Wordcarpenter Books
The Mantle Pat

The Timeout

Hellmantle wanted to win but he didn't want to win the match due to any sense of foul play of poor sportsmanship, so when he stood at the baseline and waited for the tall Brit's serve, he became concerned. The serving gait was fragile, the limbs unsteady and the face pale. Hellmantle waited for the toss that never came. The long, wobbly legs buckled just for a moment before Fletch's hand went up in the air and asked for a timeout. In a very sporting, very Norman gesture, the large goatee'd man from Normandy nodded in understanding and accepted the Englishman's need for a breather. First to his aid was the young ballgirl named Delacroix...

--

Handcoughs

For Sixty-one year-old Captain Raoul Grosjean of France's DGSE, being asked to head up the 2001 French Open Security team was an honour he had waited for patiently since moving to the capital from his native Lyon five years prior.  And while he could point to a military lineage dating back to Napoleonic Egypt as well as a string of recent personal policing coups (the February foiling of a Greenpeace anti-nuclear initiative near Marseilles, the March rescue of Jacques Chirac's Cat) to now serve his country at its pre-eminent sporting and media event was a career-defining moment. And the fact that his son was a participant, that was the icing on the gateau.

Though only two weeks in duration, the tournament had required over six months of preparation. Routine daily security exercises, thousands of hours of testing and tweaking the new Renault Facial Imaging MF3000, and millions of gigabytes of international profiling and research files had been amassed and the result was a highly-trained,  first-rate team, able to handle any and every eventuality.  And apart from the challenges of President Clinton's awkward nocturnal wanderings, the presence of five times the expected number of international celebrities at Ketchum's new film premiere in the Balzac Room at Versailles the weekend before, Hellmantle's constant bedwetting and bladder issues which had raised the ire of Paris' most respected hotelier, Vincent Paradis, and the apprehension of six Algerian nationalists with forged physical trainer licenses, Grosjean Sr's team had risen to the task flawlessly.  So flawlessly, in fact, that on the eve of the Sunday Finals, Grosjean Sr., sitting comfortably on his Rue Foche balcony, the dying light of day dancing off his Grand Marnier glass and into a full bowl of jelly bellies, had allowed his mind a rare flight of fancy: yes, he smiled as he tugged on his own thick sideburns, France's newly created Homeland Security Chief position could, within months, be mine.

Yet no one could have predicted how quickly it would all change, how fast it would turn into the circus it had now so clearly become.  To be sure, Grosjean's son had warned his father about Higgins' temperamental behaviour and of the appearance of hand-written bomb threats from someone claiming to be ‘The One True Hellmantle.'  But, in the Chief's opinion, threats were common and thus extra security on Higgins had, in his mind, more than sufficed.  Sure, there had been the rotten tomatoes and the taunting of fans waving the ubiquitous Depends diapers at the bladder-challenged man claiming Merovingian descent. And yes, Higgins' coach was drunk or absent (or frequently both - and, most thought, addicted to the ‘tea') for most of the tournament. Yet Grosjeans team's ability to contain all of that as well as Sunday morning's medical emergency that confirmed the spread of a highly contagious new strain of athletes foot which had quickly brought a festering, leprous-look to Higgins' knees and thighs (leading to concern and complaints from players and officials alike), left the chief, just hours before match time, convinced the tournament was in the bag.

Carter Manson, the U.S Open's arrogant chief of security, had advised Grosjean the year before at the Sports Security Conference in Las Vegas, that controlling Higgins was no big deal, that it was the troublemaking Rios and Federer and the pop idol Ketchum (‘Jesus, with the friend's this guy has you got to think HE may be the second coming!') that Grosjean needed to focus on. Now, with dark clouds approaching from the West, and his Homeland Security aspirations surely shattered, Grosjean cursed Manson's name, popped another Jelly Belly to calm his nerves, and stared back across at the weeping, handcuffed, shell of a man in front of him.

