Heroes and Villains

It started with an injury: Rob had been taken off for an operation on his elbow and was out of commission for six weeks and I was captain in his absence, with all that the captaincy implied. It wasn稚, to tell the truth, that big a deal: I壇 done it before, although not for more than a few days at a time. Rob and Piet and I discussed it before he went to hospital.

的値l keep clear of the dressing room completely. I知 to be allowed my lower body work after a week and I値l need a specific programme once I知 allowed to move the arm, so I値l be about in the gym and so on, but I値l not come downstairs. You池e in charge, you値l do better if I知 not there.

That was true, we all knew it. Rob had been captain. . . three seasons? Four? And we knew that once his plaster came off, he would be again. If he turned up in the dressing room, the guys would look to him for final instructions, not me.

典hanks, mate. Is there anything I need to know before you go?

There was, of course. Loads of stuff. Enough to make me roll my eyes. Bloody paperwork. . . I hate it. I致e got an office, God help me; Rob and I have adjoining rooms with a connecting door.

鏑ook, I値l leave the filing cabinet key in the desk in case you need any of the stuff.

I must have looked surprised, because he grinned at me. 展hat, you thought I would be back to do my admin? Think on. You池e captain, I知 on sick leave. You池e in charge. And it痴 my right elbow: I値l not be fit to sign anything, so obviously. . .

So obviously Phil would have to do it. And work with Piet on the game plans (well, that wasn稚 much of a hardship, I was usually involved). And take responsibility for team discipline and keep an eye on the squad and. . .

Oh, I grumbled, but actually, I enjoyed it, although some at least of my enjoyment was that of a grandparent with a new baby: the knowledge that presently, when I was bored, somebody would take it back. I enjoyed it all the way to the midweek match.

It was a good match and we won it by a tidy margin; it was obvious by half time that we were going to, and Piet took the opportunity to give some of the small fry a run out, and some of the old hacks an easy ride. There had been half a dozen of the juniors promoted to our dressing room, and they needed to be broken in gently. I don稚 count as a hack yet; I played both halves, so I was there right in the middle of it. That left it entirely to me.

And to be frank, I didn稚 know what to do, not at first. I壇 got the glimmering of an idea when I came off the pitch though, and it had firmed up into a definite plan by the time I was showered and Piet was doing his review. He壇 been generally pleased with everybody; there were some minor grumbles, but nothing serious. He wound up and turned to me.

溺r Cartwright? Is there anything more?

典he line-outs were much better, I thought. Not perfect but a huge improvement on last time. No, Coach, nothing more, thanks.

And the question of whether I should have said something at that point? No, I still think not. I waited. I waited until half the squad had moved on, and then I went looking for Marco Schioccola I don稚 swear I致e got that spelling right, the guys call him Chocolate. He was high on excitement and adrenaline, joking with another of the juniors; I waited until he looked my way, and then I jerked my head at him. I don稚 know what he thought; but he came promptly enough, with the thrill of his first senior match still clustering round him.

填pstairs, my office, five minutes.

The smile went a little fixed. 鄭h, right. . . is something. . .

I gave him a Look. I知 not good at them, but he must have seen something, because his smile vanished and he swallowed. I went upstairs without looking to see what he was doing; he followed me within the five minutes I壇 specified.

鉄hut the door.

He痴 a nice looking boy and pleasant with it. I didn稚 know him well, although he壇 done fetch-and-carry work for me a couple of times, and of course he壇 driven me to the hospital when I broke my fingers. Typical Latin type, physically, although his accent is pure south London and as far as I know he痴 never been nearer Italy than Pizza Hut.

滴ow do you think you played, first time out?

He relaxed, obviously thinking this was to be another debriefing session.

釘etter than I thought I might. I was really nervous, you know? I can do better than that, I know I can, if I just get a chance. I know there aren稚 any places going begging, if I want to stay with the Firsts I致e got to work, but I can do it. . . He saw my expression and ground uncertainly to a halt.

添ou think the way you played would be acceptable to the Firsts here?

His jaw set as he realised that I knew.

添ou think that would be acceptable to Mr de Vries?

He must have known it wouldn稚.

的t was an accident, he offered rather tentatively.

