'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Fight

The dog is looking at one of the trees in a funny way. When he saw a pony go by on the road, he looked at it in just that way. I can't see any similarity between the pony and the tree. There was a goose sitting on the back of the pony, but you won't find any birds in the tree when the dog is looking at it in a funny way.

My cousin Hugh went on a guided tour of a castle with his fiancee, Annabel. When they were walking down a corridor, the tour guide said, "On the wall you'll see a shield bearing the family coat of arms, and if you look over there, you'll see where I dropped a bottle of wine." He pointed to the end of the corridor. "The next stop on our tour is the dungeon."

The tour finished in the dining hall, and the guide said, "Are there any questions?"

A woman put up her hand and said, "Why were you carrying the wine?"

"I'm very glad you asked me that. On the tenth anniversary of the castle being opened to the public, the owner had a reception here one afternoon, and he gave all of the staff a bottle of wine. My friend Derek came along to it too, and as we were on our way out, I was taking an old chalice to the security guard, so he could lock it in the safe. I was carrying that in a wooden box, and Derek was carrying the wine. He had been trying to chat up the woman who works in reception - ye might have seen her on the way in. I told her he'd have a better chance with one of the statues in the garden, and if you've seen her you'll know what I mean. But Derek got all upset when I said that. He left. He put the bottle of wine on top of the box and he left. Then I stumbled in the corridor and dropped the wine. He's a complete moron. He's always getting upset at the slightest things. And I wouldn't mind, but he's a boxer. Or he was a boxer. I used to manage him. Before his last fight he was training for months. He couldn't have been better prepared for it, and he was looking forward to it too. He was listening to the announcer introduce him before the fight, and the announcer said he'd been training entirely by watching Jackie Chan videos. Derek wasn't happy with this at all, and he refused to go on with the fight. He's very 'sensitive'. Can you imagine that? He was perfectly happy to go into the ring and fight, but something as small as that upset him. I lost a fortune because of it. And that didn't upset him at all. No one will fight him now. No one's going to take a risk on him. He might step on a snail and run away crying. He might as well fight a statue. That's what I said to him."

As Hugh listened to the story, he remembered Conn, a friend of a friend. Conn was a very good boxer, but he gave it up because he was afraid of hurting someone. When the tour came to an end, Hugh went over to the guide and said, "I think I might be able to help you out. I know a fighter who's been out of the ring for a while, but he's looking for a way back in, and your friend might be just the opponent he needs."

The tour guide was very keen on the idea. He said Derek would be ready to fight any time.

Hugh went to see his friend, Owen, who put him in contact with Conn. He told Conn about his plan for the fight - he wouldn't actually have to fight at all. Hugh would do something to put off Derek before the fight - he'd pay the announcer to say that Derek kicks pigs or something - and he promised to split the winnings. It didn't take much convincing for Conn to agree.

Hugh arranged the fight with the tour guide, and Conn started training. He didn't put much effort into the training because he knew he wouldn't be fighting, but he wanted to look as if he had put some effort into it. On the day before the fight, he went to see an eighteenth century sailing ship with his girlfriend, Justine. But Conn managed to get lost on the ship. When she called him on his phone he had no idea where he was. She had to go and meet a friend of hers, and she told him he'd have to find his own way out.

As she was walking down a street in the city, she met Owen. He asked her where Conn was, and she said, "He's lost on a ship."

"What, do you mean he's lost at sea?"

That sounded much better than the truth, or at least it made Conn sound less stupid, so she said, "Yeah."

"How did that happen?"

"I don't know. I only just heard."

Owen phoned Hugh and said, "I've got some bad news about the fight. Your fighter is lost at sea."

Hugh started to panic at first, but then he realised that he didn't need another fighter at all because there would be no fight. He could get anyone at all to replace Conn. In fact, he'd be better off with anyone at all rather than a boxer, because he'd get better odds on someone who was obviously not up to the job.

He called to see his cousin Ronan, and he asked him to step into the ring as Conn's replacement. Ronan was completely against the idea, even after Hugh explained that there would be no actual fighting in the fight. He'd just have to step into the ring and collect his winnings.

"There's absolutely no way I'm doing it," he said.

"Think of Audrey," Hugh said. "If there's one thing guaranteed to impress a girlfriend, it's boxing."

Audrey hated boxing, and Ronan knew it would horrify her. "I'll do it," he said.

Hugh got odds of thirty-to-one on Ronan from a bookmaker at the fight. He put three-hundred quid on him. He paid another hundred to the announcer to read out the 'kicking pigs' story.

