Charlie spark villain.., p.26
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       Charlie Spark - Villain Extraordinaire, p.26

           J M S Macfarlane

  Chapter 66


  Bob King bounced across mid field to Gresham and Charlie Spark. "Lads, ah scent blood. We've got 'em on the run, there's noo doot aboot it. What'd I tell ye aboot the wee shaver here. He's broad in the scaggle but he'll give 'em some brittle, won't ye son ? Oh, we are goin' tae tear them tae pieces."

  Gresham was less enthusiastic. "I only got to bowl one stingy ball. What sort of a team are they to declare, after one ball ? I've had enough of this game – I'm going home, see yers later."

  The others pleaded : "No, no...You can't do that...Look, we're going to have lunch and you can have whatever you want as long as you keep playing. And – can you bat as well as you can bowl ?"

  " 'Course I can....But I want to bat first and I want to start with a decent partner – someone who can run – not like that old buffer who was here a while ago – where's he gone, anyway ?"

  "Oh, him ?" said Charlie Spark, "he'll be back, don't you worry about that."

  And indeed, a quarter of a mile away, the ‘old buffer’ had kept his distance at a side road overlooking the green after slipping past Snaggs and watching the game through binoculars. At the sight of Loathbery being clean bowled by a kid, Sir Harry gave a hurrah at his deliverance.

  Across the road, an old woman and her grand-daughter stared at him.

  "I'm going to ring the council on Monday…” said the old woman. “They’re letting far too many of them out on their own – just look at him."

  Chapter 67

  Gresham Is First Bat

  Meanwhile, in the public bar of the Cricketers Arms, Bob King was arranging a pub lunch for their star player.

  "I can see you're a man who likes his grub, so we dinnae want ye fallin’ doon on the job." They piled his plate with steak and kidney pie, cutlets, roast potatoes and veg with a swig of gravy.

  The new team captain made short work of his plate and told them they shouldn’t be drinking any beer. "How can you drink it ? That stuff's horrible." he said.

  "Aye, ah knoo," said Bob King as he drained his third pint in one gulp then gave a tremor-like belch.

  Across at the marquee brought from the Manor House, a crowd of thirty were squashed inside. The smoked chicken, salad and German wine had already been served. To all assembled, the game was a walkover, evident from Sir Harry's flight, the insurmountable score and the absurdity of a child playing in a game for grown-ups.

  Antoinette Loathbery at her husband’s side was in usual form : “Such abominable people, one really can't express how revolting they are."

  Helmut Schwager asked Chief Obobo with puzzled expression : "And the game is in zis manner usually not played – is that correct ?"

  The Chief who by that time had seen off the better part of a barrel, vainly tried to decipher it all but couldn't articulate what he wanted to say or anything else.

  Outside, the warm, heady atmosphere lingered beyond the village green : the mid-afternoon sun cast a haze of heat across the fields of corn awaiting harvest. In the distance, church bells pealed for newly weds ; a few crows wealed high above an orchard ; some ducks sat in the circle of millpond water left by the drought ; Griffey dozed beneath a tree and Rooney and Rourke lay like lizards, soaking up the sun in the beer garden at the back of the pub.

  The Loathbery side wanted to inflict a decisive victory. Soon, they began filing back onto the field with Piers Loathbery pointing out various positions, telling them not to move whatever happened even if there was an earthquake and the ground opened up to swallow them whole.

  "Laddy – this is yoor big moment," cried Bob King. "There's five thoosand poond o' mine ridin’ on this game. And I'll have tae pawn ma bagpipes if ah lose. So dinnae drop us in it, will ye son ?"

  Gresham could only stare at the Scotsman, wondering if he was serious.

  Charlie Spark was to bat at number two. Gresham had his own pads with him and with these in place, strode onto the field with Charlie Spark, encouraged by some weak applause which was a measure of the crowd's loyalties.

  "Right then ?" Spark asked when they arrived at the crease.

  "I'll be looking to make a quick twenty five in the first few overs – are you up to it, mate ?" asked Gresham.

