Shootout 3

Shoot-out at Lowerthong.

Two middle-aged men, dressed in check shirts, ten gallon hats and rough leather trousers, stood facing each other, twenty two yards apart.  One was tall and bald, the other squat and silver haired.  Neither was smiling as right hands hovered over six guns.

‘I’m going first,’ said Phil.

‘No, you’re not, you’re the bad guy.’

‘Who said?  Anyway the bad guy goes first.’

‘You always get to go first, and you’re downwind.’  Bert pointed at his gun, ‘Do you know we haven’t got the right kit?  These aren’t Colt 45’s. Strictly speaking, we should have Colt 45’s.  Its shocking.  Yesterday, I was nearly fobbed off with an eight gallon hat.  The standard of gun fighting is dropping every year.’

Phil nodded, ‘Aye, I know.  I’ve kept up my times though.  Still got the quickest draw since Billy was a kid.  You remember Billy Iredale from the old days?  Fastest gun in the valley, ‘till I came along.’

‘Dick . . . Dick, are you playing today?’ shouted the captain from mid off, ‘or shall we get one of theirs to keep wicket?’

Dick shook his head and his recurring daydream faded, ‘Sorry skip, miles away.’  Two aging gunslingers, slugging it out on a B movie cowboy set, too old and too proud to back down.

Crouching ten feet behind the wicket, Dick turned his attention instead to Phil Cross, the opening bowler.  Even in his fifties, Phil used a long run.  The first ball zipped down the leg side for four before Dick could get a glove on it.

‘I’ll send you an appointment for the optician, Dick.’

‘Sorry, Phil.’

Bert Hammond bowled the second over off seven strides, several short of his prime.  Dick didn’t fare any better when the third ball kept low.

‘Have you got a bad back lad?’

‘Sorry, Bert.’

‘We don’t want extras to be their top score do we Dick?’

‘No Bert.’

Phil and Bert were proud men with respectable careers behind them in the local leagues.  Their breath was short and their muscles ached and they still ran in as if every ball could take a wicket.  When Bert was on, a wise umpire wore cotton wool in his left ear.  Phil’s manners were more muted, more a supplication to a higher being as the ball passed the outside edge yet again.

Fielders were bottom of the pile in Phil and Bert’s scheme of things, to be tolerated as long as they took catches and picked the ball up cleanly.  So it wasn’t long before the Hammond roar when Phil put down a skier off the third ball of Bert’s second over, ‘Whatever are you doing Cross?  You dozy slaphead, you should’ve swallowed that.’

Phil was unfazed, ‘I’ve caught more catches than you’ve bowled straight balls.’

Next over, Bert let one through his legs.

‘Bend your back you idle sod, Hammond,’ shouted Phil, ‘Spend less time admiring your Grecian 2000.’

Bert retrieved the ball from the boundary, ‘Stop pitching half volleys outside off stump then.’

Supposedly a friendly game of Sunday cricket, it had all the important ingredients:  a dry sunny day, a decent forecast, a picturesque cricket ground and an opposing side bristling with slow cowards.  The Wanderers were over from Barnston, cricket’s bottomless pit.  Their skipper had won the toss and elected to bat.  Lowerthong’s captain would’ve fielded first anyway as neither Phil nor Bert could raise a gallop just after tea.

Towards the end of his spell, Phil got a long hop to lift a touch.  The batsman dollied it to point off a top edge.  Bert looked heavenwards in disbelief, ‘Well I never, did you see that?  If it’d been any shorter it’d’ve hit ‘is big toe.’

Bert then bowled their star man.  Phil was stood at short third man, hands on hips, ‘He was blind. Someone had to get him.’

