The Mantle Pat
Over the course of
the eleventh game of the French Open Final - thirty minutes in all thus far -
Cindy Kafel's powerful right hand had, unbeknownst to her, managed to crush her
lukewarm Kokanee beer can to less than a three centimeter diameter through its
middle. Yet, neither the increasingly contorted can, nor the stale peanuts she
juggled in her left hand, were presently of any concern to the perfectly
postured, born-again, young aerobics instructor. What was important, rather,
was the fuzzy TV screen with its descending horizontal lines and crackling
hiss, that beamed out from the cobwebbed, upper shelf of Brad's Bar, a rundown,
wind-whipped affair that stuck out like an Old Growth on the North-western
shore of Canada's Vancouver Island. 8:00 a.m. was generally an early hour to be
throwing back beers anywhere in the world, but Cindy's clock had been adjusted
for the past two weeks in order to behold the events on TV live; for her, it
was mid afternoon.
and secretive three-month exile in Cape Scott, but what she liked to call No
Man's Land (so named for its barren, outpostedness, its dearth of males and its
reference to the most difficult, challenging and unforgiving region of a tennis
court - tennis being her favorite sport), had thus far been a success. She was strong again, stronger than perhaps
she had ever been, and that fueled the 21 year-old's confidence and faith in
the human body to the point where she was already contemplating blowing her
cover as Natasha Farnsworth (her childhood nickname had been Natasha) and
returning to her parents in Victoria.
Imagine, she thought
perched on the barstool during the commercial break, three years ago to the day (minus one French Open) me, a naďve, overprotected, hormone-happy
eighteen year-old, boarding a plane for Paris to spend time with my cousin and
his wild friends. What was I thinking!
And so it was that her cousin, Yfgeni Kafelnikov, who had, at that time,
recently broken the top ten, had indeed invited his young cousin on an all
expenses paid trip to Paris to watch him compete in the 1998 French Open
Finals. However, what Cindy didn't know then and still didn't know was that the
invitation was in fact the result of a late night, lost bet by her cousin to
the Aussie tennis giant Patrick Rafter in a high stakes, Vodka-drenched poker
game during the qualification rounds. Get
to the finals, Yfgeni, and you must fly out your beautiful Russian cousin and
let me try my luck. "Kreto" Yfgeni had said, with uncharacteristic Russian
knowledge of the professional tour and its players had made the invitation
sound like manna from heaven and never once during her three year stay in
Europe had she found reason to question the invitation's authenticity. Yet that said, events didn't turn out as
Patrick or Cindy had anticipated. Instead, within 24 hours of arrival, Cindy
Kafel had fallen, net chord, baseline and Western grip for Ketchum, the lanky,
lamb-chopped ex-Canadian with the almond eyes, and trademark Belgian brown
sneakers. "Fallen Hard" Yfgeni would
later confess, when his cold-blooded uncle, Ivan, Cindy's father, called for an
update on the European manhunt for the missing Cindy.
decision to drop the "nikov" from the family name was made quickly and
decisively upon arrival in Victoria in 1983. Having learned English at night
school in London following his defection from the motherland two years earlier,
and while awaiting the arrival of his wife and five daughters, Ivan had picked
up many English expressions while out carousing with other Europeans from his
language class. One East London
expression the men in the group had come to use almost daily when recounting
the nights activities was posed as a question: Did ya ge-ah Niks off? Eventually, to everyone's amusement this was
used with reference to Ivan's last name. Thus, when Ivan finally made it to
Canada's West Coast to be a groundskeeper at one of Victoria's most posh tennis
clubs, he sought to drop the "nikov" from his family name in order to erase his
own memories of those wonderful, steamy nights in London, as well as to remove,
he thought, any temptation for his daughters to engage in such unbecoming
The move backfired
completely. Taking heed from the juicy details of the many letters Cindy sent
to her sisters during her early days in Europe, one after another of the Kafel
girls tried her hand at nicker removal in the hopes that she too would find a
talented, young Prince similar to the tennis hero, John Ketchum. At night, each of them would stare up from
her bed at the personalized autographed poster of the ex-Canadian and wish
feverishly that he could be cloned, have a twin or at least relinquish British
citizenship and return to Canada and father their children.
