourth graders visiting the site. Digital cameras whirred busily as the children chattered among themselves. A sunny blue sky provided ideal weather for their field trip.
"Welcome to Rancho La Brea," Dan Tillworth said, greeting the students and their hassled teacher. The volunteer tour guide raised his voice to be heard over the babble of childish voices, not to mention the traffic on nearby Wilshire Boulevard. "Thanks for showing up here so bright and early this morning. Are you ready to learn about the pits?"
A chorus of enthusiastic voices answered in the affirmative.
"Great!" Dan said sincerely. He was anxious to get the tour started. The fourth graders from Buena Vista Elementary were the first group tour of the morning, but they were hardly the only field trip expected that day. He had a long shift ahead of him. "Let's get going!"
Ferns surrounded what looked like a large, greasy pond in the southeast corner of Hancock Park. Bubbles broke the oily surface of the pool as pockets of methane and hydrogen sulfide accompanied the gummy black asphalt seeping up from beneath the water. A smell like rotten eggs made the children wrinkle their noses. "Whoa, that stinks!" one of the kids exclaimed.
Dan led the group over to the wire fence guarding the perimeter of the pit. With his back to the bubbling ooze, he launched into his spiel. "The La Brea Tar Pits are one of the world's most famous repositories of prehistoric fossils. During the last ice age roughly ten thousand to forty thousand years ago, mammoths, saber-tooth tigers, and other now-extinct animals and plants were trapped in the sticky asphalt and preserved forever. Even today many small birds and insects are snared in the tar every year."
"Like that lady?" one kid asked.
Lady? Dan glanced over at the child, who was pressing his face against the wire fence. A horrified gasp escaped the guide's lips as he spotted what the boy was looking at.
Lying along the shore of the pond, half-submerged beneath the muck, was the body of a young woman, obviously quite deceased. Glassy eyes stared blankly back at Dan and the kids. Gooey pitch was smeared over the corpse's face and upper body. Streaks of asphalt clung to the woman's pink velour jogging suit. Although the woman's features were obscured by the goo, she looked to have been in her mid-thirties. Dan didn't think he had ever seen her before.
"Oh my God..."
The other children rushed forward to see, even as their teacher struggled to herd them away from the grisly sight. A few of the more sensitive kids started crying. The teacher's face looked just as pale as Dan imagined his own countenance must be. A little boy vomited onto the walkway. Dan knew exactly how he felt.
"That's it!" he blurted out. "The tour is over!"
According to the report the police filed, the woman's driver's license identified her as Christiana Stephens.
The name meant nothing to Dan.
Text and cover art copyright © 2006 by Touchstone Television.