'The MonteLuta Sun Club Incident'
by Phineas Redux
Summary:— Fiona 'Fay' Cartwright & Alice 'Al' Drever are private detectives in an East Coast American city, in the 1930's. The ladies, who are lovers, find themselves catching more of the sun's rays than they really wanted.
Disclaimer:— All characters are copyright ©2018 to the author. All characters in this story are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Caution:— There is some light swearing in this story.
"They what?" Alice dumbfounded by her paramour's admittance.
"Don't wear clothes." Fiona trying to lessen the shock by her matter of fact intonation, which didn't pass with her partner for a moment.
"None? Ya mean none? As in absolutely bare nuthin'?" Alice always one to make clarity even clearer if possible.
"Yeah, that's the gist of it, babe." Fiona giving up, defeated.
"Jeez." The primary difficulty had just occurred to Alice, who wasn't taken with it in any meaningful way. "Are ya trying t'tell me, lady, that on our next case we're gon'na have'ta take all our clothes off an' mingle with a bunch o'people—out in the wild windy outdoors—wearin' nothing but our rapidly sun-burning skins?"
"Er, er, exac—"
"That's nudity, madam." Alice finally reaching the epicentre of the subject.
"Fay, you've lost your mind." Alice stepping back, to draw breath for the killer punch. "Do you actually think I'm gon'na swan out t'some far-flung rancho in the hills, strip off every iota o'my clothes, then wander around bare, amongst a crowd, askin' them questions? You are crazy."
The weather, on this bright sunny Friday, June 1st 1934, in Delacote City, NH, was warm but not cloying, with a gentle breeze coming off the ocean; but all the same some temperatures were certainly rising in the apartment on the 7th floor of the Collister Building where the lady detectives and lovers had their private eyrie.
"It's, ah, all a perfectly normal state of Nature, darlin'." Fiona trying to reach for the high ground, and failing miserably. "They don't think anythin' of it, at all."
"Well, I'm in a state, yeah; but not of Nature." Alice hitting this inane suggestion into the long grass where it belonged. "Havin' no clothes on in public—well, there's Laws against it, fer certain. An' I ain't gon'na be the patsy that proves the rule, OK?"
"I ain't goin'."
"Oh, come on, doll."
"No, ain't goin'."
The MonteLuta Sun Club proved to have it's location on the southern shore of Lake Winnipesaukee, in the centre of the state. The lake having such a convoluted shoreline there were many little inlets where a modicum of privacy could more or less be attained, and private affairs undertaken outwith the prying eye of the Public. Such was where the Sun Club or, in vulgar parlance, nudist camp had its setting.
For purposes of comfort and accessibility the ladies had chosen to take Alice's Plymouth two-seater roadster, with its large rear trunk. The journey had not taken all that long but Alice, getting edgier with every mile they came closer to their destination, had now started to complain in high gear—much to her partner's annoyance.
"But what's the point?" She continuing a query raised earlier. "I mean, no clothes? I get it with the sun, an' gettin' tanned all over, an' all. But swannin' about in the altogether—all together? Friends, family, acquaintances—hell, just any old crowd, everywhere? Jeez, that's so embarrassing."
"Apparently ya get over such, often quite quick, so I'm told."
"Oh, yeah? Who told you that, darlin'?" Alice gave a sharp glance at the love of her life in the passenger seat beside her. "Or did you just read it somewhere? Talkin' of which, what was that magazine you were neck deep in yesterday afternoon you wouldn't let me get a glimpse of?"
"—'Sun World', if ya must know." Fiona admitting the inevitable. "Very informative, too."
"They have their own magazine?" Alice was shocked, if not to the core at least on the surface. "What?—with articles an' photos, an' whatnot?"
"Jeez." This was too much for Alice, sighing heavily. "Don't they have any sense of decorum, at all? Lettin' pictures of themselves in the altogether be printed nationwide? Gods. Say, ain't it illegal t'publish or post such?"
"Nah, they got special privileges, it seems." Fiona now the centre of all information on the subject. "Comes under social life-styles, or something like. That's why you can buy their magazines at the bookstalls everywhere."
"What, there's more'n one?"
"Sure, baby." Fiona essaying a small grin, hoping for the best. "There's, oh, about three published in New Hampshire alone, that I know of. An' the same holds fer almost every other state in the union, far as I kin make out. Big business, throwin' yer clothes t'the four winds, an' dancin' in the breeze, nekkid."
The Sun Club's offices, when Alice pulled her Plymouth to a standstill in the parking lot at the front, turned out, probably providentially, to be simply like any other office—that is to say, the workers behind the public desk therein were fully clothed; no sign of nakedness, or absolute nudity, visible anywhere in the offing—much to Alice's relief.
"—er, we're Drever an' Cartwright, detectives, fancy Mrs McGruiger knows we have an appointment." Fiona giving the secretary behind the low counter an all-encompassing appraisal; she, like her partner, on the alert for any slightest sign of unwarranted nudity.
