Waterford, Ireland, one year later
Danaher’s is the oldest bar in the Southeast of Ireland: stone-floored, wooden, and dim. Salvaged timber from unlucky ships stretches in beams under the low ceiling, making shelves for rusty tankards and tangled green fishing nets. Fires live and die in the wide stone hearth. The men’s room is called the jacks and the jacks is outside: two stalls, one with no door.
“And we haven’t had a shite stolen yet,” Ed Danaher liked to say when anyone complained.
Joe Lucchesi was undergoing an interrogation at the bar.
“Have you ever said ‘Freeze, motherfucker’?” asked Hugh, pushing his glasses up his nose. Hugh was tall and gangly, bowing his head as he talked, always ready to walk through a low doorway. His black hair was pulled into a frizzy ponytail, and his long fingers tucked back the stray strands. His friend Ray rolled his eyes.
“Or ‘Anything you say or do can be held against you in a court of law’?” said Hugh.
“Or found peanut shells in someone’s trousers?”
“That was CSI, you fuckwit,” said Ray. “Don’t mind him. Seriously, though, have you ever planted evidence?”
They all laughed. Joe couldn’t remember a night when he had gone for a drink without being asked about his old job. Even his friends still pumped him for information.
“You guys need to get out more,” he said.
“Come on, nothing happens in this kip,” said Hugh.
A kip in Ireland was a dive in America, but to Joe, Mountcannon was far from a dive. It was a charming fishing village that had been his home for the past six months, thanks to his wife, Anna. Concerned for their marriage, their son, Shaun, and the family sanity, she had brought them here to save what she loved. Anna had wanted him to quit after his last case, but he didn’t, so they agreed he would vest out for a year—temporary retirement that gave him nine months to decide whether or not he’d go back.
He didn’t know then where that year would take him. Anna was a freelance interior designer and had pitched an idea to Vogue
Living to renovate an old building, bought by the magazine and shot in stages. The building she chose was Shore’s Rock, a deserted weather-beaten lighthouse on the edge of a cliff outside Mountcannon, the village she had fallen in love with when she was seventeen.
When they got there, Joe understood how she felt. But he needed his New York fix. He would go to the local store and pick up USA Today, or USA Two Days Ago. He’d say to Danny Markey, “If anything big happens back home, call me a couple days later, so I’ll know what you’re talking about.”
In New York, Ireland was Sunday afternoons and WFUV 90.7, “Forty Shades of Green” and “Galway Shawl.” But in an isolated lighthouse near a small village, the real Ireland was not all sentimental ballads . . . and it was far from simple practicalities. He could score a great pint and find a friend in any of Mountcannon’s three bars, but try renting a movie, ordering in, or finding an ATM. For most people, Ed Danaher played banker and barman, always happy to refill his till with the cash he had just handed out.
Joe stood up, slid some notes across the bar, and said goodbye to the two men. He made his way home in fifteen minutes, enjoying the turn of the last bend when the stark, freshly painted white of the lighthouse would rise up from the dark. He pushed open the gate and walked the hundred meters along the lane to the front door.
The site was sloping, carved into the cliff side, and made up of an almost jumbled collection of buildings, dating back to the 1800s and added to over the years until it was finally deserted in the late sixties. There were three separate two-story buildings, two of which could be used as living spaces. The first held the hallway, the kitchen, the living room, and the den on the ground floor, and the main bedroom, guest bedroom, and bathroom on the first floor. The second building was like a huge basement to the first, set lower into the cliff—a darker, small-windowed space. The first story was Shaun’s bedroom and the lower story a wine cellar. The third building was the round tower of the lighthouse, a separate structure to the rear of the main house. From the outside, it looked complete, but it was what lay inside that was the biggest challenge. Higher up on the site, above the house, a large shed had been transformed into a fully kitted-out workshop that Joe was still learning to use. He had made some of what Anna called the cruder furniture in the house, but she said it like a compliment, so that was good enough for him.
By the end of the year, she wanted the house to be modern and comfortable, with as many of the original features as she could keep. She was in the right part of the country for that, with carpenters, ironmongers, and builders easy to find, but she learned quickly not to be as exacting in her timings as she would have been in New York. And the usual enticement of a mention in Vogue was hardly likely to stir these guys. But even in six months, they had helped to transform the unfulfilled potential of the dank, crumbling rooms and battered exteriors. When the family had first walked into Shore’s Rock, it was as if everything had been deserted in a hurry, like some great tragedy had swept old keepers away. It stank of the sea, of damp, of rotting timber. It looked hopeless to Joe and Shaun, but Anna called it perfect dereliction.
