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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

The Mountains Wild

A Mystery

Sarah Stewart Taylor; read by Marisa Calin

Macmillan Audio

MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK

1

TUESDAY, MAY 24,

2016


Uncle Danny is calling from the bar. I can hear the sound of glasses clinking as he stacks them from the dishwasher. My phone says 3:04 a.m.

“You there, Mags?” he asks. Clink. Clink. I can see him, unloading highballs from the racks, one, two, three, four. Next row. One, two, three, four. I can see the shiny wood of the bar, the damp towel over his shoulder.

“Yeah. Uncle Danny? Everything okay?”

“Maggie, baby, I was gonna call before but it was busy tonight and I didn’t want to, you know, the guys was there. Clyde, you know, the divorce got whaddyacallit, finalized yesterday. He needed to drink.”

I let him talk. He’ll get around to it. It always takes Uncle Danny a few sentences to warm up to his story, the anecdotes a slow first mile, his Long Island accent getting even thicker as he settles into his tale.

“I got the message when I got in. On the bar phone. Byrne. That’s the guy, right? The one who updates us.”

I’m wide awake now, scrambling for the light on the bedside table.

“What’d he say, Uncle Danny? What?” My bedroom is suddenly filled with yellow light. I shut my eyes tight for a moment before opening them slowly, letting them adjust.

“I don’t know. I didn’t talk to him. He left a message. On the phone here at the bar. It was just, ya know, ‘Mr. Flaherty, this is Detective Roland Byrne with the Irish police whateveryacallit, the Guards whatever.’”

“Garda Síochána.” I remember the pronunciation. Garda Shee-uh-cahna. Guardians of the Peace.

“Yeah. He just said I should call him as soon as I got the message.”

“Nothing else?”

“Nothing else. Whaddya think, Mags? Ya think they found her?” I can hear him starting to choke up. He has high blood pressure, a failing heart. I can’t let him get too worked up.

“I don’t know, Uncle Danny. I don’t know. Don’t get all … Let’s wait till you talk to him.”

He takes a great big raspy breath, trying to calm down. “You gotta call him, baby. You gotta call him. You know him and I can’t take it. I can’t take the stress. You gotta do it for me.”

I check my clock again, do the math. “It’s three,” I say. “Over there it’s eight a.m. He’s probably not in yet. Is it the cell or office line?”

“Both. He left both.”

“Okay. I’m heading over. Stay at the bar. I’ll be right there.”

Clink, clink, clink. “Thanks, Mags. Thanks, baby.”

* * *

I dress, let the cat out, leave Lilly a note on the kitchen table: Went to help Uncle Danny with something. If I’m not back, have a good day at school. EAT BREAKFAST!!!! I’ll see you later. Your dad is picking you up after track and bringing you back. See if he can stay for dinner. EAT BREAKFAST!!!!

The night air coming off the beach is wet and salty and full of spring. I open my car windows to breathe it in and hug the Shore Road, keeping the water to my right all the way to 25A. I’m used to being out late at night for work, but it feels strange to be out going to see Uncle Danny. The border between night and morning is quiet, the streetlights lining up in a yellow row. Town’s empty. On a Friday or Saturday, there’d still be a few stragglers making their drunken way down from the clubs on New York Avenue. But early Tuesday morning, even the drinkers are home in bed. The breeze blows litter across the sidewalks. There’s no moon and the sky is blue dark, not a sliver of light above the horizon. It’s 3:27, 8:27 in Dublin. I try to remember Roly Byrne’s face and get a cubist amalgamation of features: Blond hair. Small, brilliantly blue eyes. Sharp face. Needed to be on the move. Needed to keep things interesting. Roly Byrne.

I almost smile. He’ll be up.

Uncle Danny’s Toyota is the only other car in the lot at Flaherty’s and I pull in close and go in through the back door, past a pile of cigarette butts and what looks like an old pool of vomit.

He’s still behind the bar, wiping it down. The radio’s on, some ’80s station, Billy Joel singing “You May Be Right,” and the only lights in the whole place are up over his head, making the seating area look like a dark ocean and Uncle Danny a tall hunched figure in a boat of light. The old cordless phone is sitting in the exact center of the bar. He has a smartphone but he doesn’t like it.

