'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Chase

I've been walking around the garden a lot recently, and not just for the sake of walking around the garden. I've been asked to make a speech at a dinner-dance, and the garden is the best place to practise it. There are too many critics elsewhere. But even in the garden I'm sure I can hear laughter. And the laughter is directed at me rather than at my joke about the bishop and the phone booth. It's very funny. A friend of mine told it to me and he said it once made his aunt drop an electric sander on his foot.

My cousin Gary met a woman called Mandy at the bus stop one day, and he thought he'd met her somewhere before. He asked her if she knew him, and she said yes, even though she was obviously lying, but he was delighted because he must know Mandy too, and you're set up for life if you know Mandy because she knows so many people and she'll get you into all the best parties.

One afternoon, she took Gary along to a party in a red brick house with a drawing room, and in the drawing room she introduced him to everyone she knew, which was everyone there. Lots of conversations were going on at the same time. Lots of smoking and drinking too, but it all came to an abrubt halt when Sophie slapped Joe across the face and said, "That was Susanne's!"

Everyone looked at Joe. He put down his drink, said, "Ah. Now. The thing about it is..." And he ran away.

He left through the front door, jumped down the concrete steps to the street and ran away. Everyone from the party followed him. Gary met his cousin Ronan on the way, and Ronan's girlfriend, Audrey. They joined in the chase too.

Joe just ran around the block, and they ended up back where they started, but he had just enough time to get away in his car. Everyone else managed to find the nearest available transport. Gary and Mandy left in her friend Sue's jeep -- there were six of them in that. There were many more in a van, lots of people in lots of cars, and two on a motorbike and side-car. There was a caravan too. Ronan and Audrey were in Audrey's car.

Gary enjoyed listening to Mandy, and she never stopped talking. "Ann is so good at drawing faces. I mean with me I look at them and say, 'Do I really look like that with a cocktail?' And everyone else says, 'Mandy, you know, you look exactly like that.' So, you know, I have to just say, 'Do I? Hmm.' And it is quite funny, of course. And when I see her draw other people I say, 'Good on you, Ann girl. That's spot on. That's exactly what they look like.' It's a gift -- that's what I tell her. A pure gift."

The chase entered the countryside. They drove down narrow twisting roads, up and down hills. The man in the side-car was playing a tuba. Joe decided to go cross-country when he couldn't lose them on the roads.

A sci-fi film was being shot in a field. People were pointing up at a space craft that was hanging from a tree on a piece of string. They kept pointing up when Joe and the chasing pack went by in front of them.

"Let's follow them," the director said to his assistant. "This could be even better than our film about the Martians and the pig."

"I doubt it."

They joined the chase too.

Joe went over a very narrow stone bridge that didn't look as if it would take the weight of his car, but it just about did. Some of the chasing pack decided to go across the water. Three of them nearly made it to the other side in an old bath, but they forgot to put the plug hole in. The caravan made it across.

Denise was playing tennis with her friend Jane. She jumped at every shot. She jumped as high as she'd ever jumped before for a smash, but she missed the ball because she was distracted by Joe's car going across the court. It was followed by various other cars, jeeps, a caravan and the motorbike with the side-car, and then the people from the film.

Denise went to the old payphone on a wooden post at the side of the court. She picked up the receiver and said, "Are you really the FBI?"

"Ah, yes," a man in a shed said into a paper cup on a piece of string.

"Well I have something you'll almost definitely want to investigate."

Ronan and Audrey were left behind when they got a flat tyre. Ronan went to change the wheel, but the spare was missing. "What happened to the spare wheel?" he said to Audrey.

"I gave it to an orphan. He really wanted it."

No cars passed by. They walked down the road, and after half a mile they came to a house. They met a man in the garden, and they asked if he could give them directions to the nearest town or village.

"I'll be driving to the village in about ten minutes," he said, "if ye'd like to come along."

"That would really help us out," Audrey said.

He lit his pipe and said, "This is all there is, I'm afraid. This house. This is all. There nearly was something more once." He pointed at a man with a tie and pens in the pocket of his shirt. He was staring into the distance. "Do you believe him?" the man with the pipe said.

Ronan and Audrey looked around and avoided making eye contact because they didn't know how to answer that question.

When the man with the pipe went to get his car keys, Audrey said hello to the man with the tie and the pens.

"I wouldn't believe me if I were you," he said.

