The night mark, p.36
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       The Night Mark, p.36

           Tiffany Reisz
 

  “For hurting you,” he said. “For being a bad husband.”

  “Trust me,” Faye said. “I know bad husbands. After the first miscarriage, I don’t know if I would have gone on if it hadn’t been for you. I was drowning and you were the lifeboat. You saved me, put me in the boat, got me out of the rough waters. But then you and I, we never got out of the lifeboat. You were always trying to save me and I was always drowning. You can’t live in a lifeboat. But I want you to know that you did save me. I don’t think I would have survived losing Will if you hadn’t been there for me in the beginning.”

  “Thank you, Faye. I needed to hear that.”

  “Will would have never wanted you and me to hate each other. He loved us both.”

  “He was better than both of us put together,” Hagen said. “We almost deserved each other.”

  “Almost.”

  “Are you better now?” he asked. “You sound better. You sound... I don’t know. Alive again?”

  “I’m alive again. You were right. You really can’t live in the past. So let’s not. Let’s move on. I forgive you, and you forgive me. And you find someone else to love, someone who can have your kids and who’ll enjoy your big, pretty house. Someone who will let you take care of her. And I’ll find someone who makes me as happy as Will did. And you and I will both be happy again. Fair enough?”

  “I can live with that,” Hagen said. He paused again, and Faye waited. “Is it okay... This is stupid.”

  “What? Ask it. Whatever it is, ask it.”

  “Would you care if... I mean, if I get remarried and if I have kids, would it be okay with you if I named one of my kids after Will?”

  “He was your best friend.”

  “Yeah, but he was your husband.”

  With her fingertips, Faye brushed a new round of tears off her cheeks.

  “So were you,” she said. “And I would like it very much if you named your son after Will. Or daughter. Willa’s a pretty name. I know Will would have gotten a kick out of that.”

  “Okay, good. I just... Do you think we should stop talking to each other? I mean, for a year or so or maybe more?”

  “Yes,” she said. “I think that would be good for the both of us to move on. Way on.” About ninety-four years on, in Faye’s case.

  “I think so, too. And if this is the last time we talk, I wanted to make sure.”

  “You have my blessing. It would mean a lot to me,” she said. “A lot to Will.”

  “Thank you. I’ll let you go now.”

  “I’m glad we talked,” Faye said. “You know, actually talked. Like human beings.”

  “Me, too. Take care, Faye. Thanks for...”

  “For what?”

  “Thanks for doing the best you could.”

  “You’re going to be a great dad someday.”

  “Goodbye, Faye. I wish you all the happiness in the world.”

  “You, too. Goodbye, Hagen.”

  She let him do the honor of hanging up first. And when he did and the call died, Faye knew it was over. She’d done it. All loose ends tied up. The hole mended, but for one last little thing.

  Faye took a deep long breath and waded into the ocean. The water was warm tonight, almost like bathwater.

  “Please let this work,” she said as she held out her hand and dropped her phone into the water. “I want to go home. I want to go home.”

  She heard in the distance the sound of a train, iron wheels on iron tracks.

  Overhead the lighthouse lantern room winked into life. A beam of light flashed once and went dark.

  Faye smiled.

  Light.

  Two. Three. Four.

  And she could see the wave coming right for her.

  Five.

  “Wait up, Carrick. I’m coming back.”

  Six.

  Just for fun, Faye kicked her heels together three times.

  “There’s no place like home.”

  Seven.

  Dark.

  27

  The pretty young guide hopped off the gray church bus first and ushered the group of a dozen or so tourists toward the telescope. Pat shook his head. Here they were again. Didn’t that poor tour guide ever get sick of giving the same damn spiel every single day?

  “This telescope is trained on the lighthouse at the Seaport Island, or what we locals call Bride Island. The island is privately owned, so this telescope is the best way to see it without chartering a boat...”

  Pat picked up a clean brush and dipped it in his cup of water. He’d been painting nothing but the lighthouse for weeks now. Every night he dreamed of the lighthouse. Every morning he woke to the need to paint it again and again. He’d gotten pretty good at it. One of the better galleries in town had even offered him a show. This painting was shaping up to be the star of the show. It was the first one he’d ever done close-up of the lighthouse keeper’s daughter. She stood at the end of the long pier, the lighthouse small behind her, and she was smiling toward the sun with a hand on her pregnant belly.

