I wake in a start. Gasping for air. Soaked with sweat. Certainly not the most auspicious start to the new year. I roll over, grab the bottle on the nightstand, and pop a couple of white pills.

I’m not a superstitious guy. And I’m not easily spooked. I mean, I’ve been caught in heavy fire halfway across the world in a godforsaken war zone with nothing but a laptop and a second-hand flak jacket to protect me. But that dream scares the hell out of me.

Now, it very well could’ve been the Kobe beef sliders I had at the party last night. Or all the champagne I washed them down with, but I’m not going to take any chances. I make a mental note to schedule a session with Dr. Brennon. Maybe she can tell me why the dream has returned.

My head throbs, a pulsing, constant reminder of why I so greatly dislike attending those types of things. I’m not really one to go out on New Year’s Eve. Never have much to celebrate, I guess.

I need caffeine. And something to eat.

I roll out of bed and wash up. I throw on a t-shirt and a pair of jeans. On my way out I grab my wrinkled suit jacket off of the floor. Just in case there’s still a slight chill in the air. I put it on and smile, thinking about what my brother would say if he knew I was worried about being cold in Southern California.

I step out onto Main Street and into the beaming sun. Seventy-two and sunny. Well, sixty-five and partly sunny, but still a hell of a lot better than two feet of lake-effect snow blocking your driveway. Not that my buddies back home are suffering such indignities. Christmas Eve had been a balmy sixty degrees in New York. So much for the climate-change deniers.

I put on my aviators, head west on Main Street, and turn onto Sunset Avenue.

I pass Google’s Venice Headquarters on my left. Even though I’ve lived here for two years, the Venice I see in my head is the one I remember from the one-and-only trip my family took over 20 years ago. For a 12-year-old boy who had never left upstate New York, Venice Beach was another planet—a sunshine-filled paradise with a carnival-like atmosphere, where freaks, hippies, muscle men, and ­fanny-packed tourists blended into a melting pot of California beach culture. Now the area is a hotbed for established tech companies like Microsoft and Yahoo!, as well as the new kids on the block like Snapchat and Tinder. It may be called Silicon Beach now, but I still half expect to be run over by a shirtless dude on roller blades every time I walk out my door.

That’s why I’m here. Well, not for the bare-chested maniacs, but for Silicon Beach. I’m the West Coast correspondent for men’s lifestyle magazine, Alpha, covering all things tech here in SoCal. I’m currently working on a cover story about Keen and its wunderkind founder. The company graciously added me to the guest list for their New Year’s Eve blowout to celebrate their record-setting year.

I cross the street and go into Gjusta, a popular coffee shop, bakery, and cafe that caters to a steady clientele of trendy locals, fashionable bohos, and intrigued out-of-towners. I’m immediately welcomed by the scent of baking bread, brewing coffee, and sizzling meat.

Gjusta has the look and feel of the old Jewish and Italian delis from back home, but with slight tweaks to the menu to appeal to Southern California tastes. A long glass case runs the length of the room, filled with cakes and pies and pastries. On the back counter sit slabs of roasted meat, ready to be sliced and stuffed into sandwiches.

I wade through the unusually sparse crowd and take a ticket from the deli-style dispenser on the back wall.

As I wait for my number to be called, I reach my hand into my jacket to grab an Altoid and find my pockets crammed with memories of last night. A few business cards, some crumpled napkins, a mini-bar bottle of Jack. And a flash drive. A flash drive? My mind is still foggy but I remember a conversation with a Danny or a Darren or… David, maybe? A strange guy from the IT department. He appeared to be a friend of Alaina’s, the PR liaison assigned to me while I work on the story, so I was on my best behavior, engaging him in small-talk. Fortunately, our encounter was brief. But before he walked away he pressed the drive into my hand. He told me to take it. That I needed to see it. So I did.

“Twenty-seven. Number twenty-seven,” the cute girl with long blonde hair and sparkly blue eyes calls out.

I walk to the counter and give her my most dazzling, half-hung-over smile. “I’ll have a double espresso and a baklava croissant,” I say, as I hold my phone over the ID reader to pay the slightly overpriced bill.

With a flirtatious smile in return she says, “A double, huh? Must’ve been one hell of a party. One double espresso and a baklava croissant, coming right up.”

I nod and return my gaze to the flash drive. What could be on it and why was he so insistent that I take it? I had concluded my interviews and background investigation on the company, so there wasn’t anything left to research.

“Baby, we were born to run,” the cutie says, as she places my order on the counter.

I slide the flash drive back into my pocket, as I give her a puzzled look.

“Great shirt,” she says. I love Springsteen.”

“Oh, thanks,” I say, as a I grab my coffee and pastry. “It’s an original, you know. Vintage. Not some knock-off from Target.” Usually I would find something wittier to say, but my neurons don’t seem to be firing this morning.

“Uh-huh,” she says smiling. She holds my gaze as she calls out the next number.

I walk through the screen door and out onto the patio. I find an empty spot at a communal table under the shade tarps and nod to the hipsters nursing their hangovers with flat whites and hot porchetta sandwiches.

I take a sip of my espresso and a bite of my croissant. Worth. Every. Penny.

I pull out my phone and scroll through Instagram to find a deluge of photos featuring champagne flutes, party hats and noisemakers. A beep reminds me of my 11:00 a.m. workout. Ugh, I grimace as I think of all the resolution-ists who will be crowding the gym for the first of their total of three workout sessions for the year. Screw it. It’s a leg day anyway, so I decide to push it off until Saturday.

My phone beeps again, this time alerting me to an incoming text. From Alaina. I’m surprised that she’s texting me so soon after the party, given the three-day rule and all, but not that surprised given how well we were getting along.

I open the message and stare blankly at the screen, making sure I fully understand her words. There are only two, after all. It simply says: “David’s dead.”

Next Post: A Death for No Reason →

You are reading A Year on the Run. Read more from this series.