The Mantle Pat
The Spiked Ball
eruption of the crowd into a deafening and united roar of applause was in fact
the final outcome of a dramatic few seesaw-seconds that began as the cleanly
hit ball left Ketchum's racquet and began its ascent up and over Higgins'
flat-footed frame. Few had believed the
Celt capable of getting there but when he did, with a slide and reach that
stretched the boundaries of physical art - as well as the tendons holding down
the retinas of many viewers, fewer still doubted he'd missed the point. Yet,
the prodigious cloud of claydust that had kicked up with what would eventually
by referred to as The Slide not only
enhanced the image of Ketchum's physical talent in the viewfinder of Van
Gothenburg's steelbodied Canon F2, it carried, over the net where it eventually
came to rest in the form of a thin red film on the laces and coarse canvas of
Hellmantle's North Stars. To a man as in tune with surroundings as Ketchum, as
well as to others in the crowd who took the sport seriously, the sudden gust of
wind that had,earlier in the point, dislodged a clip from Buffy
Cranford-Patelles hairbun as well as a sheaf of investigative report paper from
the pile tucked awkwardly under Poussin's arm, had returned.
was with this and other knowledge that the attendant crowd watched as the
flattened arc of the lob descended and eventually touched down so close to the
baseline that it paralyzed line judge Lucy Degroot; she stared ahead. The lack
of utterance signaled to many that the ball was in and a floodgate of cheering
opened. But just as quickly the gates were drawn shut and the cheering was
replaced with a collective gasp as Rusty Hugh leaned forward and asked in a superior
and questioning tone, judges? But in
the moment of indecision, before the hefty Czech-born, Dutch National line
judge could respond, Ketchum stole the show.
The Celt who had expertly converted his end of point flurry into a
relaxed version of his Rolling Stone cover pose, now followed through on a
thoughtful left-handed sideburn tug with a calm tossing out of the fingers of
that hand, a carefree tilt of his head to the right and thus the unmistakable
communication to all that he felt the ball to be out. And thus, the thunderous
standing applause that was unleashed upon Hugh's verdict was every bit as much
for Ketchum as it was for Higgins for it grew with every humble indication of
acknowledgement that the Brit gave in the moments after yet changed little for
Higgins who had fallen to the ground, seemingly lost in thought - ‘forgetting the fans' as it were. Higgins had the point. But Ketchum, again,
had their hearts.
Ketchum, now benchward and in full stride this really was it, what it all came down to:
winning the all-important mental battle through calm, focused and
mannered grace under pressure. And yet,
with each confident step the shear velocity of fan approval served to puncture
the legendary Celtic concentration to the point where finally he could no
longer ignore it. And so, in a sudden splash of service line sunshine he pulled
up to a stop, swung around and acknowledged the crowd humbly with his racquet.
The roar grew louder. An oversized grin engulfed his face. Van Gothenberg fumbled
for more film.
effect of the sudden explosion of applause stunned Hellmantle. The chaotic and
paranoid mental haze that had dominated him for the previous half-hour,
appeared to suddenly lift with the rising tide of standing fans and his own
curious efforts to stand up. What resulted was a look of hazy-eyed confusion,
of newborn vulnerability, made even more curious by an awkward burst of frantic
leg scratching, the object being a deep red rash that now approached his
ankles. Gradually, the leg scratching was augmented by jerking head movements
as an awakening Hellmantle tried desperately to understand, at the most basic
level, what was going on.
‘Jesus, Butch, how in God's
name does Higgins win the game but manage to look like he lost?' Chipper Sorensen, sports news anchor for Reno, Nevada's TV 14 had
asked the question of his older, heavy-set colleague and former Nevada number
2, Butch Grogan. Luck and... Grogan cut
short his throaty reply. He had wanted to say drugs but knew that would get him in hot water and he'd been in too
much of that lately. Well then,
continued Sorensen cutting in, he clearly
can't believe his luck! Despite
the early hour of 6:45 a.m, Chip was true to his adapted t.v name and bubbling
with high-pitched excitement about the match that the two had covered live
since 4:30. Sorensen continued, I mean, lets be fair here, Butch, Higgins
has skidded, stumbled and otherwise fumbled his way into a 6-6 tie in the
fifth. Does he have what it takes, to repeat what he's just done? Hard to say
came the lackadaisical reply. With that, Butch, reached for the now
cold cup of coffee he had poured at the outset of the last game and braced
himself before slugging it back in one gulp.
Not a fan of early mornings, and twenty years Chip's senior, Butch found
it hard to show much initiative at that hour, content instead to throw out
commentary consisting of one word answers, a few one-liners and the odd
said, even Butch had to admit that this had been, until now, one of the most
exciting matches in French Open History. Even more so given that Butch and Chip
rarely got to cover the French. Nevada had never been a French outpost or wine
drinking region. Yet, for some reason, overwhelming fan interest in the
previous few weeks had led the bubbly new Programming director, Trish
Farnsworth, to spring for the feed. To
encourage the sleepy desert town, she had also convinced station owner Garth
Button to offer his Colorado weekend retreat, replete with the services of his
Galaxy Jet, to the winner of the phone-in quiz. Though Butch had protested,
Farnsworth had her way, and the result was some very laboured body English on
the part of Butch who now reached over to answer the flashing red light on line
in Paris, as Higgins struggled to make sense of it all, Ketchum approached the
bench. The cheering had calmed down enough for Ketchum to catch a group of
Spanish women in the BNP Paribas box chanting in unison - Vamos Ketchum, Vamos! As he
looked up one of them, a brunette with deep brown eyes, leaned forward and
veritably sang out Cupa Por Favor! Cupa Taken
by her vivaciousness and dulcet tones and by his own deep desire to immerse
himself in Spain and Spanish culture, Ketchum went against his better instincts
and quickly affected the Rolling Stone pose in all its glory. He would have done anything to keep the
effort between himself and the girl but in the moment he himself had discovered
vulnerability and suddenly roars of Cupa!!!
And The Cup! followed by
applause punctuated the theatre resulting in an exasperated Rusty Hugh asking
for quiet, please. Unfortunately, his words were late and
moments later the pressure on the BNP Paribas box from women who had jumped
down to get a closer look at The Cup
was too great and the brown eyed girl found herself forced to jump over the
wall and onto the court. Having gone that far, she decided to go full hamburger
and seconds later Ketchum found himself being pinned to the bench by an eager
and sensuous Conquistadoress. It didn't
last long, but as the gendarmes escorted the woman back to her seat (Ketchum's
request) a full applause rained down and once again, Ketchum found himself
acknowledging the appreciation with a nod to a group of what looked like
schoolgirls high up in the bleachers on the opposite side.
confused by the sight of Layton Corner's being lead back into the stadium by
security, Higgins by now had managed to figure out some of what was going on:
by the seat of his lime-green shorts, it appeared he had broken serve to tie
the match at 6-6 in the fifth and final set. With that settled, he now realized
that he had not shown a level excitement appropriate to such a result.
Concerned also that Ketchum was once again stealing the show, this time care of
some Spanish girls, Higgins responded by turning back to the crowd and slugging
a tennis ball up and out of the arena.
Unfortunately, Higgins' mental reawakening did not coincide with a
physical reawakening and the result was a weakly hit ball that only just made
it out. With attention focused on
Ketchum,`not everyone, including Mr Hugh,
saw the action and thus no warnings or penalties were given.
arc of the mishit ball carried it right over the head of Toss Longspee and a
group of under-12 tennis players and students from Nice that were seated
against the railings in the upper reaches behind him. For the kids, the weekend
field trip to Paris and the match so far had been endlessly exciting. Luc and
Ivan, two of the larger kids, had discovered a bag of grass in the players
lockerroom during the autograph session the day before and had gone on to smoke
poorly rolled, midnight grandes on
the fire escape of their two-star hotel in the Bastille. That, in turn, had led
to an escape into the city that ended up with eight of them trapped in a seedy
sex club bargaining with the dope to be let free. The sex club manager had gruffly declined their offer. Then,
after a first frisk turned up very few francs, the manager had sent for three
of his ugliest bodyguards who had quickly surrounded the group. But before any
action was taken against the frightened, pale-faced teenagers, an Australian
twang pierced the air. Seconds later, teenage jaws hit the ground as none other
than Patrick Rafter himself entered the back office laughing and pleading
calmly for the manager to let the boys go.
Look, Cedric, I'll take care of it
Mate. You just relax and take care of your customers! Cedric agreed and as quickly as they arrived,
the bodyguards disappeared back up the stairs and into the club.
most of the kids gathered themselves together or wiped their eyes with bits of
clothing, two immediately recognized the Australian Tennis Ace and asked for
his autograph. While he signed shoes and hands and whatever else was presented
to him, the others craned their necks to see if they recognized anyone else
from the room where Rafter had emerged. Although later, they would claim to
have seen every ranked player on the circuit, the truth was it was too dark and
too discreet for any of them to pick out others in the group. Nevertheless,
after Rafter had ordered them a cab, told them to go easy on the dope and said
his goodbyes Luc was sure he heard Rafter say Killer, dope is NOT what you need right now. Of course, this name
didn't mean anything to a 12 year-old French kid, but for others, had they been
there, they would have surmised that such a situation at that hour, the night
before the finals, did not bode well for Hellmantle's final the following day. Regardless, In the end, the kids made it
home and after bribing the concierge with some of their find, made it into
their rooms without drawing attention to themselves.
late in the afternoon the next day, with the light beginning to fade, the wind
picking up, and the pre-match johnny's worn off on the smoking element of the
group, a couple of the kids figured now with the break in the match, the time
was right for a refuel. Claiming hunger and the need for the toilets, three of
them led by Luc got permission from their teacher, Miss Leduc and headed out
the exit and into the stadium grounds.
Leduc, was a pretty brunette with big teeth and tousled hair - everybit the
schoolteacher. She was also young.
Luckily for her, she had connections in her native Paris which had got
her the job in the prestigious Beaumont Sur Mer Prep School in Nice, the town
she had always dreamed of living in since spending her summers their as a
child. Those same connections also went straight to the executive of the French
Open Club where none other than Warwick Biggerstaff himself, an uncle of one
her brother's in law, had acquiesced to her request for Open tickets. And though she would have preferred a better
location, she realized that 25 was a large number of seats and so she had
accepted gracefully the night before when she had visited the recently widowed
Warwick at his Rue Foche apartment to pick up the tickets. He was a kind and
distinguished older man and though she didn't fully trust her assistant Alex to
take care of the kids for too long, she felt it would be rude not to stay for
at least one drink with Warwick. One drink had turned to three and finally, at
midnight, with Warwick being asked to turn down the music by neighbors from the
balcony below she picked her moment and left.
Now, in the heat of an epic and unconventional final she sat upright,
content to watch her hero Ketchum do his sexy thing while knowing at the same
time that such a field trip was scoring huge points with the school-board and
parents association back in Nice.
A Quebecois in
Ketchum had taken a timeout to enjoy the change in momentum, Hellmantle savored
the endorphin rush of smacking the ball out of the stadium without being seen
by the umpire. (After glancing at Rusty Hugh and seeing that he wasn't looking,
he whacked the ball quickly and then assumed his normal gait as if nothing had
happened). And since it had almost
been a miss-hit, a secret Tom Foolery returned to him at the thought that the
ball may have hit one of the noisy schoolchildren up in the north corner.
to curiosity, or perhaps due to his growing state of relaxation, Hellmantle
glanced up from behind his Yonex towel towards the kids but instead caught
sight of a strapping young teacher. Behind her to the right was a mischievous
looking boy holding up a sign that read:
MISS LEDUC LOVES HELLMANTLE !
BEAUMONT SUR MER PREP SCHOOL
the fact that Miss Leduc was actually in love with the
Canadian-turned-Englishman, it was Hellmantle whom she spoke of most often in
class simply because he was so adored by her students. Hellmantle made a mental
note of the name and would ask his most loyal friend Layton Corners to find
this teacher for him to meet.
back to the court while sitting in his chair he saw one camera that was not
pointed at the showboating Wimbledon Champ. The Pentax HLA Series using the
coveted HLA-B27 zoom lens held by the rising young tour photographer "Slick"
Sally Ripken, daughter of the ironman baseball player Cal Ripken. Slick Sally
zoomed in tighter just as Hellmantle picked up his tea and drank. The short,
choppy clicks followed the entire execution of the drinking action. Hellmantle
looked and squinted. Another short, choppy burst and the squint was diverted by
a woman's voice.
was a momentary silence in the French crowd when a verbal ejaculation erupted
from behind a raised glass of Bordeaux '92. Buffy Cranford-Patelle's hair
stirred recklessly in the wind and her hand cupped her mouth. "Allons y
‘Ellmantel! Vous show Johnny l'esprit de France n'est-ce pas?" The reference to
French pride, as all Frenchmen innately know, is always direct cause for
sincere address, so Hellmantle looked over to Buffy Cranford-Patelle and raised
his bottle of Scottish tea to her and said:
suis le France Mademoiselle. Nous parlons avec moi après le match, non?" A
natural blush appeared on Buffy's cheeks at the impact of Hellmantle's words.
The hundreds of fans who now looked at her were outside of her concern. He is a
true Frenchman, she thought, willing to show the greatness of France to a lady
of experience. The widow Cranford-Patelle, who had no man for herself, could
not help taking a deep gulp of the French grape in her hand as she
instinctively reached for her wind-born hair that had escaped its bun.
Hellmantle sat down from his chivalrous foray, he saw Slick Sally Ripken still
poised with her HLA-B27 zoom lens set on him. Finally, when the achievement of
his verbal exchange with the distinguished Merovingian lady of the coveted San Graal pedigree, who had asked him to
shine for the greatness of France, Hellmantle put his hand through his hair and
cocked a look of le couer de li at
Sally. He felt the pride of the Franks well up as he took out his moustache
comb from his back pocket and slid it through both wings of his moustache. The
sweat in his long ginger moustache hair held the flourish of his comb.
Click-click-click. The photo captured Hellmantle's moustache flayed out to the
sides like the Vikings and Crusaders before him rekindling the history of the
mustachioed French heroes of old. Sally Ripken's soon-to-be famous photo had
Ball By Any Other Name - French Norman tennis
sensation known on the ATP Tour as "Hellmantle," was
sneak a ball out of the stadium without the notice
umpire Rusty Hugh. But it wasn't the incognito
spiked ball that
the French crowd responded to, it was the stirring
pride through the unabashed character of their new
Norman hero Hellmantle.'
what Hellmantle did not know was that the ball he spiked made it over the top
of the billboard and landed on the shoulder of a man named Pascal Gufflet.
Without thinking, Monsieur Pascal Gufflet put his hand on his pistol and turned
towards the outside stadium wall, his finger touching the trigger. Seeing the
bright green tennis ball bounce on the old uneven pavement beside him, he
withdrew his A-11 super-charged pellet gun with silencer - enough for the job
he had in mind - to his shoulder holster and carried on his way to his friend
Daryl "Monty" Hellmontygue. He was too much of a sports enthusiast himself to
bear the shouts and moans of expert play and not be able to see it, so he
walked to the entrance of the Jacques Cartier Stadium patting the remote
control device in his tweed jacket breast pocket as he walked through the
inside the electrified stadium, he took out his ticket and saw that he was in
the right section, but to make himself look inconspicuous, Pascal Gufflet, a
French Canadian Quebecois, purchased two cold Heinekens and a small cake.