的t bloody wasn稚! I exploded. 的t was a deliberate attempt to foul your opposite number in the ruck. Don稚 even think about lying to me about it: I was there with you and I saw you. You tried to put your knee in his face and the only thing that stopped you was that I saw you and I realised what you meant to do. It wasn稚 their prop who put you on the floor, it was me, and you can be bloody grateful for it, because if the ref had picked up what you were doing you壇 have been off, and if Mr de Vries had seen you, you壇 have been going back to the Seconds so fast you壇 have left stud marks all down the corridor. Jesus, if you壇 got him on the bridge of the nose you could have killed him! By the grace of God nobody saw you but me. Let痴 get some things clear, mister. You池e not playing football here. We don稚 foul and then whine to the ref that we didn稚 do it. We don稚 dive, and there was some contempt in my voice. 展e play hard, I知 not denying it. It痴 a dirty, bloody game. I know perfectly well that there痴 been fouling and stamping and gouging and all the rest going on out of the ref痴 sight ever since the game was invented. Of course I know: I致e worn the marks of it often enough. Some clubs are rougher than others but at this club we don稚 do that; we池e better than that and we know we are, and we池e proud of it. The Gryphons play hard but we play clean and our reputation speaks for itself, and as long as I致e got any influence here that痴 the way it痴 going to be.

的 was just. . . it was only. . . He sounded imploring and I cut him off.

添ou were just cheating. No! as he tried to speak again. 鄭 deliberate foul is cheating. Trying to gain an advantage by breaking the rules without getting caught is cheating, there痴 no other name for it and there痴 no place for it at this club, and if you don稚 get that, then you壇 better find yourself another club or another sport. Am I making myself understood?

He nodded, white-faced. I had more to say and I said it; I said it for several minutes. I told him exactly where he got off; I spelt out for him what Piet would have said if he壇 seen it, I speculated in a vague doom-ridden manner about what the likes of James Hamilton would think. By the time I had finished, Marco was one very subdued puppy indeed. I致e been ticked off by experts by Piet, by James Hamilton once, by Hansie, by Tim. By Nick, who痴 damn good at it for a guy who isn稚 a Top. Fran was cross with me but she didn稚 say much; I think I only need her in full voice to have a matched set and be able to claim the free display case. I found that the experience rubbed off, well enough for me to know just what to say when it was my turn to do the ticking.

I stopped to draw breath; Marco was gazing fixedly at the floor.

典omorrow, I want you here at 9:30. You needn稚 bother with your kit, you池e not going out, but you池e not getting a day off either. His head came up in confusion: the day after a match is normally a rest day for whoever played. I cut him off before he could speak. 添es, I can do that. I can do it because I知 captain. You値l be here on time, because if you池e not, we値l be taking this to Mr de Vries, understand?

He nodded sullenly.

典hen get out of my sight.

And later? I didn稚 tell Piet about it. Well, actually, I didn稚 think I needed to. I did, I admit, want him not to know, but I wasn稚 troubled about not telling him. This was captaincy stuff, not coach business, and I was dealing with it.

In the morning, though, he raised an eyebrow when I put on my blazer. We致e got a uniform which we池e expected to wear when we travel to matches or give interviews other than on pitch-side and so on: dark trousers, club blazer and tie, white shirt. It痴 not usual for me to wear it other than on match days but it felt right.

添ou are very smart this morning.

I preened exaggeratedly. 的知 being captain today. No, I致e got people to see and the blazer makes it easier for everybody to remember what痴 going on. What痴 on your plate today?

He made a face. 鉄tatistical analysis and video replay. So when I come home I will be very bored and cross and frustrated; shall we go out?

擢ilm? I値l have a look at what痴 on at the Odeon, shall I? Nothing out of the ordinary, nothing wrong between him and me. Nothing.

And Marco turned up with five minutes to spare and a face like a wet weekend, and his normal clothes on; he looked at my blazer and shrank a little. I set him down at Rob痴 desk and plonked a file in front of him.

典hese are the letters we get in from the schools. Have you seen them before? No? But you致e been in on a couple of the visits, haven稚 you? You were on the rota for St Stephen痴 Primary last time. He nodded. 鉄o you know what the kids did and what they saw. And they致e sent us thank you letters. The Board is very insistent that we do a lot of outreach work with the schools; it痴 good for the sport and the club and it痴 good for the community. It痴 common enough too that we値l get a thank you letter afterwards: a parcel from the primary schools, containing a folder of misspelt notes illustrated in crayon by Josh, aged 6, and Hannah, aged 8; a single sheet from the upper school signed by the poor staff member who had to take responsibility for the whole shebang. 典he letters have to be answered. You致e got um Mrs Pargetter痴 class and Mr Laxman痴 class there, from St Stephen痴. Now normally, we would send one reply to each class and we壇 print it big enough for them to put on their notice-boards. But I want you to give some thought to rle models. To the fact that these kids are at a very impressionable age. To the fact that you池e a hero to some of them, and they値l think that whatever you do is something for them to emulate. His gaze was fixed downwards again, on the folder between his hands. 典o your duty, Marco. Your duty not to teach them anything morally damaging. You池e going to answer those letters, individually and by hand, and clearly enough for 7 and 8 year olds to read. You池e not going to write the same thing to each one: you池e going to give them as much care and attention as they致e given us, get me?

