He was maybe in his fifties, though his pallor made it difficult to tell. The flesh of his face, framed by matted greying hair and the sharp separate stubble of a three-day beard, was bleached the pale beige of driftwood. It seemed to Carole a mercy that his eyes were closed. His mouth, though, hung open. To the right of the bottom jaw, a tooth was missing. It had been missing a long time.
The inside of one exposed wrist was pockmarked with old and new scar tissue.
The body was hunched uncomfortably against a barnacled wooden stanchion of the breakwater. At first sight the man might have crawled there for protection, but the unnatural conformation of his limbs denied that supposition. He hadn't got there by his own efforts. He had been manipulated and abandoned by the sea.
His clothes -- jeans and a grey jumper -- were soaked heavy. The sea had borne away one of his trainers, exposing a poignantly vulnerable sports sock, ringed in blue and red. Laced around the upper body was an orange life-jacket, stamped in faded black letters "Property of Fethering Yacht Club."
Instinctively, Carole looked up towards the small white-balconied clubhouse at the top of the beach by the sea wall. In front of it, guarded by a stockade of white railings, were drawn up rows of sailing boats, securely covered for the winter. She knew that if she moved closer, she would be able to hear the incessant clacking of rigging against metal masts. But there'd be nobody at the club so early in the morning. The first-floor barroom's dark expanse of window looked out blankly to the sea.
Despite his life jacket, any theory that the man had been the victim of a sailing accident was belied by the two wounds on his neck. Washed blood-free by the sea, they were thin, like the lines of a butcher's cleaver in dead meat, exposing the darker flesh beneath.
Never for a moment did it occur to Carole Seddon that the man was not dead. She felt no urge to kneel by the body and feel for pulses. It wasn't just squeamishness. There was no point.
Anyway, it was better to leave the corpse undisturbed for the police to examine.
Carole was distracted by more barking. Having drawn her attention to it, Gulliver had immediately lost interest in the body. He'd found a supplanting fascination in the sea itself and was now trying to catch the waves, fighting them back with all the optimism of a canine Canute. He'd managed to soak his body through in the process.
One sharp call was enough to bring the dog to heel. He disassociated himself from the sea, looking round innocently as if he'd only just noticed its vast expanse. Carole stood back as he shook the tell-tale brine out of his coat. Then he rolled over in a mass of seaweed and something else more noxious. Carole registered dully that Gulliver would need a bath when they got home.
Se gave one last look to the dead man by the breakwater, then started resolutely up the beach, Gulliver trotting maturely at her side.
Other books by Simon Brett include A Shock to the System, Dead Romantic, and Singled Out, as well as the Mrs. Pargeter and Charles Paris novels.
Excerpted from The Body on the Beach, Berkley Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.