"If you just take a seat on the bench there, I'll go through and let her know, thank you."
Three minutes later they were taking their seats in the private office of the owner of the Club; Mrs June McGruiger again being fully dressed for the occasion.
"So good of you to answer my invitation, ladies."
Alice, at least, was relieved to see the owner of the establishment seemed like any other middle-aged motherly type—not at all the sort of person she, Alice, would have expected to enjoy swanning around in the nude in public.
"Not at all." Alice proceeding to prevaricate like Lucretia Borgia on one of her more evil days. "Fiona and I are happy to come and lend a helping hand—after all, it is our line of business. Perhaps you can give us the particular details of what you require?"
"Of course." Mrs McGruiger took a moment to collect her thoughts then launched out on the seas of explanation. "Well, it's all to do with photographs, you see."
"The kind printed in all, uhh, the magazines?" Fiona nodding as if she were an old hand in this situation.
"Mmm, not really." The owner raised her eyebrows, simultaneously shaking her head. "No, definitely not the same at all. Those photographs, for the magazines, are taken by bona fide professional photographers on contracts, with the full co-operation of those, er, involved. The kind I'm talking about, which I would like you to investigate, are surreptitious photographs; taken without consent of the parties involved. Criminal photographs, in fact."
Fiona frowned, considering the matter, then pinned the glaring aspect required by this scenario.
"Don't that mean someone inside the Club; another, er, nudist, took said photos?" Fiona looked across the desk at the owner, slightly at sea. "If so wouldn't he, or she be, well, rather obvious—considering the, er, circumstances?"
"Is photography allowed in the cam—er, Club, as a general thing?" Alice putting her oar in, because she liked to keep abreast of events.
"No, it's not." Mrs McGruiger shook her head quickly, like an aspen leaf in a strong wind. "There are exceptional circumstances, of course, where individual members may request to take photos of a personal or family nature, or of an in-Club event; but nothing in the way of random, unhindered photography is allowed. And we generally refer to ourselves as naturists for your, ah, information."
Another pause ensued, while Fiona and Alice mulled over these facts. Then Alice came to the fore, once more.
"So, what's the problem with these unofficial photos?" She raised an eyebrow enquiringly, even as she bowed her head over her notebook, pencil hovering expectantly. "Is it about copyright? Or simply that the people photographed would rather not have them published?"
"Don't bein' a member of a Sun Club obviate any concerns of that nature?" Fiona coming forward with a technical question. "I mean they swagg—, engage in nudit—er, naturism, in the grounds of the Club; so if any photographs make their way into the Public eye—well, what's t'stop that happenin'?"
"That would be libel." Mrs McGruger obviously felt herself to be on safe ground on this subject. "Even downright criminal. Actually, so my lawyers tell me, approaching the borders of outright blackmaiil. If any member is photographed without their consent, and the resulting photographs end up in some magazine or newspaper, then the victims have recourse to the Law."
Here again Fiona and Alice found themselves in a quandary, ably sketched by Fiona.
"So why don't they just do exactly that, an' save us all a deal of bother an' expence?"
"Publicity, simply." The owner putting down her trump card in the discussion. "We here, at MonteLuta Sun Club, are a sort of, if not rara avis, at least shy group on the whole; not seeking downright open publicity at all—rather just to be left alone to mind our own business; our only request being that others allow us to do so."
At this point the detectives finally cottoned on to what was the sub-text of the position.
"Aah," Fiona nodding slowly, but with a knowing mien. "havin' been caught in the nude, certain o'the victims don't want themselves spread across the front page in all their natural glory. Yeah, I see. Bankers, big business-men. Dammit, business-women, come t'that. Even, as ya say Mrs McGruiger, simply those who're jest that little bit too shy t'enjoy seein' themselves lying across a two-page spread, with staples driven through jest the wrong places? I get ya."
Faced with this naïve, not to say idiotic, reaction Mrs McGruiger sat back, raising her eyes to the high ceiling; it being left to Alice to come to the rescue of those lost at sea.
"What Fiona means, Mrs McGruiger, is that we'll be glad to help you out in what is obviously a very serious situation." Alice being renowned for her ability to calm raging seas, like Poseidon waving his trident over his watery domain. "We'll get right on it, right now. It's still only, what, half eleven in the morning—lots of the day left to have a look round the join—er, Club, and get the lie of the land."
Pacified by these words, though only just, Mrs McGruiger sat forward once more—not without giving Fiona a very chary glance, however—and allowed she would take up the detectives' offer.
"Well, in that case I'll give Susan a call. Susan Gardner, she's the manageress of the Club; been here for nearly five years, now." She lifted the telephone on her desk. "Susan will be able to show you the whole place. Do you wish a cabin to stay in? Entirely free, of course. Bed, living-room, kitchen, bathroom, all mod-cons. It would perhaps be easier for you—staying here if even for a short period may help to, umm, acclimatize you more rapidly and easily to the surrounding, ahh, zeitgeist, if you follow me."