The crowd weren't very impressed with Ronan when he got into the ring. They were right in thinking that this fight wouldn't last long. Derek looked very focussed as he made his way to the ring, but then the announer said that he'd been training by kicking pigs, and he stopped.

He was only standing there for about two seconds, but the fact that he didn't turn around straightaway, coupled with the recently-acquired knowledge that he kicks pigs, made Ronan leave the ring and head for the nearest exit, screaming as he ran.

Hugh followed him out of the building. He saw Ronan running down the street, and he went in that direction, but he noticed a noise growing behind him. He looked back. The crowd from the boxing match were following him, and they looked very angry.

He forgot about Ronan for a while, and he concentrated on getting to safety himself. The chase went on for a few streets. There was a small park up ahead, and Hugh saw two hippies sitting on the grass. There was a car parked on the street nearby, and Hugh guessed that they owned the car when he saw the words 'We're hippies' written across the rear window.

He said to them, "Do ye mind if I 'borrow' the car?"

"Of course you can." One of them gave the keys to Hugh. He drove away just before the crowd caught up with him.

"Why did he say 'borrow' like that?" one of the hippies said to the other.

"Like what?"

"He just had an odd way of saying 'borrow'."

Hugh drove around the streets, looking for Ronan, and he finally spotted him in a phone booth. He ran away when Hugh parked on the street. Hugh ran after him, and he caught up with him a few minutes later. It took another minute for Hugh to get his breath back before he could speak. "You..."

"Who are they?" Ronan said.

Hugh turned around, and the hippies were there. "Oh, hello," one of them said. "We were just wondering, what exactly did you mean by 'borrow'?"

"I meant that I had a clear idea of how I'd leave in the car, but I didn't have any definite plans for giving it back."

"Oh, that's okay." They walked away.

When Hugh turned around, Ronan was gone, and the crowd from the boxing match had taken his place. "We paid good money to watch a fight," one of them said. "Not someone running away before it even begins. He can do all the running away he wants at the end of the fight, as long as we see a fight."

"I can understand your concerns, but..." Hugh saw Conn in the crowd. "Conn! I thought you were lost at sea."

"No, I was... Yeah, I was lost at sea."

"Are you still on for the fight?"

"Yeah. I mean, I've been through a lot over the past day, at sea, but I'm willing to give it a go."

Hugh introduced the real opponent to the crowd, and their spirits lightened very quickly. They all returned to the boxing ring. Derek's manager had been trying to convince him that the announcer hadn't mentioned pigs at all. "He was talking about... the weather or something." After a lot of persuasion, Derek agreed to go ahead with the fight. Hugh paid the announcer another hundred to say that Derek hits pigs with crutches too.

Ronan was with Audrey and the hippies. They were telling him that he did exactly the right thing in running away, and that only very brave people run away from violence. Ronan was glad that Audrey didn't have any of her stuffed toys with her. They'd be expressing their opinions on this too, and they always agree with her.

"You're an inspiration to us all," one of the hippies said. "You chose the path of love over hate."

"Think of what Mr. Panda would say to that," Audrey said. "Even if he wouldn't say anything, he'd be nodding his head in agreement."

Ronan thought about that.

The fight was just about to begin when Hugh remembered his bet. Conn was already in the ring, and Derek was about to be introduced. He went over to the bookmaker to cancel his bet on Ronan and put the money on Conn instead, but before he got a chance to do it, Ronan came running into the arena. He was screaming again, but this time he was running towards the ring.

"I want to cancel my bet on him," Hugh said to the bookie.

"It's too late now. The fight has already begun."

Ronan was in the ring, punching Conn. The punches were having no effect, and Conn didn't punch back. But the crowd were becoming impatient with him, and when one of the punches caught him below the belt, he punched back.

Ronan staggered against the ropes. He seemed to realise that it was madness trying to fight Conn, so he dropped to his knees and took a count. When the count got to five he looked to his left and saw Audrey. She had got Mr. Panda from her car. He was shaking his head very slowly, and the hippies behind her looked disappointed too.

Ronan got to his feet again and charged towards Conn. After the next punch, Ronan couldn't get to his feet even if he wanted to, and he did want to, because the only voice he could hear clearly was that of Mr. Panda.

The moose's head over the fireplace seemed to enjoy our New Year's Eve Party, despite being the only one there who couldn't eat, drink, dance or sing. I'd have enjoyed it a lot more if some of the guests couldn't drink, dance or sing. Only one or two of them could dance and sing - no one could do both at the same time - but the drink made them have a go. The wife's uncle sang a song about meeting a woman on an old stone bridge at midnight, and it turns out that she's a dancer and they met once before. There was something about an aerobics class in it as well. I didn't listen to the rest.