Malarkey, p.1

Malarkey, page 1

 part  #5 of  Lark Dodge Mysteries Series



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  A Lark Dodge Mystery


  Sheila Simonson

  Uncial Press Aloha, Oregon


  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and events described herein are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locations, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  ISBN 13: 978-1-60174-182-0


  Copyright © 2014 by Sheila Simonson

  Cover design

  Copyright © 2014 by Judith B. Glad

  Poulabrone photo by JoeHoughton

  Previously published in 1997 by St. Martin's Press,

  and in1998 by Worldwide Library

  All rights reserved. Except for use in review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means now known or hereafter invented, is forbidden without the written permission of the publisher.

  Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to five (5) years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.

  Published by Uncial Press,

  an imprint of GCT, Inc.

  Visit us at

  Permission to reprint from the following is gratefully acknowledged:

  "The Hosting of the Sidhe" from The Poems of W.B. Yeats: A New Edition, edited by Richard Finneran (NY: Macmillan, 1983)

  "Long-Legged Fly" and "Under Ben Bulben" reprinted with permission of Simon and Schuster from The Poems of WB Yeats: A New Edition, edited by Richard Finneran. Copyright 1940 by Georgie Yeats, renewed 1968 by Bertha Georgie Yeats, Michael Butler Yeats and Anne Yeats.

  "Meditation in Time of Civil War" reprinted with the permission of Simon & Schuster from The Poems of W.B. Yeats: A New Edition, edited by Richard J. Finneran. Copyright 1928 by Macmillan Publishing Company, renewed 1956 by Georgie Yeats.

  Special thanks are due to Anne McCaffrey, for her generous hospitality and good advice, and to Richard Woods, for his cottage. Needless to say, nothing unpleasant happened there and much that was pleasant did. Anne McCaffrey R.I.P.

  This book is for my husband Mickey,

  who shared an Irish adventure with me,

  though it wasn't Lark's adventure.

  Chapter 1

  I'm a rambler, I'm a gambler,

  I'm a long ways from home...

  Irish song.

  Keep left. I entered the roundabout under the indignant nose of a lorry approaching from the right.

  "Did you say something, Lark?" My father leaned forward against the seatbelt the better to read road signs. "Should be the second exit. Ah."

  I eased the car around the tight curve. Was that sedan going to ram me from the left? No, I had the right-of-way. I shifted to second left-handed.

  The roundabout decanted my red Toyota hatchback onto a major street, two lanes each direction, moderate traffic, lights, and, oh God, a sign warning of another roundabout. I kept the car in second gear.

  "The Southeast!" Dad announced, triumphant. He was the navigator. "Left lane."

  With a premature sigh of relief, I flipped on the windshield wipers and entered the correct lane to head south on the N11. It took me a second or two to turn the wipers off.

  It was not raining. The problem lay with the car. The turn signal lever was in the windshield wiper slot and vice versa. The effect unnerved me. No doubt it unnerved the drivers following me, too. I shifted into third.

  It was five years since I had driven on the left, and that had been in England. Driving in Ireland was different in ways I was only beginning to comprehend. I had just come south from Dublin airport and, jet-lagged though I was, I hadn't bumbled into the heart of the city. With Dad's help, I had negotiated the Eastlink—a route along major streets that led to a toll-bridge across the Liffey and, ultimately, to the Irish Ferries terminal. Since we didn't need a ferry, we were now trying to make sense of the roadmap the man at the car-hire desk had given us. It was not easy. For one thing, some of the signs gave place names in both Irish and English. Does Ath Cliath look anything like Dublin? A rhetorical question.

  Dad squinted at a street sign posted high on a shop. "Stillorgan Road—I think this is right."

  "It should turn into a freeway, I mean a motorway, fairly soon." I braked as the traffic halted for a stop light. So far the N11 was just another four-lane street. At half-past two of an April afternoon, the traffic was still moderate. The light changed. I shifted appropriately and kept to the slow lane. Cars went on passing me on the right. They were supposed to pass on the right, I reminded myself. I was gripping the wheel too hard. I flexed my fingers one by one.