Fiona and Alice did indeed follow her—but neither looked exactly overjoyed at the coming prospect.
The curious primary fact which a new resident in a foreign country often notes—and a nudist camp is by definition a very foreign country—is the astonishing resemblance therewith to being in the pages of Alice in Wonderland.
"—or, perhaps more rationally, Through The Looking-Glass?" Alice coming the literateur for no good reason that Fiona could see.
They had, a few minutes since, been escorted through the office building to a small square room at the rear. Here Mrs McGruiger left them with the parting note that Susan would be along in a jiffy. The room possessed two doors and one window. The door from the corridor neither detective was interested in; but the door in the opposite wall, beside the single window, sent shivers up their collective spines. The view from the window appeared to consist of some high trees in the distance, waving in a small breeze; but neither woman felt able to cross the room to take a really all-inclusive survey of the landscape outside—afraid of what they would see. But this state of purity and innocence was rudely blown away a minute later when the outside door opened and a tall lithe good-looking blonde young woman entered with a smile on her face—that being the only thing on her entire body, she being completely naked from toes to head. Fiona and Alice drew in short breaths together; their worst imaginings having finally proved correct—they, too would soon be in the same state.
"Hi, ladies, I'm Susan Gardner, manageress of the establishment." She grinned openly at both women, completely at ease. "Nice t'meet you both."
"Aarh." From Fiona, quite speechless.
"Nice mornin', ain't it?" Susan filling the otherwise empty silence like a veteran. "Couldn't be better for your first visit; you'll both soon settle down an' get into the swing, I'm sure."
"Uurr." Alice having, herself, nothing cogent to add.
"So, how's about we go on out into the club grounds, now?" Susan here politely stood back, indicating the still open door for her customers to exit ahead of her. "This way; it's just an open grassy area at this point, the groups of cabins are laid out some distance off to the left. But you'll see the other members goin' about their affairs all round; it bein' quite a busy place, when the weather's good, y'know."
Neither Fiona nor Alice did know, but they were quite sure they were just about to find out, anyway.
Susan was seen, under the expert scrutiny of the detectives, to be somewhere in her late twenties, of light build though athletic litheness. Perhaps some kind of professional athlete, Alice thought. Likes t'work out some, as a hobby, was Fiona's contribution to the general character assessment. Then, quite without realising it, Fiona and Alice found themselves passing amongst a whole group of bona fide members, all as naked as Susan.
Some wore flip-flops, some sandals, some plimsolls, some simply went bare-footed; but the all-encompassing nature of the otherwise varied group was their entire overall contempt for the concept of apparel; or attire of any form whatsoever. This prospect, Nature in the raw as it were, giving both Fiona and Alice a new insight into the protocol of not wearing clothes; of, indeed, being naked—this brazenly uninhibited spectacle seeming, to the two awed women, to set the notion on an entirely new level of existence altogether.
"Well, I'll be—." Alice, still suffering communication problems.
"Gosh." Fiona, not much more coherent.
"Isn't it wonderful?" Susan grinning like the Cheshire Cat as they proceeded towards a small stand of tall trees. "You'll both soon feel the benefits; you'll find it's like nothing else you've ever experienced before; but wonderfully exhilarating, all the same. Right, your cabin's just over here; the key's in the door."
Inside the small bungalow the women found themselves in a motel-like environment. Living-room, bedroom to one side; kitchen on the other. A rear door leading out to a small fenced garden with a table and chairs. Altogether, a very comfortable looking place.
"Nice." Alice, struggling to rejoin civilisation on an intellectual level again.
"—er, yeah, nice." Fiona, doing her best, too.
"Right, some rules." Here Susan quite openly assumed her managerial hat, so to speak. "This bein' a naturist club,—nudist ditto, to the uninitiated—we like t'wander about takin' advantage of said principles. Naked is the name o'the game, an' nude is the only option, OK?"
Both Fiona and Alice could only look meek, like schoolgirls caught out in an infraction of the rules.
"So, detectives though you may be—yeah, Mrs McGruiger's filled me in on the lie o'the land thataways—you'll still have to go by the book while you're here." Susan here gave both women her patented mean-but-fair. "Which is t'say, the next time you both exit your front door, here, you'll both be in a state of not bein' burdened by sartorial encumbrances of any sort, style or nature. That clear?"
"Oh, God." Which was all Alice, at short notice, could contribute.
"Excellent,—excellent." Susan grinned even more widely than before, turning to the door herself. "See you both later; if you have any questions about anythin', anybody'll point out my office t'you. Cheers."
With this parting gift she closed the door as she departed, leaving the tenants of the bungalow looking at each other; like Stout Cortez on that hilltop in Darien, but without any iota of his wonder.
