The Prof was very coy at breakfast, saying only that he had organised a little tour for us today. With the weather warming up and a couple more training sessions scheduled, I was hoping we were heading somewhere air-conditioned.
After the morning net session, we had a quick shower and snuck away from the team. A Rolls Royce was parked at the back of the grandstand. The Prof held the door open for me and we slid in. The air-conditioning was on full bore.
“What’s this all about?” I asked, sliding around on the cool leather.
The Prof poured us a couple of PowerAids from the ice-bucket between the seats as the Roller surged forward under the control of a chauffeur I couldn’t see through the frosted privacy glass.
“Who’s from Essex?” The Prof asked.
“In the England team?”
“No, I mean someone important.”
“Jamie Oliver?” I ventured.
“So where are we going?”
“To where it all started, of course. His mum and dad’s pub.” The Prof was sounding like that should have been enough information for me. But it wasn’t.
“Why is that important?”
“Because the pub is called The Cricketers, and because we’ve had a tip off.”
“What’s the difference between that and an invitation?”
“Who’s paying,” he said.
“I guess that means we’ll be using our new Players’ Pension Fund No9 debit cards,” I said.
He just smiled.
An hour later we swung into the driveway of The Cricketers. My taste buds were all tingling, ready for a hearty pub lunch, but my hopes were dashed when three photographers jumped out from behind some bushes and started snapping at the Roller.
“Sir?” came the voice from the front.
“Best leave for now, Parker,” said The Prof, looking worried.
‘Parker’ floored it, spraying the paparazzi with a shower of gravel.
Just as we got to the front gate, a young chef jumped out from behind a tree – Parker just missed him before coming to a stop. The chef ran to our window, breathlessly stealing glances at the advancing paparazzi.
The window slid down.
“For youz, guvna,” he said, handing The Prof an envelope.
The Rolls squirmed as Parker hit the gas before we could ask any question.
In the envelop was a note written in the same steady hand on the familiar Yorkshire letterhead. Our first communication from Deep Third, our mole inside the England team, had finally arrived.
“Looks predictable enough,” I said.
“But look closely. What do you see?” The Prof asked, holding the paper up against the window.
“I don’t know.”
“I think there’s a coded message,” said The Prof. “A double bluff.”
“Sir, back to training?” asked Parker.
“Yes, but can you fit this thing into a Burger King drive-through?”
Parker hesitated. “Perhaps sir should leave the luncheon arrangements to me, sir.”
Fifteen minutes later we were picnicking in the shade of a willow on the banks of a slow moving stream. Sandwiches, scones, strawberries and not a quinoa salad in sight.
“Where did you get Parker from?” I asked quietly. “He seems quite….discrete.”
“He’s the best. I’ve taken the liberty of hiring him for the whole tour, I hope you don’t mind.”
“Not at all,” I said, popping another strawberry into my mouth.
“It’s going to be a long tour,” said The Prof.