  We putted through the southern suburbs of Dublin for a good quarter of an hour before the street evolved into a motorway. A van and two cars zoomed past on my right. At last I worked up the courage to overtake the Morris Mini I had been tailing at 35 mph— and flipped on the windshield wipers. "Damnation."

  "Are you all right?"

  I turned the wipers off again and shifted rapidly into fourth, pulling back into the slow lane ahead of the Mini. A red L in the window announced that the driver was a Learner. "I can manage the left-handed gear shift, and paranoia is keeping me on the left-hand side of the road, but I can't seem to get the hang of the turn signal. How far do we go on the N11?"

  "About a hundred kilometers."

  The speed limit—seventy—was posted in miles per hour, but distances on the signposts were given in kilometers. I kept having to make arithmetic conversions, no easy task for an English major.

  "Uh, sixty-five miles?"

  "About that."

  I decided I could relax and drive for a while without watching for the turnoff. "Bray," a blue and white road sign announced, and, in parenthesis, "Bré." I had the vague notion that Bray was a resort town.

  I whizzed past the exit. "Nice weather."

  "Yes. It's been raining." Dad had spent the previous ten days doing historical research in Dublin. He and his luggage had taken a taxi out to meet me at the airport. "Are you groggy?"

  "A little. But my body's at seven in the morning, so I'll be okay for a while." I live in the Pacific Northwest and that meant an eight hour time difference on top of a twelve hour flight. I had slept a little on the plane.

  "It was good of you to come, Lark."

  "Now, Dad, you promised you wouldn't cover me with gratitude. I needed the break." I was driving my father because he had suffered a mild stroke the previous summer.

  Dad was only sixty-eight, and he had made an excellent recovery. Still, he didn't trust himself behind the wheel, and neither did the State of New York. It had suspended his license until his physicians and the folks at the DMV were ready to give him their blessing. So far he hadn't asked for it. My mother fretted over that. She thought he should try, but I figured it was his body. Besides, I wanted to get away. From what wasn't entirely clear to me.

  My father is an emeritus professor of history at a small liberal arts college in upstate New York. His field of expertise is the American Civil War, specifically Confederate finance. However, he comes from an old Quaker family and had done considerable personal research into the Society of Friends over the years.

  When Dad decided to get back to his roots and research the Irish Friends, everyone thought his interest was a sign of returning vigor. He could study the records of the Dublin Meeting easily enough without a car—and had done so before I arrived—but he wanted to visit the Quaker settlements in the southeast, villages where the Dailey famil
y had lived and flourished before they migrated to Pennsylvania at the beginning of the nineteenth century. For that, he needed a car and a driver. I was the driver-elect.

  "Watch out," Dad said. "I think the freeway's going to end."

  Sure enough, the road narrowed—to two slim lanes with lots of curves and no perceptible shoulder. We passed through hamlets set in glens of an intense green rendered more intense by contrast with dark rock outcroppings and brilliant flowering gorse. Traffic piled up behind me, but there was no way I was going to push the Toyota beyond fifty on those curves.

  At last the road widened again to four lanes. A sign announced that we were approaching Newtownmountkennedy. Now there was a place name that would have been simpler in Irish. About five miles farther south, the N11 gave up any pretense of being a motorway. The sky clouded over. A patter of rain encouraged me to turn on the wipers. I managed to do it without hitting the turn signal first.

  The road wound upward and down again through at least forty shades of green. Sheep dotted the high hills, and sleek black and white milk cows browsed the lower reaches. One field had been mown in stripes as neatly as a lawn. I was used to huge unbroken expanses with an occasional barbed wire fence. Here I saw, for the first time, the magic of Gerard Manley Hopkins's landscape—"plotted and pieced, fold, fallow, and plough." Hopkins was an Englishman, but his years as a priest had mostly been spent in Ireland.