"France," he said to himself but under his breath. "Thank God there are still
civilized countries left in the world."
Pascal Gufflet, a full-time locksmith and part-time conspiracy theorist, walked
in his old Lacoste tennis shoes to his seat beside his friend Monty, he saw a
Japanese gentleman approach Monty. The Japanese man pointed at Monty's Glenn
Michibata insignia on his tracksuit top, and then smiled and nodded. Monty
offered him a seat, so Pascal Gufflet, not even breaking stride, took his beer and cake a few rows above them
which also happened to be a few rows down from the direct view of the Flying
Dutchman Toss Longespee. When Gufflet passed Monty, he could hear them speak as
old friends do.
Michibata," said Monty, unshaven and still smelling of Pacific salmon. "I
haven't seen you since you gave me this tracksuit at that opening celebration
for your coin laundry stores." They shook hands.
years ago my friend," said Glenn smiling and admiring the quality of the
textile bearing his name.
wear this all the time, even when there aren't tournaments on during the
weekend." For a moment, Glenn Michibata thought he sensed an urgent desperation
in the fisherman's mention of tennis. Was it the quick darting of the eyes? Was
it the jittery right foot? Or was it the stale stench of sweat that encompassed
quality," he replied, handing Monty a Carlsberg from his beer bucket.
shouldn't," he said. "I'm-"
You're not working are you?" asked Glenn Michibata. Monty shook his head. He
accepted the beer with shaky hands, twisted off the cap, drank deeply and
almost immediately felt a bolder voice creep into his windpipe.
down near Toss Longespee, who was still wearing his prescription sunglasses,
Pascal Gufflet noticed the French Open security chief Warwick Biggerstaff in
the booth beside the scoreboard watching Monty and Glenn Michibata through
binoculars. Pascal Gufflet slumped down into his seat in mild alarm and brought
the sugary cake to his mouth, taking a big bite.
Pascal Gufflet chewed his cake at a brisk pace, Warwick Biggerstaff turned his
binoculars to a small gentleman wearing a blue Yonex shirt and cap that said
"The Hellmantles." Layton Corners didn't know where Warwick Biggerstaff was but
he could talk to him on his wireless phone and earpiece that he had been given
by Monsieur Poussin and Carter Mason during his briefing in the stairwell.
Layton Corners still couldn't figure out why Carter Mason had started to laugh
when he met him in the stairwell with Monsieur Poussin halfway up from the
control center 50m below. Regardless, Carter Mason thought it more effective
for Layton Corners to resume his seat and scout Monty in the Glenn Michibata
tracksuit incognito. There was something slippery about Mr. Corners that Carter
Mason thought he could utilize to his advantage. So Layton Corners sat in the
stands with his knapsack at his feet and his earpiece partially hidden by his
newly purchased French scarf.
despite the fact that security was watching Monty, Pascal Gufflet felt no fear.
If Monty was compromised, he still had the detonator in the breast pocket of
his herringbone tweed. Only he knew where the second bomb was, the one he had
failed to mention to Monty. It was a deception born by a deep personal
vengeance from an event in his past that he could not forget. It was Warwick
Biggerstaff who had blackballed him from joining the elite Special Guard branch
of Les Gendarmes for a minor offence
involving Biggerstaff's daughter. He knew he was good enough for the job just
as he knew he had morally weak fibre. As far as he was concerned, what happened
with Stiffy's daughter was a separate issue, so justice needed to be served.
the sudden splash of sun, and the birds lending songs to the proceedings,
Pascal Gufflet, son of the well known professor Yves St. Jean Gufflet, teacher
of the philosopher Henri Bergson, felt a comforting wave of calm when
Hellmantle bounced his strings off the heel of his palm, stood up and walked to
the fore court to serve. The truth be told: he loved the sport of tennis.
