THE BLOG
07/29/2014 03:37 pm ET Updated Sep 28, 2014

Why We're Mesmerized by the Prostitute and the Google Exec

First, the dead man.

Forrest Timothy Hayes was 51 years old with a wife and five kids, including toddler twins. He grew up in Michigan and became a Google executive halfway across the country. He escaped on crystalline California days from the Santa Cruz shore in his yacht, Escape, and he liked the slinky, tattooed, kohl-eyed Alix Catherine Tichelman on his decks. But when he clawed at his chest after a yacht security camera showed the call girl shooting him up with a heroin hot shot, Hayes may have had time to realize Tichelman was the worst possible partner for his last moments on Earth. And he likely had seconds to think of those he loved most of all, his wife and kids. As he lay dying, or dead, Tichelman stepped over Hayes to finish a half-empty glass of wine.

So there's that: the death of an actual human being with friends and family and impact, and a 26-year-old woman behind bars on felony manslaughter, prostitution and heroin possession charges before this story turns into some entertaining crime from Law and Order. Or is it already way too late for that? We were so quickly riveted by the middle-aged exec on his yacht with his goth hooker, a syringe full of feel-good in her hand.

Why?

The story has more to do with us than with Forrest Hayes and Alix Tichelman. They serve as archetypes for our American views on excess, sex, justice, jealousy over Silicon Valley wealth and the wages of sin. Theirs is a tale of what we expect might happen when boundaries are crossed, and when a rocker Eve tempts not just an Adam, but a Silicon Valley Master of the Universe in the Garden of Eden. It's one result of playing with fire, especially with a playmate who poses in bondage garb on the Internet. It's a warning.

"It's about the danger, the rush, the woman who will do anything; it's about too much money and no rules for the rich," wrote one reader commenting on a recent Tichelman story in the Los Angeles Times. Another warned: "You can never know when it all is going to end. Stay clean." And another: "The guy would be alive today had he just stayed home with his wife and children."

But what happens when reality doesn't cooperate with the stories we have in our heads, and the characters aren't faithful to the roles we've given them? Hayes couldn't be present to account for himself at Tichelman's arraignment in a Santa Cruz courtroom in July, but Alix didn't look like a temptress. She looked haggard and grim, her dyed rusty-black hair falling like curtains down the sides of her face. She wore a red prison uniform with a stencil on the back, her hands shackled to a chain around her waist. Her dad sat tall and stern in the front row of the spectator section; her mom looked miserable. The judge refused to reduce Tichleman's $1.5 million bail because of his concerns that she wouldn't return for trial and the seriousness of the crime. Georgia police are now taking another look at Tichelman's possible role in the heroin overdose death of a former club-owner boyfriend there last year.

But Tichelman's lawyer has another version of her. "She's frightened," said co-counsel Lawrence Biggam. "She's fighting a serious heroin addiction." He called Tichelman a "wounded bird" not a "demon." She was making the kind of living addicts can, with Hayes, whom she had no intention of harming, he added. "Why would she?" Biggam asked. "He was a lucrative source of income to her. She had a motive to elongate, not end, the relationship." Hayes' death was "tragic," but to "demonize" Alix Tichelman is "simply wrong," because the two were engaged in "mutual consensual drug use," he added.

Maybe Tichelman is one of our nightmares: the dark, seductive lure of surrendering to indulgence, and powerful enough to destroy what seemed to be an enviable American life -- but only with the participation of a master of the universe. Or maybe she's just a frightened, hard-looking addict who was getting by. But that wouldn't make such a great Law and Order episode.