The Captain hoisted his thumb over the heads of the senior players towards Coach2.0 as if to say it was all good, and left the huddle to mingle with the younger players.
One of the senior players said “He could have been thumbing the breeze. Coach2.0 is outside having a quick smoke.”
“He can’t be serious?”
“Why not? It’s him, the way he operates.”
“It’s bloody ordinary.” Wicky said taking off his gloves. “I have never done that. And I refuse point blank. Forget it.” He closed out his participation with such conviction that we let him pass. As penance, he offered to buy the next round of drinks, stuffed his gloves into his trouser pockets and waddled off to the bar.
“I didn’t realise his legs were so short” someone muttered.
“And it cannot be me”, I said slowly “… or the Prof. I couldn’t keep a straight face.” The Prof took my lead and buried the issue “Yes. And I, well… we… Let’s just say we’re unreliable. We manage your Players Pension Fund and reportage. That’s all.”
It was awkward.
After a while, Gentle George (it could have been George Gently) brokered the uneasy silence.
“I have heard a range of pardons” he said with a mix of chagrin and pleasure “The Captain is replacing me, captain for captain… Why would I do it? No one presents to the gallows voluntarily. It would be farcical.”
“Channel 9 would love it.”
“Buffoons.” I don’t know who said it, but it was clear we all agreed with the sentiment. Poor George.
“I’m in the same leaky boat” Hollywood [Ed. Shane W] began “The press, Lalor, Brettig, Conn, they all know The Captain and I get on like a house on fire. That homework stuff in India in 2013 really upset him. Anyway, I need to concentrate. I owe the team some runs…”
“At least forty…”
“Ha, ha. Look, it can’t be me. I have a small child.”
That didn’t really impress anyone.
Wicky returned and plonked two jugs on the table. At this stage beer didn’t help. It tasted like mouthwash. I glanced at the Prof. He was downing it as if there was no tomorrow to try and maintain his composure. There were no volunteers. No one wanted to say anything until Trapper made his only constructive contribution to the discussion.
“It doesn’t have to be one of us, does it?”
“Perhaps you are onto something.”
We cast longing glances to the newer players at the bar. Mr Darcy saw our salacious looks, bent his left arm and a clenched fist in our general direction and yelled back “No way. Don’t even think about it.” The six of them turned towards us and shook their heads.
“What about a puppet?”
“Like Oscar from Play School” Hollywood responded “Or, or Pepper Pig.” After that, the idea ran off the main line into a siding and smashed into a buffer.
“What about a guide dog? We could sit him in front of the camera for a minute or so, then take him away?”
It was a brilliant idea worthy of a million dollar fee from Leo Burnett, except that the press would take it the wrong way or several ways or no way.
“What about using sign language or just holding cards in front of the camera and saying nothing.”
“We can’t get away with it. It has to be authentic, and credible” George concluded “It has to be one of us. It can’t be Trapper. He is the stand-in test Captain, but you know he’s too young.”
Trapper replied in tune. “Yes, you know… Ah, I fidget, I always have. I can’t follow a script. I’m too young, you know, too young.” His voice trailed off. George slid a new beer towards him. He took a gulp and then another. He really thought it was beyond him.
It was really beyond any of us, even as a group.
But the logic of exculpation was tighter than a 44 gallon drum. It had led us this far. Two senior players remained. Puff introduced himself and talked about his career. It was clear he had no tact.
Tatts Johnson was the only one who hadn’t said anything at all. He looked green or white or yellow, not his normal ebullient self. He refused as a point of honour.
“But Tatts, you have those dreamy brown eyes that hide any hint of remorse or disgust. It really should be you.”
“Why me? Well, why? I feel like I’m about to be dudded.”
“Like Phillip Ruddock.”
“Except that no one has my back.”
We all nodded our heads.
George flipped a two-headed coin to settle it. He asked Puff to call first. He called tails.
Tatts said he would never forgive us. He fronted the press the next morning to say that The Captain was good to go and that it would be great to have him back.
“Well, he has been the captain for a number of years now…” Somehow he managed to weave in the other lines the marketing team had given him “…I love the captaincy that he brings” and “..George, he has been good too…”. Nice work, everything considered.
“Who else could have done it’, George asked later.
“No one” the Prof replied.
It was left to Coach2.0 to confirm The Captain is playing on Saturday.