'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Partners in Crime
Peter was convinced that he was one of the world's best cat burglars, but there was no way to know for certain because all of the best practitioners of the art would never reveal their true profession. There were no award ceremonies for burglars. No medals were handed out, and even if they were they'd probably be stolen before the presentation. Peter only broke into the houses of the wealthy, partly because of the rich pickings on offer there but mainly because these victims could easily afford to lose whatever he stole. He revelled in the challenge posed by their elaborate security systems. Any sort of a challenge was a chance to show off his skills to the burglary fans he liked to imagine, the real fans who'd go to all of the burglary matches, rather than just watching them on TV. He loved stealing the jewellery that people wore as they slept. It took the hands of a brain surgeon to remove a diamond necklace from someone off in dreamland. It was satisfying to perform such a delicate task and to steal from people who wore extravagant outfits in bed.
One night, while he was congratulating himself just after stealing a gold watch from the wrist of a sleeping hedge fund manager (and doing a lap of honour in front of the cheering fans in his mind) his victory celebrations were marred when he looked at his wrist and noticed that his own watch was gone. As he walked down the stairs he tried to figure out what could have happened to it. He remembered looking at it just before going into the house. The strap must have broken while he was inside. Victory could become a humiliating defeat if he left a piece of evidence like that behind.
Another problem arose when he went into the study and found that he wasn't alone. A woman dressed in black was sitting on an armchair. He only recognised her when she removed her black hat and her red hair fell down over her shoulders. It was Lucinda, his ex-wife.
She held up his watch and said, "Looking for this?"
"Where did you find it?" He had a lot of questions, but 'Where did you find it?' was the only one he knew how to ask.
"I stole it. You once said I was as awkward as an elephant working in a restaurant, but I stole your watch. You were only stealing a watch from someone who was asleep, but I stole a watch from someone who was stealing a watch from someone who was asleep."
"But... What's going on?" He put all of his questions into 'What's going on?'.
She told him that she had developed a love of cat burglary before their divorce, when she started following him at night because she was convinced that he was having an affair. She'd spent the past seven years perfecting her art, and now she was undoubtedly one of the best cat burglars in the world, if not the best.
"Every cat burglar thinks they're the best in the world," Peter said dismissively.
"I think I've just proven that I'm better than you."
"When we were married, a conversation like this would always end in an argument."
"Any conversation would end in an argument."
"True, and as much as I'd like to have an argument for old time's sake, I think we should do something together. For old time's sake. Let's do a job together. We'll choose some offensively lavish mansion and break in. You were always saying we never did anything together when we were married. I hated all the things you loved doing."
"And you loved doing nothing all day. Why would I want to do a job with you to be reminded of that?"
"Because we had good times as well. Doing something together would be a way of emphasising the good memories and diminishing the bad. Even if we never see each other again, we'll never be able to get away from the memories."
After giving the matter some thought, Lucinda agreed to work with him. On the following night they broke into a mansion near the coast. It seemed as if the owners had only just moved in. Everything was new. Peter was delighted, but Lucinda had reservations. "They're newly-weds," she said. "Look at the wedding photos, and there are even wedding cards on the mantelpiece."
"So there must be wedding presents. And at those sort of weddings, people don't give toasters and kettles."
"I can't go through with this. We can't steal from newly-weds, not when we're only here to remind ourselves of the few good times we had when we were newly-weds."
"Well it's probably only going to end up reminding us of our differences. I'm going upstairs to get the jewellery."
When Peter went into the bedroom he saw the newly-weds sleeping in each other's arms, and his conscience made him go back downstairs to Lucinda. She'd found a bottle of whiskey. She poured him a glass when he told her he'd be leaving empty-handed. They sat on a sofa and they started talking about old times. The whiskey made them forget to keep their voices down. When a light came on and a man stepped into the room, Peter wished he had at least stolen the shotgun.
Both of the newly-weds were awake. While he held the gun, she went to get the phone, but before she dialled a number, Lucinda said, "There's something you should know before you call the police. We were hired by some friends of yours. Bill and Triona. They wanted us to retrieve the wedding present they gave."
"That's absurd," the man said.
"It sounds absurd, but unfortunately it's true. They've been hit badly by the recession. Their hotel is certain to go out of business, but they're desperate to keep up appearances. When ye've been visiting their house recently, I bet they seem nervous every time ye go to the bathroom."
"As a matter of fact, I have noticed that. I thought it was something else, but... I have noticed that."
"They're afraid ye'll stray into the wrong room. The hall, the kitchen, the dining room and the bathroom all look fine, but every other room in the house has been stripped bare. They've sold all of the furniture and all of their valuables. They simply can't afford to buy presents for all these weddings they're going to, so they hired us."
