'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

A Blue Pool Table

The week of winter is over. It's much warmer now, and of course the wind and rain are back again. The garden is about to spring into life. I found a map of the grounds in the attic, and there was a small red dot on it. I tried digging in that spot, but there was nothing there. There's a red dot on a pane of glass in the glasshouse too. I didn't know if that made it more or less likely that I'd find something in the place indicated on the map. Given that I haven't found anything, I suppose it made it less likely.

My cousin Ted and his wife Anne bought a blue pool table, but all of the balls that came with it were white. A few of the relatives called around one Saturday afternoon to see it.

"You really need different coloured balls to play pool," Hugh said.

"I know," Ted said.

"You can't even play billiards with all white balls."

"I know."

"I just like the look of it," Anne said.

Ted played against his cousin, Gary.

Anne said, "There's a chocolate cake for whoever wins this game and a German dictionary for whoever cheats."

"What if you want a German dictionary?" Gary said.

"Most people would probably want the cake more."

"What if you cheat and win?"

"Cheaters never win."

"What about Ben Johnson?"

"They took the medal off him."

"He had it for a few days. You'd just need a few minutes to eat the chocolate cake. And then you could learn German."

Gary broke off, and they looked at the white balls fly all around the table.

"I'm going to pretend this one is the cue ball," Gary said.

My Aunt Bridget worked with a charity for Third World countries, and they had organised a ball in a hotel that evening to raise money. They invited a famous chat show host to make a speech. Bridget got most of the relatives to buying tickets.

The pool game went on while Anne got ready for that. Ted poured himself a glass of whiskey, and Gary took a shot.

"You potted the cue ball again," Ted said.

"Only because the sound of the ice in the glass put me off."

"By the time I finish the drink I should be able to keep my hand steady."

"If you're having a whiskey, I'm having one too."


Ted poured him a glass.

Anne went to the ball with Hugh and his fiancee, Annabel. Ted and Gary said they'd go along as soon as they finished the game. But the more they drank, the slower the game became.

The charity ball was being held in a very expensive hotel. The ball room was lit by crystal chandeliers. Waiters carried champagne glasses on trays.

When Annabel and Hugh were looking for the cloak room they came across a man trying to open the lock on a door with two small pins. He gave them directions to the cloak room, and he said, "Ye're probably wondering what I'm up to here."

"I was wondering why you weren't using a key," Hugh said.

"I'm actually a cat burglar."


"Yeah. I'm here to steal a diamond necklace."

"Right. Best of luck with that."

"Very nice of you to say. Here's my business card." He handed Hugh a card.

"Right. Well good luck then."

"Thank you very much indeed. I hope we bump into each other again." He shook Hugh's hand and kissed Annabel's.

As they walked away, Hugh looked at the card. It said 'Mr. Cat "I've stolen your wallet" Burglar'. He checked his pocket. "Yeah, he's stolen my wallet alright."

When they turned around, the cat burglar was gone. They went to look for him.

The pool game was still going on. As Gary was leaning over the table, he thought he saw a woman in white out of the corner of his eye. He took his shot and looked up, but there was no one there. "Was there a woman in white standing near the door while I took my shot?" he said.

"You potted the cue ball again."

Half an hour later they'd potted all of the white balls. They looked at the empty blue table and wondered what to do. "Who potted the black?" Gary said.


"Oh yeah. I forgot."

They went to the hotel in a taxi. Gary thought he saw the woman in white in a mirror, but when he turned around all he saw were a man in a tuxedo and a woman in a red dress.

Annabel and Hugh found the cat burglar on a sofa in the lobby, looking out the window. "I could be entirely mistaken here," Hugh said, "but I think you might have stolen my wallet."

"Yeah. Sorry about that." He handed back the wallet and looked out the window again. He was nothing like the cheerful man they met earlier.

"Is anything wrong?" Annabel said.

"I just saw my former girlfriend with that chat show host who's giving the speech. She was 'with' him. She's French, and she's the love of my life, but now she's with someone else and all my hopes of winning her back have gone."

He remembered when he first saw her on a French chat show. She smoked all the time, and she didn't say much. She leant back on her chair with her legs crossed.

He told Annabel and Hugh about this, and about the time he met her at an art gallery, and lost her because she didn't like a painting he stole.

"I think I'll give up on the cat burglary for good," he said.

"Don't say that," Annabel said. "You could still win her back."

"What hope do I have? He's a famous chat show host, and she has a thing for chat show hosts. I'm just a cat burglar. Soon to be a former cat burglar."

"It's simple," Annabel said. "You just have to make him look stupid, and then you arrive back on the scene. She sees how suave and sophisticated you are, and how stupid he is, and you're back in business."

"But how would I make him look stupid?"

"That's just as simple."

Annabel and Hugh met the chat show host just outside the entrance to the ballroom. They introduced themselves and he asked them why they were so small. "Why is everyone so small? What's... Why is..." He put on his glasses. "Why do you look smaller when I'm wearing my glasses?"

"I don't know," Hugh said.

"Maybe it's because I feel so much taller."

"Quite possibly. We were just wondering if we could have your autograph."

"Yes, of course."

As he signed his name, the cat burglar stood behind him and carefully removed the notes for the speech from the pocket of his jacket.

Gary was looking everywhere for the woman in white, and Ted started to think that he should be looking for her too. They both kept an eye out for her when they weren't drinking champagne. Gary thought he saw her in an elevator just as the doors were closing. They went to the top floor of the hotel and walked down every corridor, hoping to find her. When they saw her getting into the elevator, they both ran towards her, but the doors closed just before they got there. "You potted the cue ball again," Ted said.

