He's too pale for this job, Karen thinks, and it's her first thought about him.
The man that swings down from the lifeguard post is lanky and lean, his sun-dyed hair a mess atop his head. As he approaches, she sees that beneath his visor his skin is red and peeling, covering a mass of freckles. Despite all this, the areas of his face that are not sunburned are still pale, contrasting with the dark brown of his shoulders (that, she sees, have just recently finished peeling, based on the loose skin still on his neck). She finds trouble meeting his eyes.
"Hello, officer," he greets, his teeth flashing white as he bares them in a crooked smile. "How can I help you?"
He's so much taller than her that she has to look up at him, and he's standing in just the right position to make the sun bore into her eyes. She takes a step to the side so his head casts a shadow and scowls at his chuckling face. "Sergeant Dunlap, SBPD," she introduces herself, ignoring his offered hand. "We got a call about some suspicious lurkers down here?"
"Ah, of course. It's a long story, Sergeant."
"Well, make it snappy," she urges. "I've got a few other stops on my shift."
He brushes off her callous demeanor with another of his sideways smiles, and she resists the urge to roll her eyes. "I'll see what I can do. I was at my desk job going through a case one morning when my coworker called about some suspicious guy lurking around, but I told him not to think anything of it. I was on duty the next day and saw someone like he'd described wandering near the beachfront, and I noticed it was around the same time my buddy called me the day before. So we kept some tabs out, got some of the other lifeguards in on it, and we realized that someone's been showing up every day for the past few days at the same time to watch."
The man shrugs, and Karen frowns, pondering his story. Desk job is the thing she finds most odd about this story, because this man doesn't look like he could be out of high school despite the ginger stubble on his defined jaw, and case makes her think he's a detective or a lawyer or something. She shakes her head, getting her attention back on the case. "Right. Lurker shows up same time every day. Did he do anything?"
"Well, no," he admits, scratching the back of his neck. "But I realized that I recognized the guy from the warnings out about the suspect who snatched that girl a few weeks back."
Karen's gut tightens. "Go on."
"I called the police department after four days, and, well, here you are." He gestures at her and, again, smiles. She's beginning to think that's his automatic response to everything. "I think the squad car might scare him away, though."
On instinct, she glances back at her cruiser, which is in desperate need of a wash after a pursuit on a dirt road. It would definitely scare away a kidnapper, she admits to herself. "What would you suggest then?"
He shrugs. "I can't tell you what to do, miss."
"Sergeant," she corrects, and he ignores her.
"I'd talk to your boss about it, maybe come down here incognito?" He shrugs again. "That's just what I'd recommend."
She hesitates, but reaches for her radio. Before she calls this in, she gives him a wary glance. "Would you be here tomorrow?"
The man laughs, and when he moves, the sun slides past him, getting in her eyes. She's glaring at him, barely able to see. "Yes, I will, Sergeant," he informs her. "And if you'll stop by again, that'd be lovely. It's the only other day my firm gives me off. Pearson-Specter, up in Goleta. They run a tight ship up there and I'm glad they let me keep this job."
"You work for a law firm?" The disbelief in her voice is evident, and she sheepishly clears her throat. "I mean, why do you keep working here?"
He kicks a rock at his feet with a sandaled foot. "I love the beach, really. And the kids. They're so good to me here, it'd be so hard to leave." And this time, when he smiles at her, she thinks it's genuine for the first time. "And it sorta helps to pay for my master's. That too."
They just look at each other for a while, Karen's hand still on her radio, his thumbs hooked into the elastic band on his trunks. Karen eventually clears her throat, taking the radio from its holster. "I'll call this in. It's a lot more serious than we think, apparently. I'll see you around."
It isn't until she's back at the department that she realizes she never got his name.
The next day, she pulls up to the beachfront in a department-loaned silver sedan. She's in her civvies, but her firearm and badge are in her purse. She takes care to park the car in the shade, away from the other undercover officers who would be with her.
Hair braided over one shoulder, she steps into the sand feeling anxious. Karen knocks on the wood of the lifeguard stand, and the familiar face of the lifeguard whips around, his nose still peeling, his smile still crooked.
"Hey! You made it!" He moves down a few steps and leans into the sun.
"I'm just here on patrol," she says smoothly, and he still offers his hand to her.
"Come on up, then." He gestures with his fingers. "It's cooler up here, and you'll see more."
In the sun, his eyes light up amber and she can see how his hair has been bleached over the summer by the sunlight. She looks into his eyes rather than at his sunburn, but still doesn't reach for his hand.
"Sorry, but I don't think I ever got your name."
He smiles, and she knows when he's older he's going to have smile lines everywhere. "Richard Vick, future lawyer," he says finally. "You can call me anything except Dick."