|Jessica turned her eyes to the Sound beyond them, instinctively offering her husband something happy: “I’m so glad that you love the ocean, too. We’ve already made some lovely memories here, but today–it’s just wonderful. I’m so happy this is something I can share with you.”
Following Jess’s gaze into the glitter and shimmer of rolling surf, James nodded. “It’s something all right, especially for a kid who grew up in Milton Northern, the industrial North. We were right in the middle of the country, not like Leeds, where you could hop a train and end up at Whitby.”
“Whitby?” Jess piped eagerly. “That’s where the ruined abbey is, the one in Dracula.”
James gave his dark head a disbelieving shake and teased, “You’re quite the character, you are. I mention one of the most famous seaside resorts in my country and all you can talk about is vampires. I think you needed a holiday from that gruesome program of yours more than you realized, Jessica Minton Crawford.”
“Oh, why don’t go take another picture of a sea gull,” Jessica feigned indignation, releasing James’s arm and tossing her head in her best Maureen O’Hara mode.
“Why don’t I take a picture of my gorgeous wife,” James countered appealingly, getting up and drawing Jess by the hand after him. “How about over there? Stand on the block so I can get a full-length shot.”
“Fine. Play to my vanity,” Jess said airily as James brought her over to and handed her onto one of the stone markers that studded the beach. “Who am I to argue?”
“Thought you might say that,” James returned as he stepped back almost to the sea grass, looking into the viewfinder of his Brownie to get a better shot.
“So,” Jessica proposed as she hiked her skirt up over her knee and curved her leg forward, “How about a little cheesecake?
Looking through the viewfinder of his camera, James mischievously commented, “Too bad I never got a chance to do this kind of recon photo in France.”
“Never mind that. I’m much happier thinking about you photographing secret installations and documents and troop movements than one of those French Mademoiselles. Especially since you’re half-French, anyway. I don’t like the thought of you parlez-ing any pick-up lines.”
“Even in the line of duty?” James inquired innocently, looking up.
“Especially in the line of duty. So just make sure that the only gams you pay attention to from now on are mine.”
“Agreed,” James smiled. “I’ll even close my eyes any time Betty Grable comes on the screen at the flicks.”
“See that you do!” Jessica laughed as James took another shot.
She was just about to hop down, when James stopped her with, “Wait! I want a more serious shot.”
“Okay. How about if I tilt my head up, as if I’m looking out to sea, waiting for your return.”
“The ocean’s behind you.”
“Well, yes, but the sun gets in my eyes if I look that way. I squint and get all those little crow’s feet …”
Chuckling, James acquiesced, so Jess tilted her head up and pretended to peer across stormy seas–by staring into the marsh grass. Well, she was an actress, wasn’t she? Angling her head and craning her neck, Jess blinked at what caught her eye. What was a mannequin’s hand and arm doing draped over that sea-crusted log? Mannequin? On the beach?
“Oh my Lord!” escaped Jessica, her knees wobbling with shock.
Jess found herself now sitting on the block. James rushed over, kneeling by her, asking something about the sun, the heat. Forcing herself to come back to him, Jessica faced her husband and managed, “James, in the grass. A body. It looks like a body. I saw an arm. Over there, to the left, in the grass.”
James’s features went from surprise to hard determination. He stood up, all business, questioning, “Jessica, are you absolutely sure?”
She swallowed, hard, and nodded, then said, “I know how crazy it sounds, but . . .”
Turning to the area Jess had indicated, James speculated, “Could have been a boating accident last night.” Turning back to her, he said, “I’ll check it out. Just sit tight, all right? Stay here.”
Jessica nodded, saying, “Don’t worry. I’ve already seen more corpses than I care to in my life. And this doesn’t promise to be pretty.”
James’s eyes told her he knew far too well how she felt, knew worse things than she did, but that passed even before he promised, “I’ll be right back. You’ll be all right.”
Jessica watched James move swiftly into the marsh grass on the ridge. She couldn’t help being relieved she didn’t have to go with him, even as she wanted to kick herself for sending him up to that horror. Who could it be? What had happened to him or her? Of course it must have been an accident, as James had conjectured. But who was it? Now that she thought back, she had the impression it was a woman’s hand and arm. Not an image was she wanted in her mind. An image of whom, though? A terrible possibility seized her. No, it couldn’t be. There was no reason to believe this was the remains of a woman supposed to have left some time ago for Canada.
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Jessica Minton Mysteries
images of Joan Bennett from the author’s collection, no copyright infringement intended; for educational and entertainment purposes only’image of the oceam by De-Ping Yang, used by permission
public domain image of marsh grass from Clipart: : http://clipart-library.com/clipart/grass-cliparts_11.htm