"Oh, Jeesus. This is it, then?" Alice, defeated entirely.
"Ker-iist." Fiona slumping down on the nearby sofa, having nothing at all to add to the general purpose of Life.
The most difficult part of exiting your front door fully naked into the Public eye, is the first step. That's the doozy; after which everything else is simply pancakes and maple syrup—but, that first step?
"No. You first." Alice laying down her standpoint like a Senator in the House.
"Al, get on out there, or I'll dam' well push you through the door myself."
"Hey, is that nice? I'm dam' well nekkid, here."
"So am I, fool; go,—go."
It's the wind, or merely mild breeze, if you're lucky, that one first encounters when in the nude outside—even when it's a completely calm day. The cold, perhaps chilly, but certainly noticeable, contact of the raw air on all those places on your body hitherto safely protected from outside influence which snaps the first-time recipient into the realisation that naked isn't just an intellectual concept, but is harshly real and wholly unforgiving—for the first time you realise you are nude from head to toe and there isn't any getting out of the matter. Alice suddenly having something to contribute on this position.
"Chr-st A'mighty; so this's what a plucked chicken feels like? No, no, I wan'na go home." She suiting this traitorous, even cowardly, reaction by turning and trying to shoulder Fiona out of her way back to the safety of the bungalow. "Out'ta my way, madam."
"Steady, gal, steady." Fiona's strong arms calling a halt to the incipient mutiny, her hands firmly holding Alice's now completely bare shoulders. "Come on, it ain't the end o'the world. We may well be nekkid; but everyone dam' else round here is too, savvy?"
"Is that meant t'help? How?"
"Jeez." Fiona bringing all her renowned social awareness to the fore. "This here ain't a moral thing; it ain't as if by flinging our clothes off we're gon'na become unfettered sex maniacs, or somethin'. It's jest another hobby, like any other. We're naked, yeah; but everyone else is too—have I said this before? We're not single; the cynosure of all eyes: we're part of a general group, all of the same tastes and feelin's. We're nekkid, but everyone here is, too. We're part o'the group, not on our lonesome's. So, come on."
"Oh, sh-t. OK."
Another rite of passage is the first conversation with another person or, God forbid, group of such. Fiona and Alice being so waylaid before they had proceeded more than twenty yards, in that shifty self-conscious manner attributable to all those knowingly engaging in something awful for the first time, by what seemed to them like a football crowd but was in reality only some four mature people; of mixed sexes, however, to make trouble doubly so.
"Hi, there, I'm Gordon, this here's my wife an' daughters, Molly, Francis an' Gaile." The man, clearly so, stood confident in his environment grinning widely like a lumberjack who had just knocked down two redwoods in a row. "Nice t'see new faces; jest joined, I expects? Well, we'll soon make you both feel right at home. Won't we, Molly?"
"Sure will, dear." The lady nodded happily, absolutely at ease. "We're all jest one enormous family, really. You'll find you settle in, no bother, after a while. Here fer the day, are you? Or takin' a break fer a few days in one of our cabins? They're very comfortable, you know."
"Nyy-uurh." From Alice, who couldn't think of anything more apposite to say on the spur of the moment.
"Yes, yes, isn't it." Molly taking more from Alice's reply than was probably intended. "Met anyone else, so far yet?"
"Uum, er—." Fiona at a loss what to say.
"Sure thing." Gordon chipping in easily again. "Well, hope t'meet ya again, later; come on, girls, we got a lunch-date t'attend. Bye."
And, seconds later, Fiona and Alice found themselves once more abandoned in a lonely harsh world; with only a few bleakly white forms wandering about, apparently aimlessly, in the far distance.
"Jee-sus, I'm never gon'na get used t'this." Alice coming clean, battered by reality.
"Oh, don't know, didn't seem all that bad t'me." Fiona taking a deep breath to recover all the same. "Surprisin' how natural it gets, when everyone else is in the same boat."
"Glad you think so, dear." Alice taking no gratification from this at all. "Say, what exactly are we trying to achieve here? I mean, wandering about, naked as all get-out. What's our object?"
Fiona sighed, shaking her head at such a lack of get-up-and-go.
"We're here, at Mrs McGruiger's invitation, to catch the bad guy, or guys. We bein' detectives, an' all. Capiche?"
"Very funny." Alice going into grumbling mode; as by honour bound, considering. "So, where to now? Wherever, there better not be a crowd waiting, is all I got'ta say."
But there was.
Having the good fortune to be able to spread itself along both sides of a deep wide fir-shrouded inlet of Lake Winnipesaukee the Club could, and did, provide resources for boating and yachting on the waters of the Lake. As the two new devotees wandered rather aimlessly down to the western shoreline all this suddenly became obvious to them.
