Authors: Marcia Muller Bill Pronzini
Other books by
Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini
Beyond the Grave
“Joanna Stark Mysteries” by
The Cavalier in White
There Hangs the Knife
“Elena Oliverez Mystery” by
The Tree of Death
The Legend of the Slain Soldiers
Books by Bill Pronzini
“Nameless Detective” Novels:
SPEAKING VOLUMES, LLC
1987 by Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission of the author.
For our good friend
She ran through the night in a haze of terror.
Staggering, stumbling, losing her balance and falling sometimes because the terrain was rough and there was no light of any kind except for the bloody glow of the flames that stained the fog-streaked sky far behind her. The muscles in her legs were knotted so tightly that each new step brought a slash of pain. Her breath came in ragged, explosive pants; the thunder of blood in her ears obliterated the moaning cry of the wind. She could no longer feel the cold through the bulky sweater she wore, was no longer aware of the numbness in her face and hands. She felt only the terror, was aware only of the need to run and keep on running.
He was still behind her. Somewhere close behind her.
On foot now, just as she was; he had left the car some time ago, back when she had started across the long sloping meadow. There had been nowhere else for her to go then, no place to conceal herself: the meadow was barren, treeless. She’d looked back, seen the car skid to a stop, and he’d gotten out and raced toward her. He had almost caught her then. Almost caught her another time, too, when she’d had to climb one of the fences and a leg of her
had got hung up on a rail splinter.
If he caught her, she was sure he would kill her.
She had no idea how long she had been running. Or how far she’d come. Or how far she still had left to go. She had lost all sense of time and place. Everything was unreal, nightmarish, distorted shapes looming around her, ahead of her—all of the night twisted and grotesque and charged with menace.
She looked over her shoulder again as she ran. She couldn’t see him now; there were trees behind her, tall bushes. Above the trees, the flames licked higher, shone brighter against the dark fabric of the night.
Trees ahead of her, too, a wide grove of them. She tried to make herself run faster, to get into their thick clotted shadow; something caught at her foot, pitched her forward onto her hands and knees. She barely felt the impact, felt instead a wrenching fear that she might have turned her ankle, hurt herself so that she couldn’t run anymore. Then she was up and moving again, as if nothing had happened to interrupt her flight—and then there was a longer period of blankness, of lost time, and the next thing she knew she was in among the trees, dodging around their trunks and through a ground cover of ferns and high grass. Branches seemed to reach for her, to pluck at her clothing and her bare skin like dry, bony hands. She almost blundered into a half-hidden deadfall, veered away in time, and stumbled on.
Her foot came down on a brittle fallen limb, and it made a cracking sound as loud as a pistol shot. A thought swam out of the numbness in her mind: Hide! He’ll catch you once you’re out in the open again. Hide!
But there was no place safe enough, nowhere that he couldn’t find her. The trees grew wide apart here, and the ground cover was not dense enough for her to burrow under or behind any of it. He would hear her. She could hear him, back there somewhere—or believed she could, even above the voice of the wind and the rasp of her breathing and the stuttering beat of her heart.
Something snagged her foot again. She almost fell, caught her balance against the bole of a tree. Sweat streamed down into her eyes; she wiped it away, trying to peer ahead. And there was more lost time, and all at once she was clear of the woods and ahead of her lay another meadow, barren, with the cliffs far off on one side and the road winding emptily on the other. Everything out there lay open, naked—no cover of any kind in any direction.
She had no choice. She plunged ahead without even slowing.
It was a long time, or what she perceived as a long time, before she looked back. And he was there, just as she had known he would be, relentless and implacable, coming after her like one of the evil creatures in a Grimm’s fairy tale.
She felt herself staggering erratically, slowing down. Her wind and her strength seemed to be giving out at the same time. I can’t run much farther, she thought, and tasted the terror, and kept running.
Out of the fear and a sudden overwhelming surge of hopelessness, another thought came to her: How can this be happening? How did it all come to this?
Dear God, Jan, how did it all come to
this? . . .
The rocky ledge runs far into the sea,
And on its outer point, some miles away,
The Lighthouse lifts its massive masonry,
A pillar of fire by night, of cloud by day.