His expression was comically horrified and I had to bite the inside of my cheek to keep my expression of severity. But I know about pulling the rein tight and then slackening it. 敵o and get yourself a coffee first; bring one for me as well, please: milk and no sugar. And then get started.

There wasn稚 a squeak from him for over an hour; when I was bored with what I was doing, I sent him for more coffee, and picked up some of his replies. He watched me doubtfully.

添ou値l have to re-write that one: I can hardly read it so a child won稚 be able to. He was struggling with the content quite quickly, which was hardly surprising: how many different ways are there to say 選知 glad you had a good time?

At one I sent him out, told him to get himself some lunch and to be back in an hour, and after that he did another class-worth of acknowledgement letters and then photocopied all his replies and attached them to the originals. I looked at my watch.

鄭ll right, that値l do. Put them in the post tray. He壇 had nothing to say to me all day and I thought he was resenting me horribly, but for all that, I knew what came after a punishment. 典hat was well done, Marco. You値l have made their day for those kids, you know. You need to remember, you致e got power over the public, specially the children. I知 sure you won稚 make that sort of mistake another time; we値l not mention it again, O.K.? I wondered about offering him my hand Hansie had said that was what Piet used to do but it would have felt forced, and anything else (like the tap on the back which Hansie had also mentioned). . . well, I don稚. I知 careful. There are too many people know I知 gay; I知 careful what I say to the juniors and how I behave round them, and I don稚 ever, ever touch them uninvited. Yes, I知 protecting myself and Piet too, I suppose but I知 protecting the boys as well.

And that was that. Phil being captain, and well, actually, if you must know, I was a bit smug. I thought I壇 handled it pretty well.

For a fortnight, I thought so. I didn稚 see much of Marco for the next week: the training schedule changed so that we were split into groups and different people did different things with us, and as it happened, Marco wasn稚 in my group. That was just chance; when we all came together again to be split up differently, I didn稚 actually give him much thought. It was one of Harry痴 sessions: he told us to split into three groups, and the senior players did that more or less straight away. We know what痴 expected: not always with the same people so everybody works with everybody else. I looked at the juniors who were hanging back, and made some decisions, based on nothing more than getting on. 鉄teve and Marco, you go with Mark痴 group. Jake and Liam, with Tommy. You two with me. Quickly now!

And we went and did whatever we were doing and presently Harry wanted the groups changed again, and once again the seniors rearranged themselves and the younger ones hung back, and once again, I snapped out names. 鏑iam and. . . what痴 your name again? Jamie? With Mark. Dave and Marco with Tommy, Steve and Jake with me.

Didn稚 make anything of it, actually. Liam痴 fast and enthusiastic but doesn稚 pay half enough attention. Jamie was so nervous he was all over the place. Dave痴 not got it, he値l never find a place in the Firsts, although he値l be a good second stringer. Steve痴 workmanlike rather than good but there might be something more there. Jake and Marco are the best of them, and Marco will outstrip Jake, no trouble. But he didn稚 have a good session; later, when I was talking to some of the guys, Mark commented that Marco had lost the plot.

滴e wasn稚 listening to what he was told, he was looking off somewhere else all the time, watching one of the other groups.

Tommy agreed. 滴eaven preserve him if the Terminator comes down to take a session himself; he値l eat that lad for breakfast and spit out the bones. He looked good in the Seconds; I wonder why it痴 all gone flat for him?

笛ust happens sometimes, I said doubtfully. 哲erves, big changes. It痴 odd, though, I agree: he had a good first match. I wonder if I should have a chat with him, see if he痴 worrying about something? Can稚 hurt, I suppose.

But I didn稚 see him again that day, nor the next. His schedule didn稚 cross with mine in the gym; when we had a run planned, the fitness people gave us all different targets and none of the babies came in my set. It was Thursday before I actually spotted him in the boot room.

溺arco? Marco! Wait! for he was heading for the door and plainly avoiding me. He didn稚 get away with it: Ryan was coming past and helpfully pointed out to him that I was calling; he couldn稚 get away with pretending not to have heard me. 溺arco, hi, I致e been wanting a word with you. Come. . . I glanced round. There were too many people about to take him into the dressing room or caf. 鼎ome upstairs, will you?

You壇 have thought I was taking him to an execution. He sat down with the sort of marked lack of enthusiasm which I display after Piet has been very vexed about something, and I headed for my own chair and then thought better of it. Sitting on the other side of the desk was a bit 祖alled to see the boss, I thought, so I hopped up to sit on the desk itself with my legs swinging.