There are occasions when, in a what can otherwise be a lonely game, the players meet for a chat.  The taking of a wicket is one of these moments and Phil and Bert thrived on them. The rest of the side were more than happy to collaborate in the hope that a spot of mid-wicket bonding might mollify Phil and Bert’s outrage.  Otherwise, since the batsmen had their own problems, like seeing the ball, the only people to share the intimacy of Phil and Bert’s exchanges were Dick and the umpires.  As the umpires had heard it all before, it was left to Dick to listen.

Phil’s first ball of his sixth over was pulled toward the square leg boundary, sending Bert on a seventy yard dash.  Having returned the ball, Bert doubled over, coughing and wheezing like Doc Holiday.  Phil was the first to comment, ‘Get the twelfth man on, skip, he’s knackered.’

Bert slowly walked back to first slip and propped his arms on his knees.  ‘I’m getting too old for this Dick.  Palpitations.’

Minutes later, Phil stopped suddenly as he ran in to complete the over and clutched his lumbar region.  Bert was quick to console him, ‘Come in off your shorter run, in fact just come in, your time is up.’

Dick tried to be more diplomatic, ‘OK, Phil?’

‘No Dick, I’m lying on the floor for a rest,’ replied Phil.

At the tea interval, surrounded by sandwiches, buns and mugs of sweet hot grey fluid, Phil improved enough to open the scorebook at the previous season’s game, ‘I got 5 for 32 against these last year.  We buried ‘em.  I took my two thousandth wicket that day.’

Tom Fuller’s eyes widened.  A recent immigrant from Wolverhampton, and an accent to match, he had yet to pick upmidlands, his Bert explained, ‘He’s always kept his stats, even when we were kids.  Bit of a nerd.  You did bowl well though, I remember it now.  I missed out.  It was the pitch, suited your leg cutter.  Too soft on top for me, and the ball was out of shape.  In my day the balls were always hard and true.  Its shocking.  Standards are dropping everywhere you look . . . ’

The skipper clutched Dick’s shoulder, ‘Dick, get your pads on.  Nobody’s volunteered to open, so you’re coming in with me.

‘Yes, skip.’

‘Phil six, Bert come in at five.’

‘Righto, skip,’ said Phil, ‘stroll round the boundary, Bert?  Don’t get out too soon Dick.’

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Family commitments prevented Dick from playing the week after.  Why Amy’s sister had to arrange a BBQ on a Sunday afternoon was a mystery to him.  There were compensations though – he caught a re-run of “High Noon” while everyone was getting ready.  For once he forgave the hour his daughter spent in the bathroom, and the delays that followed Amy’s insistence on doing fifteen jobs simultaneously – another of life’s mysteries.  Gary Cooper, aging and frail, but such courage.

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Strange, thought Dick as he arrived at the ground the following Sunday.  Usually players arrived late or at least the last minute, and changed alone.  Yet here they all were, sat together in the dressing room.  The mood was as grey and flaky as a sightscreen in need of a new coat of whitewash.

‘What’s up lads?  Ambrose and Walsh playing for them then?’

‘We haven’t a full team, Dick,’ said Tom, Lowerthong’s latest recruit and the local chemist, ‘you won’t’ve heard.  Phil and Bert aren’t so good.’

The skipper broke up the party, ’Right lads, we’re fielding.  Dick, would you care to put the gloves on?  Nobody else wants to.’

Dick took the field with Reg, a portly former officer and gentleman.

‘What’s the score then, Reg?’

‘Rain stopped play at Headingley . . .  oh, you mean Bert and Phil.  Not sure.  Last game, Bert broke down with chest pain, running round the boundary.  Said he had a bit of angina and not to worry.  I ran him straight home, but he wouldn’t call out the emergency doctor, stubborn I suppose.  I phoned him in the week and he was still waiting to see his own doctor.’

‘What about Phil?’

‘His back’s gone.  Still in bed apparently, can’t move,’ Reg paused, about to stroll to midwicket.  He half turned, ‘we’ve the Melbridge Cup in a couple of weeks.’

‘So we have,’ said Dick, adopting the position behind the stumps.

