Constance looked and laughed.
“Christ, fresh apple pie. Okay, okay.” She sank back. “I scare the hell out of you just now?”
“You should’ve yelled ahead as you ran.”
“I was glad to see you, son. Sorry I haven’t phoned. Once I forgot funerals in a few hours. Now, it takes days.”
She touched a switch. The lights dimmed and the sixteen-millimeter projector flashed on. Two cowboys knocked each other down on the white wall.
“How can you watch films at a time like this?” I said.
“To rev me up so I can go out and knock Mr. Naked’s block off if he shows again tomorrow night.”
“Don’t even joke about it.” I looked out the French windows at the empty shore where only white waves sounded on the edge of night. “Do you think he telephoned you to tell you where I was, with Annie, and then walked up the beach to stand out there?”
“No. His voice wasn’t right. It’s got to be two different guys. Christ, I can’t figure it, but the one guy, the one with no clothes, he’s got to be some sort of exhibitionist, a flasher, right?
Or why doesn’t he just run up in here and ruin the old lady or kill her or both? It’s the other one, the guy on the phone, that gives me the willies.”
I know, I thought, I’ve heard his breathing.
“He sounds like a real monster,” said Constance.
Yes, I thought. A long way off I heard the big red trolley shriek around an iron curve in the rain, with the voice behind me, chanting the words of a title for Crumley’s book.
“Constance,” I said, and stopped. I was going to tell her I had seen the stranger on the shore many nights ago.
“I’ve got some real estate south of here,” said Constance. “I’m going to go check it tomorrow. Call me, late, yes? And meantime, you want to look into something for me?”
“Anything. Well, almost anything.”
Constance watched William Farnum knock his brother Dustin down, pick him up, knock him down again.
“I think I know who Mr. Naked on the Shore is.”
She searched down along the surf as if his ghost was still there.
“A son-of-a-bitch from my past with a head like a mean German general,” she said, “and a body like all the boys of summer who ever lived.”
The small motorbike pulled up outside the carousel building with a young man in swimshorts astride, his body bronzed and oiled and beautiful. He was wearing a heavy helmet with a dark visor down over his face to his chin, so I couldn’t see his face. But the body was the most amazing I think I have ever seen. It made me think of a day years before when I had seen a beautiful Apollo walking along the shore with a surf of young boys walking after him, drawn for they knew not what reasons, but they walked in beauty with him, loving but not knowing it was love, never daring to name and trying not to think of this moment later in life. There are beauties like that in this world, and all men and all women and all children are pulled in their wake, and it is all pure and wondrous and clean and there is no residue of guilt, because nothing happened. You just saw and followed and when the time on the shore was over, he went away and you went off, smiling the kind of smile that is such a surprise you put your hand up an hour later and find it still attached.
On a whole beach in an entire summer you only see bodies like that, on some young man, or some young woman, once. Twice, if the gods are snoozing and not jealous.
Here was Apollo, astride the motorbike, gazing through his dark, featureless visor at me.
“You come to see the old man?” The laugh behind the glass was rich and throaty. “Good! Come on.”
He propped the bike and was in and up the stairs ahead of me. Like a gazelle, he took the steps three at a time and vanished into an upstairs room.
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