'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Buried in the Flower Bed

The wife wants me to clean out the shed. She asked me where something was the other day, and I said it was on the shelf over by the other thing on the shelf, and that's on the ground near the thing that died recently. If she just went into the shed she'd know exactly what I mean.

My cousin Jane invited some of her friends to a party at her parents' house. She didn't have to ask Darren, but she did because she fancied him. She did have to ask her best friend Claudia, but she didn't really want to because Claudia fancied Darren too.

Claudia thought her musical ability would be the thing to win Darren over, so on the day of the party, she decided to write a song to celebrate the occasion. She asked another friend of theirs, Nathalie, to sing it. Jane was all in favour of the idea because she thought Claudia would have no chance of impressing Darren if she was relying on music.

As the three of them were on their way to Jane's house to practise the song, they called in to see my cousin June and her kids, Daisy and Graham. June had the word 'sun' written on the back of her hand. "I know it's supposed to remind me of something," she said, "but I just can't remember what it is." A table fell over in the garden. "Oh yeah, do ye want to buy a garden table?"

"No thanks," Jane said. The others declined the offer too.

They went to Jane's house, and Claudia played the song on her keyboard. "Just sing along to that," she said. "I haven't written the lyrics yet, so just sing anything at all. Sing about what you've been doing today."

Nathalie sang about being Agatha Christie.

After she left, Jane said, "I think she's lying about something."

"Well of course she's lying. She's not Agatha Christie."

"Yeah, but I think she's lying about something else too. She's trying to hide something."

Nathalie arrived at the party that evening with her boyfriend, and Claudia showed her the lyrics she'd written. They practised the song a few times, and they went to the room where the piano was. Claudia had asked Jane to make sure that Darren was there too, and Jane was happy to oblige.

Claudia didn't want to play the song without being asked to play first, so to move the conversation in that general direction, she asked my cousin Isobel if she could play a musical instrument.

"Not really," Isobel said. "I could probably play this bell."

She picked up a bell from the sideboard and started ringing it, and my cousin Hector started singing his favourite song: "The old trianglllle goes jingllle janglllle... alongngngng the banks... of the Royallll Canal..."

Isobel kept ringing the bell and Hector kept singing. After about ten minutes of this, it started to sound like fingernails on a blackboard to Uncle Cyril. He had just bought a new Alfa Romeo, and he said, "Does anyone want to go for a drive in my new car?"

My cousins Rachel, Gary and Albert said they'd go. When they arrived outside at the car the three of them were wearing party hats.

"Take the hats off," Cyril said.

"What's wrong with the hats?" Rachel said.

"Ye're not wearing those hats in the car."

"We're entitled to wear whatever we want."

"Fine. But we won't be going for a drive in the car if ye wear those hats."

"Okay, we'll take the hats off... But I'm asking Isobel and Hector to come along too."

Rachel sat in the passenger's seat. Gary, Albert, Isobel and Hector were all in the back. There was just enough room for Isobel to ring the bell. Hector was still singing the same song.

This was much worse than the hats. Cyril cursed the fact that he couldn't remove his hands from the wheel to cover his ears, and when he got back he cursed the bell.

Claudia never got to play her song. Nathalie went missing, and it was nearly midnight before Jane and Claudia met her again. They asked her what she'd been doing and she said, "I was in the kitchen most of the time, and we were talking about, y' know, with the sweeping brush," she moved her hands out to indicate the dimensions of something, presumably the sweeping brush, "and someone with the stapler was sort of over there, and then there was someone, I think it was Gary, with the bottle. Yeah, that was Gary alright. And Audrey was on the verge of tears because the dog was doing its little dance - y' know that dance it does, and... but the thing in my hand, she droppped it, the glass that was in her hand, and the sweeping brush, no I'm thinking of something else, but the people all around in a circle, or... on the floor, it was sort of, but I don't know really. I mean, I asked someone about it and they said, y' know, but I wasn't sure if that was true either. And then the door, it was very funny with that thing over the door, the picture, they said something funny about that, and now it's like, it's like summer, but I wasn't sure if I agreed with that either. And who was wearing the hat? The things they said were very, very funny. I mean, if it's like that all the time it must be very, very funny, and, y' know, this is not really my area so I'm just talking off the top of my head, with the sweeping brush, they said something, and then the sweeping brush, orrr, and then she said somehing, and then it was the sweeping brush, so... it's not really my area... I'm buying your cousin's garden table."

When she left them, Jane said to Claudia, "What did you make of her story?"

"I'd say that wasn't Gary at all."

"That's what I thought too."

"But if it wasn't Gary, who was it?"

"I don't know... Let's ask Gary."

Gary had spent most of the evening talking to May, another one of Jane's friends. Jane asked him what he'd been up to and he said, "I was telling your friend about this book about church bells I'm reading, and..."

"Why are you reading a book about church bells?"

"It's very interesting. There are at least ten murders in it. May was very interested in it."

"Where were ye?"

"In the front garden."

"Were ye there all of the evening?"

"All of the evening, yeah."

"You weren't in the kitchen?"

"No, I was never in the kitchen." He remembered Nathalie asking him to say that he'd seen her around earlier on, if anyone asked, and he wondered if this was a case of anyone asking. "Although, I did go into the kitchen to get a drink. We both did. Nathalie was there."

People started leaving the party at about half-one. As they were saying their goodbyes in front of the house, Rachel pointed at the dog and said, "Look, he's digging up something in the flowerbed."

They couldn't see clearly what he dug up, but they heard it. "Oh God no!" Jane said. "The bell!"

