Chapter Eleven: Consequences.
“OK Niamh, let me get this straight,” said Detective Fiona Kelly consulting her notebook, “you sneaked out of your room because you saw some strange lights up at the old lighthouse. Then, somehow, your cat got out of a locked house. You chased her, and she led you right to where these lights were coming from. There, you were captured by a mysterious man in a hat who locked you in the cellar of the lighthouse. You managed to escape from the cellar but couldn’t escape from the lighthouse itself, despite having found a key for the door. After two days of imprisonment, you managed to signal Mark McHewell with a flashlight and he came up to rescue you. Is that correct, so far?”
Niamh looked around the living room of her parent’s house. Crammed into the small room, were Detective Kelly and Officer Ryan, Niamh’s parents, and Mark and Bree. Her heart quailed as she looked at the skeptical adults. Martha, in particular, wore an expression of disbelief and disdain. Even to Niamh’s own ears, hearing her experiences recounted in this fashion made them seem outlandish, and she could understand why the adults found it all so hard to believe. She glanced at Mark who caught her look and smiled at her, giving a little nod of his head as if to say Go on, you’re doing great.
She looked back at Detective Kelly and said “Yes. That’s right.”
Detective Kelly made a noise that may have been a snort and shook her head slightly. She flipped a page in her notebook, read for a moment, and with an expression that spoke volumes about wasting police time, turned to Mark.
“Now Mark, according to you; after you received this … signal from Niamh, you cycled to the lighthouse and released her using the key she’d found. Before you could leave, two men arrived in a car and you both hid in an upstairs floor of the lighthouse. When the men entered, they broke a mirror then one of them fell into the cellar and broke his leg. The other man followed him down and you locked them in there. Is that correct?”
For obvious reasons, Mark hadn’t told them about Mira intercepting him on his way to the access road and leading him across the fields.
“Yes. I bolted the trapdoor, locked the security gate and snapped off the key in the lock so that they couldn’t escape, and no-one could let them out until we could call you.”
“Hmm. Then you brought Niamh back here, woke Mr and Mrs Kinnear and went home.”
“What did you do then?”
“I woke my mum and told her what had happened. I was worried about the guy in the basement with the broken leg, and I wanted her to call the police station right away.”
Detective Kelly looked at Bree.
“Which you did?”
Bree nodded. Detective Kelly regarded Bree for a moment.
“And you believe this story, Mrs. McHewell?”
Bree looked offended.
“Well, I’ve always brought my son up to…”
Mark had had enough. He stood up and shouted at Detective Kelly.
“Look, I don’t know why you don’t want to believe us but all you have to do is go up and check the flipping basement. There are two guys trapped in there and their car is parked right outside.”
He stood there, red in the face with tears in his eyes, and his bottom lip quivering.
Detective Kelly stared at him coolly.
“Sit down and stop shouting, Mark. There’s been a patrol car up there for the past hour. We spoke to them just before we came in. And they told us some interesting things.”
She counted off on her fingers:
“There is no BMW SUV parked outside, there are no men in the cellar, there is no key broken off in the lock and here is no broken mirror on the floor. The man who lives in the lighthouse, Mr …” She consulted her notes. “… Rogan – a retired barrister - says he’s been there for the past week and has seen nothing strange. How do you explain that, Mark?”
Mark looked at Niamh, his eyes like saucers. Niamh looked just as shocked. He looked at his mum, then at Niamh’s parents and finally back to Detective Kelly. Bree and the Kinnears looked confused and angry. The detective looked furious.
Mark felt trapped. The adults were looking at him, waiting for an answer. He stammered, not knowing what to say; then his sense of justice came to his rescue. An indignant anger rose in him. Sure, he and Niamh had broken a few rules but Niamh was the real victim in all this, and she was being doubted and treated like a criminal. Both he and Niamh knew what had really happened and he wasn’t going to let whoever was behind it get away with it. He tried to keep his composure but his voice was angry and shaky:
“Well. the old guy who lives there is lying. He must be mixed up in whatever's going on. The man that locked Niamh in the basement must have come back after we left and got the men out, then cleaned up, then … then changed the lock on the gate, and taken the car away. It’s the only explanation.”
“It is NOT the only explanation, Mark,” shouted Detective Kelly. “Do you really expect us to believe that a retired barrister – a barrister, Mark – would lie to the police about something like this? And that someone would be able to erase all trace of themselves and change locks in“ – she looked at her watch – “five hours? When are you going to start telling the truth, Mark?”
“That is the truth, I swear!”
Detective Kelly made an exasperated sound, raised her hands and slapped them down on her knees.
“OK Mark, have it your way. But no-one in this room believes you. We know what really happened: Niamh ran away to give her parents a fright because she was angry about being grounded. She got you to hide her in your house. You probably put her up to it, God knows! After a couple of days, you both got scared of the consequences and concocted this fantasy about kidnappers.”
“That’s bullshit!” he screamed at Detective Kelly. “If you were doing your job right, you’d find evidence we were up there and that Niamh was kidnapped. You’re just ignoring us ‘cause we’re kids.”
“Mark!” shouted Bree, her palm on her chest in disbelief. “You will not speak to the officer like that!”
Detective Kelly stood up and gestured to Officer Ryan to follow her.
