T minus 3
I had dinner with Thea in the evening at Le Sacrebleu on Gold Street. We saw The Prof on the way out. He said he was going to sample the delights of a “local Vietnamese diner, the one on the highway with the red neon sign”
“Oh, you can’t eat there,” Thea said winking at me and kicking my shin as I made to object.
Prof made to move off and leave Thea and I in peace.
“..you might contract typhoid or some disease that prevents your selection at The Oval.”
Bugger. That stopped him dead. He turned around with that half grin that amuses me in normal circumstances. I had a stony face, but Thea was all politeness
“You must come with us,” she said
“…and you too Freak. Peek-a-boo. You may as well tag along.” I had seen The Freak shift artlessly into the shadow on the hotel pillar ostensibly to make a phone call. Thea had seen the sign “OUT OF ORDER” above the telephone and was not fooled. It was difficult to know who was fooling whom.
We squashed into the taxi. Of course I ended up in the front seat (the ‘paying seat’, Sarah says) cut off from the laughter in the back and left to parry the barbs from the Taxi driver about the failings of Australian sport in general as well as his offer to date his daughter. Generous to a fault.
The Prof ordered the wine – he has a ‘refined palate’ – and I drank of it as instructed, washing and swilling it across my tongue vigorously until it dislodged a pinhead of bacon rind from my back molar. The Freak gargled his. And Thea occupied herself decanting a full glass into a water tumbler. The Prof feigned that forlorn look Coach2.0 gets when the middle order collapses in sight of Victory, wondering what he had to do to make us respect his beloved Pino Gris.
“And how is the cricket?” Thea eventually asked.
The Freak responded. “Excellent. Prof and your’s,” pointing to me as an afterthought, “have protected our averages from disaster admirably.”
“And the nets today?”
“Fine,” The Prof said. “I took a few on the inner thigh and on the ribs. The bowlers see a batsman and think it’s Bell, Bresnan or Broad, or worse, one of our tTp 6, and try to influence batting selections by injuring a few of us.”
“I slowed down when I realised it was The Captain, and saw the white handkerchief waving from his bat,” said The Freak.
“That was me, knucklehead”, The Prof stated rather put out. “The Captain gave me his helmet and said try this out.”
“And afterwards,” said Thea tongue-in-cheek “… at Northampton Paintball?”
“We played Mad Murphy’s Jungle Attack,” I said sheepishly.
The Prof added quickly “It went well. We won”.
“Are you sure? I heard something different from the others,” she said.
I took over the story-telling. The team split along party lines into bowlers and batsmen. The bowlers had asked The Prof and I to join their group to even up the numbers. We started at opposite ends of a 400 metre jungle, The Prof and I taking point either side of a winding path. We moved forward quickly until the bowlers had lost sight of us, and then crawled sharp left on our bellies to a dense part of the shrubbery on a small rise. Fortunately, we dropped into a shallow ‘shell hole’ enough to see what unfolded as Lucky and Trapper advanced along the path from the opposite direction. Someone opened fire. Trapper copped a ball in the back soon after and lay down in agony screaming for a ‘medic’ [Ed. Jungle does that to him]. The screaming went on for a while. I thought I heard a few thuds at close range before the screaming ceased. “They fragged him,” The Prof whispered. “I can’t believe it.”
Then it started to rain. I heard a full on battle but saw little through the gloom. Someone tried to invade our hidey-hole at one point but Prof pushed him away. “That was a bowler…. Mantis I think. He looked scared.” We hid long enough to hear someone shout “Ammo. Resupply, resupply.” A voice on the loudspeaker responded “Ammo resupply has been interrupted. Use your initiative.” It sounded like Coach2.0 [Ed. It could have been Sarah?]. I had my head above the parapet long enough to watch the bowlers and batsmen charge at each other along the path like crazed jungle veterans, struggling in the mud as the rain intensified. It was hard to see who was winning amid the thumping and grunts. I saw Hollywood calling for the DRS, but he was manhandled to the ground. The Natural was in serious trouble on the other side, slithering towards a tree, his hands and feet bound with gaffer tape. The Kid and Plopper were working well as a unit firing Dukes they had in their pockets [Ed. They were disqualified on review] towards the batsmen, until they were felled in an ambush. Lucky and Mr Bean lay where they fell, pumped full of multi-coloured paintballs from both sides.
“Excellent sniping,” I said to The Prof. “You can fire on anyone from here.”
“Exactly,” he said turning his rifle on me. “Bind yourself with gaffer tape.” He ran off, rifle at the ready.
I shimmied to the lip of our vantage point again and waited. Only The Prof and The Freak remained. They were about to face off when I heard two sharp retorts. Both fell to the ground cursing. “Who was that? I thought we shot everyone, theirs and ours?”
“Not me,” said Sarah emerging from the undergrowth pinned with camouflage. “I win”
I was about to aim my rifle at her and call game over when a hand slipped over my mouth. It was The Captain, in jungle greens. “Team harmony,” he whispered.
We found Trapper eating chocolate against a palm tree. “I know who did it” he said. He was about to reveal all when Sarah approached. He became strangely quiet after that.
“Do you all feel better?” Thea inquired.
“But the WAGS do. You had best win at The Oval,” she said.
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