  “The Bride Island Light is very special to us here in Lowcountry,” the tour guide continued, and Pat still couldn’t decide if her South Carolina drawl was real or put on to get better tips out of the tour group. “Dorothy Rivers Holt, the first African-American woman to be featured in Architectural Digest for her home designs, was housekeeper at the Bride Island Light in her teens. Her interior-design company was partly funded by the Morgan family, who gave her ten thousand dollars as a wedding gift in thanks for her service at the Bride Island Light. And of course, the lighthouse keeper himself, Chief Carrick Morgan, was a highly decorated war hero who worked as keeper of the light from 1921 until 1937. In 1926, a fishing boat broke apart during a storm, and, thanks to Chief Morgan’s efforts, all fourteen lives were spared. He saved many lives during his tenure, including his own daughter, when she was swept out to sea by a rogue wave in June of ’21, and we thank God for that around here. Faith Morgan is easily our most famous Bride Island resident. At age twenty, the lighthouse keeper’s daughter married a sailor named Patrick Cahill, who promptly shipped out to sea, leaving her pregnant and alone.”

  “What a scoundrel,” Pat said under his breath.

  “This didn’t deter Faith from following her dreams, however. Her father gave her a camera as a wedding gift, and Faith used it to take pictures of the island, the island residents, the lighthouse keepers and their families. Her photographs are an indispensable resource. Not only did she preserve invaluable history with her pictures, but she helped raise awareness of the damage industrial pollution caused to the human and animal inhabitants of the island. In 1930, a photo series she did of factory pollution in the waters off the coast raised a national outcry. Laws were swiftly passed to protect and preserve Lowcountry’s fragile coastline. Thanks to Faith Morgan our beaches are still the cleanest in the world, which is why to this day she’s known as the patron saint of Lowcountry, or, as we like to call her ‘The Lady of the Light.’”

  “That’s my wife,” Pat muttered as he added silver shadows to the water.

  “Another one of our local heroes is sitting right over there painting. That’s Father Pat Cahill—no relation to Faith’s husband, obviously. Everyone wave at Father Pat.”

  The tourists waved at Pat. Pat waved back.

  “Father Pat was out painting the Bride Island lighthouse when he found a coffee can by the old seawall. In the can were ten rolls of Kodak film wrapped in oilskin. Those pictures, taken by Faith Morgan and never before published, show Bride Island and the lighthouse in all its original glory. This year the Preservation Society put together a very special calendar featuring those pictures. But not only those pictures. Faith Morgan’s granddaughter, Dolly Morgan Bryant, a Hollywood cinematographer, has re-created the photographs Father Pat found. You can see what Lowcountry looked like in the 1920s and compare them to today’s pictures. Thanks to those photographs, there’s been renewed interest in the Bride Island lighthouse. Ms. Paris Shelby, owner of the
island, has donated the original four acres of land leased by the government to the town. In spring 2017, restoration will begin on the light. By 2019, the lighthouse will be fully functional again, and the lighthouse cottage will have its first lighthouse keeper and lighthouse family living in it in eighty years. All proceeds from the sale of the calendar will go toward restoring the lighthouse and rebuilding the keeper’s cottage, which will be furnished with much of the original furniture, donated by Dorothy Holt’s granddaughter Elizabeth. The fund-raising calendars are available in the gift shop at the end of the tour.”

  “And my paintings!” Pat yelled to the tour guide.

  “That’s right,” she said, laughing. “Father Pat’s paintings of the lighthouse are also for sale in the gift shop, and all proceeds will go to the lighthouse restoration fund. We all need a little light, don’t we?”

  “Amen,” Pat said.

  The tour guide continued, “Lowcountry, as we say around here—”

  “Lowcountry is God’s country,” Pat said under his breath, reciting along with the guide. “And Faith Morgan’s photographs are proof God is keeping a close watch on us.”

  Pat rooted around in his art bag and found exactly what he was looking for. His painting was almost finished. All that was left was to give Faye Morgan her dress and her eyes.

  There they were. Cadmium yellow and dioxazine violet.

  Yellow for the dress and violet for the eyes, for her Elizabeth Taylor eyes.

  * * * * *

  Author’s Note

  This book is a work of fiction inspired by the real story of Florence Martus of Savannah, Georgia, a lighthouse keeper’s sister. According to local lore, Florence fell in love with a sailor, became engaged to him and, after he shipped out, took it upon herself to greet every ship that came into the Port of Savannah in the hopes her lover was aboard. As far as I know, he never returned, but Florence is forever remembered as a symbol of Savannah’s hospitality to visitors.

