I played poker last night with The Prof, both Marshes and Eve (Adam Voges). The Freak joined us a little later, but his heart wasn’t really in it. Sleep was a higher priority, something to do with a spicy banana.
At the table the Marshes were as swampy as ever, casting sideways glances at the Prof and I whenever the opportunity arose, hoping to detect any hint of selection for the Second Test. The Prof had warned them before the first hand to stop pestering him. He said he didn’t know any more than I did about selections; neither did he care. It would be better he suggested to consult me in my role as the ‘charlatan on tour’ for this kind of back lane gossip.
I don’t know anyone who has played out four drowning hands in succession without an apology from the dealer. The Prof never so much as acknowledged my plight – the bugger knew what he had done. Eve, who understands this game as well as anyone, soon realised what was going on, yet remained mute. He still thinks how well liked you are is a selection factor, like it is in England.
I ran out of match sticks and spare change shortly afterwards. There was nothing to wager except the watch Thea had given me for Christmas the year we met and dirty lint from deep within my pockets. The Marsh boys were reticent to accept a wager of such obvious sentimental value until the Prof matched my watch with a wad of crumpled paper from an old monopoly game. I cloaked my disgust in a reddening half smile backed by a volcanic temperature that threatened to blast the paint off the floral ceiling. When I saw the Prof crown the pile of worthless paper with two red hotels from the same game I let out a base oath as if he had smashed my back with a rower’s oar.
He looked at my throbbing temple and said “Your contribution is overwhelming for what you stand to gain. I’ve done my level best to even the stakes without upstaging you.” No one is more parsimonious than the Prof. Yet his grey eye twitched, full of twisted irony. “Value is in the eye if the beholder”, I replied unconvincingly. “The watch is a cheap Chinese imitation.”
My next hand was so full of the usual rubbish I folded immediately. The Prof however was in his element like a boar on the scent. He was planning some elaborate hoax. My dud hand was no accident. A more simple upstaging plan was required, so I dialled 000 for assistance. Sarah, Director of Marketing answered with her usual greeting “Hi stranger. How can I help?”
I wasn’t sure if I was on a crossed line. I willingly accepted the minimum charge of $399, a little more than standard roadside assistance but Sarah’s bedside manner makes all the difference. I told her my problem. A short time later she sent a text to the team:
“Second Test selections on the notice board at the Beach. Those who expect to play should have no concerns. Mind the fisherman. Don’t rush darlings! Ear hooks are all too common.”
The Marsh boys folded immediately saying they needed some air or to call their Dad. The game was abandoned. I recovered my watch and waited with the Prof for the commotion to subside. “Not a bad result”, I remarked. “It’s like a stampede. The real selections are released tomorrow.”
“A prelude to the Ashes”, the Prof added.
“Everyone wants in”
“It will be a turkey shoot”