“We’re done here. You’re lucky I don’t do all of you for wasting our time.”
Mark was still shouting.
“You’re a disgrace. I’m going to take proof to the station and you’ll be in serious trouble for not doing your job.”
Bree ran around the sofa and grabbed his arm but he shook her off.
“It’s just like my dad. You never really looked for him. You just thought he ran off with another woman, or something and didn’t bother your arses. I mean, he was in his car! How many red Porsche 911 GT3s are there in Ireland? Don’t tell me you couldn’t find that! You’re crap!”
Detective Kelly looked at Bree with a threatening expression, and Bree grabbed Mark’s arm again to calm him down. She didn’t have to try hard: He was spent. He sank into an armchair and bawled.
He was only barely aware of his mum and the Kinnears walking out of the room with the police officers, apologizing profusely, and Detective Kelly advising them to get control of their children. Niamh came over and put her arm around him.
“Forget it, Mark,” she said. “They’ll never believe us.”
“They bloody will believe us,” he said through his sobs. “I’ll make sure they do. I’m going back up there and I’m going to find proof. I’ll talk to the old git they were going on about and find out why he’s lying.”
“Please, Mark. Please don’t. Let’s just forget all about it.”
“No way, Dot. I’ve had enough of being ignored. I’ve had enough of being treated like crap.”
Niamh started to respond but the front door slammed, and the three adults came back into the room with faces like thunder.
Twenty minutes later, Niamh was confined to her room again and Mark was in the passenger seat of Bree’s SUV as they headed home. Mark tried to plead his case but Bree was tight-lipped.
“Mum, I wasn’t lying. I swear to God, everything we told you was true.”
“Mum, I’ve never lied to you.”
Bree’s eyebrows went up and she impaled him with a stare.
“OK, OK, I lied to you about the trip to Bray but I’m not lying about this.”
She held the stare for a long uncomfortable moment then turned back to the road.
“Oh God! This is so unfair.”
“I’m going back up there tonight.”
That worked. Bree’s head whipped round.
“No you bloody are not! You’ll be lucky to get out of the house for the rest of the summer. I can’t believe you lied to me about Niamh. And did you really hide her in my house?”
“No! Aughhhhhhhhh! How many times do I have to tell you; she was trapped in the lighthouse. It’s true!”
Bree stared at the road for long moments. Mark thought he could see the glisten of tears in the corner of her eye. She shook her head and rubbed her eye with the back of her hand.
“I don’t know what’s going on with you Mark, I really don’t but it scares me. I’m taking you back to the psychologist as soon as I can get an appointment.”
“Mum, you don’t need to do that.”
“Oh, I do. I can’t cope with this. I need someone to help me figure it out.”
“There’s nothing to figure out. I’m telling the truth!”
Bree thought for a moment, a muscle ticking in her jaw.
“Did all this really happen, or did you imagine it all; or are you lying to my face again?”
“It really happened.”
“I wish I could believe that, Mark.”
Mark stared out the window at the passing countryside. They were nearly home. Suddenly he turned to Bree:
“What if I could prove it to you?”
“Prove what to me?”
“What if I could prove I was telling the truth about one little bit of the story? Would you believe the rest of it?”
Bree pulled into the entrance to Almha and stopped at the gates. She turned in her seat and looked at Mark.
“I want to believe, more than anything, that you’re telling the truth. But it’s outlandish, Mark! Spooky lights, kidnappers, Morse code signals.”
“I know, Mum. But that’s the point. If we were going to make up a story, we’d have come up with something better.”
“Well, I suppose …”
“Mum, please take me up to the lighthouse. I think I can find something that'll prove I’m not lying.”
“Absolutely not, Mark. I don’t know what your fascination with that place is but we’re not going up there and that’s final.”
“Well I’ll go up myself later.”
“Mark, you’re grounded, and if you leave the house without my permission anytime during the next week, you’ll be grounded for the whole summer.”
“Well, I’ve got nothing to lose then, do I? I’m doing this whether you like it or not, Mum.”
“Mark! You will do as you’re told!”
“I’m sorry, Mum. I love you. but you’re being totally unfair to me so I don’t think I have to obey you anymore.”
Bree was speechless.
“Look, we can sort this out straight away,” said Mark. “Just take me up to the lighthouse and I can prove to you we were there.”
Bree clicked her tongue and spun the SUV around in the entrance. She pointed the car back the way they’d come then stopped and put on the parking brake. Again, she turned to Mark.”
“If this is a trick, or if you’re lying to me again, there will be hell to pay, Mister.”
“It’s not a trick, Mum; you’ll see.”
“OK, then. Let’s go.”
They drove back towards Wicklow and turned onto the lighthouse access road. On the way up the narrow road, they had to pull in to let an oncoming police patrol car get past. Minutes later, Bree pulled the Volvo up to the door of the lighthouse and Mark jumped out. He ran over to a patch of deep grass and rummaged through it. He found what he was looking for and ran back to the car. As he jumped in, Bree asked:
“What have you got there?”
Mark grinned and held out his hand. Sitting on his palm was the top of a broken key. Attached to the key was a tag that read ‘Front Security Gate.’
“This is the key I broke off in the lock.”
Bree’s hand flew to her mouth.
“Oh, my God! Oh, my GOD! Oh, Mark, I am so sorry.”