Watchman, what of the night?
Her first look at the lighthouse was from a distance of almost a mile.
They jounced through a copse of pine and Douglas fir, and immediately the rutted blacktop road sloped upward to a rise. Off to the right, the land bellied out to a distant headland; beyond that she could see the ocean again, the treacherous black rocks that jutted above its surface. Back the way they’d come, the shoreline curved and gentled and formed the southern boundary of Hilliard Bay.
She didn’t see the lighthouse when they first topped the rise; she had scrunched around a little and was looking back to the north, to where buildings and fishing boats were outlined along the shore of the bay. The distance and the steely afternoon light gave them an odd, unreal look, like miniatures set out on a giant bas-relief map. But then Jan said, “Look!” and swung the station wagon off onto the verge. She twisted around again to face forward. And there it was, at a long angle to the left, perched atop a second, much narrower headland.
Jan set the parking brake and got out. “Alix, come on.” He went ahead past the front of the car and stood shading his eyes from the cloudy sun-glare.
She stepped out, stretching cramped muscles; this was the first time they’d stopped since leaving the motel in Crescent City where they had spent the night. The wind was sharp here, and cold; it made the only sound except for the faint susurration of breakers. She zipped up her jacket and went to stand next to Jan, to peer with him at the lighthouse and its outbuildings. Her first thought was: God, it looks lonely. But it was just a thought; there was nothing negative in it. If anything, she was pleased. Cape Despair. The Cape Despair Light. With names like that, she had been prepared for a desolate crag topped by an Oregon lighthouse version of Wuthering Heights. No, this didn’t seem so bad at all.
She began to view it in a different perspective, through her artist’s eye. A round whitewashed tower—vaguely phallic with its rounded red dome—poking upward out of a white, red-roofed frame building. One large outbuilding and two smaller ones that were not much more than sheds. Clouds piled up behind the tower, dirty-looking, like soiled laundry. Cliffs falling away on both sides, on the south to a narrow beach so far away it seemed hazy and indistinct. A few wind-bent trees. Cypress? Probably. Patches of green grass, dun-colored rocks, gray-bright sky. There was a melancholy aspect to the whole, a kind of primitive beauty. Nice composition, too, seen from this vantage point and with those clouds bunched up behind it. On another day like this, she thought, it would be a challenge to try capturing that melancholy aspect on canvas. The idea both pleased and surprised her, she hadn’t painted anything noncommercial in years.
“Alix? You’re not disappointed?”
“Of course not,” she said. “Do I look disappointed?”
“Well. you were so quiet. What were you thinking?”
“That I might like to paint this someday, if I have time. This view of the lighthouse.”
Jan raised an eyebrow: the Alix Kingsley-Ryerson who had painted seriously was someone out of the past, someone he’d never known. But he said, “Good. That’s good,” and smiled at her, and she knew he was relieved that her first impression had been favorable. Behind his born-rimmed glasses, his eyes were bright—that electric-blue color that seemed so vivid when he was excited. They had been that way for almost a week now, ever since the packing and last-minute preparations for the move had begun. The boyish eagerness eased her mind. For much of the year he had been mired in one of his periods of depression, and more prone than ever to severe headaches—working too hard at the university for some reason known only to him. Unlike hers, his way was to bottle up things inside, so tightly sometimes—this last time—that she found it impossible to draw him out of himself. It hadn’t been until his application to the Oregon State Parks and Recreation Division had been approved that his depression started to lift. Now he seemed his old self again. The next year meant a great deal to him, more than she had imagined when he first broached the idea of an early sabbatical.
Jan was looking out toward the lighthouse again, bent forward slightly, his flaxen hair streaming out behind him. The wind was in his lighter blond beard too, ruffling it and pooching it out on the sides. Not for the first time, she thought he must have Viking blood. He was headstrong, forceful, independent, tenacious—all Viking characteristics. And he
like a Viking; it required very little imagination to picture him at the helm of a Norse ship out of Novgorod, leaning into the wind with his hair streaming behind him that way. Jan the Bold. Of course, he was getting a little thick around the middle—the re-suh of his fondness for beer. Jan the Paunchy.