Now all the exterior brickwork had been repainted. In the house, under-floor heating had been installed and interior walls and floorboards whitewashed. Simple white wooden furniture with modern touches added minimal decoration to the rooms. Shaun’s bedroom was the first to be finished, but only after a satellite dish was installed. Anna had had to do something to stop the spread of his sixteen-year-old angst.
For him, the culture shock had been intense, because he was young and his world was so small. He couldn’t bear the isolation that for Anna was heaven, removed as she was from the same old faces at the same old press launches and gallery openings, transported now to another era. In Mountcannon, you knew your neighbors, you left your car unlocked, and no street was unsafe.
Joe slid into bed beside Anna. “Assume the position,” he whispered. She smiled, half asleep, and turned her back to him as he wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her tiny body toward him. He pressed kisses into the back of her head and fell asleep to the sound of the sea crashing against the rocks.
“Full Irish?” asked Joe, smiling. He was dressed only in jeans, standing over the stove, pointing a greasy spatula at Anna.
“No, no!” she laughed. “I don’t know how they do this every morning. Bacon, eggs, sausages, black pudding, white pudding . . .” She shook her head and walked barefoot across the floor to the cupboard. She stood on tiptoes to reach the top shelf.
“Makes a man out of you,” said Joe.
“Makes a fat man out of you,” said Anna.
“Everyone is fat to a Frenchwoman,” said Joe.
“Every American, maybe.”
“That’s gotta hurt,” said Shaun, sliding into his chair at the table, stretching his legs wide at either side. “Bring it on, Dad. I am proud to fly the American flag this morning.” He grabbed his knife and fork and smiled his father’s crooked smile. The Lucchesi genes overrode the Briaudes’, but what made Shaun so striking was that against the dark hair and sallow skin of his father shone the pale green eyes of his mother.
“Thank you, son,” said Joe.
“But it wouldn’t hurt to put a shirt on,” said Shaun.
“You’re just jealous. And I always fry topless,” said Joe. “So I don’t stink after.”
He dished the food out onto two plates and breathed in dramatically. “Your mother does not know what she’s missing.”
“I do,” said Anna, nodding at Joe’s belly.
He slapped it. “One day of crunches, it’s gone,” he said.
She made a face.
He was right. He had always been in shape.
“C’mon, honey,” he said. “How am I ever going to compete with a woman who shops in the children’s department?”
She smiled. He pulled a white long-sleeved T-shirt over his head and walked over to the kettle. He took the French press down from a shelf beside it, then poured in boiling water and shook it up the sides. When the glass was hot, he threw out the water and tipped four scoops of Kenyan grounds into the bottom. He filled it with water to the edge of the chrome rim. He rinsed the plunger in boiling water and put it on top, twisting it so the opening to the spout was blocked. After four minutes, he plunged gently, watching the grains being pushed slowly to the base of the jug. He rotated the top of the plunger so the grate was lined up with the spout and the coffee would pour. Joe could never watch anyone else make coffee.
“Your father called last night,” said Anna suddenly. Shaun’s eyes widened, but he knew when to stay quiet.
“Sure he did,” said Joe, carrying the coffee to the table.
“He did. He’s getting married.”
Joe stared at her. “You’re shitting me.”
“Watch your language. And I’m serious. How could I make that up? He wants you to go over.”
“Jesus Christ. Is it Pam?”
“Of course it’s Pam. You’re dreadful.”
“Well, you wouldn’t know with that guy.”
“He’s unbelievable,” said Shaun.
“Yup,” said Joe. “Roll in the family so you’ll look normal to your new husband or wife. ‘See? My kids are here for my wedding. They’re pretty cool. I’m not an axe murderer.’ ”
“Well . . .”
“Uh, Mom,” said Shaun. “I hate to change the subject, but do you have any baby photos of me? I mean, did you bring any to Ireland?”
“You know, you would think I wouldn’t bother,” said Anna, “but they were so cute I put a few in my diary. Hold on.”
She brought her diary from the bedroom and pulled three photos from an envelope in the back.