The dark, damp, heavily guarded room that the Chief now found himself in, sat 50 metres below centre court, far removed from the pandemonium above and silent save for the odd radio hiss from the Motorola transmitters that hung from the hips of the 12 security men that lined the cell's wall.  The centrepiece of the unhappy room was a cheap, linoleum table on which a cornucopia of pills and drug paraphernalia spilled out of an imitation black leather bag, whose baggage tag read, in childish script, ‘Layton Corners.'

‘Remove zee hancoughs from zis patetik man' Grosjean barked while simultaneously nodding to Celine, his Rubenesque assistant, to run the video one more time.  As the looped, close-up image of Layton Corner's ‘dropping' pills and alcohol at Higgins' feet ran for the 10th time and as Corner's sobs became louder, Grosjean impatiently regarded his mobile which had started to ring. As two security guards worked to remove the handcuffs from Layton Corner's cold, limp wrists, the Chief answered his phone with all the calm he could muster. ‘Oui Sebastien.'

On the court above, Ketchum lay comfortably on the white Tennis Magazine towel that Raluca, his long-time physical trainer and part of last night's tri-yst, had laid out on the red clay in front of the Brit's bench.  With Raluca expertly working the inside of his thigh and Isabelle massaging his ankles, Ketchum contained a contented smile at the smoothness with which his plan was being executed. With the glaring sun of earlier now muted by an advancing wall of grey cloud, the Lambchopped Brit peaked out over Isabelle's shoulder where he was afforded a clear view of the growing anxiousness and paranoia of his opponent.

With no coach in sight, his bathroom visits used up, Corner's detained, and Townshend now out cold and receiving emergency medical attention on the cement entranceway to Loge 7, courtesy of a Lennox Lewis uppercut (following the heavyweight champion's realization of the ageing rock stars complicity in Higgins' assault on is wife), Higgins was running out of options.  More than this, Ketchum knew all too well that another five minutes of stopped play, would play havoc with the chemical cocktail now racing through his opponents veins. Inaction was the worst possible recommendation for someone as hopped up as Higgins was now, and this was no better evidenced than by Higgins' pacing, incoherent mumblings and occasional racquet slamming as he got up, sat down, paced and generally appeared thoroughly agitated.  All of this while Ketchum lay mere metres away receiving the royal treatment from two of the finer looking women in the stadium. And so, as the crowds continued to waive their Depends tauntingly at Higgins, and shouts of Eh, Eelmantle, who'se yahr pusher now? and Nice Mullet!!! echoed sarcastically out over the growing hush. Ketchum calmly lay on his back, and counted the minutes.

Meantime, Ketchum's Groin Grab was now the subject of a number of discussions in the media and amongst the spectators. For many of the younger fans, it was an exact replication of the pose that had landed him on the front page of Rolling Stone Magazine two months earlier, courtesy of none other than Erwin Van Goethenburg himself. 

As it happened, Ketchum's superband, ‘Grass Hit Park' (a reference to his Wimbledon legacy, his love of the bud as well as his summer home in the national park he bestowed upon his former country) had been the mystery act at Malibu Buns, a tiny club on the California coast, part of a huge American beer company promotion. When the tension in the smoky, hip little den had reached breaking point, the lights blew up on stage to reveal Ketchum nonchalantly grabbing his groin before breaking into the title track off Clovis Cohones, the groups chart-topping new album. The uncontrolled screams of pleasure and chaos that had ensued were soon brought under control. Yet, somehow, Van Gothenberg's picture captured both the screaming adulation as well as Ketchum's indifferent ‘stage cool' prompting Rolling Stone to bump Kylie Minogue off the cover, instate the Brit idol in her place and pump a cool 500 grand into van Goethenburg's Cyprus account. 