She laughed in spite of herself, and he said, “What’s funny?” with his gaze still on the Cape Despair Light.
“Nothing, really. I’ll tell you later.” She felt a surge of affection for him and thought: It’s going to be all right. She squeezed his arm. “I’m freezing. Let’s get back in the car.”
He got them moving again. The road dipped down through a hollow where clumps of tule grass stretched away on both sides. Odd-looking grass: hundreds of big round tufts of it, like an army of porcupines with their backs arched, their quills drooping, their heads tucked down out of sight. As if waiting for something. Night? The right time to mass an attack on the few sheep that grazed among them? Fanciful thought, Ryerson—too many children’s-book illustrations.
Once they came out of the hollow, climbing gradually again, the blacktop ended and the road degenerated into a gravel surface pocked with potholes. Jan had to slow the station wagon to a crawl. Still, there was no way to avoid all of the holes. The rough ride dislodged something in the mass of suitcases and clothing bags and cardboard boxes that jammed the back half of the station wagon; it made a clanging noise every time they rolled through one of the chucks.
The terrain had changed too, grown more barren. There were few trees this far out on the cape—just a scattering of cypress and hardy evergreens. No meadowland, as there had been for most of the previous two miles from the county road, and consequently no more sheep. There were large sections of bare ground, rocky and dun-colored; the patchy grass was thicker, and weedier, the Oregon grape and prickly broom that covered the rest of the cape grew only in isolated clumps out here. Most of the leaden sea and part of the shoreline were visible to the south, less of the sea and little of the shoreline to the north. When Alix twisted around again she could no longer see either Hilliard Bay or the tiny hamlet along its inner shore.
The lighthouse remained visible ahead of them, even though the road serpentined along the narrowing headland. She watched it grow, take on definition. Cape Despair Light. Built in 1860, when the cape bore its original name—Cap Des Peres, the Cape of the Fathers, after a pair of Basque sheepherders who had established the first homesteads on this lonely part of the Oregon coast and who each happened to have fathered eleven children. But Cape Despair was a much more appropriate name. Even after construction of the lighthouse, half a dozen ships had foundered and sunk in the savage storms that battered the cape and the rough, rock-strewn waters that lay off of it; close to a hundred men had died in those shipwrecks, forty-seven of them in 1894 when a coastal steamer ran afoul of the rocks in a dense fog. It was after that tragedy that mariners had dubbed it Cape Despair, and it was still commonly called that despite the Cap Des Peres designation on maps and in guidebooks.
They were only a few hundred yards, now, from the flattish tip of the headland on which the buildings sat. Alix leaned forward, pointing. “What’s that big outbuilding on the left?”
“Used to be housing for the maintenance crew,” Jan said. He had been here twice in the past three months for short visits. But he had known every detail of its history before that, of course; there was little about any North American lighthouse that he
know. “Coast Guard built it in 1940. Garage, workshop, and storage now.”
“The other two?”
“The small one near the light is where the generator is housed. Cordwood, too. The one lower down, on the far side, is the pumphouse for the well.”
“All the comforts of home,” she said.
“It’s not so bad. The well pump is electric; runs off the generator. And there’s a phone line that got put in before the funding ran out. I told you that, didn’t I?”
“Yes. And thank God for it. We won’t feel so cut off up here if we can talk with our friends and my family once in a while.”
“Just so you don’t run up huge bills.” But his smile told her he was only teasing.
The road petered out in a gravelly, rutted clearing that was supposed to have been widened and graded into a parking area for visitors. At the far end was a gate and a whitewashed board fence that extended in a somewhat erratic line past the buildings on both sides, almost to where the cliffs began their descent to the sea. The elevation here was a hundred and twenty feet. The tower rose another sixty feet; the light, when it had been operational, could be seen from a distance of twenty miles.