"I had no idea. I should have suspected something. Bill keeps cancelling things. We haven't gone to a rugby match in nearly a year. If there's anything that involves an overnight stay, he'll come up with some excuse to get out of it. I feel so sorry for them. Desperation makes people do strange things. Of course they can have the wedding present. Take as much as ye can carry and give it all to Bill and Triona."
Peter saw the first light of dawn as he left the house with Lucinda. They turned around to say goodbye Toby and Michelle (they were all on first name terms by then). Peter and Lucinda couldn't wave because of all the presents they were carrying. It was the first time Peter had ever completed a job with the whole-hearted approval of the victims. These victims had made him toasted sandwiches. The job hadn't provided any opportunity to show off his skills, but working with Lucinda had been enjoyable.
On the way home she told him that she had broken into Bill and Triona's house a few weeks earlier, and she had left empty-handed. The place was exactly as she had described. In the study she found piles of bills and evidence of the doomed hotel. "I'd be surprised if they still have electricity," she told Peter. "I wonder what excuse they'd come up with if their power was cut off. I bet they'll suddenly become committed environmentalists. We all have to make sacrifices to reduce our carbon footprint, they'll say."
"But how did you know they were friends of Toby and Michelle?"
"When you went upstairs I couldn't resist having a look around to see if there was anything I could take. Anything I could take. I wasn't necessarily going to take it. It's like when I'm on a diet and I have to look at a cake. Just to make sure it's there. I came across some wedding photos, and I recognised Bill and Triona in them."
"What'll we do with all of our wedding presents?"
"I think it's appropriate that we give something to Bill and Triona."
"How about a book on how to minimise your carbon footprint."
"That's a really good idea. We should work together more often."
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Stealing is Theft
If there's one thing I don't like doing, it's doing things I don't like doing. Washing dishes is something I've never enjoyed, and I don't understand why it has to be done so often. You should be able to go an entire year without washing a mug. Some of the other activities I abhor include dancing at weddings, feigning interest when people tell me about their gardens, and gardening. One of the things I most enjoy doing is receiving money, so when my friend Jeremy offered to pay me five-hundred euros to install a water feature in his aunt's garden, I agreed without the slightest hesitation.
His aunt Ruth had accused him of being lazy and wasteful with his money. He pointed to the fact that he made all of his own clothes, and he suggested that this would contradict both of her claims. Shortly after she had accused him of being a liar as well, his suit blew away in a gentle breeze, and she withdrew her accusation, but she used the poor quality of his clothes as further evidence of his laziness. She told him that if he wanted to prove her wrong he could install a water feature in her garden, and he said he'd be delighted to do the job.
Jeremy's foray into making clothes had nothing to do with a desire to save money. It was due to a dispute with his tailor. He kept asking his tailor if he dyed his hair. After Jeremy had said 'Are you sure you don't dye your hair?' for the twentieth time the tailor lost his cool and called Jeremy a worthless idiot. In the argument that ensued, Jeremy claimed that he could make his own clothes, and that he'd only been using the services of the tailor out of pity for the man.
His laziness and wastefulness with money were as healthy as ever, and it was these qualities that made him pay me to install the water feature while he sat on a deckchair and watched me work.
I insisted on getting the money before I began the job. After he had handed over the cash, I started digging. There was a lot of digging. On such a hot day, sitting on a deckchair looked like a much more enjoyable activity, but you don't get paid for sitting on deckchairs, unless you have the appropriate qualifications. I've applied for jobs that involve sitting on deckchairs, and I've always been told I don't have the appropriate qualifications.
I was working at the back of the house, on a lawn that was surrounded by hedges. When Jeremy heard the sound of a car he jumped up from the deckchair. He was sure it was Ruth. She was supposed to be shopping for curtains that day, but he suspected that she'd come back home to check up on him. He told me to find a hiding place in the garden while he tried to look as if he'd been digging all morning.
There were plenty of places to hide. I chose to sit in the shade behind the coal shed. I thought it was the ideal location to have a rest and to hide in, but after only a minute of steadfast hiding and resting I was found by Imogen, Ruth's daughter. She had just turned twenty-one, but, unlike her siblings, she still hadn't grown out of the belief that there was a butterfly inside her.
When she asked me if I was a thief I responded with a very definite 'no'. She said, "Because I'd be completely supportive of you if you were a thief. I believe that my mother has far too many valuable possessions and she devotes far too much of her energy to making sure they're not stolen. It's unnatural to devote so much of your attention to possessions when you should be enjoying a garden like this. It's only natural that some of her possessions should be stolen. Especially her collection of silver jugs. Some of them need to be forcibly removed from her possession to restore a natural balance. Everything is out of synch because she has too many silver jugs. It would be an act of extraordinary generosity to steal some of them. You'd be doing more for Mother Nature than everything an environmentalist could achieve in a lifetime."