  While there is no Bride Island in South Carolina, there is a Hunting Island, and several of the details about the Bride Island lighthouse were taken from the real Hunting Island lighthouse. It’s worth visiting if you have the time and two dollars to spare.

  This book was written with affection and admiration for the men and women of all nationalities, religions, and races who served in lighthouses all over the world, affection and admiration that only grew as I read their letters, diaries and memoirs. I am forever grateful to the keepers, their spouses and their children who wrote those records and published them for posterity. While most events in the book are pure fiction, one incident is taken from history’s record. A South Carolina lighthouse keeper did once save his wife from an alligator attack with an ax. Faye is correct in her assessment that such a man is rightly to be called a “badass.”

  Also, thank you to Mary Herring Wright, author of the touching memoir Sounds Like Home: Growing Up Black and Deaf in the South, an invaluable resource while writing The Night Mark.

  As always, thank you to my lovely readers.

  Special thanks to the lovely people of Beaufort, South Carolina. Even without time travel, your town and its islands are a magical place.

  Thank you to my amazing agent, Sara Megibow. And my deepest gratitude to my editor Susan Swinwood. It has been an honor and a joy working with you. I can never thank you enough for taking a chance on me and my weird weird books.

  And endless thanks and love to my husband, author Andrew Shaffer.

  My hero.

  Keep reading for an excerpt from THE BOURBON THIEF by Tiffany Reisz.

  “Reisz fills the narrative with rich historic details; memorable, if vile, characters; and enough surprises to keep the plot moving and readers hooked until the final drop of bourbon is spilled.”

  —Booklist on The Bourbon Thief

  If you enjoyed The Night Mark by bestselling author Tiffany Reisz, make sure to pick up her irresistible tale of betrayal, revenge and a family scandal that bore a 150-year-old mystery in:

  The Bourbon Thief

  Available now!

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  The Bourbon Thief

  by Tiffany Reisz

  1

  Paris

  There wasn’t much in the world Cooper McQueen cared about more than a good bourbon. In his forty-five years, not one single beautiful woman had managed to persuade him to set down his drink and leave it down. But when the woman in the red dress walked into his bar—a gift from the gods tied in a tight red bow—McQueen decided he might have seen the one woman on earth who could turn even him into a teetotaler. Her dress was tight as old Scrooge’s fist, red as Rudolph’s nose, and looking at her, McQueen had only one thought—Christmas had come awfully early this year.

  Miss Christmas in July glanced his way, smiled like she knew what he was thinking and was thinking along the same lines herself, and McQueen figured he’d be leaving the bar early tonight and nobody better try to talk him out of it.

  Not wanting to appear too eager, he continued to sip his bourbon—neat—as he kept her in his peripheral vision. Christmas in July walked over to the bar and took a seat. He watched her study the menu and he smiled behind his glass. In one minute he’d go over to her, buy her a drink, let it slip he owned the bar, dangle out the bait, see if she was in the mood to nibble. He’d seen his fair share of beautiful women in his bar, usually too young—he had some pride, after all—but Miss Christmas looked a respectable thirty-five. A real woman. A grown woman. The sort he could sleep with without apology. She had dark skin and black hair that lay in heavy coils down her back and tied at the nape of her neck with a red ribbon he fully intended to untie with his teeth given the opportunity.

  One minute up, he went to claim the opportunity.

  It didn’t break McQueen’s heart to excuse himself from his current conversation with someone who was either an investment banker or a venture capitalist. He had stopped listening the moment Miss Christmas walked in. He went over to her and sat in the empty bar stool to her left without waiting for an invitation. He owned the place. No reason not to act like it.

  He didn’t say anything at first. He let the silence linger and grow as heady as the muddy Ohio River on a hot night, the kind that made even the sidewalks sweat. Maybe he could talk the lady into a stroll over to the river while the night was still warm. Maybe he could talk her into something more.

  “What can I get you?” Maddie, the pretty blonde bartender, asked the woman.

  “How about a shot of Red Thread?” the woman said. “I like to match my drinks to my hair ribbon.”

  “Red Thread?” Maddie glanced at McQueen, a silent plea for help. “I don’t think...”

  “Red Thread’s been out of business for thirty-five years,”
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