And van Goethenburg loved it. Though a silent partner in many of Ketchum's ventures and a millionaire many times over, Erwin's real love was rock music - straight away, hard-driving, guitar and vocal-led rhythms that locked audiences in, connecting them to a deeper part of their beings. Shallow, pop acts like Milli Vanilli, BackStreet Boys and Hellmantle's Hooligans, though they sold less than 5% of what ‘Grass Hit Park' sold, still raised Van Goethenburg's ire, ruining, he felt, music for generations to come.  So, while he would obey Hadrian Jute's requests to snap pictures of Hellmantle at the French Open (for reasons unknown), that didn't keep him from quietly despising the Mullet-haired Merovingian.

Any way you sliced it, thanks to van Goethenburg's camera skills and the Ketchum team's information system, Ketchum's present situation could only be described as a coup. While the Groin Grab had endeared him to his younger fans even more, he had also managed to convince Rusty Hugh and most of the press that he had indeed suffered some kind of a strain and would therefore require an 8 minute break. Rusty Hugh had agreed immediately which had the effect of quieting the crowd who then turned their attention towards the restless and seemingly deranged Higgins who had now pushed over his own umbrella and appeared to be weeping into his stained Yon towel, the ‘x' now faded from the sweat and tears that had been poured into it.

Yet, the drama that was playing out on centre court was mere childsplay compared to what was now transpiring 50 metres below.  Daryll Hellmontygue (accent on ‘Monty'), an ex-fisherman turned IT consultant from the east coast of Vancouver island, glanced once more into the room where Corners sat shaking under a floodlight, and returned to the boiler room down the hall.  The stormy arrival of Grosjean's team had startled him, but his physical trainer outfit with ‘Glenn Michibata' emblazoned on the back had not raised any eyebrows and they had passed him by.

Besides, Hellmontygue, was a man on a mission.  After registering ‘Hellmantle' as his real name six years prior, he had gone on to create the ‘Hellmantle Hustle,' a video game that had been five years in development and a hairs breath away from a 10 million dollar deal with Disney before the Michael Eisner had balked and the deal died. Disney had cited the tennis player Higgins' adoption of the name ‘Hellmantle' (a move rumoured to have helped him to climb out of the anonymity that he'd fallen into), as killing all equity in the name, but Disney's assertion of adoption was incorrect. Countless letters from Daryll to Higgins' website and fan mail address requesting a meeting, an out-of-court settlement or some kind of compensation had been totally ignored, leaving the Canadian angry and bent on revenge. Blowing up the French Open was his solution, and so with Islamic fundamentalist financing and support, he'd spent the past six months preparing for this moment. 12 security police and a crying man were not going to stop him now. May the real Hellmantle please stand up he whispered in his best talk-show voice as he returned to fiddling with the wires inside the Wilson tennis bag which lay open at his feet.

Nastase Knows. Raluca's soft voice broke Ketchum's concentration. He quickly looked at his watch, nodded his understanding and sat up. As if on cue, Rusty Hugh's voice broke out over the court at the same time, announcing ‘time.'  Ketchum stood up jumped up and down a few times and then grabbed a fresh racquet. As he pulled the plastic cover off he recognized the microscopic, flashing light on the dot over the ‘i' in Wilson.  This would be his new receiver for information and Ana K. would be the bearer of news.  Ketchum's technique of banging the strings while holding the racquet up to his ears afforded him a chance to hear Nastase's voice pumping out false information to Higgins. As he walked back onto the court to the applause of what seemed like everyone, he noticed fumble and drop an object, pick it up pretend to shake his ear then look around confused. He may have the ring, thought Ketchum, but he has no idea how to use it. So hand to mouth.

With Higgins massively distracted, the tall Brit lay in with a heavily topspinned serve that kicked out high to the backhand. Higgins, expecting another down-the-line blast, leaped to reach the ball and popped it up shallow to Ketchum's forehand. With ease the Brit moved in and hit a deep forehand that landed near Higgins' back foot which propelled his body quickly to the far corner. Higgins' attempt to draw up was not fast enough, resulting in him hitting his own back foot, dead on the Achilles heel. As he fell back the racquet teetered up on its front just long enough for Higgins to apparently impale his backside. What made the commentators grimace audibly was the extremely awkward bounce that Higgins' body affected before rolling off and skidding to a stop.

