'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
Click here to buy the paperback or download the ebook for free.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Bodyguards

It's a good time for cloud spotters, with the mountainous white clouds carried on the wind. You don't need to travel for scenery when the wind brings the mountains to you. The wind blows waves through the fields, creating a green sea. You can't climb the mountains in the sky or surf the fields. I have no desire to do either. The wife's uncle told us about a woman he knew who took him surfing. He couldn't even stay on the board, but she was able to perform complex manoeuvres, like three-point turns or reversing around a corner. She dispelled his perception that women were poor at parking.

My cousin Alan once spent a summer working as a lifeguard in a seaside town. He lived in an attic apartment in a house overlooking the sea. In the evenings he'd visit Esther, who lived downstairs. They'd listen to records or she'd play the piano. Sometimes they'd just talk and smoke. She had a glass ashtray with the word 'Albert' in red letters on the bottom of it. She didn't know who or what Albert was. She knew who Edward was. She knew exactly what he was too, but she was too polite to say it. Edward was their landlord. He was always laughing at his own jokes. No one would have recognised them as jokes if he didn't laugh.

Her brother came to stay with her. His name was Greg and he was a music critic. He told Alan about how he became a critic by chance just a few months earlier when a friend took him to see a jazz band. The friend, Michelle, knew the drummer. To Greg, the drummer seemed as if he was playing with murderous intent. "What's he trying to kill?" he said to Michelle, but she didn't say anything.

When they met the drummer later she said to him, "Greg thought you were trying to kill something."

The drummer, whose name was Peter, said, "Kill what?"

"He didn't know," Michelle said. "He asked me what it was."

"I didn't mean it in a bad way," Greg said.

"Since when has murder not been bad?" she said.

"It's not necessarily murder. It could be self-defence, or an accident."

"You can't accidentally try to kill someone."

"You could if you meant to do something else. Like playing the drums."

"So that's what you thought when you saw them play, that Peter was inadvertently beating someone to death?"

"I didn't mean it in a bad way."

"Since when has accidentally beating someone to death not been bad?"

"Well firstly, I said 'trying' to kill, so it wouldn't actually result in a death. And secondly, the person being beaten could be evil. It could be Hitler. Trying to beat Hitler to death."

"No one's ever described my playing like that before," Peter said. "I like it."

They spent the rest of the night talking about ways to describe the band's sound. Greg came up with the phrase 'like snowflakes made with diesel', and the band used this on their posters. The editor of a magazine saw it, and he got Greg to review albums and gigs.

Esther and Alan went to the pub one evening, and on their way home they saw a poster for a gig by a band called 'The Basket Kickers'. "Greg reviewed their album," she said. "He liked it, I think. Sometimes his prose needs a lot of interpretation. We should go to see them."

When they got back to Esther's flat, she told her brother about The Basket Kickers' gig, and he looked shocked. "They must have followed me!" he said.

"What do you mean?"

He told them about how they were unhappy with his review. Their songs were full of violent lyrics, but he said they were about as scary as a lawn. They confronted him at a gig one night, and when he saw them in person, their lyrics suddenly seemed authentic. They looked as if they'd been in fights. Greg felt the blades of a lawnmower bearing down on him, but he was able to get away, and he came to stay with Esther for a while until they calmed down. "I thought I'd be safe here," he said, "but they must have tracked me down."

"They can't stay around for ever," Esther said. "You just have to avoid them for a few days."

On the following day, Esther and Alan did a bit of detective work. They found out that the band were staying in a house next to a bookshop, and they were playing in another town three days later, so Greg just had to avoid them until then."

He didn't want to leave Esther's apartment. Instead of going to the pub that evening, Esther and Alan decided to stay in with him. Alan went to the off-licence to get some drink. Esther invited the other tenants in the building around and it turned into a minor party.

At half-ten they heard the door opening below. They wondered who it could be. All of the tenants were in Esther's apartment. They heard steps on the stairs, and then a knock on the door. Greg hid behind a sofa before Esther opened the door, but it was just Edward, their landlord. When he saw everyone there he said, "It warms my heart to see the communal spirit taking hold. I've had tenants before who've only wanted to kill each other. There was plenty entertainment to be had from that, but it could never warm the heart."

When Greg sneezed, Edward asked what was wrong with the sofa. Greg stood up. "He's my brother," Esther said to Edward. "He wasn't trying to hide from you. He's actually trying to hide from a band because they bear a grudge against him. They're staying in a house next to the bookshop, but they'll be leaving town in a few days, so he just has to avoid them until then."

Edward smiled. He said, "I can help you out, young man. You can't waste your time hiding behind the sofa on beautiful summer days like these. What you need is bodyguards, and my nephews would be ideal for the job."