The idea that Ketchum
might have a twin had also crossed Cindy's mind a few times since she had been
back on the island. Oh for just one more
night with that talented, Pheromone-filled, Tennis-Lover extraordinaire she
had cooed many a night from her drafty room at the abandoned fisherman's camp
she called home.
But twins were not
what she was thinking now as she watched her ex-Lover deftly serve and volley
three points in a row to save serve in the eleventh game and return the
pressure to Higgins. As a barely audible roar went up from the crowd, Cindy
relaxed her death grip on the Kokanee and exhaled. "That Higgins," she chortled, "He
doesn't deserve to be this close. He's not even in the same class as Ben"
(Ben was the nickname she'd given Ketchum after a night in Pamplona two years
earlier when Ketchum, barefoot, full of beer, and fresh off a straight sets
victory at Mallorca, had run a 9.5 second, 100 meter dash to the roaring
applause of a visiting group of Russian Folk dancers).
"Really." The word, spoken close to her ear and with a
casually extended "R," punctuated Cindy's train of thought. As she wheeled
around to glimpse the mouth that had spoken it, she found herself face-to-face
with a face that sent a chill straight up her right-angled Russian back and
froze her brain. Just before losing
consciousness completely and slumping into the stranger's arms she squinted
hard (a trick Ketchum had taught her for diminishing her extreme beauty in the
presence of dangerous men) and whispered questioningly, "Higgins?...but you're in Paris, losing to Ben...you can't win...what are you
doing here... where are my knickers...my head hurts..."
Looking down at the
spent Russian beauty in his arms, Remy Higgins, the picture of calm in his
"Farfignuggen" emblazoned bomber jacket cleared his throat and asked in an
effortless and decidedly avuncular tone, "Your
Back on center court
there was a certain carelessness-some might even say mischievousness - about
Hellmantle's gait as he approached the bench following Ketchum's game-ending
barrage. The roar of applause that had
greeted Ketchum's athletic outburst to win the game, took much of the attention
off the Hellmantle walk, but it wasn't lost on some of his die-hard supporters:
one in particular, Johnny Mac, looked on with rapt attention.
For most observers,
there was nothing abnormal about both players approaching the bench equidistant
to each other. Ketchum's approach was light and lively and he allowed himself a
smile and a nod of his head at the crowd who appeared, at this moment, to be
fully in his favor. The unison cooing
of the remaining girls on Ketchum's bench and the sulking look from the one
blonde defector over on Hellmantle's bench aroused in the Brit a sense of pity
for his opponent and he glanced over subtly at his foe who was now less than a
meter from the net post. As any real tennis fan knows, a full look at ones opponent
in such a situation would have constituted a breach of the age-old unwritten
rule of no eye contact during bench approach, but it was in time to anticipate
Hellmantle's next move.
Fifteen years prior,
as High School tennis players in Toronto, Ketchum, a winner in his match of the
Championships against Crescent, another local school, recalled watching from
behind the bench as Higgins struggled through a windy tie breaker in the final
set of the fifth and deciding match.
Having lost the point to go behind 2-4, Higgins, approaching the bench,
had reached into his pocket, pulled out a ball and rolled it expertly into his
opponent's feet. The opponent, the serve-and-volley expert Edward Prittie, had
tripped on the rolling ball and twisted his ankle badly. The match was immediately awarded to
Crescent and an interschool brawl followed during which Ketchum had been forced
to jump in and make use of his Aikido black belt skills to save Higgins from
serious physical damage.