Three hundred yards or so of the immediate shore had been meticulously landscaped, resulting in a long gently sloping sandy beach. A couple of low jetties led out about seventy feet or so, enclosing between their arms a small marina in which were anchorages for a score or so of yachts and boats. Nothing spectacularly big, but enough to take three or four passengers comfortably. There were also several rowing-boats, for those of a slightly less, but still enthusiastic, interest in bouncing about on the briny. But what took Fiona and Alice's interest was the fact that here, on the wide warm sand, a host of holiday-makers had chosen to spend this particular day. In short, the place was packed; all naked as—as—as possible. Alice noticed immediately.
"Jay-suus. I'm goin' home."
"No ya dam' well ain't, lady." Fiona was adamant on this important point, clutching the proto mutineer by the arm. "Ya ain't gon'na leave me all alone like this, all nekkid amongst a bloody army, so there."
But rescue came at this point, in the form of another wholly unclothed lady. She was, rather obviously, in her mid-twenties, with an excellent figure, and an open forthright gaze which took no prisoners; shyness clearly being a stance she gave no quarter to.
"Hallo, new arrivals?" Her voice had a sweet tenor gentleness, which was obviously intended to calm the nervous suppliant's heart. "I'm Sally, Sally Harrison. I'm one of the Club stewardesses; we try to wander around, keeping everything in apple-pie order, an' all that. So, how are you liking your first outing into the world of nuthin' between your skin an' the air but empty space? Ha-ha."
While talking Sally had, unobtrusively but with a firm determination, led the two detectives into the very heart of dark—er, the milling throng. Before either Alice nor Fiona had thought of a suitable reply they found themselves actually pushing and shoving in the crowd, exactly as if at a busy Summer Fair—only those they were bumping into and sliding by were all also completely naked. But they had little time to adjust to this new situation before Sally had brought them to the edge of the sandy shore, where one of the low jetties led out into the waters of the inlet.
"Don't suppose you want to go for a row or cruise right now." She stopped by the side of the jetty, turning to look back across the crowded beach. "More likely you want to mingle and get to know everyone. I'll introduce you to some of our illuminati, if you want. What're your names, by the way?"
"Alice Dreever." Alice obviously ashamed to admit such.
"Fiona Cartwright." Fiona also seeing nothing else but to own up to the truth.
"Ah, the detectives—yeah, Mrs McGruiger told me all about you, yesterday." Sally stating this inside knowledge with an easy insousiance. "Stay here a mo', there's someone over there I particularly want you to meet. He's very interested in this dodgy photo thing, too. Won't be a moment."
"Jeez, does everyone here know who we are?"
"Begins t'look like it." Fiona pursed a critically inclined lip, looking around at the landscape. "Jee-sus, must be a coupl'a hundred people here,—all the same."
"Oh, yeah, well, that stands to reason, don't it, babe." Alice contemplating the scenery with an even more morose eye. "I'm amazed all the women can show themselves like this. So casually, too."
"An' the men, for what it's worth, seem mighty relaxed, an' all."
"Standin' at ease, not at attention, if ya get my meanin'?"
"No, can't say I do." Alice turning a frowning countenance on her lover. "What?"
"They're, the men, not visibly puttin' themselves forward at all, ya know."
"No, I don't know—that being the core of my question." Alice even more at sea than ever. "Fay, what in hell'r you talking about?"
"Oh, hell—the men ain't—they ain't—they ain't showin'—er,—."
"What, for God's sake?"
"Interest? Fay, what the—Oh—Ah—Oh, God."
"I see ya get what I'm talkin' about, finally?"
"Yeah, yeah, dam' right I do." Alice turned to take a wide view of the crowded panoramna now on display along the shore. "You're right, not one of the men is—is—huurph. You know."
"Yeah—quite." Then Alice saw rescue approaching. "Thank God, here comes Sally again—I mean, here comes Sally again."
"Hallo, again, ladies." Sally, on reaching the two now sweating women, gestured to her companion. "This here's Brian Kersley; he's been here fer decades, knows all there is t'know about the place. He might be of some help to you. I got'ta go now, see you around."
The quaint thing about a naked man coming up to stand by your side, as both Alice and Fiona now discovered, is that the term physical description takes on a wholly new meaning. Everything being uncovered, everything being on show, all facing the world with an insouciant air—as of, take me as I am, and be damned—leaves the unprepared spectator, the ladies rapidly realized, at a loss across the board.
Mr Kersley was a man—this indisputable fact being assured by his very proximity—of some forty-five years; his physique was well-maintained, with no extra fat and some visibly fine musculature; his skin, all of which was on show by necessity bound, had taken on a deep overall tan as of the Ages. This making his toothy smile all the more dazzling in contrast. Wearing a short dark beard, and being furtherly hirsute across his whole body, chest, arms and, er, other places, he gave the appearance of a fine specimen of his sex; allied to which was a deep voice and hearty laugh as of a person at rest with the world and mighty happy about it, too.
