BY JOHN HERBERT
Copyright is held by the author.
THERE WAS already a Mercedes parked diagonally across the drive when Dermot McCarthy arrived at the Collins house, blocking him from parking at the property. He knew as he saw the damned thing, that he would have to work hard. The rich, he knew, were the worst customers with their demands and their questions.
The house he was showing sat on the back road where the village faded into the wild land of the peninsula beyond the O’Donovan and the Quinlan farms. It had lain neglected all winter, after the visitors faded off.
He had to leave his own car parked on the road, halfway up the verge, lest it be hit by passing traffic. The owner emerged from the Mercedes as McCarthy got out of his car and strode to meet him, standing bold as you like in the middle of the road, not a trouble on him, as if he owned the place already.
“Seen better days, your motor, hasn’t it?” he said. He was a fat looking fellow with gold chains. McCarthy’s own car sported a dent where some idiot had hit it, no doubt half-wrecked after a night at the O’Connor Bar where he parked at night, next door to his office, on the single shopping street of the village.
“That it has, sir, more’s the pity,” he said, extending a hand. When he had a hold of the man’s meaty paw he clasped it in two of his own and felt the rings the man wore as he pumped the hand. “Dermot McCarthy, sir. Of McCarthy, Delaney and McCarthy.”
“Dougie Quinn,” the man said as if this were explanation enough, a name he should already know. McCarthy knew a few Quinns, living further out, wild bachelor farming men. But this, sure enough, was none of them from the accent and the look of him. “And this here’s Denise.” A woman teetered from the car and stood on the other side of the road, precarious in a pair of cream leather boots, the tops of which cupped her knees before giving way to tight jeans. She had a great deal of hair, streaked blonde in places among the dark mass of it. She wore a top that showed an abundant portion of cleavage, though for all the boldness of her dress, he noticed, she barely caught his eye, glancing only at him before staring off, through that hair of hers which hung across her face. He imagined his mother would have called her an obvious woman, in that way she had. “So, you going to show us round this gaff or what?” the man asked. “I’m trying to get a round in later. Golf, yeah? Don’t want to be late, do I? Better get a shift on here, alright?”
“How long’s it been on the market this place?” The woman asked, her voice quiet but, like her husband, distinct, higher than his, like one of those London people from the soap operas that his wife watched of an evening, piping and a little anxious to Dermot McCarthy’s ear.
“For a small while, so it has, Mrs. Quinn. This winter only.” he said, walking across the road towards her. “Since poor Mrs. Collins passed away.” McCarthy strode to the door and unlocked it, putting his shoulder to its stiff hinges. “We’ve only just taken over the sale and, between you and me there’s a little … decorative work, shall we say, to be done to place before I’d ordinarily be showing it, but Marie, our receptionist mentioned to me that you were very keen to see what we had.”
“Died in here, did she?” McCarthy heard Quinn’s gruff voice close behind him. “Bet you that hasn’t made it any easier to get shot of it.” Quinn breezed past him into the house as McCarthy held the door for the couple. The Englishman stopped, eyeing the hallway and the pale squares on the walls where paintings had once hung. “A shame, poor old girl. We just flogged a place, the holiday home, like, so we’ve got a bit spare. Cash buyers, right? No mortgages, no chain or nothing. You might have to come down on the price though. Three hundred grand’s a bit steep, even in poxy Euros.” The man laughed at his own derision. “Not that I can’t afford it, but nobody likes being taken for a ride, do they?”
“Quinn, sir. I can’t help but notice that’s a local name,” McCarthy said, ushering them into a bare-boarded front room, keeping his voice steady. “Do you have family from the county, sir?”
“Your Dad, weren’t it Doug?” Mrs. Quinn said, walking past him, smelling like one of those women at the makeup counter that McCarthy encountered only when he went Christmas shopping for Maggie in the city. Her voice, he noted, as he listened to her, was quieter than her clothes at least. “Buried here, isn’t he? Down in the big church. The old one?”
“I know it well,” McCarthy said. More well than I’d care to say, he did not add, for his own family’s sadness was not a thing to bring up in a sale.
“Long time back,” Quinn said, turning back to McCarthy. “Came from just down the road out there. Never stopped bloody talking about the place, the old man. Never stopped moaning about Stepney neither. I reckon it might be a bit nicer here than the East End though, don’t you girl? He always fancied moving back here, but the only way he managed it was in a box, poor sod.” He stood, the Quinn man, studying the fireplace and then, decisive, as if he’d seen enough to make his call, marched for the door to the hall.