Amongst the thousands of things I've always wanted to do, one of them is to acquire valuables without having to do anything to earn them. Stealing is one way of achieving this, but my conscience always held me back. But when a creature of such purity is telling you that the good course of action is to steal silver jugs, wouldn't it be wrong to choose a course of inaction? She was undoubtedly a higher authority on right and wrong than I was.
She led me to the room where her mother kept her collection. She took out a key and she opened one of the glass cases. "I'll turn my back and count to a hundred," she said. "Take whatever you believe needs to be taken to restore the natural balance. When I turn around again I'll expect to find that you and some silver jugs have departed, and I'm sure I'll feel at peace again."
I knew nothing about natural balances. I chose to take three small jugs because they were easy enough to hide in my clothes. While she was still counting to a hundred, I went back out to the garden to find another hiding place. After I had concealed myself and the jugs at the back of the orchard, I sat down to resume my rest. I dozed off to sleep.
I can't say how long I was asleep for. I was woken by the sound of a click, a sound I was sure I'd heard somewhere before. When I opened my eyes and saw the handcuffs on my hands I thought, "Yes. There's that sound again."
Imogen had applied the handcuffs, and she looked delighted with herself. "Caught you," she said. I congratulated her. I was hoping that this was one of her games, but when she started calling the police I became worried.
"You can't call the police," I said. "You'll only get in trouble. You told me to steal the jugs."
"I asked you to steal them, and you could have said 'no'. Stealing is theft, y' know."
"I'll pay you if you let me go."
"No. I've got too much money as it is... How much?"
"Five-hundred euros," I said. I took the money out of my pocket. Thankfully she felt that she needed another five-hundred euros to restore some sort of cosmic balance. She freed me from the handcuffs, and I returned to my work with a sense of relief, even though my pockets were devoid of silver jugs and cash.
Jeremy found the heat too much in the afternoon, so he sat in the shade, leaving me unsupervised. It wasn't as if he'd been supervising me when he had his eyes closed anyway. After only half an hour of work in the hot sun I had to take a break. I went to find a shady spot to lie down in. While I was searching for an appropriate resting place I saw Jeremy and Imogen in the shade of an oak tree. He gave her a blue feather and she gave him a wad of cash that looked exactly like the money I had given her. I realised what had taken place. Jeremy had promised her the blue feather if she agreed to lure me into taking the jugs just so he could get his money back.
When I accused him of this he staunchly denied it, but he'll staunchly deny anything you accuse him of, no matter how shaky his defence. We got into an argument, and neither of us heard Ruth's arrival. She demanded to know what was going on, and Imogen told her everything. To my surprise, she was delighted with Jeremy. He had shown a frugality he'd never possessed in the past, and she commended him on his resourcefulness.
I heard that familiar sound again as she put one side of the handcuffs on my right wrist and led me away. She took me to where I'd been working on the water feature, and she attached the other side of the cuffs to the deckchair. She told me to sit down and supervise Jeremy as he finished the work. I had a stick to poke him into action every time he took a break. He protested to his aunt. He told her that his laziness was something he should be protecting. His laziness had been the source of his resourcefulness and frugality. Without it his mind would have remained sitting on a deckchair and he'd never have come up with his plan. But Ruth dismissed this argument because if he kept his laziness intact she wouldn't get a water feature.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Being laughed at is the best medicine
Jeffrey won an award for 'Best Actor in a Sit-com'. Only then did he realise that he was being filmed. He became depressed because people saw his life as a comedy, and they found him even funnier when he was depressed. He knew he had to do something to show people that he wasn't a failure, so he decided to start his own business. He was confident that he could make a success of whatever venture he undertook, and people would stop laughing at him.
In hindsight, starting a chicken farm was always more likely to reinforce his image rather than alter it. There were too many opportunities for mishaps. The chickens seemed to know exactly what parts of his body to peck for maximum comic effect, and they showed perfect comic timing. Buckets would do their utmost to lodge themselves on his head to exact their revenge when he filled them with something nauseating.
His next venture was a guesthouse, but he knew it was doomed to failure on the first night when a series of mix-ups led to him being stuck in a bedroom with the wife of a politician who was in another bedroom with a nurse. His wife was convinced that Jeffrey was madly in love with her.
Jeffrey knew he'd have to try something else. His record company never got off the ground. He only signed one act, and she only signed the deal because she wanted to kill him. His work in his shoe shop was hampered by hens who kept pecking him in sensitive places.
