Claudia Salazar let the sun warm her closed eyes. She had dozed on the pool lounge chair, the water evaporating off her skin, thinking, I could get to like this.

Claudia’s past few days had been a bitch: finally closing out a series of burglaries on Port Leo’s south side, aimed squarely at the tourist condos, by arresting a repeat offender who sadly had three kids and was bound back to jail; covering two extra late shifts for a patrol officer friend who was down with a bad summer cold, because the whole Port Leo police department was short-handed; and then the terrible Gilbert/Tran murders, which were beyond Port Leo’s jurisdiction but the sheriffs office and the police department helped each other with high-profile cases. David Power, her ex-husband, had politely declined the police department’s help and her thought had been: Pride goeth before a fall. It was the most biblical thing she had thought in years. She wondered, without ego, if he was too irritated with her to want the department’s help.

She decided not to care. As of today, she was officially on vacation.

She opened her eyes, sat up on the lounge chair, watched Ben standing by a table between the pool and the French doors, fiddling with a stubborn cork on a wine bottle.

‘What a rotten guest I am,’ she said. ‘I fell asleep.’

Ben Vaughn pried the cork out and grinned. ‘You’re exhausted. Don’t worry about it.’

She smiled. If she’d gone swimming with David, drunk wine in the early afternoon, then dozed, he would have used it as a basis for analysis: Did I bore you? What’s wrong with me? Ben just let her be, and she was grateful for that.

Claudia stood, feeling self-conscious in a new purple bikini a bit too adventurous for her, pulled a long T- shirt over her head, and smoothed it out along her hips. 'No more wine. Two glasses is my limit.’

‘You’re on vacation,’ Ben said. ‘I made lunch. Hope that’s okay.’

‘I’ll find it in my heart to forgive you. So what can I do to help?’

‘Just sit. You’re my guest.’ Ben disappeared back into the house.

The deck for the pool ran along the edge of St Leo Bay, and in the summer heat the bay water looked green as old glass, the waves like white lips rising to the surface for a kiss, then vanishing. She put on her sunglasses. Vacation. Well, a few days off and then back to the grind. But sitting on a multilevel deck, with a private dock, backed by the house that had to be approaching seven thousand square feet… well, it was better than eating takeout and watching old movies on video, which was how she’d spent her last vacation.

Ben returned, carrying a tray. Two huge shrimp salads, the shrimp firm and pink, perfect crescent-morsels, slices of avocado, a small crystal pitcher filled with a homemade dressing, rolls steaming. He set the lunch down in front of her.

‘Where’s the chocolate?’

‘Ingrate.’ He poured them each wine again, held his glass aloft in a toast. ‘To a great vacation for you. And to old friends.’

‘To old friends,’ she said, clinking her glass against his. Friends. Funny word, she thought. It could cover too much ground. They’d been lovers long ago but she couldn’t look at him and think ex-lover. He was too different now from the shy, gangly boy she’d known.

‘And we didn’t even have to catch the shrimp,’ Ben said.

‘Sometimes I’m relieved by that. Other times I think it’s a shame. My dad’s the last Salazar who’s still shrimping.’ The smile dimmed slightly on Ben’s face and she set down her fork. ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring up an unpleasant memory…’

Ben smiled again. She liked his smile, warm and happy, with a front tooth slightly crooked. ‘It’s okay. My folks have been gone a long time, Claudia. I miss them but you keep going on.’ His parents had been lost in a sudden storm on the bay’s edge, their shrimp boat swamped. Ben had been sixteen at the time, his brother, Stoney, just starting college. ‘I might have made a good shrimper.’

‘You would have gotten bored.’

‘But you’re your own boss.’ Ben took a small sip of white wine. ‘Out on the water, out in the sun. Now Stoney, he would have sucked at shrimping.’

Claudia glanced around the deck, the private dock, the too-big-for-her-taste house. ‘It wouldn’t have paid the mortgage on this place.’ She liked the pool, the lunch, being with Ben, but felt an awkward consciousness of being in his brother’s house, as though she were trespassing. She had kept glancing at Ben, trim in his modest swimsuit, with his nice hands and his smile, and wanting to kiss him, but she wouldn’t. Not here. If she kissed him she might not stop and his brother might walk in at any moment. ‘What exactly does your brother do? You said investments?’

‘I can never quite figure it out. He did venture capital work out in California for a while, got a little singed in the dot-com meltdown, decided he wanted to come home. He does a lot of consulting for financial services firms in Dallas and Houston. He’s trying to get me into his business.’ He shook his head. ‘stoney used to steal my allowance, set up a lemonade stand with our money, give me a cut. We’d make more than our allowances put together. I think he’s still following that business model.’

‘It seems to be working.’

‘He has expensive hobbies. Cars. Boats. Treasure hunts.’

‘Treasure hunts?’

‘He’s financed some treasure dives in the Florida Keys – you know, galleons that wrecked in shallow water, got buried by the sands on the bottom. Takes a team to recover them. It’s his obsession. Crazy-ass way to risk your money. You got to make the big bucks to play that game.’ His tone went wry.

‘And you’re not interested in the big bucks?’

Ben grinned again. ‘me in finance? I’d be doomed. The clients would be doomed.’ He shook his head. ‘I like teaching, but the pay sucks, and too many of the kids are unmotivated and the parents care even less. I’m starting to think you seriously got to have a call to teach, like being a priest.’

‘Or a cop,’ she said.

‘Or a cop,’ he agreed. ‘You ever think of giving it up?’

‘Last year, briefly. But no, not seriously.’

‘Living here with my brother – well, Stoney’s spoiled me.’ Ben speared the last fat shrimp in his salad, pushed it through the little pool of dressing in his bowl. ‘But I don’t have a talent for making money.’

‘Money’s not everything.’

‘It can sure buy a whole lot of it.’


‘You’re right. And God knows Stoney’s not what you’d call happy. He’s nervous. Jumpy. I don’t want to think what he was like when he worked in a high-stress job.’

‘Let’s talk about something other than your brother,’ Claudia said. The three glasses of wine and lazing in the summer sun made her suddenly feel a little playful. That was a delicious lunch. Thank you. I didn’t know you could cook.’

‘I knew you’d had a hard week,’ Ben said. ‘Least I could do. Citizens should support their officers in blue every way they can.’

A tease colored his tone and she skimmed her toetips along the muscle of his calf, just to flirt back a little. She stopped as the French doors opened. A man came out, tall and brown haired like Ben, but a little thicker in the shoulders and the stomach, dressed in a summer khaki business suit, but no tie, the shirt buttoned to the throat. His hair was gelled, combed to Ken-doll perfection, and he didn’t smile until Ben turned toward him.

‘Hi, bro,’ Ben said. ‘Come on out.’

‘Don’t want to interrupt,’ the man said.

‘It’s your house,’ Ben said. ‘You can’t interrupt. Claudia, this is my brother, Stoney. Stoney, Claudia Salazar.’

Stoney Vaughn offered Claudia a hand with nails manicured as smooth as pearl. His grip was firm but the flesh of his palm was soft. ‘Claudia. I remember you from school. I was a few years ahead of you. Nice to see you

Вы читаете Black Joint Point
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату