The Mantle Pat
Hellmantle wanted to
win but he didn't want to win the match due to any sense of foul play of poor
sportsmanship, so when he stood at the baseline and waited for the tall Brit's
serve, he became concerned. The serving gait was fragile, the limbs unsteady
and the face pale. Hellmantle waited for the toss that never came. The long,
wobbly legs buckled just for a moment before Fletch's hand went up in the air
and asked for a timeout. In a very sporting, very Norman gesture, the large goatee'd man from Normandy nodded in
understanding and accepted the Englishman's need for a breather. First to his
aid was the young ballgirl named Delacroix...
For Sixty-one year-old Captain Raoul Grosjean of France's DGSE, being
asked to head up the 2001 French Open Security team was an honour he had waited
for patiently since moving to the capital from his native Lyon five years
prior. And while he could point to a
military lineage dating back to Napoleonic Egypt as well as a string of recent
personal policing coups (the February foiling of a Greenpeace anti-nuclear
initiative near Marseilles, the March rescue of Jacques Chirac's Cat) to now
serve his country at its pre-eminent sporting and media event was a
career-defining moment. And the fact that his son was a participant, that was
the icing on the gateau.
Though only two weeks in duration, the tournament had required over six
months of preparation. Routine daily security exercises, thousands of hours of
testing and tweaking the new Renault Facial Imaging MF3000, and millions of
gigabytes of international profiling and research files had been amassed and
the result was a highly-trained,
first-rate team, able to handle any and every eventuality. And apart from the challenges of President
Clinton's awkward nocturnal wanderings, the presence of five times the expected
number of international celebrities at Ketchum's new film premiere in the
Balzac Room at Versailles the weekend before, Hellmantle's constant bedwetting
and bladder issues which had raised the ire of Paris' most respected hotelier, Vincent Paradis, and the apprehension of
six Algerian nationalists with forged physical trainer licenses, Grosjean Sr's
team had risen to the task flawlessly.
So flawlessly, in fact, that on the eve of the Sunday Finals, Grosjean
Sr., sitting comfortably on his Rue Foche balcony, the dying light of day
dancing off his Grand Marnier glass and into a full bowl of jelly bellies, had
allowed his mind a rare flight of fancy: yes, he smiled as he tugged on his own
thick sideburns, France's newly created Homeland Security Chief position could,
within months, be mine.
Yet no one could have predicted how quickly it would all change, how
fast it would turn into the circus it had now so clearly become. To be sure, Grosjean's son had warned his
father about Higgins' temperamental behaviour and of the appearance of
hand-written bomb threats from someone claiming to be ‘The One True
Hellmantle.' But, in the Chief's
opinion, threats were common and thus extra security on Higgins had, in his
mind, more than sufficed. Sure, there
had been the rotten tomatoes and the taunting of fans waving the ubiquitous
Depends diapers at the bladder-challenged man claiming Merovingian descent. And
yes, Higgins' coach was drunk or absent (or frequently both - and, most
thought, addicted to the ‘tea') for most of the tournament. Yet Grosjeans
team's ability to contain all of that as well as Sunday morning's medical
emergency that confirmed the spread of a highly contagious new strain of
athletes foot which had quickly brought a festering, leprous-look to Higgins'
knees and thighs (leading to concern and complaints from players and officials
alike), left the chief, just hours before match time, convinced the tournament
was in the bag.
Carter Manson, the U.S Open's arrogant chief of security, had advised
Grosjean the year before at the Sports Security Conference in Las Vegas, that
controlling Higgins was no big deal, that it was the troublemaking Rios and
Federer and the pop idol Ketchum (‘Jesus, with the friend's this guy has you
got to think HE may be the second coming!') that Grosjean needed to focus on.
Now, with dark clouds approaching from the West, and his Homeland Security
aspirations surely shattered, Grosjean cursed Manson's name, popped another Jelly
Belly to calm his nerves, and stared back across at the weeping, handcuffed,
shell of a man in front of him.
The dark, damp, heavily guarded room that the Chief now found himself
in, sat 50 metres below centre court, far removed from the pandemonium above
and silent save for the odd radio hiss from the Motorola transmitters that hung
from the hips of the 12 security men that lined the cell's wall. The centrepiece of the unhappy room was a
cheap, linoleum table on which a cornucopia of pills and drug paraphernalia
spilled out of an imitation black leather bag, whose baggage tag read, in
childish script, ‘Layton Corners.'
‘Remove zee hancoughs from zis
patetik man' Grosjean barked while simultaneously nodding to Celine, his Rubenesque
assistant, to run the video one more time.
As the looped, close-up image of Layton Corner's ‘dropping' pills and
alcohol at Higgins' feet ran for the 10th time and as Corner's sobs
became louder, Grosjean impatiently regarded his mobile which had started to
ring. As two security guards worked to remove the handcuffs from Layton
Corner's cold, limp wrists, the Chief answered his phone with all the calm he
could muster. ‘Oui Sebastien.'
On the court above, Ketchum lay comfortably on the white Tennis Magazine
towel that Raluca, his long-time physical trainer and part of last night's
tri-yst, had laid out on the red clay in front of the Brit's bench. With Raluca expertly working the inside of
his thigh and Isabelle massaging his ankles, Ketchum contained a contented
smile at the smoothness with which his plan was being executed. With the
glaring sun of earlier now muted by an advancing wall of grey cloud, the
Lambchopped Brit peaked out over Isabelle's shoulder where he was afforded a
clear view of the growing anxiousness and paranoia of his opponent.
With no coach in sight, his bathroom visits used up, Corner's detained,
and Townshend now out cold and receiving emergency medical attention on the
cement entranceway to Loge 7, courtesy of a Lennox Lewis uppercut (following the
heavyweight champion's realization of the ageing rock stars complicity in
Higgins' assault on is wife), Higgins was running out of options. More than this, Ketchum knew all too well
that another five minutes of stopped play, would play havoc with the chemical
cocktail now racing through his opponents veins. Inaction was the worst
possible recommendation for someone as hopped up as Higgins was now, and this
was no better evidenced than by Higgins' pacing, incoherent mumblings and
occasional racquet slamming as he got up, sat down, paced and generally
appeared thoroughly agitated. All of
this while Ketchum lay mere metres away receiving the royal treatment from two
of the finer looking women in the stadium. And so, as the crowds continued to
waive their Depends tauntingly at Higgins, and shouts of Eh, Eelmantle, who'se yahr pusher now? and Nice Mullet!!! echoed sarcastically out over the growing hush.
Ketchum calmly lay on his back, and counted the minutes.
Meantime, Ketchum's Groin Grab was now the subject of a number of
discussions in the media and amongst the spectators. For many of the younger
fans, it was an exact replication of the pose that had landed him on the front
page of Rolling Stone Magazine two
months earlier, courtesy of none other than Erwin Van Goethenburg himself.
As it happened, Ketchum's superband, ‘Grass Hit Park' (a reference to
his Wimbledon legacy, his love of the bud as well as his summer home in the
national park he bestowed upon his former country) had been the mystery act at Malibu
Buns, a tiny club on the California coast, part of a huge American beer company
promotion. When the tension in the smoky, hip little den had reached breaking
point, the lights blew up on stage to reveal Ketchum nonchalantly grabbing his
groin before breaking into the title track off Clovis Cohones, the groups chart-topping new album. The
uncontrolled screams of pleasure and chaos that had ensued were soon brought
under control. Yet, somehow, Van Gothenberg's picture captured both the
screaming adulation as well as Ketchum's indifferent ‘stage cool' prompting Rolling Stone to bump Kylie Minogue off
the cover, instate the Brit idol in her place and pump a cool 500 grand into
van Goethenburg's Cyprus account.
And van Goethenburg loved it. Though a silent partner in many of
Ketchum's ventures and a millionaire many times over, Erwin's real love was
rock music - straight away, hard-driving, guitar and vocal-led rhythms that
locked audiences in, connecting them to a deeper part of their beings. Shallow,
pop acts like Milli Vanilli, BackStreet Boys and Hellmantle's Hooligans, though
they sold less than 5% of what ‘Grass Hit Park' sold, still raised Van
Goethenburg's ire, ruining, he felt, music for generations to come. So, while he would obey Hadrian Jute's
requests to snap pictures of Hellmantle at the French Open (for reasons
unknown), that didn't keep him from quietly despising the Mullet-haired
Any way you sliced it, thanks to van Goethenburg's camera skills and the
Ketchum team's information system, Ketchum's present situation could only be
described as a coup. While the Groin Grab had endeared him to his younger fans
even more, he had also managed to convince Rusty Hugh and most of the press
that he had indeed suffered some kind of a strain and would therefore require
an 8 minute break. Rusty Hugh had agreed immediately which had the effect of
quieting the crowd who then turned their attention towards the restless and
seemingly deranged Higgins who had now pushed over his own umbrella and
appeared to be weeping into his stained Yon towel, the ‘x' now faded from the
sweat and tears that had been poured into it.
Yet, the drama that was playing out on centre court was mere childsplay
compared to what was now transpiring 50 metres below. Daryll Hellmontygue (accent on ‘Monty'), an ex-fisherman turned
IT consultant from the east coast of Vancouver island, glanced once more into
the room where Corners sat shaking under a floodlight, and returned to the
boiler room down the hall. The stormy
arrival of Grosjean's team had startled him, but his physical trainer outfit
with ‘Glenn Michibata' emblazoned on the back had not raised any eyebrows and
they had passed him by.
Besides, Hellmontygue, was a man on a mission. After registering ‘Hellmantle' as his real name six years prior,
he had gone on to create the ‘Hellmantle Hustle,' a video game that had been
five years in development and a hairs breath away from a 10 million dollar deal
with Disney before the Michael Eisner had balked and the deal died. Disney had
cited the tennis player Higgins' adoption of the name ‘Hellmantle' (a move
rumoured to have helped him to climb out of the anonymity that he'd fallen
into), as killing all equity in the name, but Disney's assertion of adoption
was incorrect. Countless letters from Daryll to Higgins' website and fan mail
address requesting a meeting, an out-of-court settlement or some kind of
compensation had been totally ignored, leaving the Canadian angry and bent on
revenge. Blowing up the French Open was his solution, and so with Islamic
fundamentalist financing and support, he'd spent the past six months preparing
for this moment. 12 security police and a crying man were not going to stop him
now. May the real Hellmantle please stand
up he whispered in his best talk-show voice as he returned to fiddling with
the wires inside the Wilson tennis bag which lay open at his feet.
Nastase Knows. Raluca's soft
voice broke Ketchum's concentration. He quickly looked at his watch, nodded his
understanding and sat up. As if on cue, Rusty Hugh's voice broke out over the
court at the same time, announcing ‘time.' Ketchum stood up jumped up and down a few
times and then grabbed a fresh racquet. As he pulled the plastic cover off he
recognized the microscopic, flashing light on the dot over the ‘i' in
Wilson. This would be his new receiver
for information and Ana K. would be the bearer of news. Ketchum's technique of banging the strings
while holding the racquet up to his ears afforded him a chance to hear
Nastase's voice pumping out false information to Higgins. As he walked back
onto the court to the applause of what seemed like everyone, he noticed fumble
and drop an object, pick it up pretend to shake his ear then look around
confused. He may have the ring, thought Ketchum, but he has no idea how to use
it. So hand to mouth.
With Higgins massively distracted, the tall Brit lay in with a heavily
topspinned serve that kicked out high to the backhand. Higgins, expecting
another down-the-line blast, leaped to reach the ball and popped it up shallow
to Ketchum's forehand. With ease the Brit moved in and hit a deep forehand that
landed near Higgins' back foot which propelled his body quickly to the far
corner. Higgins' attempt to draw up was not fast enough, resulting in him
hitting his own back foot, dead on the Achilles heel. As he fell back the
racquet teetered up on its front just long enough for Higgins to apparently
impale his backside. What made the commentators grimace audibly was the
extremely awkward bounce that Higgins' body affected before rolling off and
skidding to a stop.