Forty overs and two hundred runs later, a despondent understrength Lowerthong Sunday eleven queued for tea in the small pavilion.  ‘What’s the Melbridge Cup?’ asked Tom.

‘Its the annual fixture between Melthwaite and Townbridge,’ said Reg, ‘we’re hosting it this year as part of our hundredth anniversary celebrations.’  He carried on.  It wasn’t polite to interrupt when he was in full flow, ‘ a long-standing ritual . . .  going back hundreds of years . . . part of the late summer fertility festival . . .  chance for local boys to prove themselves  . . .  rite of passage . . .  being selected was highest honour . . . ‘

Dick and the regulars had listened to this many times.

‘Didn’t Phil and Bert play for them?’ asked Tom.

‘Aye, and they’ll be dead set on playing this year, seeing as its here and the Cain Circus is in town.’

‘Sorry, the Cain Circus?’

‘You have to have been down a coalmine for the last five years not to have heard of Christopher Cain,’ said Reg.

Tom sat back and folded his arms, ‘Sure, famous defence barrister and crusader for “Drug Pubs”, but what has it got to do with us?’

Reg gave the tea table a short account of Chris Cain’s rise from the relative obscurity to a big London success, still in touch with his roots, particularly Melthwaite cricket which he was part of in his youth, ‘he was a protégé of Bert’s.’

‘I can’t see what it has to do with us,’ insisted Tom.

Reg sighed and shrugged his shoulders, ‘I invited him and he said yes.  Committee OK’d it.’

Everyone went quiet and looked at Reg studying the table cloth.  “Drug Pubs” were supposedly safe places for the public to take cocaine and heroin, but like any radical proposal, it split communities in two.  Those for the idea said that Reg had done well.  It would be great for the centenary to have a celebrity so locally well connected.  Of those that were against, some were simply anti drugs of any sort.  Others were not keen on Cain himself, a bit of a go-getter, using drugs as a way up the political ladder.

Reg sat up and buttoned up his shirt, ‘It’ll be low key, no advertising the fact.  Maybe one reporter from the local paper.  Chris’s actually in Sheffield that day, so he’ll drop in after.’

Tom scraped his chair, picked up his plate and started walking across to the bar, ‘Well, I think its appalling.  Drugs should be banned and no one should encourage their use.  We’ll be seen as condoning Cain’s campaign.  I mean, the low life and the robbery?’  Tom shook his head and left the pavilion.

The start to Lowerthong’s innings did little to raise morale.  Dick, Reg and the skipper were all out for single figures.  The middle order began to resist and grind out some sort of a score.

Dick hadn’t said much since Reg’s news.  Difficult with his only son a victim of the very activity that Cain was trying legalise.  As he started his customary walk around the boundary, Reg joined him.  Dick knew the answers were not as simple as people like Tom made out.  Young Richard had had a normal childhood, a good school and a promising life ahead of him.  University was looming when the heroin overdose happened, an accident, and a tragedy.  Over five years had passed

and Dick still had both sides of the argument going round in his head, ‘no drugs, no deaths,’  . . . ‘drugs are here to stay, get them safe.’ They sounded like electioneering slogans as they bounced between his ears.

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On the afternoon of Cup day, Dick’d tried to get Amy and her sister organised.  What do we want to go to cricket for?  Its a special match, Dick had explained.  The rest of the team will be there, with their families.  Bar’ll be open.

Lowerthong is the prettiest ground in the West Riding cricket league: a horizon of Pennine hills, shady riverside trees, drystone walls and a large bank of green comfortable grass.  When they arrived Melthwaite were batting, 4 down for 150 with 15 overs to go before tea.  Dick, Amy and her sister sat on the bank.

‘Anyone fancy a burger?’  Dick wandered over to the BBQ where he’d spotted Reg nursing a glass half full of ale.

‘How’s it going?’

‘Nicely.  Phil’s had a spell off a shortened run.  Only went for two an over.

