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Authors: Lynda La Plante

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Framed

BOOK: Framed
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FRAMED

Lynda La Plante

C
ountless times over the years Larry had tried to convince his wife—and himself—that he was a policeman only during the hours of duty. Susan didn't believe that for a minute, but he offered proof and stood by it: his leisure interests were completely unconnected with the job, he didn't spend his
But when he was candid with himself, he knew no leisure regime could change what he fundamentally was. And right this very minute it had dawned on him that a certain old chestnut was true: there is no such thing as an off-duty cop. On the strength of his discovery he was prepared to give in and confess he was a copper in toto. He was Detective Sergeant Lawrence Jackson right down to the bone.
The facts spoke for themselves. He was in Marbella on the Costa del Sol at the height of the summer season; it was a blistering hot day, he was on a sun-zapped beach, there were beautiful women all around him, and what was he doing? He was lying behind his paperback playing detective with the smells.
Years ago, following a sinus washout, he had been told by an ear-nose-and-throat specialist that he had a condition called hyperosmia, which meant he was uncommonly sensitive to odors. The doctor hadn't said whether it was to be regarded as an affliction or a godsend. Most of the time it seemed a bit of both. Today the aromas from the harbor and the surrounding
bodegdnes
drifted out past the stacked boats at the Club Maritimo Marbella, wafting low across the scalding sand, mingling with the clammier smells of the beach. Gently breathing the cocktail, Larry estimated that the air around his head carried major traces of Nivea, Uvistat, seaweed, and sweat, with trenchant whiffs of hamburger and car exhaust.
He lowered the book and looked around. Even though he knew he fitted this layout—thirty something in shorts and T-shirt, glazed with sun cream, recumbent under a straw umbrella, surrounded by a chaos of family beach tackle—he felt conspicuous. Spotlit, somehow. The trouble, he knew, was that he didn't take enough vacations. Sprawling about the place, any place, just ticking over in neutral, was something he was bad at. It made him edgy. It was another kind of stress.
He propped himself on his elbows and took a deep breath, realizing that every time he got a sniff of sun-blocked skin with foody undertones he would think of this beach. He would have vivid recall of blinding sun on the shimmering sea, of hot bone-dry sand and warm lolling bodies—two bodies in particular, powerfully attractive, on loungers only five feet away, playing hell with his plans to get on with his book.
He lay down again, exhaling slowly, feeling clamped by the heat.
Eyes closed, he let the burble of beach sounds wash over him. After a minute he caught the voices of his two young sons. One was crying, the other complaining. Then he heard Susan bark one of her threats. The boys went silent. Larry looked up and saw them approach, soaked from the sea, streaming hair plastered to their heads.
"You take them in next," Susan said.
She snatched the towel Larry held out to her and patted the blotched skin of her shoulders and arms. He remembered when he had thought her skin resembled the flawless surface of fresh cream. It was different now. Coarser. Everything was, but Susie retained a girlishness, a natural slimness that belied the fact she had had two children; she had the tight figure of a teenager, and it never ceased to attract him. He wanted to reach out to her, hold her there and then, but she was intent on drying herself from her swim.
"What's the time?" Susan shook out her wet hair, moving on to the next question without waiting for an answer. "Have you got sun cream on?" She nodded at the boys. "Check Tony, he's looking red." She pulled open her big straw bag and peered at her watch in the depths. "It's after twelve. Do you want the first sitting or the second?"
In these phases when she simply threw out statements and questions without seeming to want responses, Larry did nothing to impede her flow. He let her mutter on as he stared dispiritedly at the scatter of belongings around them, picturing the misery of lugging it all back to the hotel.
"Lunch," Susan grunted, toweling her hair. "I'm not going through that lineup again."
Larry took a blob of sun cream on his finger and applied it to young Tony's nose. Susan, maintaining her forward thrust, put on her sun top and jammed a straw hat on her head. She nodded at the boys again, henlike.
"They'll be moanin' again in a minute." She turned in the direction of the hotel. "You stay and keep the umbrella," she told Larry. "These two are ice-creamed up to the eyeballs, but lunch is inclusive and I'm starving, anyway."

"I'll walk you up," Larry offered.

"No." Irritation corrugated Susan's forehead. She pointed at something on the sand beside her bag. "There's your wallet. Why didn't you leave it at the hotel?" She turned away sharply, shouting at Tony, "Put your T-shirt on!"

The boy grumbled as his father knelt up and forced the shirt over his head. The older lad, John, was gawping at the seminaked girls on the loungers. Susan grabbed his arm, practically pulling him off his feet.

"He takes after you," she told Larry, glaring at him. "Right, kids—we all set? Come on. Leave your shovels!"

She moved off across the beach toward the road, keeping to the strip of green carpet as she dragged the boys behind her. Feeling a ripple of relief—tinged, as expected, with the guilt Susan could so easily induce— Larry rubbed more sun cream onto himself, watching one of the near-nude distractions turn over. He smiled at her. For a full two seconds she stared clean through him, then propped up her book, hiding her face.

Being ignored was a rejection, he supposed; it stung like one. He wondered what it would be like when he was older, in his forties or fifties, like some of the desperate-eyed characters he could think of at the Yard. For a split second he imagined the face of the girl behind the book turning away from him with a curl of disgust at her mouth. Suddenly he was all briskness, wiping his hands on his shirt, tucking his wallet into his shorts as he bustled ahead of his thoughts. He gazed out to sea, watching nothing in particular until a sleek speedboat caught his eye, cutting a line of spume from the direction of the harbor. The engine throbbed powerfully as the craft performed an elegant curve away from the shore and back again, drawing with it a bikini-clad water-skier, twenty feet behind, her body a flawless curve as she leaned back against the pull of the rope.