“Look at you,” she said. She held up the first photo, a two-year-old Shaun in the bath, his face smiling through a halo of foam. Then one of him at four, in camouflage gear, holding a plastic rifle. In the third, he was blowing out five candles on a cake shaped like a beetle.
“That cake was a nightmare,” she said. “Your father hovering over me the whole time, making sure it was anatomically correct.”
“That cake was awesome,” said Shaun. “But I’ll go with the GI shot. Cute, but politically incorrect. Like me. The secret bug life might be a bit much.”
“What’s it for?” asked Anna.
“Our school Web site,” said Shaun. “St. Declan’s is actually getting a site. We have this computer teacher, Mr. Russell, who was in some massive software firm in the nineties, but burned out and went into teaching. Anyway, he’s cool. He wants every kid in fifth year to have something posted on the site with a biography. So we all have to bring in photos, kind of like before and afters. From geek to chic.”
Anna laughed. “Well, there’s nothing geeky about my little clean-cut army boy,” she said, looking at the photo. “Maybe you could be the chic-to-geek guy,” she said, eyeing his jeans.
“Mom, you don’t know the meaning of ‘geek.’ ”
“Well, what is it, then? Boys in sloppy jeans with shirts down to their knees?”
“No. That’s someone cool. A geek is a nerd. Think of Dad.”
She hit him with her diary. Joe laughed. Shaun finished his breakfast, grabbed his school bag, and ran.
“See you at the show tonight,” he called, and the door slammed behind him.
Anna turned to Joe and pointed at him. “Call your father.”
“Okay, I’ll call my fazzer,” he said. Her English was almost perfect, but “ths” still got the better of her. She gave him a look.
“You’re so exotic, Annabel,” he said, lingering on the “l.”
She gave him another look.
Sam Tallon stood in the service room on the second level of the lighthouse, shaking his head. He was a short man with a doughy chubbiness.
“My God, this brings back memories,” he said. “The keeper would be sitting at this desk, filling out his reports. . . .” He stopped and pointed. “You’ll have to get a scraper to the paint on the treads of that ladder.” Sam was Anna’s restoration expert, a former engineer with the Commissioners of Irish Lights. He was sixty-eight years old and she had just made him walk up a narrow spiral staircase.
“Right,” he said, and grabbed on, heaving himself up the rungs of a second ladder, then pushing through a cast-iron trapdoor into the lantern house. His laugh echoed down to her. When she climbed up, he let out a whistle.
“You’ve got a job on your hands here.”
“I thought so,” said Anna, looking around at the cracked, rusty walls.
“You’ll have to strip that right back,” said Sam. “There’s layers and layers of enamel there. It’ll be rock hard.”
At the center of the room was a pedestal holding a vat of mercury that supported the five-ton weight of the lighthouse lens. Only its base could be seen from the lantern house—most of it filled the gallery above. Sam checked the gauge at the side of the vat.
“Well, the mercury level has dropped a small bit. So the rollers underneath the lens are probably taking a little more weight than they’re supposed to. But it’s not a big problem, especially if the light’s not going to be on all the time.”
“I’m just hoping I’ll be able to light it at all.”
“Ah, you should be fine,” said Sam. “I’d say they’ll make you agree to light it only at a certain time and to have the beam travel inland.”
Anna held her breath as Sam studied the base of the lens, checking the clockwork mechanism that rotated it.
“I don’t believe it,” said Sam eventually. “I think it’s all right. After nearly forty years. We’ll need to get the weights moving, but I think you’re in luck.”
“Thank God,” said Anna.
“A mantle, like the wick of a candle, burns inside that,” he said, back to the lens. “If you didn’t have a mantle, there’d be no light. And it’s only a little silk thing you could fit in your pocket.” He chuckled. “Anyway, the prisms in the lens refract the light, the lens rotates and there you have your lovely lighthouse beam.” Sam climbed the ladder inside the lens, breaking cobwebs as he went.
“It’s filthy,” he said. “You’ll have to get at this later, probably after you strip the walls. And you’ll need to get your hands on some new mantles, by the way—fifty-five millimeter.”
They moved back down through the lighthouse and out through the old doors.
“You’ll need to replace them too,” said Sam.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Darkhouse by Alex Barclay. Copyright © 2007 by Alex Barclay. Excerpted by permission of Dell, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.