'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, July 18, 2007


The weather is becoming predictable. Every day it's the same: sunshine and heavy showers. The grass is having a field day in the garden.

My cousin Albert joined a hill-walking club with his friends, George and Neil. On one weekend, the club went on a trip to climb a mountain, and they stayed in an old country house. Albert stood in the back yard after the sun had set. He liked the way the full moon illuminated the landscape at night. The shadows reminded him of night scenes in old Westerns, scenes that looked as if they were really shot by day. He looked at his own shadow. He thought it had a cool, cunning aura as it lay motionless on the ground, dressed in black. The effect was completely ruined when he moved suddenly, responding to his shock at the sound of footsteps. Another shadow appeared. This one belonged to Anthea. He tried to get his shadow to return to its cool, cunning pose, hoping to impress her shadow, but it never looked quite right. He was facing Anthea and the moon, and he couldn't see what their shadows were doing behind him, but he knew it was unlikely to be any different to what the owners of the shadows were doing: standing in silence as he tried to think of something to say.

He didn't get a chance to say anything. Finn appeared. He looked a lot like Albert's shadow had looked before Anthea arrived. Anthea tried to stay calm, but her shadow looked like a puppy wagging its tail and running in circles around Finn. Albert hated Finn. Women normally left and took their shadows with them when Albert arrived. Finn asked her if she'd like to go to the pond and she struggled to stop the puppy from jumping up on him.

Albert went to talk to George and Neil. He told them about Anthea going to the pond with Finn. "It's just all surface with him," Albert said. "He's as lacking in substance as his shadow. Why do virtually all women say they prefer substance to surface in men, and yet they go for the man with more surface appeal? At least men are honest when they say they prefer surface."

George said, "Just because you have less in the way of surface, it doesn't mean you should have more substance. Saying you prefer surface in women proves that."

"I didn't say I prefer surface."

"Do you like Anthea because of her substance?"

"Well, no."

"It's good that you don't have substance. If you had substance you wouldn't do anything about it. You'd say, 'The best man won,' and you'd read books instead."

"What can I do about it?"

"You can show her what the real Finn is like. There's a coward hiding beneath the surface. When Billy said his house was haunted, Finn fainted when the cat fell off the fridge."

"How are we going to show her he's a coward?"

"I think this sounds like the perfect opportunity for using my Northern Ireland accent." He gave them a preview of the accent when he said, "I'm from Northern Ireland, so I am. I've got a baseball bat, so I have. Give me your money or you'll be a blood donor, so you will."

"Why a Northern Ireland accent?" Neil said.

"Because we can't use our own accents and that's the one I do best. And we'll be wearing balaclavas."

"I thought those days were over in Northern Ireland."

"Well let's just say they've moved down here and they've targeted idiots like Finn. He'll probably start crying when he sees us in the balaclavas, dressed in black. We'll take his wallet, and we can return it to him later. We'll say we saw three men in balaclavas running away, so naturally we tackled them. 'Naturally'. I like that. And 'tackled'. He's always talking about the things he does on the rugby field. He makes it sound like assault. It'll drive him mad when he hears that we were the ones who tackled the thieves while he cried like a baby."

Neil pretended to be Australian because he couldn't do the Northern Ireland accent. They got a loan of the balaclavas from Tony, a fellow member of the club, who always wore balaclavas while climbing hills and mountains. He said he had a phobia of getting frost bite on his face. They couldn't find baseball bats, so they used sticks instead.

They crept up on Finn and Anthea by the pond. Finn nearly fell into the water when Neil said, "Give me your money, mate." Albert and George felt like hitting him for saying 'mate'.

Finn was slow to get his wallet because his hands were shaking and he kept shouting 'Please don't hurt me'. Other members of the club heard him and they came to see what was going on.

On the one hand, the more people who knew about his cowardice the better, but on the other hand, if amongst those 'more people' there were some who'd love nothing more than a fight with stick-wielding muggers, with the added intoxication of a possible Northern Ireland political element, they'd leave their shadows behind in their eagerness to get to the action. Most of 'more people' fitted this bill. They chased Albert, George and Neil.

The first part of their plan (exposing Finn's cowardice) had gone perfectly, but the second part (playing the role of heroic, wallet-returning tacklers) would have to be abandoned given their failure to get the wallet and the fact that if anyone was going to tackle Albert, George and Neil, it wouldn't be Albert, George and Neil. This latter point presented a further problem: if they were tackled and caught, they'd be exposed as muggers who prey on women and cowards in isolated spots late at night, and Anthea might decide she'd prefer a coward to that.

They ran towards a house that looked abandoned. They tried opening the front door, but it wouldn't move. As they were wondering what to do the door opened and they saw a man smoking a pipe. He took the pipe out of his mouth to say, "Good evening, gentlemen." He replaced the pipe. He had no intention of losing his composure, which disconcerted Albert, George and Neil. Your composure is the first thing you should lose when you're faced with three men who are wearing balaclavas and holding sticks, and if that's all you lose you can count yourself lucky.

He said, "It's a grand evening for it."

Albert wondered if by 'it' he meant something you'd do with sticks or a general sort of 'it'. "It is," Albert said.

Albert, George and Neil looked around when they heard their pursuers approaching. He saw that they didn't want to be caught, so he invited them in. They took off the balaclavas in the hall. The man introduced himself as Andrew.

He took them into his living room, where a poker game was taking place. There were two other players, apart from Andrew. One was a priest, Father Moran, and the other was a man known as Grassy. Andrew introduced them to Albert, George and Neil.

