1. TOSSA DEL MAR
The beach at Tossa del Mar would never win any prizes. The sand was dirty, coarse, and grating; there was trash everywhere, empty bottles, paper cups, unfinished food; the wind blew in hot and stifling from the sea.
But then, the beach at Tossa was barely visible for the girls. Jackson had been right: they were everywhere. Packed side by side, heavily oiled, bodies glistening in the sun. There were Swedish girls, French girls, Italian girls, and English girls; there were tall girls and short girls, slim girls and ample girls; there were girls in small bikinis, and girls in smaller bikinis, and girls in practically nothing at all; there were girls blonde and brunette, sexy and sweet, plain and pretty.
And hardly a man in sight.
It was, Ross thought, almost too good to be true. He walked along the water’s edge, drinking beer from a bottle, feeling very good. Some of the girls were looking at him directly, and some were pretending not to look at him, but really were. Not that it mattered. Not that it mattered at all.
And then, he saw one girl who was truly spectacular, black-haired and long-legged, wearing a shocking pink bikini. Her eyes were closed to the hot sun; she seemed to be asleep. He walked over to her and bent over, admiring the view, and then his sunglasses, slippery with tanning lotion, fell with a soft plop onto her smooth abdomen.
She opened her eyes, which were clear blue, and looked at him. Then she picked up the sunglasses.
“Are these for me?”
“Well, uh…no, not exactly.”
She shrugged and gave them back to him. “You should be more careful.”
“I’ll remember that.”
“The next girl might keep them. And then where would you be?”
“Out of a pair of sunglasses.”
“And into a stifling hot romance with some travel agency secretary. You’d never escape alive.”
“It sounds awful,” he grinned.
She looked at him again, her eyes moving over his face. “You’re a doctor,” she said.
He was surprised. “How did you know?”
“Doctors always look clean.” She pointed to the bottle of beer in his hand. “Is that cold?”
He nodded. She reached for it and took a swallow. He continued to stand, uncertain.
“As long as you’re trying to pick me up,” she said, “you might as well sit down and be comfortable.”
He sat. She took another swallow and handed the bottle back to him. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand.
“Are they so fascinating?” she asked.
“My breasts. You’re staring at them.”
“They’re very nice.”
“Thank you,” she said. She adjusted the bikini halter and lay back on the sand. “Is that a professional judgment?”
“Not exactly,” he said.
“Are you on vacation?”
“Then we have something in common,” the girl said. “Tell me about yourself.”
He shrugged. “Nothing much to tell. My name is Peter Ross, I’m a radiologist from America, I have just passed my specialty boards, and I have not seen the outside of a hospital for four years. Now I am in sunny Spain for a month, where I intend to lie in the sun and do absolutely nothing.”
“Except pick up girls.”
“If possible,” he nodded.
“Oh, it’s possible. You may have noticed how possible it is.” She looked at him. “You have a nice smile. I like American smiles. They’re so wholesome. May I have some more of that beer?”
He gave her the bottle.
“I suppose you want to know about me,” she said. “Angela Locke. English. Unhappy childhood. Stewardess. Also on vacation.”
She passed the bottle back, empty. She reached into her purse for cigarettes, lit one, and looked at him. “How many pairs of sunglasses have you lost doing that little trick?”
“It wasn’t a trick. It was an accident.”
“I see.” She smiled.
“But as long as I’m picking you up,” he said, “shall we have lunch together?”
“Perhaps.” She gave him a slow smile. “If you still want to.”
“Oh, I’ll want to.”
“I’m very expensive,” she said. “Sure you want to get involved?”
“I’ll take my chances.”
At that moment, an excited, dark-skinned little Spaniard came running up to Ross. He wore jeans and a cheap shirt; his feet were bare. His eyes moved furtively up and down the beach as he talked.
“Doctor!” he said breathlessly. “Thank the God I found you!”
Ross had never seen the man before. “Is something wrong?”
“Wrong? No. Nothing is wrong. Come with me, please. We must talk.”
“Now?” He looked at the girl. “I’m busy now.”
“No, no, it is urgency. I must talk with you. Now.” He spoke hurriedly, with a thick Spanish accent. His eyes never stopped scanning the beach. He tugged at Ross’s arm. “Please, come. Come!”
“Just down the beach. It will not be long.”
Ross hesitated, then stood. He said to the girl, “Excuse me a minute.”
The girl had watched everything with lazy eyes. She did not seem surprised, and merely shrugged.
“Will you be here when I get back?” Ross said.
“Probably,” she said, lying back in the sun, closing her eyes.
The little man tugged at his arm, “Come, Doctor, come.”
“All right,” Ross said.
They began to walk down the beach to the edge of the water. It was the hottest part of the day; children played in the surf while nursemaids stood and watched; a pair of solemn girls in bikinis gravely tested the water with manicured toes. The little man walked alongside Ross, excited, hopping from one foot to the other.
“Doctor,” he said in a low voice, “you do not know what you are getting in for.”
“Doctor, you must not do it. You must not.”
“What are you talking about?” He thought for a moment that he was talking about the girl, telling him to avoid the girl. But that was crazy. “How do you know I’m a doctor?”
“Doctor, it will be better if you left Spain immediately.”
“Yes, you must,” the Spaniard said gravely. “You must.”
“But I just arrived.”
“Yes, but you must,” the Spaniard repeated.
“Because,” the Spaniard said, lowering his voice, “you must not do the autopsy.”
The man waved his hand irritably. “Please, Doctor, there is not the time. I come as a friend, to warn you. Do not do the autopsy.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Ross said. He was becoming annoyed. An agitated lunatic prancing down the beach, telling him to leave Spain, telling him about some goddamned autopsy. For Christ’s sake: he hadn’t seen an autopsy since his days as a medical student.
“This is concerning great seriousness,” the man said. “Much is at stake. I wish you to swear you will not do the autopsy.”
“What autopsy?” Ross said again.
“You will be the fool if you do it,” the little man said. “No matter what they offered you.”
“Nobody offered me anything.”
“Listen,” he hissed, his voice low and harsh. “If you do the autopsy, we will kill you. Do you understand? Kill you.”
And with that, he walked off irritably, hurrying away from the water, back toward the town. Peter Ross stood astonished and watched him go.
“What was that all about?” Angela said.
“Damned if I know. He kept raving about an autopsy. I mustn’t do an autopsy.” Ross dropped down and stretched out on the sand, lying on his back in the sun.
“The Spaniards are all insane,” she said. “You’ll learn that sooner or later. It was probably a mistake.”
“It must be,” Ross said. “Because I’m not qualified to do autopsies. I’m a radiologist, not a pathologist.”
“And I’m hungry,” Angela said. She stood and brushed sand from her long legs. “When are you taking me to lunch?”
He grinned up at her. “You don’t beat around the bush.”
“People who beat around the bush,” she said, “are afraid to get into the thick of things.”
“You have a dirty mind.”
“I have an empty stomach,” she said. “When are we going to lunch?”
“Now,” he said, getting up quickly. “Right now.”
Copyright © 1969 by Constant c Productions, Inc. (successor to Centesis Corporation); Copyright Renewed, 2005, by Constant c Productions, Inc.