Larry stood up, staring now, narrowing his eyes against the dazzling light. The man at the wheel was deeply tanned, his face shadowed by the brim of his white baseball cap. He tooled the boat casually, one-handed, an arm slung along the back of his seat. A second girl in a bikini sat on the edge, legs dangling, gold bracelets glinting, her long blond hair trailing in the breeze. He could not see the driver's face as the brim of his cap was pulled down low.

Lucky bastard,
he thought, reaching into the straw bag and pulling out Tony's plastic binoculars. He held them to his eyes and twiddled the focusing knob. It turned with a sandy-grating sound. He took a second to find the boat again, another couple of seconds to wobble a trajectory back along the rope to the skier. The magnification was modest and the distortion put a prismatic halo around everything, but overall the view was an improvement. He watched the girl on the skis posturing as she sped through the water, throwing up a frothy trail.

He heard a small sound escape his throat. Her figure was magnificent. Lithe muscle shifted fluidly under skin with a golden tint he had only ever seen in magazine pictures. She had the kind of upmarket, superbred elegance he had conditioned himself to regard as being above his reach, possibly above his species.

As he continued to peer through the Day-Glo binoculars the girl dropped a ski and began to mono. The spray behind her rose at a sharper angle as she twisted her body to left and right, showing off for the mouth-breathers on the beach. Then abruptly her ski swerved aside and she vanished under the surface with a splash. The boat slowed and stopped. A moment later the girl reappeared, drenched, laughing, beautiful. She was pulled aboard, making elaborate arm movements, and her head bobbing animatedly as she explained to her companions how she came to fall off. Back on the boat she toweled herself. The man got behind the wheel again and brought the boat around in a slow circle, heading back for the first ski, which was still floating in the water. Larry shifted the binoculars, centering the blonde as she bent over toward him to coil in the trailing rope.

"Jesus . . ."
Her generous cleavage, grading through light tan to deepest brown at its depth, swept down through the narrow field of view, putting an ache across Larry's heart. He took the binoculars from his eyes for a moment and blinked away stinging sweat. He refocused as the boat came nearer. The engine idled and the man left the wheel again. He hauled in the rest of the rope and put it with the rescued ski at the back of the boat. For a second he paused, facing directly toward the binoculars, then he tilted the peak of the cap up, and Larry had a clear view of his face.
Larry's heart jolted.
He lowered the binoculars, blinked furiously, and looked again. The man had turned away. Larry dropped the binoculars and scrabbled frantically in the bag. He located his camera and pulled it out. A beach trader appeared and pushed his face at Larry. He was hung with blankets, tablecloths, and beads. He held up a fistful of pseudogold chains.
"Shove off!"
Larry elbowed the man aside, got his hands around the camera and stood up, ready for business. Focus and exposure were automatic. The downside was the wide-angle lens, which meant he had to be really near his subject to get an image of any useful size. He put the viewfinder to his eye. The boat looked like a toy and the people on board were as good as invisible. As he watched he heard the throttle open. The boat rose in the water, performing a swift smooth curve as it turned back the way it had come and disappeared behind the harbor wall. "Shit!"
Larry lowered the camera, urgently interrogating himself.
Are you sure? Is the guy on the boat who you think he is?
It couldn't be! Could it? It was impossible, but there was something about him, the angle of his head, the way he moved. Larry was sweating, telling himself he was mistaken, but he fired off half a dozen quick shots in spite of the distance, then he turned to the girls on the loungers.

"Excuse me . . ." He tried to smile in a way that looked friendly but didn't suggest he was coming on to them. "You speak English?"

The one nearer him nodded, frowning.

"Can you watch my gear? I'll only be a minute.

He was running toward the harbor before she had time to respond. She lay down and buried her face in her book again. The blanket-laden trader crept back. He glanced right and left, then squatted down where Larry had been lying. From a short distance he appeared to be trying out his sales pitch on the girls, who weren't even aware of him. With a deft economical sweep of his blankets he enveloped Susan's straw bag. A moment later he backed off, bowing and smiling as he melted into the crowd, taking the bag with him.

In the meantime Larry's speed and his occasional collisions with umbrellas earned him a few curses in his serpentine run across the beach. Fetching up at a cafe near the entrance to the harbor he paused and surveyed the water.

"Aw, Christ ..."

There were easily a hundred boats out there. He wiped sweat from his lips and chin and began running again, pumping his legs harder, going flat-out as he scanned the expanse of water and huddled boats.

Suddenly he saw it again, the one he was after, the slim cigarette speedboat with the girls on the deck and the tall man at the wheel. They were moving fast now, too fast for anyone to keep up, heading west along the coast in the direction of Puerto Banus. Larry braked, making his trainers squeak. He raised the camera and fired off three more shots in succession, for luck. A little over an hour later he stood shuffling his feet in a little shop near the beach with a sign above the door that said
fotos en una hora
. Behind the counter a machine throbbed impressively as it processed, printed, guillotined and finally spewed out snapshots. The woman in charge nodded to Larry as his pictures emerged, dropping from the slot onto a tray. They were warm and still faintly tacky as he took them outside and examined them in sunlight. Every shot of the boat had come out, each one dominated by an impressive expanse of blue sea. The subject was discouragingly small; there was no way of identifying the man at the wheel, but the boat itself was reasonably distinct. That could be something.

He stayed on the pavement for a while and canvassed passersby, singling out the swarthier ones who might be locals. Nobody seemed to recognize the boat, although one man did stare pensively for a couple of seconds, then pointed along the shoreline.
"Puerto Banus," he said, without sounding sure.
Larry wandered back toward the beach, checking his memory as he went. For the hundredth time he pictured the man's face, rainbow-fringed through the plastic binoculars. Larry closed his eyes for a second and felt the jolt of recognition again.
BOOK: Framed
4.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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