"Howdy, howdy, so you're the tec's brought in by the Mcgruiger, eh?" He confronted both women with an open expression, staring them both in the eyes as if nothing was out of place in the least—indeed as if he was simply making small-talk at a cocktail party. "Dam' silly business, none-the-less. Paparazzi photos finding their way into unauthorised magazines and articles—can't have that, y'know. Privacy of our members, and all that sort'a thing. So, how long d'you think it'll take t'find the perpetrator? Not long, I hope. The members here wanting to enjoy their leisure without such niggling annoyances, eh?"
"Paparazzi? What's that?" Alice, even in her present predicament, always being open to new concepts—well, mostly.
"An Italian dialect term. Came across it when I was in that country on holiday last year." Kersley seemed prefectly happy to explain. "Means a news photographer—or, at least, one who takes secretive photos of celebrities when they're, er, otherwise engaged or off-guard."
"So, apropos of nothing at all to do with your, aahm, work, how d'you find the naturist lifestyle? Bracing—exhilarating, ain't it? Bet ya both sign on as members before you leave, I'm sure. You'll love the life; lot's of nice people here, t'do naked things with all year round, y'know. Sports, athletics, beauty competitions, little amateur films an' theatricals, an' suchlike. Oh, you'll soon get into the swing of things."
Faced with this flurry of possibilities neither woman had any intention of taking up in a month of Sundays, or any other day of the week, Fiona and Alice stood speechless before their interlocutor; but this didn't stop Kersley's flow of enthusiasm for his chosen lifestyle.
"Yep, it's a grand life, bein' nude all day, out in the open air amongst your companions, and the masses in general." He paused to gaze around at the crowd on the long beach, with an almost proprietorial air. "Nothing comes close to it, y'know. Freedom, that's the thing. That's what most new arrivals say, when pushed. Freedom, from clothes, from the pressures of Society, from the merely mundane and accepted codes; to stand free and naked before your friends, or among the crowd, and know you're simply being natural. Natural—Nature, that's the thing, ladies. Well, I'll leave you to enjoy the rest of your day here, let you get in amongst the throng, as it were. Sure you'll make many new friends in no time at all. Nudity is Freedom, is the motto to remember, ladies. Be Naked, be Free. See ya."
After his disappearance Fiona and Alice stood silently for a few seconds. Trying each in their own way to assimilate this remarkable experience. They were silent, but all round the happy members were walking past, going up and down the jetty, passing from one area of the beach to another, or just sitting on the sand enjoying the sun. A gentle coruscation of reflected light flickering from innumerable well-lotioned bodies as the sunlight glanced off the massed nude sun-worshippers. The fact everyone was naked seeming, indeed, to be something that was taken as read and to which little if any note ought to be taken. Fiona and Alice, curiously, began to find that they themselves weren't quite as shy or nervous of their predicament as they had been to begin with.
"Well, er, well."
"Yeah, got'ta say, everyone does seem t'be takin' it all like as if they were just out fer a day at Coney Island." Fiona still, though, observing her immediate surroundings with some remaining astonishment.
"One thing, sis," Alice shrugging in bewilderment. "Being naked, and all, seems t'bring everyone down to the same level; socially speaking, I mean. Like, you're just naked, and that's all there is to it. I don't—I don't feel quite so, er, worried, as I thought would be the case, after all. How about you?"
Fiona took a few seconds to consider the subject, then shrugged in her turn as they moved away from the jetty along the sandy beach.
"With everyone bein' in the same state, I suppose it eventually helps t'make ya feel, I don't know, included, or something."
A little further along the beach, wending their way carefully among the groups of men, women, and familiy parties, they finally reached the grassy lawns once more. But even here there was no respite; many members engaging in a variety of sports, such as tennis, badminton, or suchlike. Some were enjoying themselves darting around throwing a large colourful ball to each other, with shouts of laughter and glee ringing loudly the while.
"Everyone seems t'be having great fun."
"Amazing as it may seem, yeah." Fiona looking around with interest as they moved across the wide grassy space, amongst all the revelers.
"Where're we going now?" Alice, though still feeling a little shy, was beginning to adjust to her environment somewhat. "Can't waste the day playing games."
"It might be a way of getting to know, oh, people." Fiona was in the throes of forming a plan. "Talk t'them; idle chat, or whatnot. Maybe give us an idea of how the photographer operates."
"Hmm." Alice considered this as they continued over a meadow-like lawn with a line of trees some fifty yards further on. "Who do we pick, to interrogate? Please, not a family—I couldn't endure that,—yet, anyway."
"Nah, jest some women, whoever seems free for the moment." Fiona nodded in agreement with her companion. "Strange, I'm beginnin' t'feel not so unduly nervous now. How about you, doll?"
Alice, sticking close by her lover's side, glanced around taking in the general nature of her surroundings, and those at play in it.