No wickets though.’

‘Bit risky with his back.’

‘Both sides have players in the town team over at York, so they’re a bit short.  Phil said he was fine.  Bert’s on for Melthwaite as well.  Coming in at nine.’ Dick said he’d see Reg later and went back to Amy and her sister.

‘Who’s winning?’

‘Melthwaite have got two hundred and thirty, but Townbridge have to bat

yet.’

‘You mean there’s more.  They’ve just come off.  Haven’t they finished?’

‘Its the tea interval, that’s all.’

Dick sighed.  She never has understood cricket.  Where did I go wrong?  He began to hum “Do not forsake me, oh my darling, on this our wedding day”.  Strange sitting here, not being able to hear what the players are saying.  He turned his eyes toward Lowerthong church tower, standing proud of the foliage behind the pavilion.  The clock showed five past five as Townbridge started their innings.

The family next to them turned on the radio.

‘Here is the news and weather.’

‘Mm, poor forecast.  Dick we haven’t brought anything in case it rains.’

‘I’m off to the loo, where is it Dick?’

Dick pointed Amy’s sister in the general direction of the pavilion.

‘Dick, Fuller is being released today.’

‘As if I didn’t know.’

‘We’ve talked and talked.  Its time to do something.’

‘It might be best if we moved on.’

‘I’m stalled of moving every five minutes.’

Amy’s sister returned and sat down.

‘Sorry, did I interrupt something?’

‘No.  Dick’s still struggling with the Fuller thing.’

‘Mm . . .  you got us all in hot water when you gave your evidence.’

‘Oh thanks for reminding me.’

‘Here is the six o’clock news.’  Dick checked the scoreboard; 101 for 4.

Mm  . . .  they’re cracking on a bit.

‘Well, I mean, you tried to do the good thing.  But he only got five years.’

They were right, thought Dick.  You drift along, accept what life gives you.  Then something happens that surprises you.  You do what you think is right and then it comes back and bites you on the bum.  Am I up to this?  Gary Cooper’s gaunt ill face appeared in front of him.  Marshal Kane had an hour and ten minutes until the shoot-out.  Dick shivered; brilliant.  What a film.  Gary never backed down from anything – “The story of a man who was too proud to run.”

‘News and sport now at six thirty.’  Dick shook his head and returned to the present.  How they doing now.  153 for 5.  They might just get them.  Bert hasn’t

had a bowl yet.

‘Its quarter to seven, Dick.  Sky’s looking grim, we’re off.  Try not to be too long.’

Many others had had the same idea and were leaving or had left, and for a brief moment, Dick was alone.  A man in a dark suit stood on Lowerthong church tower and trained a pair of binoculars across the cricket pitch.  He spotted the solitary seated figure, dwarfed by the emptiness of the deserted banked field, and spoke into a lapel microphone.

Tree branches began to billow and rustle as the wind got up. Clouds were gathering, still high over Lowerthong, but darker and lower on the horizon.  The Melthwaite and Townbridge stalwarts that were left, no longer in shirt sleeves, gathered in front of the pavilion,.  The coals on the bare BBQ glowed and grey ash flew untidily.  Dick joined Reg, who was talking with the skipper, on the edge of the small crowd.

‘Oh, hi skip, didn’t see you there.  Close game.’

‘Hello, Dick.  Yes it is.’

Townbridge needed thirty off the last four overs with three batsmen left.  On the other side Melthwaite were running out of bowlers.

‘Bert’ll have come on, Reg.’

‘Aye, Dick.  Come to think of it, Phil might have to bat.  What a finish.’

Six-fifty on the scoreboard clock.  Another over, another wicket, six nearer the total.

Eight runs off the next over, unlucky Bert.

Six-fifty five.  A wicket in the thirty-ninth but another eight runs.

Seven to win, the last man in, Phil, facing the final over from Bert.  The first drops of rain splashed onto the flags in front of the anxious pavilion.