Jan stopped before the closed gate. The force of the wind was considerable on the exposed headland—enough to shimmy the Ford, as heavy and laden as it was. Alix felt the chill of it when he got out to open the gate; it made her shiver. She hadn’t expected it to be this windy or this cold, not on a reasonably clear and otherwise warm late-September day. If it was like this on a good day, what would it be like during a winter storm? The thought was a little unsettling; she put it out of her mind.
Jan drove them over more rutted gravel to where an old rust-red pickup was parked near the largest of the outbuildings. The bed of the pickup was loaded with boxes, a chest of drawers, an old wheelbarrow. When he shut off the engine Alix could hear the wind skirling outside, the hissing pulse of surf against the rocks far below.
“That’s Bonner’s pickup,” Jan said. He sounded the horn a couple of times; no one appeared. “Well, where is he? Inside somewhere sulking, I suppose.”
“You can’t blame him if he is, can you? We’re taking his job away from him.”
“I don’t have much sympathy for him.”
“No. He’s unpleasant and lazy. Look at all this. He hasn’t kept it up.”
“He’s only a caretaker, not a maintenance man. . . . ”
“Doesn’t make any difference. He’s lived out here for three years; he ought to have taken
pride in his surroundings, whether he was paid for it or not.”
“Not everybody feels about lighthouses as you do, Jan.”
“That’s no excuse either. This is an important piece of history; he should have kept it up.”
There was no arguing with him on the subject, so she let it go. But he was overreacting: the buildings didn’t look all that bad, really, at least not from the outside. They could have used a fresh coat of whitewash—and the fence needed repair—but for a coastal light that had been out of service for more than twenty years, everything was in fairly decent shape. Especially the lighthouse itself. Alix studied it through the windshield. It was a variation on the Cape Cod style of lighthouse architecture: a compact two-story rectangular frame building—the watch house—with its three-story tower rising through the center. The tower had been fashioned of bricks made from nearby clay deposits, Jan had told her, the surrounding structure from the timber that had once covered this headland. High above, a catwalk circled the outside of the glassed-in lantern room. She could just make out part of the massive Fresnel lens mounted inside, a marvelous piece of nineteenth-century engineering rendered obsolete by modem technology.
She asked Jan. “Does the light still work after all these years?”
“I’ll answer that after I’ve spent some time with it.”
“You’re not going to try operating it?”
“No,” he said, “of course not. Come on, there’s no sense in sitting here. We’ll track down Bonner ourselves.”
They found him inside the garage, in a workshop area toward the rear, packing tools into a wooden crate. “All of this stuff is
he said, as if challenging Jan to call him a liar. He also said he hadn’t heard the horn, which likewise may or may not have been the truth. He was a dried-up little man somewhere in his fifties, with a bulbous head and dry brown hair combed sideways across the top. His eyes were dull and unfriendly, and so was his manner. Alix decided Jan was justified in calling him unpleasant.
“Need another hour to clear out the rest of my belongings,” Bonner said in sullen tones. “That is, if you don’t mind.”
“Why should we mind?”
“Keys on a peg inside the lighthouse door. I didn’t leave you no provisions. Didn’t see why I should.”
“We didn’t expect you to.”
“Kitchen stove’s almost out of propane. Enough for one more meal, maybe.”
“I’m not surprised,” Jan said. “Where are the empty cylinders?”
“Where do we get refills?”
“Closest place, ain’t it?” Bonner looked at Alix for the first time. “You going to live out here too, missus?”
“Well, you won’t like it.”
“No? Why not?”
“Just won’t. No place for a woman.”
“They had women lighthouse keepers at Cape Blanco a hundred years ago,” she said, quoting Jan. “Or didn’t you know that?”
Bonner grunted. “I’ll finish my packing now,” he said to Jan. “You can find your own way around; you been here before.”
It was cold in the garage; Alix felt chilled inside her light jacket. But the wind outside set her teeth to chattering. “I’m going to get something heavier,” she said. She went to the station wagon, rummaged around among the clothing bags until she found her heavy pea jacket. Jan helped her put it on.
“It’ll be warmer in the house,” he said, “even if Bonner didn’t bother to set a fire.”
“God, I hope so. It’s not always going to be this cold, is it?”