  Had I come to Ireland for poetic insight? I didn't think so. It stopped raining. I flipped the turn signal. "Tell me about our landlord," I murmured, correcting my error. A car passed.

  "Alex was a student of mine for a couple of years. He thought he might go into history, but he was impatient about details."

  "Tut tut." I didn't actually say that, but I made a sympathetic sound. For Dad history was details.

  "He and his wife, Barbara, and a friend started a little company, Stonehall Enterprises, in their garage. It's the classic success story. They wanted to make CD ROM disks for university libraries. All of ancient Greek literature can be put on one disk..."

  "Or the Dead Sea Scrolls?" The road was winding through steep hills and there was no shoulder. I gripped the wheel.

  "Yes, now that they're in the public domain. A team of computer experts has recorded the texts of Tibetan Buddhism, too."

  "Using an electronic scanner? How did they know the scanner hadn't scrambled the texts?" I had used scanners and was familiar with their eccentricities.

  "They hired monks."

  Copy-editing monks. Why not? I wondered if anyone had scanned the Book of Kells. Speaking of monks.

  "Watch out."

  I hugged the shoulder as a lorry heaped with squashed car bodies wobbled past, going north. A portent? Keep left, I told myself, keep your eyes on the road. "So did the Steins' scholarly disks pay off?"

  "Of course not." Dad gave a mild snort at my innocence—or at the innocence of his former students. "There's no money in history. Alex and Barbara were going bankrupt, so they took on a partner, an idea man. They started making entertainment disks— albums of unusual images, multimedia things..." His voice trailed. Dad's interest in multimedia could be gauged by his vagueness. He was an old-fashioned man, in many ways, though not a fuddy- duddy.

  The road wound on. I drove through the village of Ashford without incident, but at Rathnew, a few kilometers along, I had to negotiate a right turn of 110 degrees at a three-way intersection. And all I was doing was following the N11.

  "So what happened to Stonehall Enterprises?"

  "They made lots of money and decided to move the plant to Ireland for tax reasons."

  "And they bought a castle."

  "It's a Victorian Gothic manor house. An investment, Alex tells me. They're renovating it."

  "Busy little bees."

  Dad chuckled. I drove.

  The highway rose into rolling hills with a 'climbing lane' that permitted the half-dozen cars stacked up behind me to pass. The Toyota chugged along in fourth. It was a tight little car with plenty of power. I could have gone eighty, but not on that road. The climbing lane disappeared.

  My father is six foot three inches tall and I am six feet, so our knees came perilously near the dashboard, but I hadn't gone a kilometer before I understood the wisdom of Dad's choice. A larger car would have been useless on streets and roads designed for donkey carts. Even the highway, in those stretches without a shoulder, was too narrow for, say, my husband's Honda Accord—not a huge car but not small, either. The Toyota was just right. Too bad it didn't come with automatic transmission.

  "Not far now," Dad murmured.

  "A right turn?"

  "Alex said west from the N11."

  "All right." I was driving due south. "What the hell?"

  An oncoming Mercedes had flashed its lights. It began to pass the van ahead of it—in my lane. I swerved onto the shoulder, which was wide and paved, and the Mercedes swept by unscathed. A miracle.

  Then the cars behind me began to pass in the face of on- coming traffic. I clung to the shoulder. When the last car squeezed between the Toyota and a coach load of tourists bound for Dublin, I gave up. I hit the emergency blinker, rolled to a stop, and set the handbrake. Two more cars surged past. Then it was quiet, the road empty in both directions.

  I laid my head on the steering wheel. "Wow."

  Dad cleared his throat. He hadn't made a sound from the moment the Mercedes flashed its lights until the rear window of the coach receded northbound. When I looked at him, he gave me a tentative smile. "All right?" He was rather pale.

  I swallowed hard. "I may live."

  "I think there's a pattern."

  "A giant game of Chicken?" I sat up and fiddled with the rearview mirror.

  He said seriously, "The car that wants to pass flashes its lights, and both the vehicle it's overtaking and the on-coming vehicles move onto the shoulder."