“Hey,” I say, coming up behind him to stand with him in front of the phone. He picks it up and pushes a few buttons, passes the handset to me. I listen to the familiar voice say, “Mr. Flaherty. This is Detective Inspector Roland Byrne ringing from the Garda National Bureau of Criminal Investigation in Dublin. I would appreciate it if you would give me a shout as soon as possible.” He gives the numbers. I gesture for a pen and Uncle Danny shows me he’s already written them down. I hang up and think for a moment. Twenty-three years. My cousin Erin has been missing for twenty-three years and now Roly Byrne is calling us to say he wants to talk “as soon as possible.” Either they’ve found something—a body, I force myself to think, or remains—or there’s a suspect, some guy who was trying to get a reduced sentence by admitting to earlier crimes or a witness who hadn’t wanted to talk to anyone way back when but wants to come clean now.

Roly’s voice opens up the filing cabinet for the case in my brain and suddenly the names come flooding out like they’ve been waiting for me: Gary Curran, Hacky O’Hanrahan, Emer Nolan, Daisy Nugent, Niall Deasey, Conor Kearney … Conor Kearney. I take a deep breath, mentally shutting the file drawers. This isn’t the time. Instead I look up at the framed photographs and posters on the walls of the bar: Bobby Sands, Gerry Adams, the tricolor, a framed copy of Yeats’s “Easter, 1916,” some newer stuff too: a Michael Collins movie poster, a signed and framed Dropkick Murphys album. The standard American Irish bar kit.

“Okay, give me the paper.” I dial the cell number. I don’t have to look up the country code for Ireland. I remember. For some reason I don’t want to do it on my cell.

He answers on the third ring. “Byrne here.”

“It’s Maggie. Maggie D’arcy. Uh, my uncle, uh, Daniel Flaherty, asked me to return your call.”

“D’arcy.” His voice is tight, stressed. “Thanks for ringing. I wanted to let your uncle know that we’ve found something in Wicklow. The forestry lands, not far from Glenmalure.” An image swims up before me, dark trees and sky and a narrow road, lined with rusty bracken.

“Something?” I see Uncle Danny wince, but we need to know if this is it.

“No remains. A scarf,” he says quickly. “Printed with butterflies.” With his Dublin accent he says it booterflies. “Crime scene woman says it’s been here a while. Maybe twenty years. There’s blood on the scarf. Quite a bit.” There’s a long pause. “It was deliberately buried.”

I can’t stop a memory coming to me. Christmas. Erin unwrapping the scarf, ripping the paper to get to it, her crazy hair in her eyes. She looks up, delighted. “Thank you, Mags. I love it.”

Roly Byrne hesitates, then says, “One of the lads checked the old cases, found your description of the scarf in the original report.” The line crackles a little.

I meet Uncle Danny’s eyes. He turns his head. The lights swim together. My eyes fill up. I swallow hard. I focus on Gerry Adams.

I can hear Roly Byrne breathing across the line, across the air, across the sea. He’s not finished.

“What?” I ask him.

“There’s a woman after going missing,” he says.

I look down at the floor. I know these boards better than the ones in my own kitchen. There are two shiny depressions where Uncle Danny likes to stand. “Another one?”

“Yeah. Her name is Niamh Horrigan. She’s twenty-five, a teacher from Galway. She stayed at a youth hostel near Glendalough and told someone she was going to walk to Glenmalure. She was seen on the path and then she just…” Disappeared. He doesn’t say it. “We don’t have a body. Nothing like that. This was just Sunday the family rang us up.”

“So you were searching for her and you found the scarf?”

“Well, one of the local lads.” He’s tired. I can hear it now. They would have launched the search immediately. He probably didn’t sleep last night. “We’re going to get right onto it. We’ll look for additional evidence of course. We’ll … uh, see if there’s anything else. Nearby.”

Anything else. Erin’s body. Her remains.