Grassy looked at them suspiciously. He thought that Andrew and Father Moran were trying to cheat just to get some money out of him. The last time they played, he lost a fortune, and it coincided with a time when Father Moran needed money to repair the church roof. "Let's get on with the bloody game," Grassy said.

At the end of the next round, Father Moran said, "I was down at Ted's house earlier. He's after getting himself into an awful mess. It's no secret that he's been concerned with his thinning hair for years. To call it 'thinning' now would be flattering the top of his head. It couldn't possibly get any thinner. I suppose I wouldn't be giving the game away if I told you that the strange apparatus he used to cover his head was a comb-over."

"It would have been some achievement if his hair had done that of its own accord," Andrew said.

"If you stood down-wind of him, you'd get the smell of gel half a mile away. A gale force wind wouldn't shift his hair. But I suppose he must have realised that using his comb-over to hide his bald head was like using one of Elvis's jumpsuits as camouflage. He was thinking about getting a toupee. His sister had a wig, and she told him he could try that on, just to see what it would feel like to wear one. But whatever she used to stick the wig to his head, it did its job too well. They couldn't get the wig off. So he's stuck with a sort of a Marilyn Monroe look. That'll stand out even more than the comb-over. He's been soaking his head in hot water, hoping it'll ease the grip of the glue. If it doesn't come off tomorrow, his sister is going to style it for him, presumably to make him look less like Marilyn Monroe."

"We've got to see this," Grassy said.

"We could call to see him when our game is finished," Andrew said.

"He'll know we're just there to see his hair," Father Moran said.

"You could call to the door and we'll hide outside."

"Fair enough, but if he sees a priest at his door after midnight he'll get a heart attack. And it'll be well after midnight before our game is finished."

"Let's go now so."

"Fair enough."

"If we're going now," Grassy said, "I'm taking the deck with me." He suspected that some of the cards were marked, so Andrew and Father Moran knew what he had and what each other had. He'd been examining the backs of the cards all evening, and he hadn't noticed anything unusual, but he was convinced that Andrew would switch the deck when they left the house.

"There's no way I'd trust you with the cards," Andrew said.

Father Moran said, "We could give the cards to one of these lads."

"I don't trust them," Grassy said.

"How about this. We deal another hand and then we give our cards to the lads. And you can decide which one gets which hand, but they won't know whose hand they have, so if they do tamper with them, they won't know who they're helping or hindering."

Grassy didn't like being openly suspicious of a priest, so he agreed to this. The cards were dealt, and the three of them put their cards in piles on the edge of the table. Albert, George and Neil faced the other way. Grassy then re-arranged the order of the piles. He told George to take the first pile, Neil to take the second, and Albert to take the third. "If I see ye looking at them," he said, "the next thing ye'll be looking at is the interior of a ditch five miles away, and ye'll be wondering what happened ye'r knees."

They put the cards into their pockets without looking. Grassy made them walk ahead of him on the way to Ted's house. They hid outside his gate while Father Moran went to the door. They had trouble holding back the laughter when Ted appeared.

Father Moran said to him, "Sorry to bother you, Ted, but did I leave my glasses here earlier?"

"I haven't seen them."

"I'm sure they'll turn up somewhere. They always do. I found them in a flower pot once. Sorry for calling so late."

"Not at all, Father."

On the way back to Andrew's place they tried to think of a way of photographing Ted's new look. They were all in a good mood when they got back to the house. Andrew said, "Ye can return the cards now, lads. Albert, you had Father Moran's. George had Grassy's and Neil had mine."

Albert, George and Neil had a quick look at the cards before giving them back. Andrew got a bottle of whiskey from the sideboard and filled their glasses.

Andrew won that round. They were playing Texas hold 'em. He had an ace and a nine, and there were another two aces on the table. Grassy's good mood evaporated, and the suspicion returned.

The end of the game was within sight a few rounds later. Grassy put all of his chips into the pot. Of the five cards that were faced up on the table, three of them were aces. As soon as the third one appeared, Grassy stood up and turned the table over. "There are three aces on the table," he said, "and I have another two of them." He showed them his hand.

Andrew and Father Moran remained calm. Grassy couldn't take his anger out on Father Moran, and he was scared of Andrew, but he could take it out on Albert, George and Neil. He broke a leg off the table and chased them out of the house. They ran back towards the house where they were staying. They made sure they didn't scream like Finn had done. They didn't notice when Grassy stopped suddenly and said, "I had five aces!" He dropped the table leg and ran back to Andrew's house.

Their fellow club members saw them running towards the house. Gordon had led the chase earlier. He asked them what they were running from.

"We saw men in balaclavas," Albert said. "They had sticks."

"Yeah," Gordon said, "they frightened Finn too." Albert, George and Neil hung their heads.

Anthea seemed to be magnetically drawn towards Gordon, but Albert didn't mind because it was much better than seeing her with Finn.

Gordon found the table leg on the following day and he assumed that it must have been one of the weapons the muggers used. Albert, George and Neil went to see Andrew. He told them that Grassy had failed to win the pot with his five aces because he had turned the table over before betting was completed, so he only had himself to blame. Andrew was to blame for the extra ace. When they had returned from Ted's house, Neil had a look at Andrew's hand before giving it back. There was no ace in it, so he must have added the ace and lost the four of diamonds when he went to get the whiskey at the sideboard.

The moose's head over the fireplace has been watching Mr. Ed. There's a look of disdain on the moose's face every time Mr. Ed talks. He doesn't like horses, but he can tolerate them if they run in races and win at long odds, just as he predicted. He can't abide a horse who stays in his stable and talks. The moose's head would never demean himself by using human words.