Ketchum had never
forgotten that windy day, and now found himself dumbfounded, flabbergasted
even, that Higgins, the man whose life he had saved, would now attempt a similar move with so much money, fame and
ball girl attention on the line. Higgins had clearly been practicing the move
for at the same time as he looked up smilingly at the crowd, the ball was
already on the head of his racquet and beginning to drop quickly to an
impossible angle giving the ball momentum for its downward slide. As the ball
rolled off the head of the racquet and towards his feet, Ketchum had an idea.
Instead of dancing to the side, he walked right into the rolling ball, arched
the heels of his brown shoes up onto the fuzzy yellow cover and balanced
expertly for a brief second before kicking both feet up, pirouetting, and
landing on both feet. While performing
the circus like feat, Ketchum pointed his racquet at Higgins smiled and shook
his head, knowing what was about to happen.
"Penalty, Higgins. Eleventh game to Ketchum. Ketchum a
servir, six - cinze."
Such a quick
pronouncement from the referee surprised Ketchum as he looked up from the
bench, towel in hand. He was also surprised at the relative mildness of the
punishment but ultimately nodded in fairness. Hellmantle however, taking a page
out of the book of John McEnroe book, took issue with the call and pushed over
his bench sending the blonde girl into a backwards somersault that ended with
her legs pinned beneath the bench and a toppled Perrier water dispenser
showering her head and white top with bubbling French Spring Water. Before
anyone could realize the situation, Higgins took the second ball from his
pocket and slammed it, in anger, into the fifth row of box seats, where it
struck Deseray Lewis smack in the right eye. As she fell into her brother's arms,
her husband Lennox stood up quickly and stepped down over the seat in front of
characteristically mild-mannered Layton Corners, who had stood up at the
pronouncement and yelled at the chair umpire "Frig you, you Frog" for all to hear, now felt himself being
crushed under the weight of the Kangol Crowned Heavyweight Boxing Champion as
he moved steadily downwards, raw anger spilling out of his every pore as he set
his sights on Higgins.
Johnny Mac, who had
reluctantly agreed to help Higgins perfect the ball rolling trick the day
before, now stood up feeling somewhat implicated in the present mess. As he
stood and turned to face the scrambling Lewis, his right foot toppled the
bottle of Jack Daniels that he and Pete Townshend had been nursing, sending a
river of brown liquid and the pungent odor of Tennessee into the stands.
before one of his sporting heroes, Lennox Lewis pulled up and stopped. "It's
cool Lennox, its cool" said the head-banded former tennis star. The words struck
a chord with the boxing champion who pulled up and permitted himself a deep
breath while allowing the disheveled Corners to extricate himself from
It was now quite a
scene in Paris. Most of the crowd was now on its feet as security guards
flooded the bench area. While everybody's first concern had been for Higgins'
life as Lennox Lewis had approached the court, the calming effect of John
McEnroe's words had broken the tension and now a number of French Open
personnel busied themselves with the task of both removing the blonde girl from
beneath the Perrier dispenser, as well as covering her now fully revealed
breasts from the hungry band of photographers who had descended on the area.
As Higgins sat, head
hidden beneath a white towel, engaged in what Ketchum had earlier coined a "mental pat," calm gradually set in on
center court. People began to sit down
and there was much hushed chatter. It was hard to imagine any of the fans being
on Higgins' side at this moment but those who weren't were able to keep it to
themselves in the interest of seeing the match continue even if the outcome now
On the other bench,
Ketchum who had just returned from helping the blonde girl free from her
Perrier Pin, was now focused on his left brown shoe. The acrobatics that had
precipitated the bedlam on center court had managed to tear away half of the
back soul of his left brown shoe, leaving it flapping. Isabelle Delacroix, who,
for the proceedings had been positioned at the net, now approached Ketchum and
offered him a hand.