I’m already thinking about how it’s going to go down. They’ll conduct a search in the surrounding area, see if they can find anything. They’ll test the blood on the scarf, look for other biological material that might yield DNA, look for fibers, though after this much time there may not be much to find.

“This hasn’t been widely reported yet—though with all the reporters down here about Niamh Horrigan, a few of ’em know we found something. We had to tell ’em the, uh, the evidence wasn’t related to Horrigan’s case. For the family, like. But I thought I’d let you know. We’ll keep you informed. And I wondered if your uncle might need some assistance from us, if he’s going to travel.” I tot I’d letcha know. His Dublin accent has softened a bit but it’s still there, his ths disappearing into the ether.

I glance at Uncle Danny. He’s watching me, his right hand on automatic, still wiping the bar. It strikes me suddenly that I’ve been wrong all this time. I thought we knew. I thought we’d accepted it. But we haven’t.

I have a thousand questions, but now’s not the time. “I’ll get back to you,” I tell him. “Let me talk to him.”

I meet Uncle Danny’s eyes. He looks away and drops the cloth into the sink.

“Okay,” Roly Byrne says. “I’m sorry, D’arcy.” I click off. D’arcy. Only Roly Byrne calls me that.

I don’t wait. “They found her scarf,” I tell Uncle Danny. “They’re looking for remains now.”

I watch him take it in. He holds the knowledge for a long moment and then I see him grasping for something, some little drop of hope.

“They’re sure it’s hers?”

“I think so.” I hesitate, then I say, “There’s blood on it.”

He winces. “Maybe it’s not hers. Maybe it’s someone else’s. There must be a lot of those scarves around. It’s been so long. How can they be sure?”

I can feel it too, the tiny seedling, growing toward the light despite my job, despite everything I know. I need to stop it.

“Uncle Danny, I’m so sorry. It’s near where I found the necklace when I was over there in ninety-three. It’s near where she was walking. With the, the … other women, I think we have to face that it does indicate that … something happened.” He sobs then. This is it. I hug him hard, struggling to get my arms around the breadth of him. “I’m so sorry.” He cries for a little bit and then he pulls away from me, picks up the towel again.

“There’s something else, too,” I say quietly. “Another young woman has just disappeared. Close to the last place Erin was seen.”

“Oh, Christ. What do they…? Do they think it’s connected to Erin and the others?”

“They don’t know anything yet. It’s all new.”

“You gotta go, Mags,” he says. “You gotta go and make sure they do this right. Can Brian take Lilly for ya?”

“Uncle Danny. Let’s wait and—”

“It would kill me, trip like that,” he says. “My doc says I can’t exert myself at all, my heart’s so bad now. You gotta go and find out what’s going on. You went before. You were there a long time. You know everyone. You know the deal over there.”

Our eyes meet.

“Mags.”

My mind slides back. Cold air whipping my hair across my face. The smell of peat smoke. A gray street, the sidewalk dark, a door painted a shade of blue so alive it vibrates through the rain.

“Okay, I’ll go,” I tell my uncle Danny for the second time in twenty-three years. “Okay.” And then I hug him again hard, sinking into his huge middle, my arms wrapped around him, my hands rubbing circles on his back. He’s wearing one of the slippery golf shirts he likes and he smells like Guinness and lemon oil.

“Of course I’ll go, Uncle Danny. Of course I will.”



2

TUESDAY, MAY 24,

2016



I help him clean up and close the bar and we go for eggs and bagels. Lilly’s gone to school by the time I get home and after I check in with the homicide squad and let them know I’ll be away for a bit with a family emergency, I dress for my run and Google Niamh Horrigan.

I find a bunch of stories, in the Irish Times, the Irish Independent, the local Galway papers, all of them covering Niamh Horrigan’s disappearance with barely contained excitement: “Galway Girl Niamh Loved the Out of Doors.” “We Just Want Our Niamh Back—Hillwalker’s Mam.” And then, “Is Niamh Southeast Killer’s Latest Victim?” along with small photographs of Erin and Teresa McKenny and June Talbot and a bigger one of Niamh, dark-haired and sporty-looking. If I squint, she looks a little like Erin.

Don’t go there.

