I’VE BEEN HAVING a debate with my writing buddy, who thinks that if Cauley’s going to a nude beach (Hippie Hollow), she should do so bare-
I’m thinking most people who want to let it all hang out are the folks you really wish would put it all right back. So as it stands, Cauley’s keeping her clothes on. For the most part . . .
Technically, Hippie Hollow is MacGregor Park, although I don’t know anyone outside Texas Parks and Wildlife that calls it that. It’s a one hundred and ten acre county-owned chunk of the Lower Colorado River that, sometime in the late sixties, became a popular beach hangout for University of Texas students who wanted to let it all hang out.
Beach, of course, is relative, because there really aren’t any beaches on that stretch of Lake Travis if you’re looking for the sandy, white barefoot sort of beach.
While beautiful, the park is a rugged, rocky pair of peninsulas near the middle of the main basin across from the dam and The Oasis Restaurant. The park is bordered by sparkling, clear emerald waters, an endless summer sky, and more million-dollar mansions than you can shake a stick—or anything else—at.
Beckett and Jenks pulled the SUV up to the guard shack, paid the eight dollar entrance fee and cruised past the big sign that clearly stated “Nude swimming and or sunbathing may be occurring after this point.”
Since the park patrol guy didn’t mention the dog, I judiciously kept my mouth shut.
Besides, my nerves were wound so tight I could have used them for a slingshot. I wasn’t doing anything wrong, but it’s not so easy overcoming twelve years of Baptist bible school. I stared out the window. “My mother would kill me if she knew I was here,” I said.
“She know you went to that strip club last month?” Jenks said.
“Yes,” I said, “and it’s a miracle I lived to tell the tale.” I looked out the tinted black window.
“Sure you don’t want to just try it out? Maybe just topless?” Jenks teased, and I said, “Anyone wants to see me naked, I better be in their will.”
Beckett laughed, and Jenks said, “It’s not naked, it’s nude.” Jenks’s voice was meant to sound reassuringly, although it didn’t reassure me at all. “And you get stared at more if you’re wearing clothes,” Jenks said. “You wear clothes, everyone thinks you’re a gawker.”
Beckett pulled into a parking space beneath a live oak and we all clambered out, the boys loaded with rubber floaties, designer flip flops, lots of hair product and enough suntan oil to fuel a Toyota Prius.
Beckett looked at me skeptically. “I don’t like the idea of you meeting an informant here,” he said, passing me a tube of sun block. “Why do you have to meet this person alone?”
“She’s not an informant, she’s a source, and most confidential sources insist on meeting alone,” I said, rubbing the SPF 15 onto my forehead and cheeks. “Besides, she’s a woman. I’m sure it’s not some nefarious nudie trap.”
“Huh,” he snorted. “How do you know this person is a woman?”
“Um, her name is Stephanie?”
Beckett and Jenks shot me identical pitying looks.
“It’s Austin, sugar. Having a traditionally feminine name doesn’t mean anything,” Jenks said, nodding to a man who was laying out a towel, wearing only a smile and a pair of killer Kate Spade espadrilles.
Beckett frowned. “Your Agent Logan know about this?”
“No,” I said, my irritation pitching. “and he’s not my Agent Logan.”
“Right.” Beckett gave me a look, but he knew that arguing with me is like trying to herd cats. It’s possible, but someone’s likely to get hurt.
We clambered out of the car and began picking our way along a terrace of rocky, limestone ledges, down toward the water, where the scent of fresh water, barbecue and coconut oil overwhelmed me. Marlowe capered about, sniffing and snuffling like he was on a search and rescue mission.
“Avert your eyes,” Becks said.
“What?” I said, tripping over a skull-sized boulder.
“Avert your eyes now or you’ll be sorry.”
But it was too late. Jenks made a groaning sound that sounded like a death rattle. And then I saw the source of his groan.
A man with hair coming out of every place but his head was bending over to tend a barbecue pit.
“Oh!” I yelped, and Jenks said, “My eyes! My eyes!”
“I warned you,” Beckett said, “but do you people listen to me?”
“Did you see the woman he was with?” Jenks gasped. “No wonder she was naked. It’d take her half an hour of origami to roll those things back into a bra. Cauley, you sure you want to do this?”
“Getting less sure by the minute.”
“Come on you big babies,” Becks said. “They’re just regular people bodies. We’re almost there.”
“That’s the thing about the Hollow,” Jenks grumbled. “Most of the people who want to let it all hang out are the people who ought to just put it all away.”
I laughed then, picking my way through the rough rocks and brambles. “Whoever decided to call this a nude beach must not have noticed all the rocks.”
“The crevice is a chunk of limestone between the gay part and the straight part.”
“How will I know the difference?”
A naked man with abs you could iron on walked by with a designer beach bag, nodding his hello.
“Better scenery,” said Jenks, his gaze following the cutie nudie.
“Easy killer,” Beckett said, and Jenks grinned.
“Just keeping you on your toes.”
“Yeah, but they’re nice toes,” Becks said, and an unexpected streak of envy nipped me in the heart. I wished Logan was here. Not because of the whole naked thing, but something about the guys and their closeness. Although, the naked thing wouldn’t hurt . . .
“Oh, look!” Jenks said, pointing toward a pair of guys who looked like they’d stepped out of an Abercrombie and Fitch. They were shaking out a beach blanket under the long limbs of a live oak. “Michael and Anthony!” Jenks shouted. The men stopped their preparations and waved at Beckett and Jenks.
“Y’all want in?” the younger of the two men said and I nearly choked.
“Poker, Miss Filthy Mind,” Beckett said to me and I blinked.
“Naked poker? Like strip poker but without all the preamble?”
He shook his head and grinned. “Texas Hold ‘em, just like anywhere else, but nude.” Jenks was already jogging toward his friends.
“Now,” Becks said, pointing to a white limestone shelf tucked beneath a monolithic rock ledge. “That’s the crevice. We’ll be right over there with the boys so we can keep an eye on you.
“This is for sitting on that hardass rock,” he said, handing me a small, square foam mat from his bag. Then he passed me the sunscreen. “And this is for if you decide to go al fresco.”
“Right,” I said. “Thanks, Becks. I really appreciate this.” I went up on tiptoe and kissed his cheek.
A woman about my age with long, auburn hair strolled by. She wore a sparkly purple thong and a smile. I tried not to stare, but she was staring back. She cocked her head and smiled like she knew me.
Marlowe growled, and I felt Beckett tense protectively at my side.
“Stephanie?” I said tentatively.
She shook her head, which made her hair swing around like a shampoo commercial. She was still staring at me.
Then she smiled a mysterious smile and headed toward the grassy hill where Jenks was stripping down to al fresco mode.
“Transie,” Becks said.
I frowned, disconcerted at the encounter.
He looked up the hill toward Jenks, who was stripping his shirt over his head. He looked down at me and grinned. “Yeah, it’s a real sacrifice,” he said, and then he headed toward his life partner to go play naked poker while I waited for GiftedStephanie.