Fergus Goring, known
across southern Ireland as The Leather Shoe Shaman, had never missed a French
Open Final. Now, with Ketchum sporting a pair of his brown Cork Courts in the
final, he was beside himself with pride. The burning peat had taken the damp
out of his dark living room and the sun had recently come out and lit up the
white caps on the Celtic Sea that spread out endlessly from the bay window
behind the television set. Three Irish Whiskeys had settled Fergus and now the
one game penalty against Higgins led him to believe that he had more than one
shamrock up his backside. Oh, the orders
for Cork Courts will be flowing in, he giggled in glee.
Yet the television
image of a disengaged sole on Ketchum's Cork Courts had shattered the peace in
the Goring living room. Fergus was now
fully erect and screaming with both hands at the plasma screen in front of him
(a present from Ketchum only a month before). Ferkin Impossible!!! He
repeated over and over.
And there was another
complication: So confident had both Goring and Ketchum been about the Cork
Courts that a second pair had not been packed.
Thus, Ketchum, set to serve for the French Open Final, found himself in
what the French called a predicament.
If any one word could
describe Layton Corners it was loyal. He'd led a quiet, puritan existence with
his wife and two sons and had been rewarded with a series of small successes
that had won him esteem in the North Toronto community of which he had been
alderman for eight years. However now, in the heat of tense, primitive French
Open Final and in spite of the whole trip being backed by Higgins, he felt it
is moral duty to supply Ketchum with a new pair of North Stars. Probably, he
would have felt moved to do this even without the antics of the past fifteen
minutes. But Higgins' woefully bereft behavior had iced his resolve. And so, as
Higgins continued to sit towel over his head doing the Mantle Pat, Corners
motioned to Isabelle and passed a pair of clay-red, size thirteen North Stars
from his Jansport backpack over the heads of the people in front of him and
into the hands of Isabelle Delacroix.
Exactly what Corners
was doing with a pair of size thirteen tennis shoes when his client wore a
notoriously small size 7.5 was a mystery to all but Corners. In truth, Corner's
son, Justin, a Ketchum fan for many years and a shoe salesman at the local
sports store, had encouraged his Dad to seek out new opportunities while in
Paris and had advised him to take a pair of extra shoes. He had picked out the
size 13 North Stars which his Dad now passed down to a needy Ketchum. That man will not get away with this! Roared Fergus in a high-pitched tone from
the other side of the Atlantic.
'Quiet Please! Ketchum a servir.
With the umpire's
words Ketchum slammed his racquet confidently into the soles of his new shoes
and walked purposefully to the baseline to serve for the match.
The Pricked Tit
Knowing his avuncular
tone was a gift from God, Remy Higgins, identical twin brother of Hellmantle
the tennis player who played on the TV over the bar, wasn't surprised to find
the golden-haired Russian respond in an exasperated movement. Like a floppy
disk or floppy doll - or something floppy - Remy Higgins held the still
light0headed Cindy Kafel until she suddenly kicked her leg straight out grazing
his left kneecap but scoring a direct hit on his left charliehorse. Thrown back
with a severe wince of pain, Remy balanced himself against the bar - a reflex
that he had developed over many years during his self-imposed exile in Cape
Scott. It was the one piece of real estate on the planet where no one who was
"sick" could contaminate his highly developed sense of justice and spiritual
fair play. Remy liked to call it the Mostapha Mond's Greenland of Huxley's
Brave New World.
"My-" She stopped,
looked at this man who wore a Farfignuggen bomber jacket, a present he had been
given by his tennis-star brother after his victory over the hard-hitting Swede
Magnus Norman at the German Open in Berlin, gave him a double-take and then
quickly looked back to the TV.
"Bit early to be
quaffing don'tcha think." Uncanny she
thought; he even sounds like Hellmantle. "But then again, I'm here to do the
same" he said. She looked at the choked can of Kokanee and chucked it to the
dusty corner of Brad's, a corner that hadn't been swept since the Canada
adopted its own constitution during the Trudeau years.
With a head's up
motion, he lifted the Russian up to her feet with his arms and said: "I see you
like your tennis. You have strong legs. What's the score?"
