'I went out earlier than usual because of the Spring tide. It was a breathtaking morning, beautiful, mysterious, with the pinkish dawn light playing through the sea fog. As I rounded the point I saw her, rising out of the swirling mist. At first I couldn't believe my eyes for, God forgive me, I thought she was walking on water.'
But it was only when John Spain stretched out his hand to her that he noticed the rope and saw with dismay that she'd been propped upright and lashed to a tree.
Her name was Evangeline Walter - apparently single, she was one of the many incomers newly settle on the south-west coast of Ireland. Nobody knew much about her. So who precisely was Evangeline? Where did she come from? And, more importantly, who wanted her dead?
Where the broad Glár river opened out to embrace the sea, at the coastal village of Passage South, it was almost three-quarters of a mile wide. There, where the water curled playfully around a cluster of craggy rocks, the fishing was best and the lobster markers stuck out of the sea like so many miniature flagpoles, dancing through the waves with their tattered ensigns fluttering, horse-tailed, from the constant buffeting of the wind. The young weekend sailors used them as a sort of marine slalom course, dodging the sleek little Lasers between the sticks like frenzied bats.
It was mid-September. After several days of rain and almost every variation of autumnal squall short of hurricane, Tuesday morning dawned bright and sunny, a perfect if chilly day which, by some miracle, was still holding at noon. On the cliff top overlooking the bay, Garda-Sergeant Francis Xavier Recaldo, resident one-man police force of Passage South, amateur musician and occasional travel writer, stood looking out over the sea, his neat and powerful binoculars trained on a blue-painted fishing vessel which was playing hide and seek between the islands on the far side of the bay.
After a few minutes his radiophone began to crackle. He lifted the receiver to his ear and listened. 'He's playing us for sport,' he replied. 'But he should come into your sights just about . . . now. See him? He's going around the head of Cormorant Island. You've spotted him? Right then, I'll see you later, as arranged.' He retracted the aerial and rehitched the receiver on his belt.
Recaldo - Frank to his friends and FX to those who assumed they were - was over six foot four, with the picturesque looks of his Spanish forebears. His abundant hair was blue-black, his eyes hooded, dark-lashed, deep blue. Aquiline nose and sensuous mouth. He was reserved in manner, with a curious air of stillness about him. Unusually formal, extremely courteous; his good manners rarely slipped, but he found small talk difficult and was not gifted at making easy friendships. In the main, women found him attractive; men less so since he had little interest in being one of the gang. Discretion was a desirable trait in a country officer of the law, and Recaldo was nothing if not discreet. Whatever information came his way he kept strictly to himself. He was good at his job, approachable if not overfriendly.
It was getting on for noon. He had been on surveillance since dawn and was feeling somewhat drained. He hoisted himself up on a large smooth rock and held his face to the sun. Three years before, at the age of thirty-eight, he'd had a coronary immediately after a vigorous game of squash. Just dropped like a stone. Bang. Stress and sixty cigarettes a day were among the suggested causes. And genes, since his father had died of a heart attack at fifty-five. The bypass operation was successful, though his illness had effectively spelt the end of his high-flying career at Garda Headquarters in Dublin. It also ended his marriage, though this had been on the rocks for some time.
The irony was that when, against his own expectations, he began to recover, he came to the realization that what he most wanted was to step off the career conveyor belt and completely change his lifestyle. So strong was this impulse that he immediately put in for early retirement. And neatly demonstrating just how out of touch he was, did not consult his wife before doing so. Not unnaturally, this proved the last straw as far as Sheila was concerned. Theirs was one of the first homegrown divorces under the new legislation. They agreed to part before he realized that fifty per cent of the marital spoils wouldn't buy even a retirement cottage, much less the house he had dreamed of building on his family plot near Dingle. The scheme didn't seem to be a viable proposition until a mate tipped him off about the job in Passage South. It wasn't his beloved Kerry but, being in Cork, the next county, near enough.
It took considerable powers of persuasion to talk his superiors into appointing him - the force does not like to demote its officers - but eventually he prevailed.