'Cinze - quarante,' said Rusty
Hugh as Higgins lay motionless on the backcourt. As it became apparent that
there was no team to take care of the injured Merovingian, Hugh stepped down
off his podium and began deliberating with officials.
The Aspirin Packet
"Oooohhh! Did you see
that?" asked Remy. Yvgeni Kafelnikov's blonde cousin Cindy Kafel looked up at
the modest TV in the corner of Brad's Bar.
"Why is he on dah
clay?" she replied. Remy took note of Cindy Kafel's use of the word ‘clay."
"He hit a bump behind
the baseline - you could see it."
Remy threw his hand up toward the television as if in pain at the sight of his
twin brother sprawled on the court and covered in sun-warmed clay. There was a
rusty hue on his wet legs. Just as Kafel took a swig of her refreshed Kokanee,
Remy reached into his coat pocket and pulled out three blue pills and a large
red pill. He felt them in his fingers and felt a tremendous urge to pop not one
but all three. He felt inclined to take the big red pill, which he did. He
washed the pill down with his Becks and then uttered the name ‘Hellmontygue,"
accenting the ‘Monty." Monty was a fisherman who became bitterly offended when
Remy had given a brief exposition regarding the Hellmantle lineage going all
the way back to the leader of the First Crusade. A large man with a sea-worthy
swagger, Daryll Wolfenbuttal Hellmontygue actually was a descendent of Godfrei de Boullion except of a different line,
which found themselves living in Brittany. How Monty's family ended up on the
westernmost island on the Pacific plains of Manifest Destiny was anyone's
"Fool" he said to the
floor. Remy knew Hellmontygue didn't have his papers, at least not legitimate
papers like he and his brother had. So Monty was out to cause trouble and to
create a stain on his noble name, at least that's what Hellmantle, Layton
Corners and Remy had concluded.
Remy looked at Kafel,
grinned and followed her eyes up to the tennis match where he let out an
involuntary groan. The sound of the jukebox began to echo louder in his ears as
he focused on his brother on the television above the bar. The screen faded out
to a Glenn Michibata Island Coin Laundry commercial, the king of coin laundry
outlets on Vancouver Island. Without being aware of it, Remy wiped his pant leg
with his open hand as if brushing away something that had been spilt on him.
Back in Paris, Toss
Longespee, otherwise known to Hellmantle as ‘the Flying Dutchman,' usually
followed his blue-chip strategy of hanging high in the north corner of the
stadium with binoculars watching the play below. He was comfortable there with
the wine drinkers and Gouda eaters with cracker crumbs falling down the front
of their French fleece. He enjoyed the catcalls and the inappropriate laughter
as well as the French-accented grunts of formidable!
and magnificent! from under an
over-sized tri-color flag. But that was why Toss Longespee was there: to soak
in the full hamburger of the French
Open, the French fans, the tennis and the culture. He was there because it was
the best place to be in the world during late June every summer. Sure, he knew
he had free time because of the money he had been given by his late Uncle Jack
- the war veteran who was captured during Dieppe and survived three years as an
officer POW in Germany. When he had listened to his uncle's will being read to
him over the phone by his uncle's lawyer Francis Crinkelbine, he knew at that
moment that he would never use the money for anything other than the pursuit of
good, or as Plato had said: eudamonia.
Leaning back on his
seat under the hot afternoon sun, Toss Longespee removed his sunglasses and
squinted down at Hellmantle smoothing over a bump behind the baseline with his
foot. He noticed that Hellmantle toweled off everywhere except his legs. Toss
Longespee had followed Hellmantle for over a year now and had come to know his
vast array of eccentricities. In fact, Toss Longespee would go on record as
saying that Hellmantle had the highest Grand Slam-convention-breaking average
than any other player alive or dead. For Toss it was as if with every match
Hellmantle expanded his boundaries of behaviour. And Toss could name and
footnote almost all ‘Hellmantle firsts' on tour, but that was the type of man
Toss Longespee was: as sharp as the cutting board would allow.
