There was a foul odor coming from the house—?the odor, as it turned out, of rotting flesh—?but nobody did anything about it, at least not at first. I was away at the time, my business taking me to the East Coast for a series of fruitless meetings with a consortium of inadequate and unserious people whose names I forgot the minute I settled into the first-class cabin for the trip back home, and so I had the story from my wife’s walking partner, Mary Ellen Stovall, who makes her living in real estate. We’d always wondered about that house. We went by the place nearly every day, my wife Chrissie and I, running errands or strolling down to the beach club or one of the shops or restaurants on the main road. The houses around it—?tasteful, well kept, and very, very pricey—?were what you’d expect from a California coastal community, in styles ranging from craftsman to Spanish mission to contemporary, most of them older homes that had been extensively remodeled, in some cases taken right down to the frame or even the original slab. But what this one looked like was anybody’s guess, because the trees and shrubbery had long since gone wild, so that all you saw was a curtain of green enclosing a gravel drive, in the center of which stood—?or rather, listed—?an ancient, rust-spattered Buick the size of our two Priuses combined.