的 just thought I hadn稚 seen anything of you for a bit and I wondered how you were settling in the dressing room, if everything was all right with you?

And now that I had him in front of me, alarms were going off like nobody痴 business. Very obviously indeed, things weren稚 all right at all, to the extent that I wondered how I壇 missed it even just passing him in the corridor. I ploughed on, looking for a clue. 滴ow are you finding your new schedules? It痴 a bit of a step up from the Seconds, isn稚 it? Are you managing all right?

He muttered something I didn稚 catch. I went on a bit more gently. 的t痴 O.K. if you池e finding it unsettling, you know. Big changes are disconcerting. When I came here from my university side, I thought I壇 never get how everything worked. Did they give you somebody to sheepdog you until you found your feet?

迭yan, he said shortly. I winced. Ryan痴 a lot of fun, but Mr Reliable he is not. I wondered who had been responsible for that pairing.

的s he looking after you?

He shrugged and the alarms went off again. Something was desperately wrong here and well, I was going to find out what it was.

的f. . . if you wanted to talk about stuff, he might not be your best choice. He痴 a. . . I mean, they値l have asked him to keep an eye on you, but if. . . if it worked better for you. . . it痴 not a contract, you know? Tommy痴 good to talk to, or Rowan Archer he痴 not that long out of the Seconds himself or you池e always welcome to come and look for me. Even if all you wanted was to chat.

There was an awkward silence. In the end I just dived in. 鏑ook, Marco, what痴 the matter? I can see something痴 bothering you, so come on, tell me what it is and we値l see if we can稚 sort it out. Has somebody been giving you a hard time?

His head came up at that, his eyes blazing. 徹h, like you壇 care?

徹f course I would care! I知 acting captain now and I知 vice-captain in my own right, and it痴 part of my job to keep things working for everybody. This isn稚 working for you, I can see that, and if you値l let me, I reckon I can help sort it out.

典here痴 nothing to fucking sort!

I honestly didn稚 know what to make of that. I mean, I知 not bothered about bad language (my own is none too special). At least, Phil isn稚 bothered about it but the Gryphons captain shouldn稚 be sworn at by his own junior players in his own office. For a moment I didn稚 know whether to address the tone or the content, and then he snarled, 的t doesn稚 fucking matter, I値l be gone soon enough anyway.

敵one? I asked blankly; 努hy? Have you had another offer? I mean, good for you if you have, although we値l miss you here, but why didn稚 you say?

徹h, go fuck yourself! he howled at me. That did make me blink a bit. 展hen you said I had no place here?

展hen. . . I didn稚 say that! When did I say that? My own temper was beginning to come a little unstuck.

鄭fter that last match. He was sullen again. 添ou said I was a cheat and there was no place for me here.

的 said nothing of the bloody sort! I snapped back. 的 said what you did was cheating, which isn稚 at all the same as saying you池e a cheat. Everybody痴 done something they池e ashamed of at least once. I致e had it in the neck (and other places) 吐rom Viper de Vries for throwing a punch at a guy at a party. I hit somebody. That doesn稚 mean I知 basically violent. It was a stupid thing to do, I知 ashamed that I did it, I don稚 mean ever to do it again. I grew up, that痴 all. Yes, you did something stupid too. I hope you damn well are ashamed of doing it because you ought to be. But for Chrissakes, I知 not going to judge you completely on the basis of one mistake! Wash your bloody ears out and then operate them again with your brain in gear! I said 訴f you couldn稚 grasp the basics about decent play, you had no place in the team. If. Do we understand 訴f?

I stopped to gasp for breath. Then I went on more calmly. 溺arco, you致e got talent. I知 not the greatest scout, but even I can see that. You致e got the potential to be really good. And believe me, you won稚 find a better club to develop that potential, or a better back-room team to bring you on. Don稚 go unless you池e damn sure you池e going to something better. Where are you intending to go?

He shrugged, refusing to look at me.

展ell, then, look, if you haven稚 got definite plans, let痴 just calm down a bit and see if we can稚 get you more comfortable here, hey? For God痴 sake, you can稚 be. . . how old are you? Was that why you were stuck with the Seconds, because you weren稚 19 yet?

添ou池e too late, he said with a quiver in his voice. 的 put my resignation under Mr de Vries痴 door at lunchtime.

I stared in shock and then leaped off the desk. 鉄tay there don稚 fucking move or I値l bloody kill you! and I sprinted for the door. I knew Piet had been booked for a meeting with the St George woman and Sir John at lunchtime; I knew that Sir John liked to take his time over lunch and that Piet wanted something from him, something to do with the funding of the Colts, so he wouldn稚 be trying to hurry the meeting along. I just might might be able to recover this situation. . .