“He weren’t wrong about Stepney though, was he?” Mrs. Quinn said. “It’s not brilliant, is it?” She looked at him then, more directly, through that mop of hair, McCarthy saw, as if he might have a definitive opinion on the matter. He shook his head, mute, though he had a notion from the look of the pair of them, what might be wrong with Stepney.
Quinn indicated with his own head, a butt of impatience to McCarthy, eager to get on, and headed down the corridor towards kitchen. He stopped abruptly to examine the line of the wall, causing McCarthy to nearly bump into his wide, fleshy back. “Looks like damp there mate. That’ll need looking at. Have to come off the price too. No me, I’m London born and bred” he said, running a finger over a kitchen counter, “We’re really interested in this gaff for the golf is all and somewhere with a bit of green and scenery and that, not too hot, like. You’ve got some top courses round here, let me tell you.”
“He loves his golf, my Dougie,” his wife chimed in. “Though I don’t know why. Good walk spoiled, isn’t it?’ She nudged McCarthy on the arm and took hold of it, standing close to him, the shyness, it seemed, burning off her with the talk. “C’mon,” she said. “Give us the tour, will you? Tell us a bit about it, what it’s like in the village and that. We’ve only stayed here a week but we fell in love with it.”
“Were you hoping to play around here then, sir?” McCarthy said, feeling the press of the woman against him, smelling the scent of her perfume. He hoped it wouldn’t linger or he’d be getting the third degree from Maggie when he was home.
“Well I certainly haven’t come for a tan, have I? Denise don’t like it hot though, do you babe? Not like that, anyway.” He gave a hoarse chuckle at that, the sound of too much smoking, McCarthy thought.
“Behave yourself, Dougie,” the woman said, and clung, McCarthy felt, closer to his arm so he could feel the warmth of her discomfiting against him.
“Had to get shot of our place in Spain on account of the poxy weather. And, to tell you the truth, there were some villains too. Not my cup of tea.” Quinn continued. “Now we’re looking for something with a little bit a quiet. Milder, you know? Fell in love with it, we did, like the missus says.”
“Now the Cork weather is … shall we say, varied, sir. You’ll not be too hot here at least,” and he gave a laugh, all teeth and eye contact and twinkling eyes, while trying to move Mrs. Quinn’s hand from his arm with a turn towards her husband to address him better. “A tan you need not worry about. But were you hoping to play at the town course, sir, up by the big house there as a member, sir? Or was it the village course you were wanting?”
“The village one and the others,” Quinn said, opening the doors of the cold range.
“It’s a fine course, our village course there,” McCarthy said. “I’m partial to a round there myself when I’ve the time. Have you spoken to Mr. Carroll at the clubhouse then, about the membership? It is a complicated process being -”
“Hold your horses, mate,” Quinn said, closing the range door with a creak. ‘Stuck, that is. Rust,’ he said. ‘Plenty of time for all that membership malarkey once I’ve bought somewhere. I’ve played down there a couple of times already as it goes. And we can afford to be picky. We’re not just looking here, you know. Got some geezer in Kinsale looking out for us too. Pricey there, mind. Show us upstairs, will you? We’re a bit pushed this morning.”
“Of course, sir. Of course,” McCarthy said, looking from Quinn, who was already at the kitchen door, to his wife who gave her husband a dismissive wave behind his back, as if to brush away his bluster. “Would you like to follow me for a look upstairs now?” He inveigled himself past Quinn at the door and led them round the corner and up the narrow staircase, Quinn following him, leading his wife, McCarthy saw when he glanced back, by the hand where the ceiling lowered. “You’ll want to watch your head there, sir, a big man like yourself,” he said. “I only ask sir, about the membership because of the wait and the vetting procedure for members.”
“Nothing a few quid can’t sort out, is it?” Quinn’s voice was a gruff mutter.
“There is the matter of the interview, sir. The committee will need to approve all members and-”
“Bloody hell,” Dougie said, his face turned in upon itself, a rictus of disgust, the voice louder now as he gripped the arm of McCarthy’s shirt where the estate agent had rested a moment on the bannister to turn to Quinn. “What the hell’s that smell? That’s rank that is, mate.”