Esther was standing behind Edward. She shook her head at Greg, and she mouthed the word 'no!' (with her demeanour, she was able the express the exclamation mark).

Greg paused as he looked at her, and Edward took that as a yes. "I'll give them a call," he said.

His nephews were Eric and Barry. They could watch the seagulls for hours. Some people might take this to be a sign of inner peace and serenity, but if they had a gun they could shoot the seagulls for hours. They were more likely to achieve inner peace by making things explode, whether it be seagulls, sheds or dumps.

Esther once saw them being transfixed by moths that flew around their heads. They tried to set one of the moths on fire when it landed on the window, but it flew away as Eric approached with his cigarette lighter. Then he tried to set the window on fire.

She first met them when Edward brought them around to knock down a wall. He said to her, "They're both single, so you can take your pick."

"No, thanks," she said.

"'You can take your pick' is a phrase they'd be familiar with. They'd always hear it just before the words 'and shove it'. They have a pickaxe and a shovel in the back of their van. I'd say half the things they do leave them with things they need to bury. Some women would go for men like that."

"Would they."

"I've found that some women can be very morbid. More so than some men. Eric and Barry wouldn't be morbid at all, but they take to death like a duck to water. A duck wouldn't be a duck if they couldn't shoot it."

"It wouldn't be a duck for long if they could shoot it."

"If it was Eric and Barry versus the duck, I'd put my money on the duck. They're not the brightest of bulbs."


"Are you sure you don't want to have a go at one of them?"

"No, thanks."

"Because I know of a few women who have their eyes on them. The lads in the pub were saying that wherever their eyes are, it wouldn't be in their eye sockets, but I'd say it's more to do with what's in their heads."


Greg didn't have any say in the choice of his new bodyguards. They arrived at Esther's apartment about ten minutes after their uncle had phoned them. Edward said to them, "I have a little job for ye. Ye could do this sort of thing in ye'r sleep. I want ye to protect this man here. His name is... What's your name?"


"His name is Greg. Don't leave his side for the next few days. Sedate him if you have to."

Neither of the brothers knew what 'sedate' meant. It sounded too much like 'seduce' for their liking. Greg expressed what they were thinking when he said, "There's no need to go that far. I'd jump out of a window to get away from being sedated."

"Okay so," Edward said. "Forget about the sedation. But don't leave his side. There's an empty apartment on the ground floor. Ye can stay there while ye're doing this job."

There was silence after Edward left. The other tenants decided it was time to go home, leaving Esther, Alan and Greg alone with the brothers. "Why don't we go to the pub?" Esther said. "You don't have to fear the band now that you've got bodyguards. In fact, you should let them see you with Eric and Barry."

The atmosphere was only marginally better in the pub. The brothers sat at either side of Greg. Esther asked them if they were still trying to find the briefcase they buried.

"Yeah," Barry said. "Someone can't find the map he made to lead us to where we buried it."

"That someone is Barry," Eric said.

"Yeah," Barry said, "but someone else has a mouse's head in his pocket."

"That isn't someone else," Eric said. "That's Barry too."

Barry put his hand in his pocket. He said, "Okay. But it was definitely someone else who put his foot in a snare to see if it was working."

Eric said nothing.

Alan got the next round of drinks. Greg had a double whiskey. He didn't want to spend any more time with the brothers, especially not alone with them. On the following day he tip-toed down the stairs, and he had nearly made his getaway when the door to the apartment on the left of the hall opened. Eric was standing there. "Where do you think you're going?" he said.

"Nowhere. I'm waiting for ye."

"Come on in so. Do you want some breakfast? We found some mackerel."

"No, thanks."

After breakfast, the brothers took him to a disused quarry to pass the time. They threw stones at an old crane, but Greg refused to partake in this activity. "It's stupid," he said.

"Do you think we're stupid?" Barry said.

"I wouldn't say 'stupid'. Or 'think', for that matter."

"Do you think you're better than us?"

"No. I think I'm above ye. There's a subtle but important difference."

"Do you want to explain that, or would it just end in pain?"

"Pain for who?"

Barry shook his head and said, "You're stupid. I 'think' you're stupid."

"It sounded as if you were in pain when you had to think."

Barry moved towards him with the intention of inflicting pain, but Eric intervened and reminded his brother that they were supposed to be protecting Greg.

Greg threw a stone at the crane as a gesture of peace, and that eased the tension.

He finally cracked in the afternoon, after spending hours throwing stones at an old boat. He said, "I've had enough of this. I'm going to see the band to apologise to them."