as Hellmantle was getting to the baseline, a cluster of 12 year-old boys ran up
the stairs to the north corner laughing at something. They settled in the row
directly above Pascal Gufflet where one of them held a large Coke that wafted
all right over there Luc?" asked the teacher Miss Leduc. With a nod and a
squinty grin, Luc and his fellow schoolmates took out hot dogs from the bag at
their feet and began to eat between bouts of giggles. One of the students,
little Johnny Arbuckle, could not control his giggling, so he buried his head
in his hands and let his face stay red. Behind them, Toss Longespee had eye contact
with the man with two beers and cake who sat near the kids. Toss could tell he
was French but the bow tie and herringbone tweed jacket made it look like he
was trying to look English.
seeing Pascal Gufflet looking back towards him, turned his head and saw a man
with long legs and sunglasses on. Just then, as both players walked onto the
court, the crowd began to shout words of encouragement to Ketchum and
Hellmantle. It wasn't the beginning of a tiebreak, but the beginning of a match
where to be the victor you had to win by two games. The French fans, led by a
few particularly enthusiastic female supporters, urged Hellmantle to hold his
gave his towel to Guy, who in turn placed three balls on his racquet face.
Plucking one for his pocket and one for his serve, he chipped the ball back to
Guy and approached the line. But before reaching the line Hellmantle sized up
the Brit and saw what looked like clay stains on his shorts surrounding his
genitals. Hellmantle straightened his posture and squinted at the bearer of the
marred white shorts. "How hard can it be to beat someone who willingly grabs
his family jewels" he said to himself, and then looked at Guy for support.
English," said Guy, who gave Hellmantle a nod that he had inherited from his
fahter. For a moment Hellmantle felt a flood of solidarity with Guy and his
French Vicountess Buffy Cranford-Patelle and the soul of the French nation. He
had to stop this British invasion on French soil. It was his national duty.
please" said Rusty Hugh. "Six-six, fifth set, love all. Monsieur Higgins a servir." Rusty had pulled the umbrella
over him to protect himself from the beaming late afternoon light that shone
directly on Hellmantle bouncing the ball. Hellmantle's posture was never
slouched like the winner of 14 Grand Slam titles Pete Sampras. But despite not
having the Sampras Slouch, he did want to employ what he called the Sampras
Clutch - once ahead in a game he never let go. It was imperative that he took
the first point and employ the Sampras Clutch.
a deep hunger to win, he went for his first serve hard and wide but it caught
the top of the net and dropped in the service box.
Premium service." Only the sound of
whistling could be heard in Jacques Cartier Stadium, but for Hellmantle it was
another chance to strike the ball with the aim of the follow through to the
at the line he nodded at Guy for a second ball, but stored that in his other
pocket, and took out the other. Taking a slow, deep breath, Hellmantle slid
into his serving motion that was as effortless as the serve of Wayne Arthurs,
and just as effective. He picked Ketchum's backhand corner but the
six-foot-five Celt managed to get his racquet on it, albeit with one arm
lancing out horizontally in what appeared to be anguished support of his left
return of serve arrived on the Norman's forehand. Sensing that Ketchum was
still limping, instead of putting away the shallow return with a hard-struck
winner, Hellmantle hit a crisp topspin to Ketchum's forehand. At first, with so
much open court to hit it away, yet because it was hit softly, Ketchum
stuttered on the clay in indecision. When he pushed for the ball the topspin
bounced it forward causing the Brit to contact the ball at the top of his
strings. Ketchum's return landed deep, which prevented Hellmantle from
approaching the net. He stepped up to the ball and struck it like Juan Carlos
Ferrero - with such topspin that his racquet face almost smothered the ball.
Ketchum return was swift down the backhand line. Hellmantle bit into a classic
Rusetski backspin backhand but without the same body English. Ketchum then
stepped up to the ball and nailed it again down the line only to catch the
tape. The ball slowed by the net chord, landed mid-court so Hellmantle returned
it deep. Ketchum again went down the backhand line but Hellmantle anticipated
the ball. He stepped into the backhand volley like it was ice cream. The ball
landed in the open court with Ketchum nowhere to be found.
"Cinquante - zero."