"Well, everyone else, and their aunt apparently, being in the same state—well, it gives you the impression you're just following the fashion, just mixing with everyone—almost just acting normal, if you get me."
"Yeah, know what ya mean." Fiona agreed off-handedly, her attention being elsewhere. "Hey, how about those two women over there? They don't seem to be doing anything, and they're both about our own age. How about it?"
"Oh, God, here we go again." Alice moaned softly, gripping her compatriot's wrist tightly as she swiftly reneged on her previous words without an iota of shame. "Jeez, I do so wish I could just put my dam' clothes back on."
The two women, when accosted by the perambulating detectives, broke out in wide welcoming smiles.
"Hallo, I'm Doris, and this's Marjorie, nice to meet you both—new here, I fancy?"
"Yeah, jest came t'day, as it happens." Fiona taking on the task of leader. "Seems a mighty well-run organisation, all round. Plenty of happy faces everywhere."
"Indeed," Doris smiled wider still, at this compliment to the Club. "Been established almost twenty years, now. One happy family, everyone doing their best, and enjoying life. You both just here for the day, or thinking of taking a full membership? It's a great healthy atmosphere, you know."
Fiona and Alice, all this while, had been trying —because of their own natures and inclinations—to look as unconcerned with each others', and the two womens', nudity as could be; but their feeble attempts in this direction couldn't, it appeared, withstand the eagle eyes of long-term members of a nudist club. Marjorie spoke up first.
"A couple, are you? Easy to see, at first glance." She smiled straightforwardly at the discomfited pair. "Don't worry, all one to us, y'know. Live and let live is the Club's second motto, after all. Say, you ain't, by any chance, detectives, are you?"
"Oh, Jee-sus, does every-bloody-body know?" Alice crumbling under the strain of being so easily found out.
"Frankly, yes." Doris took up the subject again. "Mrs McGruiger seems to have thought it a canny idea to let the position become public knowledge; and so frighten off the photographer, y'see."
"She might'a told us." Alice looking meaner than a hyena deprived of its breakfast antelope.
"Swings and roundabouts." Marjorie cut in here, waxing philosophical. "At least you get to have a great day out, and see new horizons. This is a new horizon for you both, I expect?"
Fiona didn't need to glance at her companion to judge her feelings.
"Yeah, you can say that twice, lady." She attempted a sweet smile, though inwardly well aware it probably looked more like colic to the two other women. "Alice here wasn't too pleased when told she'd need t'shed all the essentials; but I think she's coming round slowly. How're ya feeling now, dol—I mean, Al?"
For the last five minutes Alice had been absorbed in the serious issue of where to put her hands and arms—whether high, across her, er, chest; or lower, sweetly crossed in front of, ahem. Now she jerked to attention at Fiona's question.
"What? Oh, yeah, certainly. What?"
"Will you excuse us? We have t'go an' see Mrs McGruiger." Fiona, clutching at thin straws, came out with the first idea that crossed her over-heated mind. "Come along, Al, things t'do."
"Oh, really? Oh, yeah, right. G'bye ladies, nice meeting you."
Fiona more or less dragged her unresisting lover away from the duo of well-intentioned members, leading her across the greensward towards a slight incline topped with fir trees giving a panoramic view of the general area. She stopped just before reaching the line of trees, turning to look back out over the crowded beach, now some thirty feet below their point of view and around seventy yards off, and across the wide inlet scattered over with white-sailed yachts and red and blue rowboats.
"What're we doing here?" Alice being by nature inquisitive. "Thought we were going back to beard Mrs McGruiger in her den, and find out just why she's told every dam' soul here who the dam' we are? God, I can feel the cool breeze up here blowing all over my—er, all over,—brr."
"That later, but first take a look out over this scene—what d'ya see, lady?"
Alice stood straight, taking her partner at her word.
"What's to see? Well, the whole place, more or less." She glanced from side to side, taking it all in like a good detective. "The lawns all round, with people playing badminton, and what-all. God, Al, did you see the women playing badminton? The way they're—the way they—ah, the way—"
"Yeah, yeah, beautiful, no doubt about it, wish we could come here more often." Fiona however had her thoughts centred on a rather more serious topic. "Anyway, see the lake inlet?"
"Well, yeah, can hardly miss it; it being there, and all. Boats and whatever, and everything."
"Exactly." Fina now sprang her idea fully formed on her unsuspecting compatriot. "That's where the photographer took his pictures from. A yacht sailing by out on the inlet. He would'a come in surruptitiously from the main lake, used his camera, and sailed away unnoticed, y'see."
"Oh, ah, well, it's a possibility." Alice sounding less than impressed.
"Possibility, my arse—oh, sorry, things bein', er, as they are." Recovering well from this little faux pas Fiona snorted contemptuously, flinging one arm wide taking in the whole scene spread out in front of the women. "What we haven't had a chance to do yet is ask McGruiger to let us see the photos the unknown photographer took. I bet they were all taken from a boat out on this inlet, comprising views of those on the beach."