Remy had planned on
showing up at Brad's earlier but he couldn't find one of his dogs. He had woken
up early enough - which was a monumental achievement in itself and one that
showed his undying loyalty to his twin brother as his number-one fan - but he
couldn't find one of his wolves. Others called his wolves dogs, but he knew
their real pedigree, just like he knew his own real pedigree, which reached back
to Godfrei de Boullion, the leader of the First Crusade and the first king of
Jerusalem after the destruction of the Temple in 1106. The longhaired
Merovingian removed his bomber jacket and settled in with characteristic Higgy
suaveness. He scooped up a peanut from the peanut-strewn wooden table.
"Ah, sex-five for Ben- ah, Ketchum," she
replied. She stared at the clone of the man who sought to dislodge her man from
his lead to take the French Open crown.
"Russian aren't you,"
said Remy, "from a resort town near the Black Sea I'd say - but it's just a
guess." Remy had traveled the world when he was young, and had become an expert
on languages and history and, as a result, accents. "I have a friend who
is Russian. Actually, I met him through my brother. He's a tennis player -
name's Yvgeni." Remy said the name with particular emphasis on the second
syllable so it sounded like "Yev-GEN-ee." "We partied in Paris and had a blast.
That was after that chappie with the Visigoth chin - forget his name - conquered
Hellmantle in last year's Open. Not this year though, he kicked his ass this
year in the quarters. See that's Hellmantle up there playing that bumbee with
shoes the color of Belgian chocolate."
"You follow tennis?"
correct," he replied unaware that as he answered his own chin lifted ever so
slightly. He turned and called for Brad the bartender. "Get me the usual will
ya Big Schooter. Thanks matey. And whatever this Russian lass is having." When
he looked at the stunned-looking Russian, he was quick to notice her
exceptional posture. Both were caught looking at each other directly in the
eyes. "Posture" he said, half mumbling it and half-surprised he had verbalized
what he was thinking.
Despite being beside
a windswept western shore of the very edge of the Western World, Hellmantle's
brother Remy had insisted that Brad import a German beer so he could carry on
with his legendary drinking intake and not wake up the next morning with a
hangover. So Brad - knowing what good business was - stocked up on Becks, a
beer that Remy drank with authority and aplomb. The Becks arrived just as color
was returning to Cindy's face.
identical twin brother," said Remy, smiling at a girl he didn't know knew
his friend Yvgeni.
As Hellmantle, the tall
ginger-haired Norman of noble descent, held his head in his Yonex towel in the
midst of a ruckus on center court, he found his thoughts veer to an old memory
that stemmed from a similar incident with the famous "accidental" ball-
rolling trick. It was the first time he had used it to great effectiveness that
had rendered his opponent useless after going over on his ankle. Of course
there were slight fisticuffs after the "Crescent School incident," but the most
striking - indeed the most embarrassing - was watching little Johnny Ketchum
with his enormous and cumbersome feet and skinny ankles (even back then), try
to use his so-called black belt. A smile crept across Hellmantle's face in the
towel as he recalled the sight of the skinny kid sans chops striking the air trying to imitate Karate with his
gangly legs and long arms but he looked more like a big spider in heat. He
really never lived that down - being laughed at for what he thought was martial
arts but to Hellmantle and his flock was a classic.
"Ah, those were the days," he reminisced, completely losing himself
from the crowd underneath his Yonex towel. It wasn't until he smelled the
unmistakable aroma of Tennessee Jack that his thoughts were brought back to the
present. Aware now that a circus had developed over a simple dropping of the
ball that happened to have an angle
to it and had also happened to meet
with the large feet of his opponent, Hellmantle picked up his half-empty bottle
of his special tea that he drank during the game, turned and lobbed it in the
air to Johnny Mac. His loyal friend McEnroe had been watching him with the
astuteness of a friend who knew that his buddy might need something extra to
get him through this crucial point of the match. McEnroe caught the flying
projectile so nonchalantly that only Pete Townshend and the ever-attentive
Layton Corners had noticed the lob.