It meant sprinting the length of the corridor, through the double doors and along another corridor to Piet痴 office and the door was locked. Bugger. I scrabbled in my pocket for my keys; it was only a faint chance that the lock on his door would be the same as the one on mine or Rob痴, and it wasn稚. Fuck! There would be spare keys in the safe in Accounts and not a bloody chance of anybody letting me have them, and there would be. . .

I took to my heels again, down the stairs, through the juniors dressing room and along the corridor which opens on the car park. Please God, surely they had gone out in Sir John痴 car, not Piet痴? Yes! He壇 parked on the other side of the mini-bus; I scrabbled in my pocket again. I壇 got a key for his car; he keeps a complete extra set of kit in the boot, and if he hadn稚 changed his usual habit, all his spare keys were in a zip pocket on the side of his bag. Praise God for physical fitness: I took the stairs back up again two at a time, unlocked the door, threw it open, and the edge of it caught the envelope on the carpet and skittered it across the floor and under Piet痴 desk, with me in pursuit. I didn稚 recognise Marco痴 writing, but it was Piet痴 name on the front in an adolescent hand sure enough: it couldn稚 be anything else. I snatched it up, turning back to the door with the keys in my hand as I stuffed the envelope into my pocket.

And Piet was standing in the doorway.

I must have looked a complete twit I actually reared backwards in shock, because I hadn稚 heard him coming at all. And my reactions screamed 賎UILT! even to me the panicked look at the keys, the frantic ramming of the envelope to the depths of my pocket, and the stammered 前h. . . shit.

And he Looked at me, and said 展ell?

的t痴 not the way you think. That was so feeble!

添ou have no idea what I think. Are those my keys?

I nodded.

展hich you have abstracted from my car?

的 had to, I offered weakly. 滴onestly, P. . . Mr de Vries, it was an emergency.

展hat sort of emergency?

的 can稚 tell you that. Please don稚 ask me to.

鼎an稚 or won稚?

釘oth, I suppose. Honestly, it痴 not as bad as it looks. I知 not doing anything wrong, I swear I知 not.

溺r Cartwright, you are standing, uninvited, in my room. You have let yourself in using my keys, which you have taken from my car without my permission, using, I presume, your copy of my car key which you have only as a personal, not a professional, convenience. Plainly you have removed something from my room, again without my knowledge or permission. And you tell me you are not doing anything you should not?

I managed, with a great effort, to muster my scattered wits. 的 know it looks bad, I said steadily. 釘ut I give you my word, I知 not doing anything. . . and I searched for the right words, 殿nything unprofessional, anything improper. It would be much better if you didn稚 know about it, honestly it would. I swallowed and hoped to God there was nobody outside in the corridor within earshot. 的 swear, if you knew all about it, you would be very annoyed, but not excessively so and not with me; if you knew all the details there would be nothing you would think. . . and despite myself, my voice dropped a little, 渡othing you would think I should be punished for.

He stood for just long enough that I despaired, and then he stepped away from the doorway. 溺ake sure you reset the alarm on the car when you replace my keys.

I sent him a look of complete incredulity I hadn稚 found that statement convincing myself, so I hadn稚 expected him to and then I bolted again, back down the stairs, back outside to replace the keys and yes, reset the alarm.

Marco was still where I壇 left him, but he was sitting with his feet pulled up onto the chair and his cheek on his knees and he was such a bundle of misery that however irritated I was, I felt a sneaking pity as well. I turned the key in the lock and dropped the crumpled envelope on the desk in front of him.

哲ow, can we in the name of God have some sort of sensible conversation about what the blazes you thought you were doing and why on earth you致e got yourself into quite such a state? Because honestly, Marco, you池e going to have to toughen up. If you can稚 take well-deserved criticism from me, what the hell are you going to do the first time the Terminator ticks you off? Or the first time you have a bad match and the sports writers have a go at you?

And he looked up at me, and the expression. . . it took me a moment to place it, because the last time I壇 seen it so nakedly displayed, it had been on another man痴 face, a man a year or two older than Marco, and it hadn稚 been aimed at me but at Hansie.

I was very much slower the second time I went along the corridor to Piet痴 room and this time, I stopped at the door and knocked, and waited to be invited to enter. To my surprise Rob was there, lopsidedly balancing a huge plaster-cast.

滴ey Phil, how痴 it going?

的. . . how痴 the arm?

的mproving, apparently. I知 to get the plaster off next week and then I can get some work done. How are things with you?

