'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Trench

When I stand in the garden in the evenings I can hear the faint sound of someone singing in the distance. It must be one of the neighbours, but I don't know which one it is. It's either a man who makes candles or a man who has an unhealthy fascination with fires. I can't hear enough of the songs to gain an insight into the mind of the singer.

My cousin Alan and his brother, Ronan, were walking down the road near their house one day when they met George, one of their neighbours. He managed to talk them into digging a trench. They didn't know how he did it, and they started blaming each other as they were digging the trench in George's back garden. But after an hour of digging, they were able to talk their way out of it when he mentioned that he was hoping to lure someone into it. Alan said they were pacifists, and they could have no further part in such a plan.

George was delighted. He didn't support pacifism, but he supported pacifists because their presence offered all the enjoyment of hitting people without the pain of being hit back. He was determined to show his support, but they left when he went inside to get a stick to hit them.

They walked away down the road, but they had to run when they heard the sound of an engine and they turned around to see a happy George on board his moped. He was always happy on his moped, but he was even happier then because he had his favourite stick and he was bearing down on two pacifist bipeds.

They climbed over a gate and ran through a field. He had to leave the moped behind and run after them, but they were able to get away because they could run quicker. Eventually they slowed down, and then started walking, and they stopped when they met two friends of theirs, Malcolm and Paul

Nothing much had happened in Malcolm's morning. He turned the page to see the afternoon, and it was just like the previous page until he got to the second paragraph. He found a small box outside his front door. He took it inside. His first name was written on the box, but there was no address or stamps on it. He opened the box and saw a cake inside. The words 'Hapy Birthday' were written on the cake.

It turned out that there was a perfectly simple explanation for it, the sort of thing you'd expect to find on page one of this day. At the time, Malcolm was able to come up with various simple explanations, but they were the sort of thing you'd expect to find on page two-hundred of a spy novel. He decided he'd be safer on the same page as someone with a gun, so he went to see Paul.

The cake was actually left there by a friend of his called Sarah who makes birthday cakes. She had just finished one when she realised that she had left out a 'P' in the icing, so she started work on another. She got the icing right the second time, even though she was rushing. She thought she'd just have enough time to deliver the cake before the party. Malcolm's house was on the way. She stopped there, and she left the cake outside the door. She didn't have time to ring the doorbell and explain what had happened, but she thought he'd put two and two together (one 'two' was her poor spelling and the other one was the fact that she makes birthday cakes).

The above explanation never crossed Malcolm's mind as he went to Paul's house. The mystery of the box frightened him, and made him consider the sort of explanations that involved assassainations. The missing 'P' only made him more paranoid. He made Paul nervous too, with questions like, "How quickly could you load your gun when someone knocks on the door?"

Paul thought he'd need to be holding a loaded gun if he was going to be on the same page as Malcolm.

They went for a walk through the fields to make it more difficult for anyone to track them down. Paul pointed out all the things he could shoot, and he came very close to pulling the trigger once. Alan and Ronan's claim to be pacifists nearly got them shot when Paul saw two men running through the fields. But Malcolm recognised them in time, and they were saved.

Alan and Ronan were delighted to see Paul with his gun. It meant they could stop running from George with his stick. When George caught up with them, Alan said, "You're going to have to do better than a stick."

George said, "What sort of pacifists are ye if ye've taken on a man with a gun?"

"We're only armed as a means of defence. It's a deterrent against attack."

"My trench is just a means of defence too."

"Are you expecting a German infantry division?"

"No. It's much worse than that. I'm expecting Percy."

Percy was a bookie. He never needed a calculator to work out odds or winnings. He was able to compute everything in his head, and he always imagined a game of table tennis in his head as he worked out the sums. You could see him moving his eyes from side to side just before he came up with the figure.

He was taking bets at a local table tennis tournament, but the matches seemed to be interfering with his computational skills. George won when he bet on a player who made his bat out of a table mat someone threw at him. He thought it would bring him good luck, and it did. Or else his opponent suffered more bad luck because of his lucky headband/blindfold. A table tennis match was in progress when Percy was paying George, and he found it difficult to concentrate. He ended up paying George twice as much as he had won. George didn't say a word about it, but Percy eventually realised his mistake. He demanded the return of the money, but George refused on principle. Percy gave him twenty-four hours to pay. Percy often gave people twenty-four hours to pay or to return something or to leave town. He believed that the threat was implied when he said, "You have twenty-four hours."