Niamh’s an avid hillwalker, the papers say. She’s climbed all of Ireland’s highest peaks and goes mountaineering or walking every weekend.

Her hair looks naturally wavy. She has a spray of freckles across her nose. In the picture she’s grinning and holding a walking stick, trees behind her.

Don’t go there.

Alexandria is right in the middle of a little C-shaped bay on the North Shore of Long Island. Jogging on the wet sand, I can see the gray line of Connecticut across Long Island Sound. I love this run. I’ve been doing it almost my whole life and I know every house along the beach, every barking dog and every old man fishing for stripers from the shore. I run fast, putting in six miles on the streets around Fleet’s Cove and then heading back along the beach. When I come around the turn of the coastline, I stop and look back at the peppermint-striped LILCO stacks in Northport. I can’t help but think of the Poolbeg chimneys in Dublin, how you could see them from all over the city.

My memory has been doing funny things since Danny woke me and I have a sudden image of a long stretch of wet sand, the red-and-white-striped stacks in the distance.

Sandymount. It strikes me suddenly that they’re bookends to Erin’s life, these stacks. Long Island. Ireland. Here. There.

A gull drops a mussel shell on a rock by my feet, then hovers overhead, waiting for me to leave.

* * *

I’m half packed by the time Lilly comes in at five.

“Where’s your dad?” I ask her. Dinner’s in the oven and the table’s set. I have a bottle of red open, Brian’s favorite.

“He had to go pick up some milk and bread. He’ll be here in fifteen. What?” She can see it on my face. I go over to her and tuck a stray piece of dark brown hair behind her ear, smelling strawberry shampoo and fried food. She’s taller than I am now. I have to reach up to do it. Lilly looks more like Brian than she does like me, with his father’s family’s Southern Italian coloring and softer features cancelling out his mother’s and my Irish genes, though she’s an original, too, and I’ve always been glad of that, and a little jealous. That she has her own face and no one else’s.

“We heard from Dublin. They think they may have found my cousin Erin’s scarf. She was wearing it when she disappeared while she was living over there.”

“No way. After all these years?”

“Twenty-three.”

“What does it mean? Did they find her body?”

I hesitate. “No, not yet. But they think it may be close by. They’re searching for another woman, who was hiking there and disappeared. They found Erin’s scarf while trying to figure out what happened to her.”

“Is it connected to the other two women? Is there any evidence?” Poor Lilly knows a lot more about forensics than any fifteen-year-old should have to.

“We just don’t know,” I tell her. “Uncle Danny wants me to go and see them and try to figure it out. You okay staying with Dad for a week or so?”

“Yeah, I guess. Can he stay here, though? I can’t sleep with the trains going by his apartment.” She looks down at the table, feeling disloyal.

There are a bunch of reasons I’d rather they stay at Brian’s, but I know it’s better for Lilly to be at home. “’Course. I’ll ask him, anyway. How was school?” She’s a sophomore this year, past the storms of puberty, though somehow even Lilly’s worst seemed fairly mild. One of the benefits of being a cop, I guess. A thirteen-year-old yelling that she wishes you’d leave her alone forever because you’re too nosy never seemed that serious compared to a thirteen-year-old who’s addicted to heroin ending up as a witness to the murder of another thirteen-year-old who was sex-trafficked and killed.

“What do you think happened to her?” Lilly asks me seriously. She has a way of looking at you, her head tilted a little, her huge brown eyes watching you, that makes it impossible to lie.

“I think…” I start. “I guess until last night, most days, I was pretty sure something happened to her, Lil, that someone killed her and hid her, I guess I’m saying. But then there were days where I thought maybe she started a new life somewhere, that she didn’t want to tell us. I pictured her sometimes, with a daughter…” I smile at her. “And bad, unfashionable jeans, just like me.”

“But why wouldn’t she tell you?” Lilly has a tight group of best friends who share all their secrets. She can’t imagine why Erin would have kept something that big to herself.

“I don’t know. Erin was complicated, sweetheart. She could be mysterious. She’d gone off before. It was hard to know what she was thinking.”