I looked across at Piet. 哲ot brilliant. I致e screwed up.

Piet痴 eyebrows went up; Rob heaved himself to his feet.

的f you致e got business to discuss, I値l push off, then.

哲o, don稚, Rob, please. This is you値l be involved with this too. It痴 captaincy stuff and I致e buggered it up completely. I looked back to Piet. 鄭nd I think I think that when I said to you before that you would be pissed off but not with me, I think maybe I was wrong. I think you池e going to be very pissed off with me.

典hen sit down, Mr Cartwright, and explain to us what you have done.

I took a moment to sort my head. 的 don稚 think I should tell you the first bit. Well, not in detail. What happened was, one of the juniors did something he shouldn稚. It doesn稚 matter what, you don稚 need to know that, because you can稚 do anything about it now.

淘Can稚, Mr Cartwright?

That was quiet but unpleasantly edgy. I acknowledged that it had been a bad choice of words. 添ou could, of course, but I hope you won稚. He was out of order and I made it plain what I thought about it, and I found him something to do to convince him not to do it again. And then I told him it was over, so I really don稚 think it痴 right to bring it all up again.

哲ot fair, nodded Rob. 鄭nd this is Chocolate?

I must have let my mouth drop open because he laughed. 哲ot that hard, Filthy. I know I致e not been in the dressing room, but I came to watch training a couple of times: I致e been around. Marco痴 been going about with a face and I saw him hear in his own head what he was about to say, and panic. Rob痴 pet phrase for anybody out of sorts is 素ace like a slapped arse and he痴 seen me with stripes often enough to know that it wouldn稚 be tactful. I caught Piet痴 eye and saw the spark of laughter which didn稚 show on the stone face, even when Rob made a massive recovery: like a sl. . .ow day at the races. I thought he was just feeling the pace a bit, up from the Seconds, but if he壇 had a kick in the pants as well, that would account for it.

徹h, it accounts for it all right, I said bitterly. 泥oesn稚 it just. I gave him a rocket and then I said 前.K., we値l forget about it, and I did forget about it. I didn稚 think to check whether or not he had forgotten about it, and he hadn稚. And. . . This was the difficult bit. 的 didn稚 take on board that痴 he痴 only just 19.

Piet frowned. 的 do not think I follow you. So far you have told us nothing out of the ordinary. The boy misbehaved in some way no, we are not asking how. You scolded him, and if I understand it, you punished him, and then you announced the incident closed. You think you did wrongly?

I shook my head. 哲ot wrong, and what I did wasn稚. . . excessive. Wasn稚 disproportionate. But what I didn稚 take on board 又 I swallowed. 徹h God, this sounds so smug. He痴 19, and a month ago he was 18. And he痴 not a particularly old 19 either. He痴 suffering from chronic hero-worship, he thinks I知 God, and I hadn稚 even noticed. So when I tore into him, he didn稚 hear me saying 租on稚 do that, you know better. He heard me saying that I disapproved not of what he had done, but of him. Then when we picked groups to work together, I never picked him it was just chance, you know how it goes and he痴 been thinking that it was deliberate, that I didn稚 want to work with him. And he痴 been fretting about it ever since, and I didn稚 even notice. I got up and began to pace angrily. 的 didn稚 notice and I wasn稚 interested enough to find out, and even if Phil the player didn稚 see that, the bloody captain should have. I ought to have known before and I certainly should have spotted it this time.

鄭nd this is what brought you to my office: yes, I see. You were recovering his resignation.

I missed my footing, I swung round so fast. 添ou knew?

哲o, but it is hardly difficult to deduce. What else could there be in my office which you would want me not to see? But I do not understand quite why you felt the need to do so: surely you could not believe that even had I seen and accepted his resignation, I would not be sympathetic if you and he came to me and said it had been a mistake?

I shook my head. 的t wasn稚 what you would do that worried me; it was what he would do. I didn稚 know what it was all about at that point; I was afraid that if you壇 seen the letter, and he knew you had, he wouldn稚 admit to having been wrong.

Piet nodded comprehendingly. I sat down again. 的知 really sorry; I致e screwed it up completely. I think I致e persuaded him to stay; it was bloody difficult, because even when I壇 worked out what was wrong, I couldn稚 let him see that I knew: he壇 have been mortified. But I should have known that there was something wrong, I should never have let things go so far.

For once, somebody got in ahead of Piet.

釘loody hell, Phil, give yourself a break!

I gawped at Rob, who frowned at me. 添ou池e acting captain, you池e not their bloody nanny. If Chocolate was out of order and you reined him in, all well and good; that痴 part of the job. You池e not expected to run round after the guys, massaging their egos and making sure they池e all at peace with the world!