'Cinze - quarante,' said Rusty Hugh as Higgins lay motionless on the backcourt. As it became apparent that there was no team to take care of the injured Merovingian, Hugh stepped down off his podium and began deliberating with officials.

--

The Aspirin Packet

"Oooohhh! Did you see that?" asked Remy. Yvgeni Kafelnikov's blonde cousin Cindy Kafel looked up at the modest TV in the corner of Brad's Bar.

"Why is he on dah clay?" she replied. Remy took note of Cindy Kafel's use of the word ‘clay."

"He hit a bump behind the baseline - you could see it." Remy threw his hand up toward the television as if in pain at the sight of his twin brother sprawled on the court and covered in sun-warmed clay. There was a rusty hue on his wet legs. Just as Kafel took a swig of her refreshed Kokanee, Remy reached into his coat pocket and pulled out three blue pills and a large red pill. He felt them in his fingers and felt a tremendous urge to pop not one but all three. He felt inclined to take the big red pill, which he did. He washed the pill down with his Becks and then uttered the name ‘Hellmontygue," accenting the ‘Monty." Monty was a fisherman who became bitterly offended when Remy had given a brief exposition regarding the Hellmantle lineage going all the way back to the leader of the First Crusade. A large man with a sea-worthy swagger, Daryll Wolfenbuttal Hellmontygue actually was a descendent of Godfrei de Boullion except of a different line, which found themselves living in Brittany. How Monty's family ended up on the westernmost island on the Pacific plains of Manifest Destiny was anyone's guess.

"Fool" he said to the floor. Remy knew Hellmontygue didn't have his papers, at least not legitimate papers like he and his brother had. So Monty was out to cause trouble and to create a stain on his noble name, at least that's what Hellmantle, Layton Corners and Remy had concluded.

Remy looked at Kafel, grinned and followed her eyes up to the tennis match where he let out an involuntary groan. The sound of the jukebox began to echo louder in his ears as he focused on his brother on the television above the bar. The screen faded out to a Glenn Michibata Island Coin Laundry commercial, the king of coin laundry outlets on Vancouver Island. Without being aware of it, Remy wiped his pant leg with his open hand as if brushing away something that had been spilt on him.


 

Back in Paris, Toss Longespee, otherwise known to Hellmantle as ‘the Flying Dutchman,' usually followed his blue-chip strategy of hanging high in the north corner of the stadium with binoculars watching the play below. He was comfortable there with the wine drinkers and Gouda eaters with cracker crumbs falling down the front of their French fleece. He enjoyed the catcalls and the inappropriate laughter as well as the French-accented grunts of formidable! and magnificent! from under an over-sized tri-color flag. But that was why Toss Longespee was there: to soak in the full hamburger of the French Open, the French fans, the tennis and the culture. He was there because it was the best place to be in the world during late June every summer. Sure, he knew he had free time because of the money he had been given by his late Uncle Jack - the war veteran who was captured during Dieppe and survived three years as an officer POW in Germany. When he had listened to his uncle's will being read to him over the phone by his uncle's lawyer Francis Crinkelbine, he knew at that moment that he would never use the money for anything other than the pursuit of good, or as Plato had said: eudamonia.

Leaning back on his seat under the hot afternoon sun, Toss Longespee removed his sunglasses and squinted down at Hellmantle smoothing over a bump behind the baseline with his foot. He noticed that Hellmantle toweled off everywhere except his legs. Toss Longespee had followed Hellmantle for over a year now and had come to know his vast array of eccentricities. In fact, Toss Longespee would go on record as saying that Hellmantle had the highest Grand Slam-convention-breaking average than any other player alive or dead. For Toss it was as if with every match Hellmantle expanded his boundaries of behaviour. And Toss could name and footnote almost all ‘Hellmantle firsts' on tour, but that was the type of man Toss Longespee was: as sharp as the cutting board would allow.