"We do believe you," Audrey said. "Don't we, Ronan?"

"Ah, yeah," Ronan said.

"And we believe in you," Audrey said.


"Yeah. You've definitely got what it takes."

"That's just the thing. I'm fairly sure I don't have what it takes to do anything. Except wearing a tie, holding pens in my pocket and listening to people say, 'I don't believe you. And I don't believe in you either.' That's the life for me. That's all there is."

"Don't say that," Audrey said. "You can be anything you want to be. And I'm not just saying that. You can be anything."


"You can be anything you want to be." She nodded.

Denise thought it was very exciting to be part of the chase. She drove, and her friends were in the back seat. The 'FBI' man was in the passenger's seat. They listened to him talk about his work, but he didn't say much. He was glad when he saw that the chasing pack had all stopped in a field because they'd lost Joe. Denise stopped there too.

Jennifer stood in the shade of a tree and she remembered talking to Joe earlier when he told her about the race he ran in that morning, and at the time she said she'd love to see the photos of it.

She mentioned this to Mandy, who said, "Really? He never said a word to me about it. But you know, people are always saying things to me, and I'm genuinely absolutely interested in what they say but somehow they slip through the seive and end up in my feet because there are just so many things I'm genuinely absolutely interested in. And people say, 'I'm sure I told you about that, Mandy.' And I say, 'Well you know you quite probably did and there's a fair chance it ended up in my shoes with my feet.' God knows what's down there with my feet."

The people from the film walked by in front of them, holding model space crafts, kitchen utensils, lots of chrome things and some hats.

"Did you remember all of those things?" Jennifer said to Mandy.

"No, I was just thinking about Joe in the race."

They found a tourist centre at the top of a hill. Gary went to the information desk and said, "I was wondering if you could tell me any more about this chase."

They gave him a brochure, but that just had pictures of places on the chase route and people in side-cars with nervous smiles.

They stood on the hill outside and the narrator of the sci-fi film said, "So this is what we've come to. All our shiny chrome things, all our wonderful buzzing technology, and where does it lead us to? Standing on a hill, looking at photos of nervous people in side-cars. Typical."

Maggie walked alone through the fields. She stopped to look up at a tree, with a looking-up-longingly song playing in her mind, and then she sat on the banks of a small stream. She walked back to the gate, and she smiled when she heard the happy chase music played by the man in the side-car.

A jeep stopped. Mandy rolled down the window and said, "Would you like to join us on our chase? We thought the whole thing was off for a while, but the whole thing is back on again now, and we thought maybe you'd like to join us."


It was a tight squeeze in the jeep, but she just about managed to fit in next to Gary.

Joe drove up the driveway of an old country manor. When the others arrived at the house they saw his car parked in the front, but no sign of Joe.

The front door was open and they went inside. Mandy moved all around the drawing room in the space of a few seconds, looking at the furniture, getting lost in the curtains, spinning around. "And y' know, it's really like this pretty much all the time now because my neck is so much better since I started going to that man, so I can do all sorts of things when before I'd have said, 'Wait a minute, Mandy. What about your neck?' So it's fantastic really." Someone poured her a drink and she took a sip of that. "And I really like these long days because you can fit so much into them, all sorts of chases and things where you say, 'Look at that. Isn't that amazing. Have you ever seen anything as amazing as that?' And I can do all of these things now because of my neck."

They walked around the house and looked at all of the portraits, but there was more than just a family resemblance between all the faces. It looked as if it was the same woman with different facial expressions and costumes, and in a few of them she was posing as a man.

They stood in silence in front of a portrait on the stairs. "It's funny how everything is so quiet now," Denise said. "Time seems to slow down."

"I did that," the narrator of the film said.

"Well make time speed up again."

He looked around, wondering what he could do. He went down to the hall and pushed an ashtray off a table, and they all looked around for signs of time speeding up again.

Gary got separated from the others in his search for Joe. He went down an old stairs with a bare carpet, and he walked quietly down a dark, narrow corridor. He stopped when he heard footsteps, but they stopped too.

He walked on again, and when he turned the corner he bumped into Maggie. They both screamed until they realised who they had bumped into, and then they smiled. When they heard an ominous buzzing sound they fell into each other's arms.

The others were still on the stairs, waiting for a sign that time had sped up. "If anything, time has stopped moving completely," Denise said. "There's only one man here who can sort all this out, and that's why I brought him along."