的 just. . . well, I知 a bit surprised I didn稚 notice, to tell the truth. Not that I would want. . . I was struggling a bit. 的知 generally very careful. I mean, we all know about hero-worship. Let痴 face it, it goes with the territory. We all know that we have to be careful when the schools visit, or when we go to the junior clubs. I致e spent enough time with the kids at James Hamilton痴 club to know the score: I watch what I say and do there as a matter of course.

Piet stirred. 鄭nd I think that may be the root of the misunderstanding. You view the players there as children and so of course you are careful. But consider: the girls with whom we have been spending time, some of them are 16 or 17 now. Old enough to marry, and indeed, older than their male contemporaries in emotional terms. Ain稚 that the truth. Some of the younger girls are 14 going on 41 and they scare the shit out of me. 溺arco Schioccola is 19 and as you say, a young 19. Had you met him outside the club, you would have viewed him as a youth perhaps, if not actually a child. You would have been aware of him as vulnerable. Even if your dealings with him had been while he was in the Seconds, you would have been cautious. But they were not, were they? You met him here, in the First team dressing room, where he is a fellow professional, where he is an adult. I think Mr Standish is correct: you are too hard on yourself. It is not for you to judge whether or not a professional player albeit a junior one is emotionally and intellectually able to cope with the stresses of the job. That is for the talent scouts and for me, and Harry and the Board. Mr Schioccola will need to grow up quickly, for we cannot carry a passenger while he thinks about it. No, you have done nothing wrong. It is as Mr Standish says: the young man misbehaved and you corrected him; that is your duty as captain. Between you and him the incident is closed and you have told him so. Therefore, Mr Standish and I do not need to know about it, and we will pay no attention.

I made a face. 鄭nd the other bit? I honestly don稚 know how he痴 going to deal with me now. I don稚 think I let him see that I knew what was wrong. . . Poor little bugger, his first big match and I go and spoil it for him.

摘xcuse me? enquired Rob sharply. 添ou spoiled it? Or he did? You said he did something out of order. If I壇 seen it, would I have let it pass? I知 not asking, Phil, but I can稚 see you being pissed off to the point of giving him more than a sharp word unless he was bang out of line and must have known it. And in that case, it was just that you caught him, and it might as easily have been me, or Harry, or Coach.

No. No, of course Rob wouldn稚 have let it pass. And as I壇 said at the time, if Piet had seen, there would have been blood on the carpet. Piet was watching me closely.

的ndeed, if he did something wrong he has only himself to blame. But I know what you mean, Mr Cartwright. If the boy realises that you are aware of his admiration for you, he will be embarrassed. You must carry on as before with him, without changing your manner and Mr Standish and I will simply add that information to the things we do not know about what has been going on.

I sat a moment or two in silence, getting my head round it. Piet thought I had done nothing wrong. Rob thought I had done nothing wrong. So. . . as they said, I didn稚 need to be too hard on myself. What I did need to do, and it didn稚 take any spelling out, was absorb that I had. . . what would you call it? Power? I壇 known I had influence over teenagers but it hadn稚 occurred to me that I had it over adults. Maybe it should have done: Nick had said something about being treated as an adult only if I behaved like one, and that worked both ways. It wasn稚 only inside the Family that I had responsibilities and (yes, it was the right word) power. I壇 got Marco for not considering the effect of his actions on others and, well, although maybe it wasn稚 my fault, I needed to give some thought on my own account to the same thing. My musing was interrupted by Rob.

展ell, if we池e to know nothing about it, I値l start now and get out of here; I have an appointment with a bottle of painkillers. I値l be round and about next week. . . and he was heading for the door; I looked up to smile and say goodbye. I heard Piet shut the door behind him.

鄭nd you are still worrying about this?

I considered. 哲ot worrying, exactly. I知 still a bit pissed off that I missed what was happening. I should have spotted it.

的 think not. I honestly do not believe, Phil, that anyone will criticise you for not being vain enough to spot an admirer. He was amused; I was still slightly bewildered.

泥id you really not know what was going on when you caught me in here?

He tipped his head in agreement. The more I thought about it, the less I understood. 典hen. . . thank you.

The thin eyebrows went up. 擢or what?

擢or letting it go. For not insisting on hearing about it all on the spot. For not making me tell you what was happening.

添ou need not thank me for that. I could do nothing other than what I did, I think.

釘ecause you have to assume that your captain knows what he痴 about?