  "Am I up to it ? Gawd struth....What d'yer mean ? ‘Course I'm up to it."

  "Only run when I nod or say 'yes'," advised Gresham and they took their places at opposite ends of the pitch. The first ball of the over was to Charlie Spark who immediately scored a single.

  Lord Loathbery stood further down the pitch and across from the umpire, chatting with the bowler, a merchant banker who played for a club in Hampshire. After a brief sizing-up of the wicket, the bowler strode off to the opposite end to commence his run-up. Loathbery's instructions were to dispatch the youngster with a slow ball which should gently do the trick.

  The bowler moved when he saw that Gresham, all four and a half feet of him, was ready to bat and tapping the wicket in time for the upswing. A leisurely run-up was taken with a long, unhurried delivery bouncing low before the off stump.

  ‘Thwack’ was heard as all eyes watched the ball sail in a curve over the pub roof and into the car park. The umpire signalled a boundary six. The Londoners instantly roared approval and a faint figure, a quarter of a mile away, also cheered several times (until a van with some men in white coats turned up).

  A frown from Lord Loathbery transformed the bowling to more adult fashion. The next delivery was a medium pace yorker which went so far over Gresham's head and so quickly past the keeper that the London side made four runs.

  From this point onward, the Manor Housers knew they had a fight on their hands as the fours and sixes mounted like a tidal wave from afar. Twenty two singles were taken, most of them by Gresham but Spark deflected a few leg glance shots and some down the gully.

  At the end of the eighth over at about three o'clock, the score stood at none for fifty four chasing the Manor House total of eight for one hundred and seven. Time was called by Lord Loathbery and both sides mused on the situation over some sticky navel oranges.

  Simon the Cad tried to speak through the bandages taped over his nose.

  "This is sintly atalling, sintly atalling, why is it we can't get this wretchet chilt out ? Something has got to be dung."

  "Yah," said Antoinette Loathbery. "Isn't there one of you man enough to do it or will I have to get on the pitch and do it myself ?"

  "Don't be absurd, my dear," said her father. "The fact is, we're having to contend with a prodigy to the game who will one day play for England. We must be shrewd and calculating if we are to win. At this rate, they shall have the game for themselves in another hour….No, we must use a different strategy.." and saying this he paced up and down the field, stroking his chin, deep in thought until he was heard to cry "Yes...Ha," and went into conference with Simon the Cad and the usual sycophants. When they’d settled on what to do, Loathbery asked if any of them could lend him five hundred pounds to buy the team a round of drinks at the end of the game but by a remarkable co-incidence, all of them had left their spare cash in their other trousers.

  Chapter 68

  Sir Harry Goes In To Bat

  On the other side of the field, Bob King was deliriously ecstatic. "Ah'm going to collect from friend Snaggs, boys – ah'm on tae a real winner, aye, so ah am and it's all thanks tae the bruiser here."

  "You're doing (wheeze) well – but the game is (wheeze) far from ours at this stage, (wheeze) anyway," came a familiar voice, huffing and puffing from having run a long distance.

  “What did I say ?” said Charlie Spark. “I told you he’d be back.”

  “Sir Harry. Where did you come from ? Just when we need you too. We thought you were at Waterloo Station by now," were the expressions of surprise as they all crowded around him.

  "How could I desert my team in its moment of triumph ? Thank you for the vote of confidence and just when the Manor House lot are scheming the lad's downfall. This is what we've got to

  And all of the villains gathered together, having to bend down to the height of their star batsman to thrash out their plan of attack.

  A short while later, Cadwaller strolled across to them and indicated in sign language (and a demonic look at Spark) that time’s winged chariot had hurried near.

  "That infernal fellow is simply vile," observed Sir Harry.

  At the wicket again, Spark noticed various changes to the fielding : six of the Manor Housers were now much closer to the areas around the wicket and would stifle any sweep or hook shots. The new bowler was Lord Loathbery himself.

  At the sight of the new arrangement, Sir Harry laughed derisively and said, "This will be entertaining." From the doorway of the public bar, he shouted : "Remember, fellows, we want scorers, not prima donnas."