I think she’s done asking questions, but then she says, “What was she like? Uncle Danny told me she looked like you. But what was she like?”

Wavy brown hair, stiff with the salt, threads of gold where the sun bleached it. Freckles across her nose. Her hand tight in mine.

“We grew up together. We were like sisters.” That doesn’t answer her question, though. “Erin was … We did look alike, enough alike that people sometimes thought we were twins, but she was really beautiful, in a way that people noticed. She was wild, a risk-taker, troubled, creative. Fun.” Lilly doesn’t say anything. I still haven’t really explained Erin. “When I say Erin to myself, I have this sort of picture that I see, of her running down a beach, her hair flying all around her, the sun behind her. She loved the beach. When we were little we spent all our time there.” Erin running, too fast for me to follow, turning to shout back at me.

While Lilly finishes her homework, I head down to the basement to find the boxes of notes and files I’ve kept on Erin’s case. Twenty-three years. I’ve gone back to it over the years, when Roly Byrne called me with an update, and a few times on Erin’s birthday, when I was feeling melancholy and frustrated. But it’s been a while.

They’re over in a dry corner of the basement, up on wooden pallets, in front of a pile of other boxes of my mother’s and father’s things and a bunch of Brian’s stuff from when we sold his parents’ house that I keep forgetting to return to him. Lilly likes to come down here and look through it; she pulled some of my mother’s clothes out and wore them for a bit, and decorated her room with things from Brian’s boxes, old Red Hot Chili Peppers posters from his University of Delaware dorm room and posters and soccer jerseys he bought while backpacking in Europe or the time he and his brother, Frank, and our friends Derek and Devin O’Brien spent spring break in Mexico.

There are papers everywhere, old postcards and letters and receipts, and I have to stop myself yelling up the stairs at Lilly for making such a mess. I find the box that has all my notes from Erin’s case, but Lilly’s gone through it and it’s mixed up with things from the other boxes. It takes me twenty minutes to sort through Brian’s college papers and my mother’s old purses and find my box of notebooks and files. I open up the box and put them in a separate pile.

In a plastic tub are the things from the house Erin lived in in Dublin, books and clothes and postcards and jewelry. The police in Ireland—the Guards, I remind myself, the Gardaí, with a little th sound added to the d—had gone through it. After she’d been missing for six months, her roommates had shipped her things home. At some point Uncle Danny had asked me to keep them since he couldn’t stand having them in the house. There are a few items of clothing, a white satin jewelry box that had held Erin’s claddagh necklace, a little fabric pouch of earrings, a four-leaf clover embedded in glass, some makeup, and some books and stationery.

In another box, there’s a paper envelope of photographs and I open it and fan out a random assortment of pictures of me and Erin. It was my mom’s; she had kept some pictures of us on her bedside table when she was really sick, once we’d moved a hospital bed into the den.

There’s one of Erin and me at the beach. I’m five or six; she’s a year older. We sit on little chairs on the sand, looking up at the photographer. We’re pink from the sun, our red bathing suits caked with sand. Erin’s grinning and waving. I’m clutching a little plastic sand shovel.

Another is us in our Irish dancing costumes, onstage at an all–Long Island feis. There are school pictures of me from fifth grade and seventh grade and eighth grade.

There’s one of Erin at seventeen, sitting on the beach and looking out across the water. Her long hair is wildly curly, the wind whipping corkscrews across her face; she’s in half profile. I seem to remember that her best friend Jessica took the pictures, that they were supposed to be a present for a boyfriend, though I don’t think Erin ever gave them to anyone. They’re too solitary, too dark, the expression on Erin’s face sad, stormy.

And then there’s one of me at twenty, just before my mom was diagnosed, standing in front of the student center at Notre Dame. I’m wearing jeans and Doc Martens and a tweed blazer I got at the thrift store in South Bend and I look basically the way I looked almost two years later, in 1993, when Erin disappeared and I went to Dublin to try to find her.

I look at the photograph for a few more minutes, trying to remember what it was like to be that person, before I put everything away and head back upstairs to finish dinner.


Copyright © 2020 by Sarah Stewart Taylor.