Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Twelfth Man

Hard to believe it's been a whole month since I last blogged.  I could use the excuse that my fiancee's computer broke down and so we've been sharing mine, and as such I haven't had as much use of it as usual.  But that would be a bit unfair on her.
I could also use the excuse that I have been writing some pieces for my manager's retirement do (I was asked after my office realised I was the only person with any creative side), and so been writing elsewhere.  That, I guess would be more justified.
Either way, it's been awhile.  So by way of an apology I have a short story for you today, if you could call it a story that is.  It's more of a short piece, inspired by the tons of John le Carre that I have been reading lately and the start of the cricket season.  It is called Twelfth Man.

Operationally, he’d gotten the batting order completely wrong.  Starting off with Simpson and Blacklock to make an impression was a huge mistake.  Instead, it was all guns blazing (literally) as if bullets were going out of fashion.  Not in Charlton Heston’s lifetime he thought ruefully, let alone mine.  At least they had seen off one of them, nothing like two big ones over the rope in the first over for that.
Still, it left poor Frazer with amends to make, partnerships to build under fire; not his thing that, poor Frazer.  Didn’t last long.  Should have opened with him, he thought, given him less exposure before the big off.
Then it was Charlie, the kid.  Still called him Charlie rather than Owens as he would with the others.  Funny that.  He guessed he’d taken to the kid, not a thing to do in this job, but he was the sort of kid you took to.  Scruffy hair, ruddy cheeks and more go than a Twenty20 cheerleader.  He did his best, but it called for steadier hands, older hands, hands that had worn themselves through a dozen pairs of gloves and not still breaking in the first.
Rawlins would have done that, were it not for that bit of bad luck.  No-one expects the lunch lady to pull off a thing like that, even if they are a quarter Russian and half Iranian.  Even he hadn’t seen that, let alone Rawlins.  He’d have pulled Charlie through if he could’ve but it was just too much for the kid.
And then it was he himself.  He envisaged coming in at the last to score the winning runs, Captain, ‘keeper, all-rounder to finish things off.   He was never a starter, always found it hard to get up in the morning.  But once he was up, once he was out in the middle, he was more concentrated than the evaporated that never failed to appear with the sticky toffee at tea.
But by then he didn’t have many with him.  Only the back roomers; or the tail as he liked to call them.  O’Connor and Bailey, Ambleside and Davidson, and finally the big giant they called the Blacksmith.  Flaherty his real name, an Irishman by descent only and had seen both sides of the troubles at close quarters.  Plenty of experience, but that meant age in this game too.
And the poor fellows didn’t even have protection; no pads let alone helmets.  And with five and a half ounces coming at you out of the dark at ninety miles per hour, no one gamely calling ‘Play’ let alone a sightscreen, well you’ve got no chance.  No chance at all.
So here he was, last man standing, the team all out and it only being tea on day one; or at least that’s how it could be.  He still had one more trick to play though.  One more roll of the proverbial to cast out.  His twelfth man, tea boy, water carrier.
He would have stuck him in the first eleven, first name on the team sheet, star player but the selectors said no.  Even injury, sickness or return of the plague would not change their minds.  Bad sort, they said, not a team player, chequerboard past.  Perfect he thought for the game of chess that this was.  But still no they said. And they were adamant.
But then it dawned on him.  Who best to have in reserve than him?  If the selectors won’t pick him then even they wouldn’t think of it.  Considered out of favour and consigned to the nets as a warm-up for the rest.  He had still hoped not to have to use him, but use him he must now or else the game was indeed up.  You didn’t come back from being all out at tea.  He picked up the telephone.