  Most cricket commentators viewing the game from their broadcasting box, (in between wedges of Dundee cake or chocolate sponge cake and cups of Assam tea), would have agreed that Lord Loathbery was a useful bowler – so useful in fact, as to clean bowl Charlie Spark with an inswing of the ball on the second delivery.

  Those who knew the peer from the old days said that he’d often bowled that way during the war when they’d played on the airstrip in Mandalay where the runway curved off to the right. This trick of deflecting the ball into the wicket had successfully hoodwinked Spark and the score stood at fifty nine for one.

  Clifton Earls was the new batsman and was eager to belt a few shots around the field, just as he'd done when he’d played for the Boggston Open Prison eleven. Smashing bouncers was one of his favourite past times, not only on the cricket pitch but also off the field in bars and nightclubs and had brought him more than one season ticket to the Home Office's health-farms.

  Lord Loathbery’s bowling style was to lollop in a short run-up, arch his back in a leap in the air, then release the ball. This broke the batsman’s concentration and made it difficult to guess where the ball would bounce, if it bounced at all.

  "Look at the old goat prance about," chortled Sir Harry to himself.

  Several balls were purposefully pitched high by the wily peer and Earls was daft enough to hook them all into the air until the theatre producer moved to deep cover and caught him out with relative ease.

  Similar stories can be told of the stumping of Pat Rourke, the catch off Tony Valenti's bat by the wicket keeper, the clean bowl demolition of Taffey's middle and off stumps and the superlative leg before wicket of Bob King. The score stood at seventy seven for six with the villains’ fortunes reversed.

  Out of the corner of his eye, Spark happened to look at the veranda on the upper floor of the pub where some of the toffs’ girlfriends were sunning themselves. They were all directly in line with the batsman's vision and were an obvious distraction. There were also a group of hecklers shouting like braying asses from the edge of the green during play.

  "This is intolerable," said Sir Harry despairingly. "Something has to be done about those jackanapes." But as it was his turn to bat, he quickly strapped on his pads, grabbed his Cowley Cricketers cap (which was almost threadbare with age) and stamped his way onto the field. A look that said he was mad with anger, was all he could give Lord Loathbery and before play recommenced, Gresham signalled to him to exchange a few words.

  "You sure you're fit enough for this, mister ? We've got a few runs to make, haven't we ?"

  "What do you mean ? Listen, lad – the chaps are going to give you a big drink…er…a present of a thousand pounds – just for you, if we win. So do your best."

  "I always wanted a big black and white sheepdog – will you buy me one of those if we win ?"

  "Son, you can have a fleet of them."

  "Right, just you watch us."

  Chapter 69

  The Score Is Narrowed

  If one hasn’t the good fortune to be at Lords, a relaxing day can be spent listening to the cricket match commentary in a semi-reclining position, single malt whisky, gin and tonic or lemonade at one's side, remote control and the World Service tuned to long wave, footstool, newspaper, sandwiches or tea with fruitcake or alternatively a small ice-box containing nothing but bottled ale or something cool and refreshing. All of this produces a welcome soporific effect, especially if the batsman has been in all day and has insisted on taking safe shots with blocking and defensive strokes, scoring six by close of play.

  On the village green, neither batsman had time for safe shots.

  With the thought of rescuing one or more prisoners of Battersea Dogs Home, Gresham smashed the bowling into the ground and for the duration of their stand, he and Sir Harry didn’t waste a shot.

  The old fellow was in his element again, reliving the days of his youth and the sixes cracked over Cowley Oval. Time had passed and now his girth hung over the crease and bounced up and down as he ran which was rather different from the old days or at least not as bad as the last time he played for an open prison team.

  In the meantime, the Manor Housers could see that they were in for a pasting and decided to use any ploy which would buy them time.