Bert paused at the start of his run and adjusted his left sock.  Seven strides and the ball shaved Phil’s pads.  Groans of encouragement from Townbridge.  The next was a yorker that Phil blocked.  More groans.  The keeper picked up and threw the ball back to Bert.  He turned and walked back to his mark as Lowerthong church bells began their seven o’clock ritual.  Phil waited.  Seven strides, right arm aloft, a small grunt of effort and the ball’d gone.  Phil stepped outside off stump and watched the ball carefully, first pitching half way and then rising toward his bat, raised and ready.  As the clock fell silent, he pulled mightily to leg and the ball smacked into the keeper’s gloves.

Melthwaite shouted for joy. Townbridge cringed.  And then, deathly quiet apart from the pitter patter of steadily falling rain.  Bert lay face down across the crease at the bowler’s end and Phil, on his knees, keeled over and came to rest on his arched back, pale and agonised.

They’ve killed each other, thought Dick.

Then it was all activity, and sirens and ambulances.  Lightening arced across the low black clouds, followed almost immediately by a crash of thunder.  The wind whipped into the trees and the rain poured.

Further thunderclaps and the skipper twisted and fell, a neat black hole in his forehead, blood seeping onto the pavilion flagstones, a knife seemingly discarded in his right hand.  Reg nodded to two others and the skipper’s body quickly left the scene.  Dick noticed the man in a dark suit on Lowerthong church tower was packing.

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Dick lost touch with Sunday cricket after that and it was two years before he revisited the shoot-out scene.  He wandered over to Gabrielle, faithful scorer, and peeped at the scorebook over her shoulder.

‘Fancy that, Cross and Hammond are playing.’

‘Dick!  Hello.  Long time.  Take a good look.’

Well is that Bert?  Red-faced, huffing and puffing up to the crease, and is that Phil, scratching around, trying to bat?  Hang on they can’t be, they’re only lads.  The penny dropped.

‘Grandsons.’

‘Correct.  Now look again.’

Dick couldn’t see anything.  Then the tallish umpire behind the stumps took off his cap and scratched his bald head.  Dick quickly checked the man standing at square leg – silver hair and rather squat.

He waited with Gabrielle for the tea interval.

‘Its a thing dreams are made of, Bert.’

‘Aye.  The lad’s got promise.  They don’t have the same commitment we had though.  Moping on street corners, drinking in pubs.  Standards are not what they were.  Still that’s how it is these days, Dick.  I’ve had to adjust, can’t stay in the past you know.  How’ve you been?  We’ve missed your steady opening knocks.  That was a bad business, when was it?  Must be two years ago now.  Who’d’ve

thought it of Sam Fuller, the skipper of all people.’

‘Aye.  I was more surprised that Reg was in special branch.  Did you get any more wickets, Phil?’

‘Nay lad,’ his hairless face cracked into two, ‘but I dropped my five hundredth catch.’

3006

The Sunday team

Just how much do you know about your fellow players.  Sunday teams emerge from a clutch of the interested once they are over the hill, once they can no longer make the second team.  Perhaps where cricket hasn’t been played before, perhaps partly as a nursery for younger players.  Lowerthong were a bit of all that, but mostly they came from a generation of good school players who wanted to carry on playing together.  People who would see each other regularly anyway.  Who were comfortable with sharing, children at the same time, producing a cycle of the wealthy, comfortably arranged as an accident of birth.

Tom and Dick were not part of this cycle.  Reg and the skipper were, and so was Cain – definately ‘one of us’.

A loose alliance of the idle.

Tom Fuller

The nasal drawl came from the midlands, a town like Dudley.  It irritated or amused.  He was unskilled in country matters.  He wondered why the local farmers spent so much time mowing grass.  Still the pubs reminded him of the concrete jungle to which he was more used.  He said his parents were still there, and a brother.  We all imagined interminable symmetrical terraces, much like Leeds or Sheffield or any other city.  A snotty kid growing up with the rest of them, designer trainers and jeans, mobile phone clamped to one ear.