McEnroe, ever the
prepared Irishman, had been smart enough to anticipate a sloppy toe by one of
the fans - or even by Pete himself - so he had hid a personal mickey of his
favorite Jameson's in the inside of his coat. Feeling a momentary twang in his
heart to depart with a liquid he thirsted for so greatly, Johnny Mac selflessly
filled Hellmantle's bottle of tea with a bit of fine aqua vitae. When he lobbed it back to the court, it bounced
expertly off the bench and landed at his foot leaning on his North Stars.
Without even raising his head, Hellmantle grabbed the bottle of "tea" and took
a long, slow tug. As he sat in front of the big, burly men with hairy chests
who were helping Hellmantle's half-naked female fan get up and put her top back
on, Hellmantle went back into his retreat under his Yonex towel, a sponsor who
would be the happiest of all during this moment in the match as all the world
saw Hellmantle's pose - the thinking
man's tennis player.
Lennox Lewis had
walked back to Deseray and sat down but was still perturbed about Deseray
taking the rifled tennis ball in the eye. Accustomed to taking punches in the
eye, Deseray seemed to make a remarkable comeback from the direct hit that
threatened her second-to-none tampered facial architecture with a black eye. It
was the deeply rooted sense of chivalry that had Johnny Mac had assumed a
caring posture for the assaulted lass, (but also mixed with a sense of loyalty
to his friend and fellow warrior Hellmantle), so Lennox Lewis's wife had in
turn taken a liking to the feisty McEnroe. This contributed to her motivation
to open her purse and spike her husband's Coke with Valium. Soon, his puffed-up
deltoids were to be calmed by the contents of his cup.
Layton Corners, who
had supplied the Wimbledon-stick Ketchum with size 13 North Stars (which were a
half size snug) was making his way off the court when Corners managed to walk
past Hellmantle and drop a sullied Kleenex by his feet. Again, it was a tactic
that he and Corners had perpetrated in past tournaments but without the
knowledge of the fans. As if on cue, Hellmantle, who knew that the timeout he
had called after unsuccessfully arguing against the game default from the
ball-sliding incident was about to come to an end, casually leaned over and
picked up the Kleenex as if he were tying up a loose shoe lace. Again
retreating under his towel, he took another long hit of his "tea" and then
pretended to blow his nose. He postured to look at his snot but what he saw was
no snot but two small blue pills and a large red pill - pills that would have a
tremendous effect on the outcome of the match - and perhaps of the game of
tennis as recorded in history.
With Lennox doused
with Valium, Deseray nursing her eye with ice, Mac gone to the player's lounge
for another bottle for him and Pete, and the blonde streaker sitting beside
Hellmantle (her Merovingian hero with the
hair), Rusty Hugh called a
"Ah, c'mon ump,"
Hellmantle said, peaking out from his towel to the sound of photographers
clicking their shutters. He intuitively struck a pose, which he knew the
photographers would love, lead by the legendary mustachioed Erwin van
Goethenburg. He added: "C'mon matey, whaddya..." but the words were only words
issued by a consummate poser who knew that when he won the cup his photograph
would be splattered in newspapers around the world. Then, when Rusty the umpire
was about to speak, the poised Hellmantle quickly raised his hand and stood up,
stopping the chair umpire from speaking. And at that precise moment he was in
perfect pose for Erwin van Goethenburg to press down on his button and snap a
cluster of shots sounding just like a toy machine gun. Yes, thought the man of
Norman aristocracy. Yes, there it is; there's the shot.
Milking his own
penchant for body English, and immediately feeling the effects of the single
malt-Irish whiskey-spiked tea, the man from Normandy wanted to pop only one of
the small blue pills into his mouth but by error had popped the super-strong
red pill. In front of the thousands of tennis fans, he was forced to again take
a solid slug of "tea" from his bottle and swallow the huge red pill down his
throat. Pushing his luck, he reached into his racquet's bag and pulled out a
tie-dye T-shirt that had some lime green in it. Waking up that morning with
Fraulein Schett, she had told him that if he was feeling daring enough that he
should wear his tie-dye T-shirt with streaks that perfectly matched his shorts.
