From the day she began writing for the Miami Herald in 1982, first as a freelancer then as a staffer, Meg Laughlin has wrapped her prose around the lives of some of South Florida's strangest characters and most disturbing stories. We love her for that. At Tropic magazine she chronicled the bizarre machinations of Hank Blair, a U.S. Customs agent who couldn't stop himself from sadistically harassing Susan Billig, the mother of a young girl who mysteriously disappeared decades ago. She looked into the cops' killing of bus hijacker "Nick" Sang and found that the Joe's Stone Crab waiter wasn't what he seemed to be. Laughlin showed us the depth of suffering Magda Montiel Davis experienced after kissing Fidel Castro. And then there's Elian. Laughlin enlivened the Herald's occasionally lackluster coverage of the case with sparkling writing and ample enterprise. She was the one who toted up the eleven times Marisleysis Gonzalez was hospitalized. And it was she who figured out how Demetrio Perez and company were programming the six-year-old at Perez's Lincoln-Martí school. She had no problem cadging Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin into admitting the weird reason she took a side in the custody battle for Elian. All part of a day's work. Says Laughlin: "I'm gonna miss the kid."