The dog ran around the garden, ringing the bell, and Hector started singing again.

"This is even worse than the time our dog got hold of a bell," June said.

Everyone looked at Cyril. "I didn't do it," he said.

"We all heard you threatening the bell earlier on," Rachel said.

"Lots of people had it in for the bell. It could be anyone."

On the following morning, Daisy and Graham were watching a detective show on TV. The detective was a stork and its sidekick was a magnet.

When the show finished, they went out into the back garden, and they noticed something odd about the sundial. Mickey Mouse hands had been drawn in chalk on it. The hands suggested that the time was half-eleven, and the word 'clock' was written on one of the hands.

"I think we're looking at a murder scene here," Graham said. "Whenever you see a chalk outline of a body, that's a murder scene. That's the first thing the stork would say if he were here."

"Where's the rest of the body?"

"I think he lost the rest of his body at half-eleven last night. At around about the same time he was murdered. A bit of detective work is what's called for here."

Graham's idea of detective work was looking at the phone for ten minutes. Daisy got bored with this, so she drew arrows on little pieces of paper, and she left the arrows on the ground in the garden. They pointed towards the fence. She wanted to see what her brother would make of this.

He was still looking at the phone when she told them there was something he should investigate in the garden. When he saw the first arrow he said, "I think this is a clue." Then he saw the second one and said, "Yeah, and that's another clue... And there's another one."

He followed the arrows to the fence and said, "Just as I suspected, a fence."

"What do you make of that?"

"I think I can solve this now." That's what the stork always said.

"What is it?"

The magnet had never said this before, and Graham didn’t know what to say, so he just said the first thing that came into his head: "Cyril did it."

"What did he do?"

"He... He got his hand stuck in the fence. Both hands. But not the rest of his body. And this happened at half-eleven last night."

"What about the mouse?"

"The mouse died of natural causes."

When Jane and Claudia called around, Graham told them his conclusion. "Cyril got his hands stuck in the fence at half-eleven last night."

"Are you sure about that?" Jane said.

"As sure as I'll ever be."

"That's interesting."

"And the mouse died of natural causes."

Jane phoned Gary and asked him what time he had gone to the kitchen with May.

"Somewhere in the region of... I'd say about... I think..."

"Half-eleven?" she suggested.

"Half-eleven, that's it. We went to the kitchen at half-eleven. And we saw Nathalie there."

Jane then called Nathalie and asked her to call over to June's house. When she arrived, Jane gathered everyone in the front room - herself, Claudia, June, Daisy, Graham and Nathalie.

"Ye're probably wondering why I've gathered ye all here. If ye don't mind, I'd like to start with a song. June, would sing along to the music that Claudia composed for the party? Just sing about what you were doing yesterday."

Claudia played her song on the piano and June started singing: "Well I got a phone call in the garden about... Oh God! I was supposed to meet someone at half-eleven this morning to buy a cuckoo clock!"

June ran from the room.

"She's definitely trying to hide something," Jane said.

Daisy and Graham realised what had happened. Their mother often wrote notes on things, and she must have drawn the hands on the sundial when she got the call in the garden, and then she wrote the word 'sun' on her hand to remind her of the sundial. She often bought things like cuckoo clocks too.

"I don't know," Daisy said. "I think she might have just forgotten about the cuckoo clock."

"When people run away like that, it means they're trying to hide something."

"What does the stork think?" Daisy said to Graham.

"I don't know. The magnet seems to be the expert now."

"The magnet thinks she just forgot about the clock," Daisy said.

"Well you can tell the magnet it's wrong," Jane said. "Because all of the pieces fit together in this jig-saw. It was you who buried the bell." She pointed at Nathalie. "Everyone suspected Cyril, but he couldn't have done it. Gary and May were in the front garden all evening, apart from when they went inside to get more drinks at half-eleven. This is the only time the crime could have been committed. But Cyril's hands were stuck in a fence at half-eleven. How could a man with both of his hands stuck in a fence bury a bell? It was you who did it, but June caught you in the act. She blackmailed you. She made you buy the garden table in exchange for keeping quiet about what you did. It was you who buried the bell because you were jealous of the bell and Hector. You didn't get to sing your song because of them. And the mouse... died of natural causes."

Graham nodded.

The truth was that Nathalie was having an affair with Darren. She had left the party to be with him, but June saw the two of them returning together. It was an awkward situation, and the only thing Nathalie could think of talking about was the garden table, so she said she was interested in buying it.

Jane's version of events was easier to admit to, so Nathalie said, "Yes. It was me."

Jane turned to Daisy and said, "Jane one, the magnet nil."

June came back with a cuckoo clock and said, "I was so lucky. He was delayed too, and he gave it to me for half-price because he thought he'd kept me waiting."

"It's one-all at least," Daisy said.

Nathalie ran away when they weren't looking.

The moose's head over the fireplace seems to miss the Christmas decorations, but the festivities still go on. There's lots of food and drink to get through. I'm doing my best to get through the drink, but it has led to a few blunders. I was talking about something the other night - I can't remember what I was talking about, and I'm not sure if I knew at the time - and I mentioned a goat in sheep's clothing. I tried to get out of it by just rambling on, but I couldn't find a way to bring that sentence to an end. It finally ended with the following words: "...and a dog with a wolf or the night, is it a vampire? I don't know." I didn't turn around to see how the moose's head reacted to my speech. He always picks up on little mistakes like that. The surprised looking hen in the painting looked worried when I mentioned a vampire. Or maybe it just looked surprised.