'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Detective

It's good weather for tennis, if you're into tennis. It's better weather for not playing tennis. There'a a huge yellow ball in the sky and it's doing all sorts of fascinating things to the garden. It seems a shame to focus all your attention on a tiny yellow ball that feels funny because of what the dog did to it.

My cousin Albert played cards with his friends, George and Neil, and they argued about which one of them could fill Louise's mind enough to make her walk into a door frame. Albert thought it would be him because of his scarf. He wore it all year 'round. He thought it gave him character. It would if he had a few different scarves, but he just had the one. It kept women like Louise away because they could guess what it must smell like. He didn't want to wear different scarves because people would just think he's gay. But no one thought he was gay for wearing just one scarf all year 'round, in the same way that no one thought Felix was gay for keeping a stuffed rat called Alfie in his coat pocket. People just thought they were odd.

But George and Neil were just as odd. George tends to jump for no reason. His jumps are preceded by sudden impulses to jump and sometimes they're accompanied by a sound or a word. Sometimes the sounds or words are succeeded by sounds or words that express the pain of landing on something antagonistic to feet; sounds that make birds fly from trees or words that should be drowned out by sounds.

Neil has a habit of choking on peas, laughing when someone says 'Free Willy' and dropping crisps on the ground to make fun of someone who once did a 24-hour fast for charity.

They knew their presence was unlikely to make a woman like Louise accidentally injure herself (if anything, they'd make her injure herself on purpose). But they were willing to lower their expectations. Any woman would do, even the one with her name tattooed backwards on her face so she just has to look in a mirror to see it. The problem was, even the one with her name tattooed backwards on her face was probably thinking she wouldn't lower her standards to allow her to consider the man who wears the same scarf all year 'round.

They needed a change of image, and Neil came up with an idea that seemingly couldn't fail: they'd learn how to surf. He knew a surfer who could teach them. Jerry had learnt how to surf to attract women too, and it worked for him. He was taught by a man called Monty who said his grandfather had spontaneously spilled on a recently installed patio. Monty wanted to spend as much time as possible in the sea in case it ever happened to him. He could become one with the waves instead of seeping through the cracks between the patio tiles.

Jerry agreed to teach Albert, Neil and George how to surf. It was a plan that couldn't fail as long as they couldn't fail to learn how to surf, and Jerry said only an idiot could fail.

He was more diplomatic after they failed. He said they had the wrong type of waves. "But ye don't need to surf to attract women," he said. "I spent a few months in the south of France once. I often met a man in the bar who wore dark sunglasses and designer clothes, and somewhere in his Ferrari there was a tape of a woman singing his name to music, and a photo of her holding up her hair and saying something with her lips that you can hear in the photo. Some people were jealous of him. He was a bit of a twat. I heard him talking to a woman on the phone one day, and some of the things he was saying would make you cringe, but they were obviously making her want to get him out of his designer clothes. When he got off the phone he turned to me and said, 'And all because the lady loves my potatoes.' It's impossible to tell why some men have a way with women and others don't. It's a mystery. You've just got to do your own thing and it'll work eventually."

Albert, George and Neil bought ice creams and looked out over the sea in silence as they thought about what Jerry had said. They went to an old castle and spent an hour walking around the ruins, and then an hour or two looking at a snail. They looked at people in the supermarket car park. They saw an open-air play in the park where a man with a cloak was sweating and pointing. They stood in the library until the sun came down to meet their faces and tell them it's time to go home. On the following day they stood in the swimming pool, lost in a sea of echoing voices and the various sounds of people meeting water, deep in thought in the shallow end. They stood on a trailer behind a tractor, as the driver told them about what he was thinking of wearing on Friday night, his shouting voice competing with and losing to the engine noise. They looked out over the sea again. Albert eventually broke the silence when he said, "It's not much of a mystery, when you think about it. I mean, he had a Ferrari."

"Yeah," Neil said. "We could be waiting a long time before any of us are in a position to buy a Ferrari."

"There must be some other way," Albert said. "I think we should split up and try different things. If something works for one of us, the other two can try it."

George and Neil agreed, and they went their separate ways.

It was a beautiful summer day. Albert walked away through a merry-go-round of scenery, looking everywhere for an idea, like a detective with a magnifying glass, but the detective in Albert's head took about ten seconds to find a suitable femme fatale and a room in a hotel where waiters wore white jackets, men wore black and women wore diamonds to compete with the chandeliers. Albert thought it'd be worth getting shot by a jealous husband just for a roll-in-the-hay in a room with a femme fatale. As long as he wasn't shot in the head. Maybe in the shoulder, or in his foot. A graze on the shoulder.