  "To make a passing lane in the middle?" I shuddered. "They leave a lot to faith."

  "An Irish habit."

  I drew a long breath. "It's going to take some getting used to. Thank God for the paved shoulder."

  "The cars behind you didn't pass until there was one."

  "So there are rules."

  He rubbed the bridge of his nose. "A pity the car-hire people don't hand out pamphlets with driving tips. It would save unnecessary anxiety."

  Anxiety? Terror was closer to the mark. When my pulse slowed, I eased back onto the road and raised the speed to fifty-five. "Now, about this turn-off."

  He dug in his jacket pocket—quite a feat with the seatbelt firmly in place—and found the printout his student had sent him describing the cottage we were renting. He read it to me.

  Ten minutes later he said, "We just missed it."

  "Oh, no, I'm afraid to leave the N11." We were approaching Arklow. I knew from my English experience I couldn't just drive around the block to correct my error. There were no blocks.

  The highway curved past a school and a stretch of shops before it crossed the River Avoca on a narrow bridge. I glimpsed a pretty boat harbor to my left, but had no time for rubber-necking. A sign announced that an experimental traffic light lay ahead. I could see where the road ended in a T. The light wasn't working. I wondered if the experimenters had noticed.

  At the T intersection, I did my head-twisting trick, checking for traffic in the wrong direction and then turned right onto a narrow street. Cars parked on both sides allowed one and a half lanes for traffic. I inched up the long hill at the head of another impromptu parade.

  "It's the High Street," Dad observed.

  "High but not Wide." I avoided knocking the mirror off a parked car as a lorry boomed past me.

  The street wound upward, full of shops. I spotted banks, hotels, a scattering of restaurants and news agents, a bookie, and the post office, if that was what An Post meant. A gray church loured on the left. The dominant color of the stonework in Arklow was a somber gray, but many of the buildings had been stuccoed in cheerful pastels.
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  At the top of the High Street we came to a roundabout. I negotiated it with grim concentration and retraced our path back to the non-functioning traffic light. A left turn took us across the Avoca- -swans drifted on the slack tide—and we escaped the town. It looked well worth exploring, but not then.

  "Turn left at that brown sign."

  Obedient, I dodged onto a one-lane paved road. As I shifted to third, a van careened toward me going flat out. I scraped onto the non-existent shoulder. We didn't die. "I don't know if I can take much more of this."

  "You should see the view from the passenger seat."

  I glanced at Dad. "I'd rather drive."

  "I keep wincing at gateposts," he admitted. There was now no margin for error. A stone wall six feet high and overgrown with vine hung right on the edge of the asphalt. I breathed again as the wall gave way to a white-railed fence and four inches of weedy shoulder. A small car whipped past on its way to town. "How much farther?"

  "About half a kilometer. Alex said there was a church tower on the right."

  "I see it." I gripped the wheel and aimed for the tower. As we approached, I saw that it rose above a roofless Protestant church and a neat graveyard, walled, with tall marker slabs. "Next road left?"

  "Toward the river."

  I turned onto a graveled lane, and we jounced and rattled between bramble hedges. The trees that towered over the hedges had not yet leafed out. Patches of blooming gorse brightened fields full of incurious cows. A rook rose from the ground with an angry flap of wings.

  "Oh, my word," Dad murmured.

  I braked and gaped. Below us lay an enchanted palace, a fandango of turrets in a green, green field. Stanyon Hall.

  "A remarkable structure," Dad said. "I can see why Alex wants to save it."

  I put the car in first gear and rolled on. It wasn't a palace, of course, or even a castle. It was just the residence of an Anglo-Irish landlord with more money than sense, a monument to foolish display. Dad had told me the history. The Stanyons were long gone, and the place had been used as a TB hospital and, briefly, a convent. Then it had stood derelict until the Steins bought it two years before. No longer dazzled, I could see scaffolding, patched stucco, a tarp draped over one of the battlements. A mundane metal shed sat on the far edge of the grass.

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