'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Hotel

It rains every day. This is typical January weather. Instead of going out in the garden I've been cleaning out the attic. I found some plans my grandfather made for an extension to the house. He wanted to add another eight rooms. All of these rooms would have been used to display his collection of cuckoo clocks, but the extension was never built. He would have struggled to get planning permission. I've been trying to get planning permission for a sand castle since I was seven.

My uncle Alan spent some time working as a bar man when he was young. The bar was in a hotel in the country. They didn't have many guests in the winter. There weren't many tourists at that time of the year, but sometimes a conference would be held at the hotel, or they'd get groups of people, like artists or hill-climbers. Even when there were no guests, some of the locals would go to the bar in the hotel, and there would always be customers in the restaurant.

The manager of the hotel was a woman called Delia. She rarely said more than what she had to say, apart from the ever-present 'please' or 'thank you'. She never got angry or showed the slightest sign of annoyance. She dealt with all situations in the same calm manner, whether it was dealing with a complaint or telling the chef to remove the meat cleaver from the ceiling. The staff knew little about her. No one could remember ever having a proper conversation with her.

The assistant manager was called Dan. He always tried to remain calm and civil in his assistant manager's role, and for the most part he succeeded, but he was a different person outside of the role. He was only in the role when he was within earshot of the guests, and he was very firmly rooted in the shoes of an assistant manager when Delia was nearby. But on all other occasions the smoking, swearing Dan would come out. The staff preferred the company of the off-duty Dan.

Delia went away for a weekend one January and Dan was in charge. There were no guests in the hotel. It was snowing outside, so none of the regulars made it to the bar. Dan sat at the bar with Amanda, who was one of the maids. Alan served them. They were talking about Delia. Alan said, "I wonder what her room looks like."

Dan said, "I have a master key that opens every door in the hotel."

"Have you looked in my room?" Alan said.

"Of course I have."

"What about mine?" Amanda said.

Dan paused before answering 'no'.

"What about Delia's?"

"No." There was no pause this time.

"Why not?"

"I don't know. I'd be too nervous. She makes me nervous when she's around so I'm not going to ruin the break I get while she's away by making myself nervous."

"Why would you be nervous when she's not here?"

"I don't know. I suppose it's a feeling that she could return at any time."

"Well she's not going to return tonight," Alan said. "Let's have a look in her room."

Dan was reluctant at first, but they talked him into it.

They went into her room, and the first thing they noticed was a poster of a country band. The band consisted of four men and two women, all dressed as cowboys or cowgirls. They were called 'The Longford Ranchers'. When Alan had a closer look at the poster he realised that one of the women was Delia. They found her costume in the wardrobe. They found some records too, and a video of a gig in Sligo. They watched it on the TV in the bar. Delia was the lead singer of the band.

Dan's uncle Derry was big into country music. Dan phoned him and asked about The Longford Ranchers. Derry spent the next hour telling stories about the Irish country music scene. He said that Delia's band were popular a few years earlier. They used to travel all around the country, but then they split up.

A few days later, when Delia was helping Alan close up the bar, Dan casually mentioned the band. He told her that he'd been talking to his uncle about country music, and that his uncle told him about The Longford Ranchers.

"Ye were in my room, weren't ye?" Delia said.

"No, no. We heard all of this from my uncle. I had no knowledge of the band before he mentioned it."

"One of ye left a whiskey glass in there."

"Oh. Ah... Sorry... So how come the band split up?"

"We used to tour the country in a van. Tensions are inevitable when you put six people in a van for long periods of time. Our guitarist, Derek, used to sell bags of dog food from the back of the van, so that made things more cramped and more tense. He'd do anything for a bit of extra cash, but he'd never spend it. He wouldn't even buy us a drink. He didn't care that we all had to fit into the van with our instruments and gear and enough food to feed fifty dogs for a week. One night he took a woman into the back of the van after a gig. He thought we were in the pub, but the owner had closed it early. Actually he closed it on time, but that was considered early. Derek didn't know that the rest of us were waiting outside. We heard everything. It was funny, but then on the following day no one could look him in the eye. Denny, our bass player, made two sock puppets and he used them to dramatise the events in the van. His little play started with the Derek puppet telling a story about the time he wrestled a horse, and it ended with him in tears. The puppet representing the woman was avoiding eye contact and saying, 'I wouldn't worry about it.'