There wasn't much the
man from the Zeider Zee didn't see when sitting incognito with his prescription
Ray Bans on. He saw Pete Townshend take a hit from Lennox Lewis and he saw John
McEnroe throw a bottle of ice tea to his buddy Hellmantle from his box beside a
cluster of businessmen in a corporate VIP section. He saw a brief exchange of
words between the six-fingered ballgirl and Hellmantle, and noted Ketchum's
growing limp of his left foot. And he saw Glenn Michibata, the old Canadian
Champion sitting on the west side of the stadium. He also saw the woman with a
crew cut and big arms lifting up a sign that had a picture of a diaper with the
words "HELLMANTLE'S HELPERS." That was the one thing that threatened his inner
calm of equilibrium there in the north corner, and threatened to disrupt his
inner rapture of witnessing a modern battle between England and France. For
Toss Longespee, the sign represented a stain of untruth in an arena overwhelmed
by the truth of play, the flow of true coordination and the true posture of the
earnest stroke. As hard as Toss could try to ignore the woman with the sign, he
couldn't. His thoughts flipped back to that night that he ended up at Vincent Paradis in Paris but which
started at the Hong Kong Salem Open. Of course the peeing-in-the-bed rumor all
stemmed from the Tom Foolery in Hong Kong two seasons ago when Hellmantle's
hunger to win had overwhelmed thirty-five of the top fifty rankings in a
It was Marcello Rios
who had invited Toss out for a drink after he had asked where to go out in Hong
Kong. The question caught his ear while he stood in front of the main draw. Not
one to feel any difference between the well known and the less well known, Toss
Longespee took two steps over and answered with his best judgment. When he had
finished telling Marcello Rios the places he recommended, the Chilean former
number-one said: "Why don't you come along with us - if you're not busy?"
Hellmantle, Kafelnikov and Goran Ivaniesevic came out with wet hair and their
racquets bags over their shoulders. With a nod he was in.
demanded something civilized, something colonial,
so since Victoria Park Tennis Centre was so close to Central, they went to the
Ritz Carlton right beside the Caledonia Pub (in case Kafelnikov felt the urge
to hear Caledonian bagpipes). The four of them arrived flushed from heat, found
a corner in the lounge and sat in the polished colonial armchairs. They relaxed
with single-malt Scotch and flavoured cigars before their departure later that
evening for the Paris Open. Rios was very quick to keep ordering more rounds
but soon Kafelnikov switched to vodka "uncorrupted by mix." The clear liquid
made Yvgeni more animated and speech more slurred and was soon demonstrating
the "wimpy" nature of Goran's backhand volley. When he illustrated Goran's
backhand volley he accidentally knocked the teapot off the burner. Soon there
were pockets of people staring at the four drunken expats, one of whom kept
flailing his arm (and especially his wrist) under the massive paintings that
lined the walls. Goran's doppelganger was making a lot of noise with
Hellmantle's alter ego. Some in the Ritz pointed to Goran in recognition.
Eventually, after a
brief pubbing stint in Long Kwai Fong, the four of them taxied to Wan Chai
where they dipped in to the Horse & Groom for a quick "colonial" pint and
then to the famous Old China Hand where the hard drinkers from around the world
end up late at night. There were some who recognized them, but it was four
girls from Columbia that set the evening off course when they jumped on a very
enthusiastic Marcello Rios to shower kisses all over him. Time flashed by but
with a spontaneous invitation to all four, two girls decided to join them for
the flight to Paris. It was Hellmantle's Columbian companion who ended up at Vincent Paradis. Still to this day
Hellmantle has made it clear to Toss that he's sure it was her who had had the
nocturnal incident of the bladder, not him. But as Hellmantle has said, it
wasn't the first time he had been framed.