  The banker who played for Sussex County launched himself at the wicket, hurling the ball as fast as his arms and legs could go. Everyone knew his bowling was dross and each delivery was whacked away, occasionally through the windows of nearby terraced houses or over the pub to smash car windscreens and dent bonnets. The fifth such delivery was hit directly back at him and caught him like a bulls eye straight to the groin. After he was carried off the field and ceased yelping in agony like a wounded animal, play resumed.

  In desperation, the Manor Housers tried everything they could think of. However, the unlikely combination of Gresham and Sir Harry stuck fast like a pot of cold porridge at breakfast in Barlinnie Gaol.

  At last, the home side wheeled on the musician who rated himself a spin bowler. As he threw the ball, he continued running halfway down the wicket. These were gems to young Gresham who jumped out from the crease, driving the ball straight across the pitch, more than once narrowly shooting past Lord Loathbery's hat.

  In contrast, Sir Harry played a variety of shots after picking the bowler’s usual style and knowing when to crack the ball if it arrived with an invitation card.

  After an hour the London side stood at eighty two for six, the home side leading by twenty five runs, with an hour before tea.

  Both Gresham and Sir Harry banqueted on singles and wides without having to run at all – these were taken from the onslaught of rubbishy bowling, fielding by headless chickens and blasé captaincy.

  Suddenly without warning, the umpire called for a break : the lamb vindaloo from the curry house at lunchtime was wreaking its revenge and he began walking hurriedly to the Cricketers Arms but in the end, made a dash for it as if his trousers were on fire (which wasn’t far from the truth).

  Chapter 70

  Growler Makes An Appearance

  In the public bar of the Cricketers Arms, an array of grins greeted the batsmen. "Boys, ah'm tellin' ye, it's in the bag, ah can smell those crisp noo twenties right noo, heh heh heh," said Bob King rubbing his hands in a mauling way.

  "We're almost there – but it isn't in the bag yet," warned Sir Harry. "Though, I must admit, it's a delight to see them rattled – wasn't I giving that excuse for a bowler a right trumping about an hour ago ?"

  Not unpredictably, a voice piped up from somewhere behind him : "And how about me ? I've been missing dinner my mum cooked me – um, sorry, I'll have to go..." but before he could even finish his sentence, they all cheered him as the hero of the hour and that as he was going to save the game, he had to bat until the end and then they’d head off to Battersea.

  But just as suddenly the celebrations ceased when Richie Snaggs and his two friends swaggered into the bar.

  "Looks like we're in a for a windfall," said Charlie Spark. "We're going on our victory lap in two shakes, aren't we, Sir Harry ?"

  The ancient nodded nervously and said : "Time to get back on the field. Come along,
young fellow. You've got your century to make," and off they went, brushing past Snaggs and his leer.

  Outside the weather had begun to scowl and across the sky, where the sun had earlier radiated, there was now an ominous black cloud moving across the horizon, emptying sheets of rain, miles away in the distance.

  "Let's get the lead out, gents," shouted Sir Harry and after some mild encouragement, Lord Loathbery, the umpire and the Manor House team were dragged out of the saloon bar. Several of the swells, including Piers Loathbery's cronies, the musician, the theatre director and the stage producer, were convinced they'd already won the match and had celebrated with a few pick-me-ups and throw-me-downs. They also found it exceedingly tiresome, standing in the outfield for hours on end, waiting for a catch or a passing bus.

  Gresham lost no time in notching up a dozen runs in seven minutes or so with rain threatening at any moment. The umpire (whose stomach was in turmoil), continually looked skyward and at the distant hills : he was trying to decide if the light was dismal enough to call a halt and save Lord Loathbery's team (and his own trousers) from certain embarrassment. Sir Harry quickly surmised this and urged his batting partner to score on anything thrown at them, as long as it got them a run.

  It was a tense moment as Piers Loathbery began the new over with the task of extracting his comrades from their midden. There were eight balls remaining and by the speed of the approaching rain, only five minutes of the game was left. With a bit of luck for the local side, it would empty down in buckets for the last two hours, a draw would be declared and Lord Loathbery would not have to go down with the ship. With this in mind, he set about wasting time by examining, rubbing and polishing the ball with much blithering about which was what he did best of all.

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