“That’ll be the septic tank, sir. Probably hasn’t been done since Mrs. Collins’ time. It’s quite common in these rural properties. A simple matter of getting it pumped, no doubt,” he said, opening a small window at the top of the stairs to admit a gust of blustery air. “It does have a tendency to back up a little when it’s not been used in a while.”
“Smells like something’s leaking up there, Dougie,” the wife said. Her voice had moved up an octave and lost something of its softness, McCarthy thought. She made doe eyes at her husband, her gaze, he noted, diverted from himself now to the puce, weather-burned face of her husband.
“Take more than a plug-in to shift that lot, doll,” Quinn grunted and led her on to the top landing of the house. “Here, close that door, will you? It reeks in there,” he said, and McCarthy did as asked and closed the door on the pink bathroom at the head of the stairs, “Let’s have a quick shufty in here.” Quinn brushed past McCarthy to the next door, the master bedroom.
The room still had the curtains closed and a quilt thrown aside, the pink sheet beneath it marked with streaks of what unmistakably was dirt, its provenance dubious, possibly human, possibly animal from the smell of it. McCarthy himself had to stifle a grimace. An ashtray lay next to the bed, still crowded with butts.
“It hasn’t, perhaps, had all the work we would have wanted to give it yet sir,” he said and he twitched the curtains open and noticed the dust motes caught in a bar of spring sun that struck the bed. “We’ve only just got the keys ourselves. It has taken the family a long time to come to terms with the loss of Mrs. Collins. It was the cigarettes that took her, so they say.” There was a rainbow, he saw, in the field past his car on the other side of the road where old Quinlan’s flock of sheep grazed and he could see into O’Callaghan’s garden where his former teacher was fussing with his bee hives.
“Well, you’ll have to do a damn sight more to it than this if you want to get shot of it at this price, mate, I can tell you. You can keep it until you get it in some sort of bloody order.” Quinn’s face, tanned and leathery in repose, had turned a high shade of pink as he pointed a ringed finger at him, as if the man had spent too long in the sun. “Waste of fucking time this is if you can’t even tidy the place up before you show it. You’re taking the piss.” His wife give a small gasp at the final jab of the finger which struck McCarthy firmly on the chest, topping Quinn’s complaint and causing McCarthy to stagger back a step. Quinn stood a moment, panting in the aftermath of his ire before turning to his wife. “C’mon darling,” Dougie Quinn said, glaring back at the offending bed. “We’re off.”
The last Dermot McCarthy saw of Dougie Quinn for some while was the back of his shaved head and the gold chain wedged, he noticed, in the roll of his neck fat as he stomped down the stairs and out, followed by his tottering wife, back to their car.
McCarthy made the short drive back in a blat of rain and parked his own vehicle in his usual spot, by O’Connor’s Bar, next door to his office.
He stopped for a moment to look again at the scrape on the door that reduced his partner’s name to ‘-aney’ wedged between the two McCarthys, his brother and himself.
The pair of them, his partners, were sat out the back in the garden with O’Connor, cigarettes ablaze the lot of them, and cups of coffee at hand from O’Connor’s new espresso machine.
“Did you manage it, Dermot?” Delaney said, raising a dark eyebrow.
“That I did, now sir” he said, and got a laugh from the pair of them at the thick accent he’d assumed to show the place. He took the cup O’Connor handed him and sat at the table, feeling the spring sun on his face where the shower had passed. He pulled his own pack from his pocket, lit one up and inhaled the lovely, dirty fug of it though he knew that, like the perfume, it would have to be gone from his clothes before he got home.
“God bless Mrs. Collins,” Jim Delaney said, “She’s done it again.” He took a sip of his coffee and smacked his lips in appreciation.
“She has that, Jim,” McCarthy said to his partner, “but you’d best get over there and air the place out and be rid of the ashtray and things. Flush the toilet too, while you’re at it, for Christ’s sake. That was a foul touch you left in there. I’ve a young couple from Ballydehob coming in the morning with a baby. Thinking of moving. Pack Mrs. Collins up, will you, until she’s needed again.”
John Herbert teaches English near Brighton, U.K. and, when not teaching, writes on the west coast of Ireland. His fiction has appeared in the U.K. and U.S. in, among other publications, Porridge, The Nottingham Review, The Forge Literary Journal, and The Write Launch. “Resurrection” is a section of his debut novel, Peninsula.