He realised that people find it funny when a serious venture goes wrong, but it wouldn't be as funny when a stupid scheme goes off the rails, and it wouldn't be very funny at all when a stupid scheme succeeds. This is why he set up a business with his brother. They worked at Jeffrey's house, making tweed clothes for badgers. But on their first day of work, a baby was abandoned on the doorstep. There were some hilarious moments as Jeffrey and his brother struggled to change nappies and feed the baby. The nappies were copying the buckets.
Jeffrey gave up trying to be successful, and he realised that he didn't care about what people thought of him. He didn't need the respect of other people. He decided to do something worthwhile, and he didn't care if it ended in total failure. He set up a charity to raise money for victims of natural disasters. It was a huge success, and no one laughed. He won people's respect, but he didn't care about that. He wanted to show people that he had no interest in earning their respect and that he didn't care if they laughed at him, which was why he chose to do something stupid. He wore a kangaroo costume and he kept tennis balls in the pouch. But no one found this funny. If anything, they respected him more than ever. He was irritated by their reaction, but he had the compensation of knowing that he was helping others with his charity, and the kangaroo costume was extremely comfortable.
Tuesday, July 06, 2010
It's the thought that counts
When Alfred became king, his first act was to instruct his architect to design an observatory. For years his sister had been claiming that she could see ships with bright red sails in the sky at night. She said they were carrying well-dressed horses, cows and pigs between the stars. When the observatory was built, the king's astronomers spent three years observing the sky at night, but they found no evidence of fashion-conscious farmyard animals in transit between ports on stars. So the king fired the astronomers and hired astrologers instead, and they found evidence of the ships without even having to use the telescope.
The astrologers also told him that he'd marry the woman who had played the harp at a recent ball. Her name was Jemima. Alfred did everything in his power to win her heart. He bought her flowers and gardens. He hired three bakers to make cakes for her every day. She'd take a small bite from each cake and the rest of it would be discarded. When she started spitting out the small bite, he hired someone to take a bite for her and someone else to spit it out. Years went by and she didn't see any of the cakes that were being made and discarded for her every day, but she was given regular reports on them.
The bakers only stopped making the cakes when Jemima agreed to marry Alfred. He was overjoyed when he finally broke down her resistance and she resigned herself to the marriage. He instructed the bakers to start work on a wedding cake ten times bigger than any seen before in the country, and he hired hundreds of people to take bites from it. He instructed his scientists and his engineers to build a ship that would float through the night sky to a planet where you could pick all of the ingredients for an excellent dessert from a single tree. This would be the location of Alfred and Jemima's honeymoon. He had always been interested in visiting this planet because he'd heard that its inhabitants had embraced democracy, and he was curious about these strange aliens. All of the politicians on the planet were forced to live in isolation with no knowledge of what they were doing or how their decisions would affect the lives of the inhabitants. It wasn't the ideal system, but it was the best they had.
The scientists and engineers started work on a craft that would convey the newly-weds into space, but the best they could come up with was a ship that would take them to a bog where very old people went to laugh as if they knew something that no one else knew. On some days you'd find hundreds of old people shaking their sticks and laughing at their secret knowledge. Alfred was furious when he saw the ship. The bog was a place that even drunk commoners could fall into. This sort of journey was a far cry from sailing majestically through a star-filled sky to a place where cream grew on trees. He sent the scientists and engineers to a bog at the foot of a faraway mountain. They'd stay there for a year, spending their days laughing at how worthless they were.
He regretted not getting his astrologers to do the job, but it was too late then. The wedding was only weeks away. To compensate for abandoning their planned honeymoon in space, Alfred decided to arrange a grand pageant. He told Jemima that it would involve thousands of people dressed up as animals, thousands of animals dressed up as people, and bonfires so big that democratically elected politicians would be able to see them from the windows of lonely mountain retreats as they gazed out at the night sky.
Jemima said, "I know I must have given the impression that all I want in life is cake, but all I really want is for someone to tell me they like the sound of my voice or the way my hair curls, or that they like spending time with me, doing nothing."
"I'll hire five-hundred men on five-hundred horses on five-hundred elephants to tell you these things twenty-four hours a day."
"No, I just want you to tell me these things every once in a while. Once a year would be enough. For my birthday."
Alfred was speechless. He didn't speak to her for seven years because he didn't know what to say, apart from when he said 'I do' on their wedding day, and he wouldn't have said that if he hadn't been told what to say.
When he eventually thought of something to say to her he spent another few months wondering if he should say it. He came to the conclusion that it was worth taking the risk, so at the end of another silent breakfast he cleared his throat and said, "I like the sound of your voice."
She couldn't have been any happier. He was amazed at how dazzling her smile was. It only took him another few months to think of something else to say. On her birthday he made a comment about her hair and she said it was the best present ever, so he decided not the give her the birthday cake or the orchestra inside the cake.
The Tree and the Horse
A Walk in the Rain
The East Cork Patents Office
Words are my favourite noises