He knew he needed something with a strong magnetic force that women wouldn't be able to resist. A Ferrari would do the job. He tried to think of something else, and the idea of becoming a detective took up residency in his head. And it wasn't a bad idea. He thought that if he thinks like a detective, those thoughts will pervade his being. He'll morph into the sort of tough, wise-cracking private investigator who are magnets for deadly, wise-cracking women.

He didn't want to be investigating anything that could get him shot in the shoulder. He needed a case without danger, something the cat might have done. It was all about the way he approached the problem. He just needed a mystery, and then he'd apply the skills of a PI to solving it.

He watched his neighbours go off to the races in their top hats and new walks. They were drinking champagne and letting their laugh flow the other way, the laugh they learnt from a man who speaks German, and loves to speak German, and people ask him to speak it as if they were asking him to sing a song. "Will you give us an old blast of the German there Tommy?" He had a musical way of letting the German words fall out. He carefully produced each one, as if he was conceiving and giving birth to them, unlike the effortless way he let the syllables slip out when he was performing his own brand of English.

This provided Albert with his mystery: what was Tommy actually saying?

He went through all the detective novels and TV shows in his mind and came up with a mental list of procedures. Look at the crime scene, try to glean as much information from the police as possible, talk to the witnesses, question the next of kin and listen to Abba. Ask pertinent questions. "Why am I listening to Abba? I don't even like Abba."

He spoke to one of Tommy's neighbours, who said, "I heard of a woman who once tried to staple his trousers to a chair because of something he said. I don't know if she was upset by what he said or seduced by it. I don't know if he was wearing the trousers at the time."

Tommy's cousin said he heard some people suggest that the German performances were really just a means of passing on messages to Soviet spies.

"Yeah," Albert said. "He's probably trying to tell them the Cold War is over."

"That's just what they want you to believe."

"Who's 'they'?"

"Dinny and Bing."

"Are you still fighting with them over the sugar?"

"Those feckers can rot in hell before they get their sugar back."

Waiting was something else the detectives did. Waiting and keeping their eyes peeled. Albert met a woman called Karen while he was waiting by the beach. She smiled at him a lot, and for him it was like someone shining a bright light on his face. It took a long time for his eyes to adjust. Eventually he was able to look her in the eyes without wearing shades. His mental detective had obviously pervaded enough of his being to draw her in. Or else it was 'Dancing Queen'.

He told her he needed to translate some messages that were being passed on in German. She said she spoke German. Albert wanted to express his approval, but he didn't know how to translate 'I've found the right potatoes' into something she'd understand, so he just nodded, which suited his new image.

He needed to arrange for her to listen to Tommy speak German. He achieved the desired outcome through a series of chance encounters and accidents that left him hiding in the back of a small van with Karen and a knitting needle, and he thought three was a crowd. One of his neighbours was outside talking to Tommy, and she asked him to speak German.

Karen translated it for Albert. "I couldn't understand all of it," she said. "There were some words I haven't heard before. I could make out something about a Martian eating jam. And a wet postbox. Is that significant?"

"Possibly," Albert said. He couldn't say what he really thought, which was that Tommy couldn't speak German.

He took her to hear the neighbours in top hats laughing. She thought it was hilarious. And then they went to a barn dance.

Neil was at the dance with a woman and a robot he made (the woman was one-hundred percent real). He tried to get the robot to dance. He made adjustments and pressed buttons and said, "Damn. Maybe if I try this." And made adjustments and pressed buttons and said, "Damn. Maybe if I try this." And all the time the motionless robot with the cowboy hat looked as if it had been bound to a chair and drugged. And the woman stood there with her arms folded, occasionally adding a 'It doesn't really matter if he can't dance now'. All Neil had to do to get her to dance was to say 'Do you want to dance?'.

George's magnet method was to wear the right trousers and set his legs to their favourite stance. He met a French woman who spoke in a stream of syllables that tickled his ears. She was tall and thin and she didn't have a clue what he was saying to her or to the world as a whole when he spoke to the world as a whole to reinforce what he was trying to articulate with his trousers. His words reflected a 'take on the world' stance and this was consistent with what his legs were doing. He was trying to say to her, "This is who I am." At the very least he managed to say, "This is what my legs are doing."

The legs of Albert, Neil and George all went line dancing that night, and it didn't suit any of their new images, but it didn't make the women run away, and that was all that really mattered.

The moose's head over the fireplace casts an interesting shadow on the wall when the sun shines in on him. The wife's uncle doesn't like the shadow of the antlers. He says it reminds him of a dance teacher he knew who wore a hat with antlers on it, and she frightened him. What's on people's heads is an expression of what's inside, but you shouldn't necessarily expect aggression from someone wearing antlers. The wife's uncle didn't feel the slightest bit uneasy with the raw aggression shown by those who'd shaved their heads, but he was frightened of the dance teacher because he just didn't know what was going on beneath the antlers. You can understand it when someone punches you in the face, but not when they wear antlers and write songs about mice.