'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Followers

We've had some nice Spring weather recently. The wife's aunt has started painting scenes from the garden. She's putting all of the scenes together into a single painting that's dominated by a fork. A real fork. She says she needed a new direction because she'd gone as far as she could go with representational art. I think it's probably down to a change in medication. The wife thinks she's been eating mushrooms she found in the forest again. She briefly moved into abstract art a few years ago when she drank something she found at the end of a long twisting path surrounded by rabbits who had tiny multi-coloured umbrellas attached to their heads to keep off the rain and the sun (she probably found it at the start of the path).

My cousin Albert sat at a table in a pub on a May afternoon. He was with two of his friends, Morris and Andrea. It was a huge pub, and there were only a few other people in it. There were three bars. Albert and his friends were near the bar at the back of the pub.

There was no one at the front. The bar there was lit up by the hazy sun through the frosted glass on the doors. There was a pint of Guinness, and nothing else, on the bar. There were no fingerprints on the glass (the bar man had used a cloth to place it there, before disappearing himself). The bell rang when the door opened. A man walked to the bar. He looked at the pint for a few seconds and then drank it in one go. He put the glass back on the bar and looked up at the ceiling. "I would arise and go now, if I was sitting down," he said.

The faint sound of a voice could be heard from elsewhere in the pub. The voice belonged to Morris, who was talking to Andrea. He was wearing a suit.

"I love music that reminds me of elephants," he said. "Tubas. I'd love to be able to punch a tuba player in the stomach while he's playing, just to hear what it sounds like. There once was a time when you could shoot elephants and punch tuba players, but now you can only shoot elephants."

"I thought I heard something," Albert said.

"It's strange when you look at red things or black things and say, 'That'd look better if it was blue.' 'Strange' is probably the wrong word. I throw words around like beer mats and put the beer down wherever they land. The beer is the real idea. 'I drink a lot' -- I suppose that's what I'm trying to say."

She stared back at him. She didn't move when he stopped talking. For a second he got the impression that she was a clock, and he leant closer to hear the 'tick tock', but that was coming from the clock on the wall.

"I think Mr. Mulcahy is here," Albert said. They had arranged to meet Mr. Mulcahy in the pub. His name used to be 'Barry' but he had it changed to 'Mr.'. He told Morris he had a job for them. The sort of jobs he'd have wouldn't be advertised in papers, and they wouldn't be the sort of thing you'd advertise to the police. But Albert, Andrea and Morris needed the money, and it was difficult to say no to Mr. Mulcahy.

They went to the front of the pub. Mr. Mulcahy was looking at the empty pint glass. He said hello to them, and asked them how they were, and said he was glad to hear they were in good health. Then he took an envelope from an inside pocket. "I want ye to follow this woman," he said. He took a black-and-white photo from the envelope. "Go to her house this evening and follow her when she leaves. I want ye to tell me where she goes. It's as simple as that. Ye'll find her address in the envelope, and there's a little spending money in there too. Ye'll get the rest when the job is done."

He left the pub. They stood there in silence until Morris said to Andrea, "What time is it?" and started laughing before she could answer.

At half-seven that evening, they were sitting in a car on the street where the woman lived. There was a row of Georgian houses along one side of the street and at the other side there was a small park. Morris was still talking to Andrea. "I often wonder why," he said. "Just a general all-purpose 'why'. A circle that will fit in any square or triangle. Sometimes the 'why' takes on a more specific shape, like 'why am I looking at a red dot?' I suppose what I'm trying to say is I find myself looking at things at times."

Albert kept looking at the front door of the woman's house, and at ten-to-eight he saw it open. The woman walked down the steps to the pavement and turned left. She walked towards them. She was tall and blond, the two things Albert most liked to see holding hands with an 'and'. He tried to act cool around women like that, but events always seemed to be conspiring against him. He never liked 'events'. They were always following him around, waiting for a chance to make a fool of him. The conspiracy of events once made a swan chase him away just as he was about to kiss a woman in the park. And here was another beautiful woman, but he was about to follow her to see where she goes, and then pass on the information to a man you wouldn't want to talk to unless you wanted trouble. Another victory for events.

They looked down as she walked past the car, and when she reached the corner of the street they got out and followed her.

"I don't like the idea of getting her into trouble," Albert said. "Why don't we give Mr. Mulcahy the wrong information?"

"Maybe the wrong information would get her into more trouble," Andrea said.

"We could say she went to the shop to get some milk. That couldn't possibly get her into trouble."

"It would if he wants her to go somewhere else."

"Maybe. Let's just wait and see what she does, and then we can decide what would be best for her."

She was walking down a wide brightly-lit pavement in the city centre when her phone rang. She stopped to answer it, and they stopped too. They looked around as they waited there. Albert noticed a man standing about twenty yards behind them. The three of them looked at him, and he smiled at them.

The woman walked on again before she finished the call. They followed her. Albert looked back when they got to the corner of the street and he saw the man following them.