The brothers were sick of Greg, so they didn't try to talk him out of it, but they didn't abandon their duty as bodyguards. They went with him, hoping for a fight with the band.

They went in the brothers' van. Barry parked it outside the house next to the bookshop. Greg got out. He stood outside the door of the house and he took a deep breath. He was just about to ring the doorbell when he heard Eric say, "The bastard!"

Greg turned around. The brothers were looking at a skip outside a house further down the street, at the other side. Edward had bought that house. It was an old house, and he needed to remove all the old furniture, carpets, wallpaper, sinks and so forth. He said he needed to 'gut' the place, and he promised Eric and Barry he'd let them do it. They liked the sound of the word 'gut' and they were looking forward to the job. But Edward didn't like the way they were looking forward to it. He was afraid they'd burn the place down or blow the place up, so he got someone else to do the job, and he got them to protect Greg just to keep them away from this street.

They saw a pile of old tiles being ejected from an upstairs window. The tiles landed in the skip below. Then a face appeared in the window and the brothers' anger increased exponentially. It was Eamon, their cousin. He was six-foot-four and all muscle. They were always fighting with him, and he always beat the two of them, but only just. He saw them on the street below and he smiled the smile of a man approaching a fight he knew he could win. The head disappeared inside and they knew he was coming down to meet them. Eric said to Greg, "Now it's your turn to help us. Have you ever hit someone with a piece of skirting board?"

"Forget about it. Leave me out of this."

"You're helping us," Barry said, "and you don't have much choice in the matter. We could never sedate you, but we could easily kill you."

Eamon emerged from the door and walked out to the centre of the street. He stood there, smiling and shirtless. The brothers went to the centre of the street too. They stood about twenty yards away from him, facing him. Greg couldn't tell who made the first move, but suddenly they were running towards each other, shouting something indecipherable as they ran.

Greg stood back and watched the fight. He didn't think it was likely that the brothers could kill him while Eamon was doing his best to kill them. But after a few minutes of being punched and kicked by Eamon, they somehow managed to pin him to the ground. It would have been the perfect time to sedate him. If you didn't know what was going on, you might think that the seduction had already taken place. Eric said to Greg, "Get the rope from the van." Greg didn't move, and Eric said, "If you don't get it now, it'll be your noose later."

So Greg turned around to get it, and he saw a member of The Basket Kickers looking down from an upstairs window of the house. He wanted to get away as quickly as possible, so he ran to the van, got the rope, ran back to the tangle of bodies and he tied Eamon's hands together. Barry told him to tie the feet too. They dragged Eamon along the ground to the van and lifted him into the back, and then they drove away as quickly as they could. It was all done to a soundtrack composed by Eamon, consisting entirely of profanities.

They took him to an abandoned house outside the town, and they tied him to a chair. The brothers often used this house to hide things.

"Ye can't keep me tied up forever," he said.

"We could keep you tied up for a day or two," Eric said. "We could have a lot of fun in a day or two."

"The more fun ye have, the more ye'll pay for it when ye release me. And ye can't keep me tied up forever."

"Aren't you having fun?" Barry said.

"I'm having the time of my life. Because I'm imagining what I'm going to do to ye when ye un-tie me."

"Well then we won't un-tie you."

"Ye can't do that. Blood is thicker than water, or so they say. I've never been well acquainted with water, but I know blood."

"We could get someone else to un-tie you in a day or two," Eric said. "And in the meantime we could do whatever we want to your record collection."

"Ye wouldn't dare."

"We will," Barry said. "We're off to break into your house. We'll leave you here to imagine what we're up to."

They left to more soundtrack music. As soon as they got into the van, Barry said, "Oh God! What have we done!"

"I haven't done anything," Greg said.

"You were the one who tied him up."

"Maybe we should leave town for a while," Eric said. "We'll get someone to release Eamon this evening. By then we'll be long gone."

Greg liked the sound of that, but he didn't want to go with them. They dropped him off at his sister's apartment and they drove on. He got his things together and he left the building. He tried to hide his face beneath a baseball cap. He went to a road leading out of town, hoping to hitch a ride. After a few minutes, a van stopped. Greg was shocked to see The Basket Kickers inside, and they looked shocked to see him too. He was getting ready to run, but they drove away quickly. They had decided to leave town after seeing his involvement in Eamon's kidnapping. They were more afraid of him than he was of them.

The moose's head over the fireplace seems to enjoy looking at the clouds through the window. The sight of snow-covered mountains would remind him of home. Of course, not all of them look like mountains. I saw one that looked just like a turkey, a dead one, gliding through the air in slow motion, moving much more gracefully than a live one could. It reminded me of the last time I saw a dead turkey. If that one had been moving in slow motion I might have been able to avoid it.