And now sitting there
watching Hellmantle struggle for the thrill of victory, Toss Longespee was
brought back to why he was there. He came to watch the world's best racquet's
players use artistry and grace in a modern-day joust. His patience was bought
for those few moments when co-ordination flowed,
when different strands came together in an artful execution. This
witnessing of grace under pressure was what gave Toss Longespee his sense of
belonging in this upside-down world. It was knowing that man was capable of
such displays of divine grace that gave him comfort in his kind. The Rolling
Stone antics of a few celebrities never fascinated him; for Toss Longespee it
was always about art. Even during his studies of the defense arts taught in the
academy for his special training, he looked first for the art. Once the art was
seen, for Toss Longespee the rest was all gravy. Gravy.
It wasn't the
clay-covered legs of Hellmantle that bothered Longespee; it was the sudden
movements of security guards now buzzing around the far entrance of the
players' locker rooms. One of the guards had disappeared and the other was
checking near the foot of the stands. The guard looked rushed and hurried, and
some fans had started to peer down at him from the seats above.
"Ah" he said aloud,
making the person beside him look over. Toss picked up his binoculars and
looked at the security guard by the locker rooms where he saw an
anxious-looking Carter Manson walking by and speaking into a miniature phone.
Toss pursed his lips looking at the US Open Chief of Security and said
"curious. Very curious..."
As Hellmantle lay on
the backcourt in a deafening silence of relief he hadn't hurt himself enough
worthy to seek medical assistance, he caught a cool, refreshing breeze that
snaked along the top of the hot clay. For a moment the warmth and the safety of
finding himself in the fetal position made him think of his twin brother on
Vancouver Island. Hellmantle elected not to wipe the clay from his legs since
it covered his fungal knees, and then chose to go directly to the bump behind
the baseline that had been the cause of such an ill-timed and awkward fall.
After making sure the
French crowd knew that it had been an irregularity
that had almost caused him to snap his Achilles Tendon (the true "Heel" of all
men), he glanced over to the Brit and was momentarily taken back by the robust
rosy hue that had taken Ketchum's flushed cheeks above his lambchops. Had one
of his nuts ruptured? The stinging red colour of his face contrasted against
the thick, black curls of Ketchum's sideburns, together with his scratched and
raw chin from doing his ‘pose,' made it appear as if he was sunburned. Had his vas deferens been struck? Perhaps some
blood in the urine? Hellmantle shook his head - some may say he shook it
violently - and tried to regain his composure. His thoughts were streaming in
too quickly. He had to compose
"Forget the fans..." he
said to himself under his breath. He looked up to his faithful servant Layton
Corners but couldn't see him. He glanced at Johnny Mac and gave him a
much-needed nod, but he couldn't see Pete. Wait,
he said to himself again, forget the
"I gave him some of
these," said Layton Corners, pointing at the small packet of anti-inflamatories
that he pulled out of his small, hidden shoulder pocket in his jacket. There
was only one pill left. "Gave ‘im three," he mumbled. Biting his lip, Layton
Corners decided to let his one piece of quick thinking speak for itself. "You
can't prove otherwise" he said under his breath. Corners held the packet in
front of the surveillance camera, and then looked at Captain Raoul Grosjean.
The sight of what appeared to be part of a jelly belly on the Captain's lip
immediately took away his motivation to carry on with his sobbing act. His cry
slipped into soft, mocking laughter that was hidden from all except himself.
It wasn't Monsieur
Poussin's way to speak up when he was in another man's jurisdiction, so he had
been content to let Captain Raoul Grosjean of the French DGSE swing his dick
around as he saw fit, that is until the little man Corners in front of him,
with the sharp surname, revealed the evidence that would protect him and
Hellmantle from persecution. Being part of the 2001 French Open Security Team
was too important for Poussin's freelancing career, especially since he had
teamed up with van Goethenburg to help guard at the Masters Series tournaments
plus the four Grand Slams. With his few other gigs, Monsieur Poussin had a
decent life cut out for himself. It was a life in which he could concentrate
more on his music - an inheritance of genes from his father's side. Having
grown up in Rennes-le-Chateau in the Languedoc wine region where his
grandfather attended the church of the renegade priest Berenger Sauniere, he
had heard the rumors about the rolls of parchment found establishing the claim
once again of the Royal House of David line marrying into the Visigothic line
of kings that resulted in the Merovingian dynasty of kings in France spanning
six centuries up to Charlemagne.