"We're being followed," Morris said. "But the question is, why is he following us?"

"Maybe Mr. Mulcahy thought we'd deliberatly give him the wrong information," Andrea said, "so he sent out this man just to make sure."

"Well why send us to do the job at all?" Albert said. "Why didn't he just send that man?"

"Because he doesn't trust any of us. He thinks we might lie to him if we were on our own, and he thinks that man might lie if we weren't there."

"That's one possibility," Morris said. "It's also possible that he's with the woman we're following."

"We should try to lose him so," Albert said. "If it turns out that he was sent out by Mr. Mulcahy, how were we supposed to know that?"

"How are we going to lose him?"

"We'll split up. He can only follow one of us. We have a one in three chance of throwing him off the trail."

They stopped at a corner. Albert and Morris looked back at the man, who had stopped too. Andrea kept an eye on the woman. They waited until Andrea said, "She's gone into an art gallery."

They walked on. Andrea went into the art gallery, Morris went to a hotel, and Albert walked down a side-street.

The man behind them chose to follow Albert, and it was at this point that Albert noticed a flaw in his plan. He used to have safety in numbers, but now he was alone, pursued by a stranger on a dark side-street.

He thought of Griffith, a friend of his. Griffith lived in this area, and maybe he could help. At least Albert would feel safer with company, even though Griffith wasn't the ideal man for the job. His brain was often tuned into higher things, above the practicalities of everyday life. And when it wasn't dealing with the higher things it was dealing with lower things, which were just as impractical, like where to find a woman who'd wear an ill-fitting nurse's uniform and was willing to recite ancient Norse texts for reasons far-removed from the promotion of ancient Norse literature. From there it was just a short jump back into the higher things.

Albert phoned Griffith, who said he was hiding behind a bin on the alley next to the Italian restaurant.

"I'll be passing there in a few minutes," Albert said. "There's a man following me. I want you to follow him. It might distract him enough to allow me to get away."

Griffith saw Albert and his pursuer pass by, and then he joined the pursuit himself. It was only when he was out on the street that he remembered why he'd been hiding. He had organised a show in the college theatre and he booked an act called 'Professor Plingerten and his psychic dogs'. It sounded like the perfect combination of high and low. The professor had three dogs. Members of the audience would look into the eyes of the dogs, who would read their minds. Then the professor would read the minds of the dogs. He was able to tell the audience members various details about their lives and what would happen to them in the future (it was the dogs who could see into the future, not the professor).

Members of a criminal gang were having a private conversation with a man at the back of a hotel when they noticed that one of the dogs was looking at them. When they found out that it was one of Professor Plingerten's dogs they were keen to have a chat with the professor. They were afraid that the dog would tell him the details of their conversation. They had been trying to track the professor down. Griffith took him and his dogs to a safe house. He arranged for a van to take them out of the city after midnight, and he was on his way to the professor to tell him about this when he noticed that he was being followed by four men in dark suits. He managed to lose them, and he hid behind the bins.

As he was following the man who was following Albert, he looked around and he saw the four men following him again. Professor Plingerten was in the safe house at the time, pacing from one end of the room to the other. The three dogs watched him go back and forth. They probably knew what he was thinking.

Albert came to a street with a car park at one side. He looked back to make sure Griffith was there, and he stopped when he saw the four men following all of them. The man who was immediately behind him looked around and stopped as well. Griffith kept going. He already knew what was behind him. He always said that his brain could deal with anything the world throws at him when he's under extreme pressure. The rest of the time it can barely deal with the real world at all, which leads him into many situations where he feels extreme pressure. Here was another example of his brain coming up with the goods when he was up against it. He went to the man who was following Albert, and he said, "Ah, Professor Plingerten, how nice to see you again."

He winked a few times at the man, who didn't know how to respond so he didn't respond at all. The four men surrounded him. One of them said, "We need to have a chat about something your dog might have said."

He still didn't say anything. His dog had once said something like 'jet', but it could have been 'jut' too.

Albert was able to get away. He phoned Morris, who said he was in a restaurant with Andrea. Albert went to meet them.

He joined them at a table. Morris was in the middle of explaining his theory on ceilings.

Albert asked where the woman went to. "She's over there," Andrea said as she pointed towards a booth in the corner.

Albert stood up and looked. He saw the woman kissing a man. Albert wanted to pass on the right information then, but Mr. Mulcahy probably already knew because he was the man she was kissing.

The moose's head over the fireplace did reasonably well with his tips on the first day of Cheltenham. It was impossible to predict some of the races. He's tipping Ireland to win the Six Nations (that's rugby) on Saturday, but there could be some national bias in that. Not that the moose is originally from Ireland, but it's Saint Patrick's day on Saturday, so it's only natural to be biased towards Ireland. He's yet to express an opinion on the cause of the wife's aunt's new artistic direction. We're still taking bets on that.