She had said that it would establish a new trend on the hallowed courts of the
circuit, so Hellmantle packed it just in case. Keeping the calls at bay from
his large base of female fans, Hellmantle slowly put his tie-dye T-shirt over
his hairless torso. Hardly able to conceal his grin, Hellmantle looked over to
the blonde streaker and immediately noted her pout: that overzealous do-gooder
Ketchum with the bulbous Iron Maiden ring on had pricked the blonde streaker when he unpinned her Perrier Pin. What
he did was in fact poke the poor
stranded lass while she laid helpless with her boobs showing to Erwin van
Goethenburg and the boys. Hellmantle's own deeply ingrained sense for chivalry
"Hey Rusty," he said
to the chair umpire, "did you see this? Ketchum has pricked her." Hellmantle pointed at the small but noticeable
bloodstain on her Perrier-soaked blouse. Rusty sported a double-take and
appeared to redden at the realization of the situation, affected no doubt by
the immediate geography of the wound. Hellmantle then sprung up from his
crouched position, faced the crowd but posed at a perfect angle for Erwin van
Goethenburg and the shutterbugs and said: "He's
the poker, not meee" in a clear
Louis-Winthorp-the-Third accent. Suddenly, Rusty Hugh looked like his name; his
face had become the color of a dusty tomato. In the silence Hellmantle sprung
"And you burn me a game for accidentally rolling a ball when he has assaulted this
helpless lass!?! What's this world coming to!" With those words, there was a
sudden rush of protest from the French fans whose sense of fair play had been
infringed upon. Pointing at an unknowing Ketchum, Hellmantle said: "He has pricked her tit!" The last straw, the
crowd went wild; both in protest against Rusty's impotence at not being able to
make a call, and at the sheer audacity
that Hellmantle had used such language in a Grand Slam men's singles final.
Even the elderly women in the crowd were shaking their heads in outer
disapproval but there were more than a few that inside were impressed by this
big-swinging-dick Hellmantle from the North Country who could somehow get away
with so much.
One of les Francaise madames was shaking her
head in outer disapproval, but inside she was really quite taken by this
goateed young man. Her name was Buffy Cranford-Patelle, the widow of Mr. Thane
Cranford-Patelle. Buffy's late husband had inherited the family fortune from
his great grandfather, who had struck a deal with the Merovingian-wannabe
Napoleon to supply the French army with leather boots. She spent most of her
time at the chateau in Languedoc near the famous turreted church, but she had
become so bored that she had turned to Parisian society and in particular
French Open tennis. And she had also taken to her medication for her "strained
back." Recently, she had found a family friend to administer stronger doses for
her sore back; today she had taken a handful of these pills and drank her
obligatory three glasses of wine in the pre-game social event in one of the
tents. Buffy Cranford-Patelle was
impressed by this swashbuckler Hellmantle. She liked his style. But Buffy was too civilized to yell
out; she kept it all inside. But that didn't stop her from devising some way of
engineering a meeting with the dashing bachelor. She was over forty but she
still had what it took. She would talk to Warwick Biggerstaff, whom all the
players on the tour call Stiffy. He was a friend of hers who had pull in this
tournament, and a fixture at the French Open.
Winning back the
crowd was a good consolation after his Mac-inspired ball-rolling trick.
Hellmantle, with size seven-and-a-half North Stars, walked out to the court
with his Yonex towel around his neck to again receive serve but he stopped.
Turning around, he leapt toward the helpless blonde and kissed her where she
had been poked as if to kiss it better. Everyone went quiet when it happened.