They all looked at the 'FBI' man.

"My investigations are nearing their completion," he said. "I just have to go upstairs for a while."

They followed him up the stairs.

Gary tip-toed down a corridor in the servant's quarters, with Maggie right behind him. He turned the corner and came face to face with one of the Martians from the film, who was holding a Martian gun. Gary picked up a table lamp to use as a weapon, and the Martian ran away. Maggie said to Gary, "Kiss me, you fool."

He really wanted to hit the Martian with the table lamp, but he really, really wanted to kiss her. He got out a pen and paper and worked it out, and yes, there was one more 'really' in the 'kiss her, you fool' column. He put the paper and pen away and finally kissed her (she had remained in her 'kiss me, you fool' pose all along).

Most of the others were in a room over the front door. The 'FBI' man was pacing from one wall to the other. He stopped at the window and turned around, and it looked as if he was about to say something, but he just paced to the other end of the room.

Mandy heard voices through the open window. She closed her eyes and imagined Joe in a race with all of the chrome things she saw earlier.

The man with the tuba played a very slow song on the violin. Ann sat near the window and worked on a drawing.

Gary and Maggie made it back to the main hall. The Martian was standing at the open door, and he froze when he saw Gary. Gary stopped too. He saw a table lamp on a table. He looked back and forth between the table lamp and the Martian. He got out the pen and paper again, and he worked it out. There was one more lightbulb in the 'it's a table lamp, you fool' column, so he picked it up and chased the Martian.

The 'FBI' man finally broke his silence in the room above. "I think I can solve this now," he said. "Yes, it is the same person in all of the paintings. And yes, that person is a woman. And that woman is you."

He pointed at Mandy.

"Well yes, you know, guilty as charged," Mandy said. "This man just asked me to pose for some paintings, and I said to myself, 'Wait a minute, Mandy, remember the last time this happened.' But no, it was fine. He asked me to wear a fake beard, which was so much fun. Of course they're not as spot on as Ann's drawings, but no one is quite as spot on as Ann."

Ann smiled and held up a drawing she did of Mandy talking to a dog.

"Spot on, Ann," Mandy said. "Spot on."

Denise kissed the FBI man on the cheek and said, "I knew you'd solve it."

He nodded. "Yes," he said. He backed away slowly, and then he ran from the room. They could hear his footsteps on the stairs. They went to the balcony to see him run out the front door. He didn't know which way to go at first. Then Joe appeared from around the side of the building, closely followed by about twenty others, including the Martian, Gary and Maggie. The FBI man ran down the driveway.

Everyone on the balcony cheered as Bill gained on Joe. The cheer got louder when Bill ran past him and dipped at the finishing line. They all stopped and the crowd applauded Bill. He was presented with a trophy.

"You get nothing for finishing second," Jennifer said to Joe. "And it serves you right for... why were we chasing you again?"


Mandy from the balcony said, "It had something to do with the paintings, but that's all sorted out now. It was actually me in the paintings. Sorry. I met this terribly nice man and he told me I was just the sort of person he was looking for to pose for some paintings. The right shape and all that. He was so nice and I'd have just felt terrible if I let him down, and, you know, it turned out to be so much fun in the end."

The director of the film said, "Is there any chance we could get a pig into this? Because we have a pig."

Time seemed to slow down again as they stood there and thought about the pig, the shadows of the trees creeping across the vast lawns.

Then Audrey and Ronan appeared from around the side of the house. They were running towards Joe. "Get him!" Audrey shouted, and the chase started once more. The man with the tie and the pens was following Ronan and Audrey. He still had the tie and the pens, but you couldn't see them then because of the suit of armour he was wearing. He was carrying a sword, and he was shouting as he ran, but he couldn't run very fast becuase of the armour, and he had trouble keeping up with the others.

The crowd from the balcony ran down the stairs and joined the chasing pack once more. The chase had sprung into life again.

"I did that," the narrator of the film said.

The moose's head over the fireplace has never liked horses, but he's starting to change his opinion now that he sees the money-making potential. That money-making potential actually results in us making money when the wife's aunt comes to visit. She was here the other day when we were measuring one of the lawns to work out the area. She worked out all the sums in great detail and the result was that I owed her money. She's great at getting money out of us around Chelthenam because she knows we'll humour her to get her tips on the horses, and we'll always win the money back when we follow her tips. She once won a bet on a horse whose jockey fell asleep during the race.