DIRTY BEACHES - CHRISTOPHER BLACK
I pick up a broken pebble and start scratching lines into the sand. The sky is a uniform grey, so that you can’t even tell where the sun is. The sea is dirty slate, and as it froths up the beach it pushes around the thorny driftwood, the empty beer cans and plastic bags, forming new patterns to mark its lack of progress. I draw F U C K in the sand, and scuff it out with my palm. Then I change my mind and write the letters again, only this time I add T H I S underneath.
I look at my watch. It’s been two hours. Further along the tideline a couple of gulls are sifting through the trash.
‘Just wait there,’ Jimmy had said.
‘What time are they supposed to come?’ I’d asked.
‘Just wait there until they show,’ he’d said.
‘What if they don’t show?’ I’d said. ‘What the fuck am I supposed to do then?’
I stand up from my rock and shake off the sand. Hell of a day to visit the beach. Still, it could be worse. I glance at the car, parked high up, well away from the crawling, brackish sea.
If the time had gone slowly for me...
My boots sink into the drier sand as I approach the car, pulling keys from my pocket. For a moment I imagine what I’d do if she wasn’t inside, if the boot was empty as I pulled it open, but no, she’s there. Her eyes blink into the sudden light, trying to focus on my shadow looming over her.
Silver tape is stretched across her mouth. The rope around her ankles doesn’t look too bad, but around her wrists it’s pretty tight, chafing into her soft skin. Must be hell on her shoulders, I think.
She doesn’t struggle as I pull her into a sitting position, then heft her feet over the lip of the boot and pull her out onto the beach. Her legs buckle and she collapses onto the dirty sand. She’s only wearing a long Snoopy t-shirt – must’ve been wearing it in bed – and it rides up to show tight orange briefs. I figure shame is the least of her worries right now.
I help her to her bare feet and she starts shifting her weight around, trying to get the blood moving again. I lean her against the car and take a good look for the first time. She’s certainly pretty enough. Her skin is smooth and lightly tanned and pulled tight across high cheekbones and a slim, athletic body. Wavy hair drops to her shoulders. The highlights need touching up, but apart from that, you know. The t-shirt is pulled tightly across her chest, nipples standing firm.
She’s watching me, following my gaze, and I think it’s fear I can see in her big brown eyes. I used to be good at reading faces. Or maybe I only thought I was good at reading faces. I don’t know anymore. Of course she’s scared. Who wouldn’t be?
For a moment I feel the urge to grab those breasts, to force my hand between her thighs, to push her down onto the sand. But I don’t. Jimmy wouldn’t like it if I did. I think there’s another reason, something else that stops me. But I don’t think about it too hard in case I don’t like the answer I find.
Instead, I say, “Would you like some water?”
She nods, and I open the driver’s door and pull the bottle from the passenger footwell.
“Just don’t try anything,” I say, and she nods. “Don’t even fucking speak. Don’t even fucking think.”
I’m playing a little tough now, to balance the fact I’m doing her a favour. I don’t have to give her a drink. I don’t have to let her work off some stiffness in her legs. She’s not going to die in there. But I’m doing her a favour. I can let her drink, or not. I’m going to let her.
The silver tape comes off at the second attempt, and I pull the damp handkerchief from her mouth. I hold up the bottle and pour it towards her lips. She strains at it, gulping at it greedily. I watch her throat pulsing back and forth. A lot of the water spills onto her shirt, but I guess she doesn’t care.
I don’t let her have too much. Just enough to wet her throat and lips. To take away the discomfort. Then I look her over again.
“Better?” I say.
“Thank you,” she says. She really is very pretty. I mean, I guess she’s looked better. But considering everything.
She says, “My wrists...”
I raise my hand and she flinches, turns away. “I told you not to fucking try anything,” I say. But she knows I wouldn’t really hit her. She watches me from under her hair, and I think she knows I wouldn’t hurt her. I think she can see it in my eyes. I hope she can. I hope she can see something.
I pour a little more water over the handkerchief and push it back into her mouth, and replace the tape. She doesn’t struggle too much as I lead her to the back of the car, help her back into place. My hand brushes against her breast, and the image returns to my mind, of her on the sand. I push it away and slam the boot closed, leaving her safe in the darkness.
About forty minutes later, I look up into the grey and follow the calls of the gulls, and see the pair of them circling in the air. Below them on the road sits a Range Rover. It watches me for a couple of minutes, and edges along, down the short path, onto the sand, stopping in front of my own car. The driver is a slim man with stubble. He’s wearing jeans and boots, and a check shirt. Workman’s clothes, for dirty work. The other guy is heavier, with a leather jacket over a t-shirt. I wait for them to step out onto the beach before I stand up, walk over. My arms are open like they’re long lost brothers, but I’ve never seen either of them before today. I’m just telling them I don’t have a weapon. There’s no friendship, just business.
Check Shirt nods towards my car. “She in there?”
I don’t answer but toss him the keys. He looks at Leather Jacket and walks towards the back of the car, opens it, looks down at the girl. I try to remember if I pulled her t-shirt down, to cover her panties.
The two of them pull her out. She struggles a little and falls, her knees and face planted in the sand. Leather Jacket braces against the weight, and hefts her over his shoulder. She kicks a little, tries to lift her head up. I imagine she’s looking for me. She probably isn’t.
He drops her into the back of the Range Rover with a mouthful of threats and curses, and pulls a blanket over her. I figure they don’t plan on driving far, not like that.
Check Shirt pulls a small backpack from the car and tosses it towards me. I watch the sand spray up as it hits. It looks full. He watches me, I watch the bag.
“You gonna count it?” he says.
“Nah,” I say. “I figure I can trust you.”
Then I say, “Of course, if it’s not all there, Jimmy will hunt you down and kill you.”
Check Shirt nods, but there’s nothing more. They climb into the Range Rover, start the engine, pull a tight circle and drive. Back up the beach, up the short path, up the road, disappear forever.
The gulls have gone, too. I look at the bag. Part of that is mine. I think about counting it, but I don’t figure it would help. I sit back down on my rock, smooth over the words I’d written earlier. I should just drive, back to the city. Jimmy will be waiting.
Fuck Jimmy, I think. I pick up a stick and start scratching lines into the sand.
BIO: Christopher Black is an unpublished UK writer. Luckily he doesn’t do it for the money. He procrastinates inconsistently about noir and other things at availableinanycolour.blogspot.com.