But despite the
hoopla over the Royal line emanating from the offspring of Jesus, which
needless to say flew in the face of Roman Catholic dogma, Poussin was more
intrigued with the Visigoths who had ruled the area ever since they sacked Rome
in 410AD. As a boy, he had daydreamed in his math class about the Visigoths and
in time knew that he wanted to carry on the Visigothic thread of living
history. His Visigoth within as he
liked to call it, would take him to the limestone halls of overseas French
Legion officer's clubs and into the deeply guarded web of Interpol.
Captain Grosjean was
still staring in silence at the packet of anti-inflamatories on the table in
front of him.
"Tres bien Captain Grosjean," Poussin said, rubbing his Visigoth
chin and motioning not to the hunched figure of Layton Corners but to the
entire mise-en-scene. "You have done
a job par excellence. I shall include
it in my report to the minister." The words "Homeland Security Chief" appeared to cross Monsieur Poussin's lips,
and then, with a nod, Poussin and Grosjean stood up into military postures and
shook hands. In front of the Renault Facial Imaging MF3000, Poussin caught a
waft of Grand Marnier.
Monsieur Poussin and
Layton Corners left the bunker that was etched in the bowels of the courts. The
so-called "drug paraphernalia" that had been given back to him, consisted of
Rizzla rolling papers, a small well-used pipe, a pill case containing a
half-dozen red muscle relaxants, a lighter and cigarettes. There was nothing
illegal in these ingredients; they only pointed
towards illegal activity. And after they all had watched the replay on the
camera seeing clearly that it was Johnny McEnroe who had engineered the
"Scottish tea," his innocence was no longer in doubt. Feeling a severe
lightness in his step at the immediate prospect of getting off Scott-free,
Layton Corners followed Monsieur Poussin up the stairs. It was a moment until
he wondered why they weren't using the elevator. There was a vibrating sound
coming from Poussin's hip. He picked up his phone.
"Do you have him?" a
voice asked from the other end.
"What did I tell you
Carter" he said in reply as he climbed the stairs. "I'm a God-damned Visigoth.
Of course I ‘ave ‘im!" It was as if the Visigoth-called-Poussin had caught the
US Security Chief's arrogance.
"Wait," said Layton
Corners, stopping. "What's this all about?" Poussin couldn't help but grin
inwardly at this most loyal of all friends to the new leader of Norman tennis.
Poussin sighed loudly in the stairwell.
"We are investigating
a possible bomb threat and we need your help Monsieur Corners." Instead of
showing fear or apprehension, the face in front of Monsieur Poussin embodied
the glow of a child at play. Something in Poussin responded to that. He
"Do you recall that
man who left the room who was wearing a Glen
Mishibata trainer outfit and was carrying a Wilson racquet bag? When I saw
him I knew he fit the profile."
"So what are we going
to do?" asked Layton Corners, recalling that the figure looked familiar.
"Rendezvous with the team five floors up, equippe, and then we find out what's in that bag of ‘is."
sure if it was the chemical cocktail or the pills but as he composed himself
with his Yonex towel - that Guy had brought to him - he felt a great calm come
over him. His muscles were relaxed and his limbs felt agile and his eyes were
as sharp as a hawk's. Hellmantle wanted that Cup and he wanted it for the
greatness of Normandy and Merovingian France.
He looked to his
coach Terry Kilpatrick, known on the tour as ‘Killer,' who had finally returned
to his seat on the opposite side of the chair umpire Rusty Hugh. Jelena Dokic
sat beside him as she often did as one of Hellmantle's most fervent supporters.