He gave that sideways flick of his head. 的n part, I suppose, but also because of you. Because of us. Because, however hard we try to keep our private life separate from our work, the two are interlinked, particularly when I judge you on professional grounds. Phil, the absolute foundation of a relationship like ours is trust. I know you trust me: you gave me your trust that very first night when I said I could make you great. You demonstrate to me that you trust me every time you accept my evaluation of your behaviour over your own, every time you come to me for punishment. You trust me to do right by you; you are quite entitled to have my trust in return.

I didn稚 understand. 添ou mean you trust me to do the right thing? But the whole point of the exercise is what we do when I don稚.

He shook his head. 的 trust you to tell me the truth. Not necessarily a recognition of unmistakeable fact, for there is always an element of interpretation, but the truth as you perceive it. You did that today, did you not? You told me that I did not need to know, and that you had good reason to act as you did, and I had no actual evidence to the contrary. When you thought that your reasoning might have been faulty you came back and told me so. But you give me so freely of your trust, Phil, that you must have mine in return. That is how an adult relationship works. You told me that all was well. I admit that I could not see how it might be so: I could not imagine circumstances in which it would have been acceptable, or necessary, for you to steal my keys and burgle my office, to put the worst interpretation on what you did. But see? You were right and I was wrong.

添ou thought I was doing something wrong and you let me do it anyway?

He shrugged. 展hat else could I do? I could hold you here and address you as I would a small child: I know that you have done something naughty even if I do not yet know what it is, and I know that you are lying when you tell me that it is not so. Is that the basis of our relationship, Phil? Of course it is not. I hope that if you tell me you have done nothing wrong, I will believe you, always. I will believe you on nothing more than your word. Until I see absolute proof that it is not the truth, I will trust you that it is.

I was hardly able to speak, but I managed a choked 禅hank you.

添ou need not thank me for it. It is not a gift from me to you; it is your inalienable right, and the first time I fail you in it, you will be quite within your rights to leave me.

鄭nd the first time I abuse it, you値l be within your rights to leave me, I promised. He smiled at me.

哲ow, Mr Cartwright, that is enough of this emotional talk. I am going to throw you out; I have telephone calls to make and correspondence to deal with, and I have not much time left in which to do it.

I got up, not sorry to move on. 的致e got a couple of things to do myself. I値l see you at home.

And later, there was something on TV he was interested in, and we went to the back sitting room where we could curl up together on what I say is a round couch and Tim says is an invitation to an orgy. I got all the cushions behind my back and Piet arranged his head and shoulders with me to prop him up, and he watched whatever it was with great concentration it was some programme about the Dead Sea scrolls, I think, and I watched little bits of it and let my attention wander. Presently, I slipped my fingers between his and began to work my thumb over his palm and wrist, and when the final credits came up and he switched off the TV, I took the opportunity to cuddle up close and reach for the other hand.

添ou know, Piet, I don稚 think I ever realised before quite how much self control you致e got.

His mouth twitched a little. 鼎ontinue to caress my hands, koekie, and you will discover that I have none at all. This is in respect of what?

的n respect of all the times you must have been absolutely dying to hurl me over your knee and wallop me until I howled, and you didn稚 do it.

He twisted round to get onto the cushions himself, with me in his arms.

添ou know, koekie, I cannot think that I have felt such a desire more than once or twice per day. No! Do not tickle me, I will not tease you. So why do you think I would have such a need?

展ell, I did. A fortnight ago I caught myself thinking: what that pillock Marco needs is his backside warmed. And this afternoon, when he was being so bloody unhelpful about telling me what was wrong, I could quite cheerfully have dragged him over my lap and kept him there until he learned that when I asked him a question, I expected to get an answer. Stop laughing! This is a deeply shocking thing for a decent and respectable Bottom to find himself thinking! I don稚 do anything like that.

添ou have spanked Tim, and Hansie too.

的致e only ever spanked Hansie in fun, and Tim. . . only once that wasn稚 play. But I swear, that boy today given half a chance I壇 have made him squeal.

的 think it would not answer with him, Phil, but just in case, I forbid you to do it.



笛ust because you want to have all the fun yourself. . .

的 have no desire to spank Marco. And in terms of - what was it? Walloping you until you howled? That is not particularly pleasant for either of us. I much prefer to spank you until you squirm, and make that noise like a kitten.

的 do not make a noise like a kitten!


哲ot unless you ask very nicely indeed.

的 shall ask prettily. I shall say: please Phil, come and be spanked, because you look so beautiful over my knee with your bottom blushing.

鄭nd what痴 in it for me?

His eyes went wide. 鄭 nice spanking, of course. Is that not enough?

展ell. . .

鄭nd maybe. . . and he trapped me under his body and whispered into my ear a selection of suggestions which made me. . .


Idris the Dragon

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