The chat show host went to the microphone on the stage to make his speech. As the applause died down he took the notes from his pocket and looked at them. And kept looking at them. The first one just said 'Mr. Cat "I've stolen your speech" Burglar', and the rest of them were in a similar vein.

He spent a minute looking through them in silence, and when he got back to the first one he started looking through them again. "No, I don't think I can use any of this stuff in the speech," he said. "Unless... I've stolen your water bed."

He looked out at the audience and smiled. They looked back at him in shock.

The cat burglar sidled up to his ex in a way that only cat burglars can sidle, and said, "Hello, Carol."

She dropped her glass but he caught it.

When the chat show host got off the stage he remembered where he had seen one of those cards before. Annabel and Hugh used one to get his autograph.

When they saw him approaching they guessed that he suspected their involvement, so they ran to the elevator. He ran after them, but the doors closed just before he got there. They got out at the third floor and walked very quickly down a corridor. They took a left, then a right, and they kept walking until they were sure they'd lost him because they were lost themselves.

On the same floor, a ballet dancer stood outside the door to her room. She couldn't move because she didn't know what to do. She was supposed to say a few words at the fundraiser too, and her elocution teacher had given her some advice on it. She looked up to her left and imagined her teacher's face looking down at her, saying, "And remember..." She could see the face clearly, but she couldn't hear anything after 'and remember'.

Annabel and Hugh spent twenty minutes wandering around the hotel corridors without finding a way out. Hugh remembered when they got lost a maze, and they followed a woman in a white dress out of it. She ran barefoot on the grass, laughing and looking back at them.

He smiled when he pictured that sight in his mind, and the smile grew wider when he saw a woman in white go by at the end of the corridor. "Let's just follow her," he said.


"Remember when we got lost in the maze? That woman in white showed us the way out. She was very nice."

"I didn't like her at all. Let's follow that man in black instead."

A man in a black suit was walking towards them. He was wearing a dark grey shirt and a black tie. When he went past them, Annabel and Hugh turned around and walked after him. They followed him to a door at the end of a narrow corridor. He went inside, and they followed a few seconds later. They were in a dimly lit stairwell. The man in black went up, and they went up too.

When he got to the top of that flight of stairs he turned around and pointed a gun at them. "Why are ye following me?" he said.

Annabel and Hugh didn't know what to say at first, and they didn't have to say anything. Gary said something in German on a flight of stairs above, and the man in black looked up. Annabel and Hugh ran away.

They went back the way they came, and they kept running until they knew they weren't being followed and they'd lost themselves again. They stopped to get their breaths back. "I knew we should have followed the woman in white," Hugh said.

When they turned a corner and saw the ballet dancer, they decided to follow her instead, but she didn't move at all. Ted and Gary eventually found them.

"We got lost," Hugh said, "and we're following her to find our way out. But we're still lost."

Ted asked the ballet dancer if she knew the way to the elevators, but she said nothing. She didn't know what to say.

They wondered if she understood English. Gary got out the German dictionary and said words like 'elevator' and 'pool' in German. She didn't understand a word he said. She looked up to her left again and imagined the face of her German teacher saying what he always said: "And remember, if it can wrap itself around your neck, it's not a hamster."

"Well, as long as I remember that," the dancer said, and she walked away.

They followed her, but on the way, Gary looked down a corridor and saw the man in black coming out of a room. A long blue carpet lay between him and them. Gary walked towards him, and so did Ted. They started running. Neither of them were entirely sure how, but they both knew that this had something to do with the end of the pool game.

The man in black ran away when he saw Ted and Gary running towards him. He looked back as he ran, and they were just behind him. When he turned around again he saw the woman in white right in front of him. She had just come out of a room, and he tripped as he tried to avoid her. Ted and Gary landed right on top of him, breaking their fall, and possibly breaking something in the thing that broke their fall too.

Ted and Gary were a bit dazed at first. When they looked around they noticed policemen pointing guns at them. They both came to the conclusion that they had just assaulted someone important, but as they stood up with their hands in the air they realised that the guns were pointing at the man in black. He was a jewel thief, and he had succeeded in stealing the diamond necklace, until being heroically wrestled to the ground by Ted and Gary.

That's the way the press portrayed it -- they heroically wrestled an armed thief to the ground. They were interviewd on TV. Ted said, "It's always been a philosophy of mine that cheaters never win." Gary said more-or-less the same thing in German.

They were given a reward by the owner of the necklace. Ted worked out how many chocolate cakes they could buy with it, and he kept reminding Anne of this.

Annabel found a 'thank you' card in her purse. It was from the cat burglar and Carol. She thought it was very nice that he didn't steal the contents of her purse.

The moose's head over the fireplace has been looking slightly surprised recently. We've all been surprised, ever since the wife's uncle called around the other evening. After a few drinks he said, "Do you know those female TV presenters who find themselves with knee pads and a helmet, looking down into a canyon, a raging river below, and they've got this permanent smile, completely forced of course -- they're really just doing this in the hope of getting their own chat show -- and there's a man with a beard and lots of ropes who they obviously don't like, but they have to keep the smile going pretty much twenty-four hours a day, even when they're asleep, and they still manage to keep a nervous smile in place when the helicopter arrives? I nearly married one of those." I suppose the obvious thing to say there would be to ask him to expand on that, but no one said anything at the time.