Reg describes two sorts of people.  Those that wear long sleeves and those that wear short sleeves.  Tom arrived with a bulging dressing at his elbow, he was a long sleeved man.  ‘Can’t do much today, skip.  Trapped my elbow in the door.  He had the local chemist, moved north with his wife and family twelve months ago, no one was sure why, but he could play cricket well enough.  Even with his left elbow a problem he was able to pick up and throw, bowl at half pace.  He’d have to see about batting.

Dick

Dick had the northern qualifications, and a residents’ twelve year pass.  He’d been accepted, though he may not have felt acceptable.  He’d lead a life of variety in many places, but increasingly middle age nagged a vague disquiet that he could have been something else.  His list included several cities in the north, then Wales and America, which had impressed rural values.  It suited a temperament which tended to isolation, made worse by the professional course he had chosen.  He wasn’t at ease with the aggressive natures that many professionals needed.  Then Richard junior, a talent.  The pain was dull, reinforcing a sense of unreality.  Mid fifties, time was running out, time to make a stand and stop drifting.

His northerness had not disappeared.  It wasn’t an accent, but the tone was spiky, the sentences clipped and the smiles limited.  He made Lowerthong because he could, not because he fitted.  Amy sent him out to stop him being with himself, watching old movies or reading historical novels.  He often said very little, disquieting for many, as if he had the answer.  He was burdened by lots of possible answers, things done and seen.  Beneath the surface was an ambitious father who had underachieved and wasn’t allowing the next generation to.  The quietness was not judging others but himself.

Reg

Ex-officer and a gentleman.  Southerner who didn’t quite fit the local well-to-do mould, moved with job, never played cricket, good hand-to-eye, joined things to help out his sons.  Yet seemed well connected.  Moustache upright bearing, chatterbox,

The Tale

Its about something from the past coming back to bite you on the bum a la High Noon.  Kane and The Fuller gang.  Citizens not taking sides, wife running out on him until the final reel.

Wife fed up with playing cricket.

Turn it upside down – Kane comes back after many years.

Movie producer/politician – high profile anyway, with an entourage.

big crowds possibly – come for the centenary match, or to see Bert and Phil.  rain eventually sends them all away

Local boy made good, problem with Fuller in the past, politics, police don’t know enough to carry a grudge  Kane important enough to have security and maybe intelligence that implicates a local attempt at something.

Dick at college with his brother.

I was at college with his brother.  Chris is Oxbridge, met him a couple of times’   Kane is not the Kane he knew, what’s going on?

Tom Fuller, the local dentist – Fullers.  Is he a character with an imagined past, not what he seems, a surprise – a drug addict turned state’s evidence.  Trial in the offing.  Trying to forget a past which Cain’s arrival produces the risk of resurfacing somehow, exposure.  To what extent will Tom try and cover up.  How important are secrets to him?  Is their a connection with Cain in the past.

Do we need to know, or will it come out in the last chapter?  Is Cain simply a plot device, not really in the story.  The turbulence that will make the characters react.

It has to be something of interest to the reader about character, Bert Phil the skipper Tom or Dick Reg

Would or wouldn’t people come to support the centenary, essentially a local showdown, Cain coming will help or hinder?  Tension for Reg

Is it a drugs story?  advocate of drug pubs or something?

Cain is advocate of loosening legislation on drugs, a la prohibition and alcohol

background is law, a lawyer, brother of someone in college with Dick, so met in the past.  ?sees is as a career opportunity part of political progress

Tom is chemist and anti-drug freedom, why not sure.  Certainly make Tom unreliable, saying one thing and doing another.

Dick? is father of a drug overdose, very aware of how young people get drugs torn between banning and safe use.  O

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