“Most of the time until March, probably. You’ll get used to it, California girl. You lived in New York and Boston, remember?”
“How could I forget?”
“Suppose we take the grand tour? When Bonner leaves we’ll unload the car; then I’ll make us hot toddies.”
“I could use the hot toddy right now.”
“Hey, where’s your pioneer spirit?”
“It froze to death about five minutes ago.”
He laughed, a sound that was lost in the shriek and bluster of the wind, and started away across an expanse of thick weedy grass. Shivering, hunched inside her pea jacket, Alix followed his broad back toward their home for the next twelve months.
The kitchen depressed her.
It was a combination of things. For one, the walls were painted a battleship gray and the plaster ceiling was so smoke-stained that it approached the same color. All that gray made it gloomy, even when the sun shone obliquely through the window over the sink. The propane stove was another problem: it was old and crochety and you couldn’t get it lighted without an effort. It was better than the one in the living room, though, the old wood-burner;
one smoked like crazy when the wind shifted and began baffling around the lighthouse tower and down into the kitchen chimney. They had had to open the first-floor doors and windows to air the place out, which of course robbed the first-floor rooms of most of their heat.
But the kitchen . . . it was still the worst room. The well water that came out of the taps had a brackish, mineral taste; they’d have to buy bottled water in Hilliard tomorrow. The refrigerator made funny humming, rattling noises, as if it were about to break down—or explode—at any second. As for the pantry, it wasn’t even attached to the kitchen; you had to go down three steps and through a small cloakroom to get to it, which made it inconvenient and not much good for anything except as a storeroom for bulk supplies. But at least it had an outside door, so you didn’t have to trundle the supplies through the kitchen and cloakroom.
And then there was the
well, the abandoned one under the trapdoor in the pantry floor. One of the early keepers, a man named Guthrie, had sunk the well in 1896 on open ground a short distance away from the original building; it was slightly less than twenty feet deep. When the next keeper took over in 1911 he had built the pantry as an addition and cut the trapdoor to give access to his water supply. (Jan knew all about this but had neglected to tell her beforehand.) The well had long since dried up, and once that happened it had been used as a refuse dump for a while. Jan had shone a flashlight down inside it to reveal rocks and scrap metal and God knew what else. Rats, for all she knew. She had a horror of rats.
Well, there wasn’t much she could do about the pantry—except to put up more shelves, maybe, and make sure the trapdoor stayed shut—but the kitchen itself would have to be dealt with. There was no way she was going to live here a full year surrounded by all that dingy gray. Repaint the walls, and either paint or replaster the ceiling, depending on whether or not she could get the smoke grime off. Put some color in, some of the Metropolitan Museum posters she’d brought. . . .
She smiled wryly, aware of the fussy domesticity of her plans. Here they were at the beginning of their big adventure, and all she could think about was painting the kitchen.
But was it going to be an adventure? she thought wistfully. At the moment it seemed no more exciting than a child’s vacation at the seashore. Well, perhaps that was appropriate. Often when she thought about herself, she felt as if she were a mere child; felt that nothing real had ever happened to her, nothing that constituted a test of her mettle. Everything in her adult life—after a bit of initial career and romantic disappointment—had been too easy. And she herself had remained untouched by life, growing from a pleasant, smiling child into a pleasant, smiling woman with few problems.
True, Jan had remained in love with her, hadn’t tired of her or outgrown her. But sometimes she wondered just how much good she really was to him. There was a dark, brooding side to his nature that she didn’t really understand and in which she couldn’t share; there were problems he encountered with which she couldn’t help. If she had experienced more, lived more,
more, wouldn’t she have grown in step with him? Or was she one of those people who were condemned to forever exist in the shadowland between childhood and adulthood?
Weighty questions, Ryerson, she told herself. Too weighty to be thinking about tonight. Fussy domesticity suddenly seemed a better subject, and she began to contemplate the rest of their living quarters.