First stunned then confused, the crowd wondered if there was breach of
gentlemanly etiquette but when the girl let out a cry of utter pleasure - as if
saved and healed from the touch of the Messiah Himself - the crowd instantly
alleviated any doubt and began to nod their head in approval. A growing golf
clap permeated throughout all corners of the stadium, even from the defending Wimbledon
Champion's corner. The reaction graduated to a full applause with the Frenchmen
becoming particularly lively. Buffy Cranford-Patelle was particularly taken;
when she saw him kiss her, Buffy's head snapped backward almost erupting her
pin-held bun into disarray. Her cheeks became flushed.
Reaching the back of
the court to where Guy-the-ball-boy took his towel, he could hear his fans in
the corner still shouting at Rusty Hugh about the game punishment he had given
Hellmantle. "Back call ump." "Blame it on gravity ref," and other comments
could be heard from the sides. He quickly turned and sought a warm glance from
his honeybee but Fraulein Schett, with her sultry lips, had mysteriously
disappeared. But what caught his eye instead were a cluster of Vikings up in
the nosebleed stands wearing horns and long beards in honor of Hellmantle's
Norman heritage and as full-fledged members of the now international network of
biker gangs called The Hellmantles. For an instant, he thought of his hometown
pub where The Hellmantles hung out. Some called it Hellmantle's Hideout. He
didn't know there was a chapter in Paris.
turned to face the tall Wimbledon champ who was serving for the championship,
he felt his special McEnroe "tea" and the steadfastly loyal Corners' red pill
that he had - perhaps recklessly - ingested. Aware of the millions of fans
watching from around the world, he sensed - no, he knew - that his identical twin brother was watching from Vancouver
Island. Knowing this, it gave him open license to push the envelope of
conventional tennis with his own original technique. He assumed his
receiving-serve stance and gave the tall Brit the nod.
The serve came in
with pepper on it, as if the six-foot five-inch Ketchum had become ticked off
over the changeover. Hellmantle played the ball as if it were good but the
net-ump called a let. It was a late call so when Ketchum finally stopped he had
run up to the net for the volley. But what Hellmantle saw was a new element of
what appeared to be a pigeon-toe'd stutter step. Ketchum's new North Stars had
size 13 written on them but were really European size - so they weren't 13 but
really size 12! They were a size and a half too small for the tall champ from
another 190kph-plus serve only to get a deep return back to his forehand court.
Hellmantle stayed back on the baseline and ran him from side to side like a
ping-pong ball. To the left side of the court to the right side, followed by a
well-executed drop shot that dripped with finesse over the net. Then a lob over
Ketchum's head was run down and popped up.
Instead of putting it
away Hellmantle elected to hit an easier shot to his deep backhand which
revealed a now limping Ketchum to feebly take a whack at the ball like a squash
shot. Again facing a high ball to mid court, Hellmantle elected not to put it
away but to hit a not-so-tight drop shot, one well within reach of the
belabored Wimbledon champ. Barely getting there, Ketchum appeared as if he
wanted to end the rally so he tried to hit a winner down the line but
Hellmantle managed a return to deep court. Once again, Ketchum had to back
track but as he did he appeared to be favoring his left foot.
The rally then
proceeded for another ten shots with Hellmantle moving the Brit from side to
side, from the back of the court to the front of the court, with his drop shot
getting particular attention to bring his spindly-legged opponent in to the
net. It wasn't until Ketchum ran toward the net and slid his toe, which
appeared to snag the service line causing him to tumble forward. Despite being
off balance, Hellmantle returned the ball right at him so Ketchum, ever the
competitor, took a swipe somewhat wildly at the ball missing it entirely.
Ketchum stood pigeon-toed on the court again favoring his left foot.
Erwin van Goethenburg
and his shutterbugs photographed the limping Ketchum who couldn't conceal a
huge grimace to the crowd. Above the hush, Hellmantle could hear the
high-pitched yet unmistakable laughter of his loyal friend Layton Corners.
"Zéro - quinze" said Rusty Hugh.