"It'd be the easiest way of infiltrating the Club, without having to register, and take-off your clothes." Fiona laughed out loud as a detail came to mind. "Don't ya see? If he had to come in the main gate and strip naked, he'd have been unable to hide his bloody camera, wouldn't he?"
Alice considered this for a few seconds before slowly nodding.
"Seems reasonable. After all, being absolutely naked, without a stitch to your name—a position I feel strongly myself right now, baby—there wouldn't be anywhere a man could hide a Hasselblad, or whatever. Yeah, you've got something there, lover."
"I know it. Come on, let's go an' get t'grips with Mrs McGruiger." Fiona led the way back down the slight incline to the wide-spreading lawns. "Can't wait t'hear her excuses fer making like the town-crier about our presence here."
Moving swiftly over the short smooth grass the women found themselves if not running at least scampering quickly over the ground down to the level lawn; laughing and holding hands as they did so, for once completely unthinking of their state of nudity.
"Ha-ha, that was fun." Alice swung Fiona's arm high as they came to a halt on the light warm grass. "Can we do that again, I enjoyed that?"
"What? Nekkid, an' all?"
"Yes, better naked, in fact." Alice laughed again, at last finally at peace with herself and her surroundings. "God, if we could do this—running around naked all day, holding hands in public in a natural accepting way like we're doing now—I'd get to like it pretty quick, I can tell you, lover. God, maybe being naked ain't so bad, after all, y'know? What do you think?"
Fiona, now strolling by her companion's side, glanced down at the lively joyful light in her lover's eyes, and smiled broadly herself.
"Y'seem to have gotten used to the place fast enough?" She laughed again. "Well, we'll need to see about that. First things first,—the McGruiger, OK?"
Alice surrendered with a smile as they walked on over the grass, nodding politely to various other members they passed on the way; neither woman now as nervous or uptight as they had been.
The detectives took Mrs McGruiger's explanation, that she had thought it the best idea to spread the news around the Club so frightening off anyone there harbouring thoughts of replicating the previous unauthorised photos, in good part. They were shown these offending photos, previously printed in several magazines and newspapers, and Fiona's theory was proved correct—they had all been taken from a boat on the lake inlet.
It was a rather curious feeling for the two women, to be seated in Mrs McGruiger's private office, all three discussing the subject in a state of nudity; but in a remarkably short time both Fiona and Alice again found themselves perfectly at ease, accepting their nudity as a natural aspect of their day—something they would never have credited only that morning.
"I was thinking you might stay the weekend." Mrs McGruiger raised her eyebrows hopefully at her guests. "It'll let you explore the Club all the more, and maybe give you some clearer idea of the photographer's movements and future actions."
Fiona glanced at Alice, who frowned for a moment then raised her eyes to her lover, giving a decisive nod.
"Yeah, we'd both like that." Fiona smiled at the Club's owner. "Funnily enough, we were both pretty much scared this morning when we arrived; but now we—well, we're gettin' t'like the set-up. Yeah, we'll stay the weekend with pleasure."
Here Alice, nodding in agreement with her partner, glanced from Fiona to Mrs McGruiger and back, then came clean with a shy smile.
"Yes, we'll stay the weekend." She smiled more broadly now, visibly relaxing on the sofa beside her lover. "In fact, we've gotten to like the whole set-up so much we were wondering—well, how much an annual subscription might be? I mean, if you had room for two more members?"
"No difficulty there, ladies." Mrs McGruiger smiled widely herself. "We always have room for apt and personable members—and you both are perfectly suitable, I assure you."
The afternoon was waning now; not quite evening, but getting there. After leaving Mrs McGruiger Fiona and Alice had bravely gone out on the wide grass lawns once more, soaking up the atmosphere of the place, and its varied members engaged in their hobbies, sports, or simple relaxation. Within another two hours both women found themselves at ease, taking their own, and the other members', state of nudity as a done deal of no great moment—almost, in fact, as if it was a social activity they had been accustomed to for years. Everyone, certainly, was nude; but so were they and, they both agreed amazingly enough, they liked it.
Alice was gripping Fiona's hand tightly as they strolled in the evening light on the wide field-like lawn near their cabin.
"It's—it's, just lovely." She laughed in delight as they walked on, smiling at a naked man and woman who passed close by. "Hallo, there; yeah, nice evening. God, I could get to think this is Paradise, you know, Fay."
"Who knows, perhaps for us it is." Fiona gripped the bare shoulder of the woman in all the world she loved without bounds. "Come on, let's go to our cabin. Can ya think of anything interestin' we might do;—in the cabin, with the drapes closed, all by ourselves, in the nude?"
"Curiously, yes, I do, lover."
Another 'Drever and Cartwright' story will arrive shortly.