They were habitable enough. No, she might as well be fair: they were more or less comfortable. Along with the kitchen, cloakroom, and pantry, the ground floor was comprised of the living room and one large bedroom. The bedroom had two good-sized windows facing seaward, and since it offered the most natural light, they had agreed she should use it as her studio. The second floor consisted of a bathroom and two bedrooms—the largest of which they would sleep in, the other use for Jan’s study. Above that, built into a bubble-like niche in the tower, was the lightroom, where the keepers had stored cleaners, polishes, and supplies for servicing the light. There was even a barrel of sand in there, for use in the event of fire.
One drawback was the small hot water heater—only thirty gallons, barely enough for one of Jan’s protracted showers—but that wouldn’t be a problem. She’d taken cold showers for years, had gotten to like them when they’d been living on the back of Beacon Hill in Boston, in a building that lacked heat of any kind, including hot water. But the main drawbacks to the rooms and their arrangement were the drab white walls, their chilliness—small propane heaters were the only source of warmth in the bedrooms—and the enclosed inner stairway that took up part of the living room and led upward to the second floor and then through the tower into the lantern room. But she felt she could live with all of these too. If the dingy white color in the bedrooms and living room became too oppressive, she could always talk Jan into helping her paint them, along with the kitchen.
She finished drying the supper dishes—she and Jan had always taken turns with the domestic chores—and glanced up at the ceiling and thought again that she would have to get out the Ajax and 409 and see how much of that accumulation of grime would come off. But not tonight. She was so tired her legs felt achey. Some preliminary cleaning; Bonner was not much of a housekeeper. Unpacking. Finding places for things, rearranging other things. Making up the four-poster bed; setting out towels. And she had only just scratched the surface. A move like this was no summer vacation lark; it was a transplanting of an entire household, the same sort of upheaval you went through when you made a permanent move.
She thought of their big mock-Tudor house in Palo Alto and wondered when she would see it again. Not until Christmas, at the earliest—
they decided to go home for the holidays. But the house was in good hands: her cousin June was dependable and conscientious—you couldn’t ask for a better house-sitter.
Alix went into the empty living room. Jan had gone upstairs after supper; she wondered what he was doing. Whatever it was, he was being quiet about it. Curiosity took her up to the second floor. In the hallway that skirted the curve of the tower wall, she called his name. But he wasn’t in their bedroom or in his new study; his answer came echoing down from above.
“Up here. In the lantern.”
She went back to the stairs. The hollow of the tower was like a speaking tube: from the lower floors you could hear clearly when someone spoke from the lantern room in a voice not much louder than normal, and the same was true vice versa. Not even the constant muttering of the wind affected the acoustics inside.
The two flights of stairs leading up to the lantern were steep, creaky, and worn to a shine in the center of each riser. Just above the second-floor landing you had to pass through a metal trapdoor, hinged open and fastened that way with a hook; the reason for the trap, Jan had said, was so that men working in the lightroom and the lantern above wouldn’t disturb their family members below. A pair of low-wattage electric bulbs, one on the wall halfway up each flight, did little to dispel the damp gloom. Climbing, she thought it was a good thing neither of them would have to do this every day—Jan especially, with the extra weight he was carrying. She wondered again if she could get him to diet while they were living here. Probably not. Well, maybe she could at least talk him into doing aerobics with her. She had started working out a couple of years ago, after her second miscarriage, and had kept it up because she knew it was good for her, kept her own weight down. And it was better than tennis or racquetball, the big “in” sports back home, neither of which she had ever been any good at. Too uncoordinated: all arms and legs, with an uncanny knack for stumbling over her own feet. Anyhow, lifting a book was the second most strenuous exercise Jan ever indulged in. “I’d prefer to have my heart attack screwing or reading quietly in a chair,” he’d said more than once. A sedentary Viking. . . .
There was a three-foot-square opening in the floor of the lantern room, but no trapdoor there. Dusky light showed above it; it must be about eight, close to dark outside. She climbed through the opening. Yes, almost nightfall. Through the lantern windows she could see that the sun had set and there were hints of violent reds and purples among the clouds massed on the horizon.
Jan was on his hands and knees to one side of the massive light, using a flashlight to do something she couldn’t see. He said, “Be with you in a minute,” in a distracted voice.