George certainly perceived the threat, but he was still determined to hold onto the money. His plan was the dig a trench and pretend to be hiding in a tree at the back of his garden. Percy would arrive after the sun had set, so it would be difficult to see the trench. He wouldn't spot it if he was looking up at George in the tree. With Percy in the trench, George could make whatever demand he wanted. He hadn't decided on the wording of the demand yet, but he knew it would include the words 'You have twenty-four hours'.

But he didn't need to do that now that he had an armed Paul. Instead of hiding in the tree at the back of his garden, he could proudly stand on the lawn in the front.

Alan, Ronan, Malcolm and Paul all returned to the house with George. They stood on the lawn and waited for Percy. When he arrived, George said, "You have twenty-four seconds to get off my property."

Percy lit a cigarette and thought about the problem. After about two minutes he said, "Okay," and he left.

"Did ye notice the way his tail was between his legs?" George said when Percy was out of earshot.

George spent the next ten minutes telling them his version of the way he outsmarted Percy, but the ending was cast in doubt by the return of Percy. He was with two men. They were cousins of his, and they both had guns. Percy said, "I thought to myself, what do you do when you're up against a man with a gun who's insisting that you do something you don't want to do? When you're facing one gun, you get two guns. It's one of the basic laws of nature."

Malcolm could only see one possible ending, and he finally cracked. He screamed and ran away around the side of the house. They could hear him falling into the trench at the back.

George said to Alan and Ronan, "This is where pacifism gets you."

"This is where greed gets you," Alan said.

"I suppose you're against capitalism as well."

"No. And we're not really pacifists. We just said that to get out of digging the trench."

"That's completely typical of pacifist anti-capitalists. 'I want to get out of that war. I don't want to work. I want to live in a tree.'"

"It's your bloody trench," Ronan said. "You should have been digging it."

"You have a trench?" Percy said.

"I have a sort of a trench," George said. "The sort of trench you get when you hire half-arsed pacifists who couldn't be arsed."

"Hire?" Alan said. "You 'hired' us? Wouldn't that imply some sort of payment for the work?"

"Work? Wouldn't that imply some sort of... work?"

"We spent an hour digging it."

"Ye're pacifists when it suits ye, and ye're capitalists when there's money involved."

"I get paid when there's money involved," Percy said.

"George gets laid when there's money involved," Alan said.

"Right," George said, and he picked up a shovel. "Let's see if I can beat any remaining vestiges of pacifism out of you."

"Fine," Alan said. He picked up another shovel. "I'm going to make you want to spend the rest of your life in a tree."

"Wait a minute," Percy said. "As much as I'd like to watch ye fight with shovels and take bets on the outcome, I'm interested in this trench."

They went around the back to see the trench. Malcolm was lying in it. He had started to see it as his grave, so he wasn't surprised by the arrival of the mourners, some of them holding shovels.

Percy said, "I have a compromise solution that should be satisfactory to everyone. I want to build a swimming pool behind my house, but I'm having trouble digging the hole. I can't get any sort of a mechanical digger around the back, not even a small one. The wife has a very elaborate garden with flower beds and paths and God-knows-what. She won't allow me the pleasure of driving a digger through it. So it needs to be done manually. If ye dig the hole, I'll forget about reclaiming the money."

"It's a deal," George said. He was delighted with this solution. Alan and Ronan weren't too happy, but they didn't want to say anything in front of Percy.

Malcolm felt he was saved by their accord. They helped him out of the trench, and it felt like a new lease of life, as if this was the date of his new birth. He went home and ate his birthday cake.

Percy was also hoping that Alan, Ronan and George would fight in the hole, but there was no animosity between them. George had to pay Alan and Ronan, so they weren't angry with him. It cost him much more than repaying Percy, and they kept reminding him of this as they dug the pool. But he didn't seem to mind. He kept boasting about how he got one over on Percy.

The moose's head over the fireplace is enjoying all this sunshine. He's been wearing his shades a lot recently. The wife got him a cowboy hat to keep the sun out of his eyes, but because of his antlers, he just looks like a hat stand.