Wearing his best prescription sunglasses and holding a red plastic cup in his
hand, Killer looked across at Hellmantle and uttered the word "rally" as he
brought his cup to his lips. He nodded and looked across to his opponent.
Ketchum, the player
that was on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine for his pop hit "Eeuuh! What's
that Smell?" looked squarely back at him and then stepped up to the line. ‘OK'
thought Hellmantle, ‘you wanna rally, you'll get your rally. Let's just hope
your crotch isn't swelling.' He could hear a high-pitched murmur coming from
the Iron Maiden ring in his front pocket but ignored it. Hellmantle assumed the
receive-of-service position and waited for another of his flagrant topspin
serves to the wide court...'I hope he tries it' he said to himself...'Remember his
Ketchum tossed the
ball so high that when the ball came down he was forced to smack it as hard as
he could. The ball barely cleared the net and skipped in the deep service box
at Hellmantle's chest. Handcuffed for an instant with his forehand grip,
Hellmantle whipped his racquet face to his solar plexus and stuck out a leg as
if he was an ice hockey goalie making a toe save. Somehow Hellmantle connected
cleanly and caught the ball flat. It darted back to the Brit's backhand but he
took it on his forehand and nailed it down the line. Without losing a beat
Hellmantle ran it down in his back backhand court and hit a solid cross-court
backhand wide to Ketchum's forehand. Getting a hop on the bounce the Wimbledon
Champ smacked it down the line but without the gusto of his previous stroke.
This gave Hellmantle the extra piece of time to catch the falling ball low on
his forehand. The ball was struck cleanly and again hit cross-court to
Ketchum's backhand. Jarred by the power Hellmantle generated from his forehand
hit on the run, Ketchum appeared to have misjudged the pace of the slow-topspin
return and hit a weak backhand into the open court.
Hellmantle chose to
drag his left toe on his slow stroke to the floating target, snapping his wrist
upon impact on the lower part of the racquet face. The ball carried just enough
and just wide enough to Fletch's backhand that his approach was unchallenged.
Ketchum, with Hellmantle in the corner of his eye, slapped the ball cleanly so
that they could both hear the fine cling of
the strings of a well-hit ball. Following the ball from point of impact,
Hellmantle lunged firmly with planted feet and stepped through the stroke
earnest to the core. The ball slowed from the backspin but the lanky legs of
the Celt chased down the volley and tore into it with a swing of grace. In that
moment Hellmantle heard a voice in the crowd from the north corner that wasn't
a grunt but was what sounded like a muted celebration of good tennis. But the
sound vanished when he whipped around to his backhand side and cut off the ball
with a drop volley. Ketchum's hand went up for a bizarre moment and then he
sprinted to the net, eyes focused fiercely on the falling ball. Taking
advantage of the loose, untouched clay by the net, Ketchum took a chance of a
heavy slide and a scoop stroke to save the ball from a second bounce. As luck
would have it, the Celt got to the ball and flipped it over Hellmantle's head.
The strike was a soft
lob but a deep one, and Hellmantle for a moment thought of a between-the-legs
return but instead elected to come around with a mighty big whack at it with a
powerful and high topspin over the net. With Ketchum's reach so high he took
only one step back and smashed it right at Hellmantle. The ball was traveling
so fast that he had absolutely no time to move his racquet but the ball struck
his racquet near the neck and coughed over the net. Startled, Fletch swung his
Wilson racquet face carelessly at the ball also mis-hitting it so that the ball
bumped off the tape close to the net. Hellmantle, in a feat of what looked to
be the impossible, decided to fling himself head first to the ball and with his
racquet squarely out he snagged the ball just enough for it to heave over the
chord. When the tall man from the British Isles saw the ball drop over he
hesitated, and then threw his racquet at the ball catching the fuzz on the
strings that nudged the ball over Hellmantle's head and just outside of the
baseline. Hellmantle thought the ball was going to be in from the sound and the
trajectory of the ball, but the wind had carried it.
"Game Higgins, six
servir six," came the voice of Rusty Hugh.
crowd erupted off their seats in amazement and awe.