She moved closer to the light. It fascinated her—its size, its intricate construction. A First Order Fresnel, Jan had told her, built in Paris in 1872 by the firm founded by Augustin Fresnel some fifty years earlier. A beehive of glass prisms set in brass—more than a dozen bull’s-eyes, around which other triangular prisms were placed—it measured fourteen feet in height and six feet in diameter, and weighed better than three thousand pounds. The hand-polished prisms were capable of taking all the light that struck the inside surfaces of the glass and redirecting the rays into one flat beam that could be seen more than twenty miles at sea. The lenses were rotated by hand-wound clockworks powered by means of a descending weight. It was the clockworks, she saw, that Jan was examining with his flashlight.
The huge lens took up most of the space in the lantern room. The enclosure was decagonally shaped, each of its sides constructed of heavy iron-plate for the bottom two and a half feet, then of window glass some thirty inches by thirty-six inches set in narrow metal sashes topped by six incbes of metal. The metal parts and the floor were painted a dark red color, faded and peeling now in places; the window sashes were a dull white, as was the domed ceiling. On the north side, set into the metal a few inches above the floor, was a door that reminded Alix of an oversized pet-door. This led out onto the catwalk—a railed metal deck three feet wide and built at a slight downward angle, so as to shed rainwater. The thought of having to walk about out there, exposed and unprotected sixty feet above the ground, with that harsh wind pummeling her body, gave Alix a sharp pang of vertigo. She didn’t mind heights when she was enclosed like this, or up in an airplane; but out in the open, where one false step could send you plummeting . . . no, thank you.
Jan straightened up finally from behind the lens and switched off his flashlight. The twilight had begun to deepen so that shadows obscured part of his face.
She asked him, “Something wrong?”
“Clockworks don’t look good. Bonner could have at least come up here once in a while with cleaners and polishes. It’ll take me weeks to put the lens in working order.” He shook his head in annoyance.
“Aren’t there inspectors?”
“Not for out-of service lights. No one with any expertise has inspected this one in at least three years. It’s a crying shame. I told Channon that, for all the good it did.”
“Channon? Oh, the assistant to the State Parks administrator.”
“Right. He’s also on the Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation, which claims to be satisfied that the light is being maintained and cared for in an acceptable fashion. Channon’s an idealist; he’s convinced there’ll be both state and Federal funding to complete restoration by the end of next year.”
“Don’t you think he’s right?”
“No,” Jan said flatly. “I don’t.”
She wasn’t sure she shared his pessimism. He was such a fanatic on the subject of lighthouses, and such an ardent conservationist, that impatience and anger at the slow-grinding wheels of bureaucracy made him cynical. Other lighthouses along the rugged four-hundred-mile Oregon coast—and along the California and Washington coasts as well—had been restored and turned into historic monuments; some of these were still working lights. There was no reason to believe the same thing wouldn’t eventually happen to the Cape Despair Light, even if the lens itself remained dark. It was a matter of funding, that was all. The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 had saved it from deterioration and ultimate destruction when it had been abandoned by the Coast Guard in the early sixties, after more than a hundred years of continuous service. (It had been rendered more or less obsolete in the thirties, however, when a powerful radiobeacon was installed at Cape Blanco, not far down the coast—a beacon that could be picked up by ships as far as two hundred and fifty miles out to sea. The Coast Guard, which had inherited it after the U.S. Lighthouse Service was disbanded in 1939, maintained it as a standby station until the cost of manning and operating it became prohibitive.) Once the state of Oregon had assumed control of the light, a grant from the Department of the Interior’s Historic Conservation and Recreation Service, coupled with funding obtained by the State Historic Preservation Officer, had resulted in partial restoration and the appointment of a full-time caretaker. The Federal grant and most of the state funds had been exhausted three years ago, and budget cuts had prevented the acquisition of additional monies. But it was only a temporary setback. Private conservation groups within the state were working to raise funds that, they had been promised, would be matched by another Federal grant and by state allocations. Channon’s prediction that within fifteen months the necessary funds would be available to complete restoration, pave the three-mile access road, establish tourist facilities, and turn the outer reaches of the cape into a state park struck her as likely to come true.