"Obviously Derek was mortified when he realised we had heard the whole thing. Denny said we wouldn't tell another living soul about it, as long as Derek gave us a share of the profits from his dog food business. He agreed to give us ten percent each.

"There was another band called 'Terry Racket and the Tornadoes'. We used to support them in the early days, but we ended up being rivals. We were always playing tricks on each other, like letting the air out of the tyres in each other's vans, or putting thirty dead chickens into the back of the van. The chickens ended up as dog food. We met them at a restaurant once, and Terry Racket said to Derek, 'Have you had any luck with your stories about horse wrestling?' The Tornadoes laughed. We found out later that the woman Derek had convinced to join him in the van was the cousin of the drummer from The Tornadoes, but at the time Derek assumed that Denny had told Terry. Derek punched Denny, and Denny punched him back. They fought in the car park of the restaurant, and that was the end of the band. Even when we found out how Terry heard the story, there was too much tension for all of us to be able to get back into the same van."

"It's a pity that it ended like that," Alan said. "Ye were very good. I mean, I've heard ye were very good. Dan's uncle told him."

One of the regulars organised a Karaoke night in the hotel bar to raise money for charity. They convinced Delia to take part, and they managed to talk her into wearing her cowgirl outfit as well. She was nervous because she hadn't sung on stage in years. She needed a few strong drinks to build up enough courage to be able to face the audience. Alan poured her the drinks and he watched them disappear in seconds. He was worried that she had taken too much. She was starting to slur her words.

But he didn't need to worry. As soon as she got up on stage she was fine. It was a great performance, and she got a standing ovation. As soon as she got off the stage she went straight to the bar and told Alan to pour her a double whiskey.

The owner of the hotel chose a bad time to call. His name was Nick. He owned a chain of hotels, and he visited each one about once a month. When he arrived in the middle of the karaoke night he saw the manager wearing a cowgirl costume and leaning against the bar with a whiskey glass in her hand. He asked her what was going on, and she did her best to explain, but she hadn't got far when he said two words that made tears well up in her eyes: "You're fired."

Nick was spending the night in the hotel with his wife. About midnight, Dan was walking past a room on the first floor and he heard Nick's voice. This confused him, because he was sure that Nick and his wife were staying in a room on the floor above. The room next door was empty. Dan went into this one. He put a glass to the wall, and he heard Nick talking, but the woman he was with wasn't his wife.

On the following morning, Dan got Amanda to make two sock puppets. When Nick and his wife arrived for breakfast, Dan told him about what a great success the karaoke night had been, and he suggested a talent night. To demonstrate this he got Alan and Amanda to perform a puppet show. Alan's puppet was playing the part of Nick. Amanda's puppet was an anonymous woman. Alan had lines like 'My wife doesn't understand me'.

Nick put a stop to the show when he realised that it was based on real events. He took Dan to one side and said, "What do you want?"

"If you don't want your wife to see the rest of this performance, bring back Delia. I'm sure your wife will be able to identify you, even when you're represented by a sock. I'd say there's a good chance she'll recognise what the sock says when it gets excited."

Nick apologised to Delia and asked her to come back. He even gave her a pay rise when he saw Alan's sock-covered hand waving at him.

The moose's head over the fireplace doesn't like country music. He's listening to a lot of Bach at the moment. The wife's uncle says he nearly married a country singer once. He pretended he was rich, and she had a soft spot for men with money. That soft spot was in her vegetable garden. He'd been hit over the head with a shovel so often in the past that it didn't have much effect on him. He let her do it twenty times before he said something about it.