There wasn't much the man from the Zeider Zee didn't see when sitting incognito with his prescription Ray Bans on. He saw Pete Townshend take a hit from Lennox Lewis and he saw John McEnroe throw a bottle of ice tea to his buddy Hellmantle from his box beside a cluster of businessmen in a corporate VIP section. He saw a brief exchange of words between the six-fingered ballgirl and Hellmantle, and noted Ketchum's growing limp of his left foot. And he saw Glenn Michibata, the old Canadian Champion sitting on the west side of the stadium. He also saw the woman with a crew cut and big arms lifting up a sign that had a picture of a diaper with the words "HELLMANTLE'S HELPERS." That was the one thing that threatened his inner calm of equilibrium there in the north corner, and threatened to disrupt his inner rapture of witnessing a modern battle between England and France. For Toss Longespee, the sign represented a stain of untruth in an arena overwhelmed by the truth of play, the flow of true coordination and the true posture of the earnest stroke. As hard as Toss could try to ignore the woman with the sign, he couldn't. His thoughts flipped back to that night that he ended up at Vincent Paradis in Paris but which started at the Hong Kong Salem Open. Of course the peeing-in-the-bed rumor all stemmed from the Tom Foolery in Hong Kong two seasons ago when Hellmantle's hunger to win had overwhelmed thirty-five of the top fifty rankings in a twelve-month period.

It was Marcello Rios who had invited Toss out for a drink after he had asked where to go out in Hong Kong. The question caught his ear while he stood in front of the main draw. Not one to feel any difference between the well known and the less well known, Toss Longespee took two steps over and answered with his best judgment. When he had finished telling Marcello Rios the places he recommended, the Chilean former number-one said: "Why don't you come along with us - if you're not busy?" Hellmantle, Kafelnikov and Goran Ivaniesevic came out with wet hair and their racquets bags over their shoulders. With a nod he was in.

Kafelnikov had demanded something civilized, something colonial, so since Victoria Park Tennis Centre was so close to Central, they went to the Ritz Carlton right beside the Caledonia Pub (in case Kafelnikov felt the urge to hear Caledonian bagpipes). The four of them arrived flushed from heat, found a corner in the lounge and sat in the polished colonial armchairs. They relaxed with single-malt Scotch and flavoured cigars before their departure later that evening for the Paris Open. Rios was very quick to keep ordering more rounds but soon Kafelnikov switched to vodka "uncorrupted by mix." The clear liquid made Yvgeni more animated and speech more slurred and was soon demonstrating the "wimpy" nature of Goran's backhand volley. When he illustrated Goran's backhand volley he accidentally knocked the teapot off the burner. Soon there were pockets of people staring at the four drunken expats, one of whom kept flailing his arm (and especially his wrist) under the massive paintings that lined the walls. Goran's doppelganger was making a lot of noise with Hellmantle's alter ego. Some in the Ritz pointed to Goran in recognition.

Eventually, after a brief pubbing stint in Long Kwai Fong, the four of them taxied to Wan Chai where they dipped in to the Horse & Groom for a quick "colonial" pint and then to the famous Old China Hand where the hard drinkers from around the world end up late at night. There were some who recognized them, but it was four girls from Columbia that set the evening off course when they jumped on a very enthusiastic Marcello Rios to shower kisses all over him. Time flashed by but with a spontaneous invitation to all four, two girls decided to join them for the flight to Paris. It was Hellmantle's Columbian companion who ended up at Vincent Paradis. Still to this day Hellmantle has made it clear to Toss that he's sure it was her who had had the nocturnal incident of the bladder, not him. But as Hellmantle has said, it wasn't the first time he had been framed.

And now sitting there watching Hellmantle struggle for the thrill of victory, Toss Longespee was brought back to why he was there. He came to watch the world's best racquet's players use artistry and grace in a modern-day joust. His patience was bought for those few moments when co-ordination flowed, when different strands came together in an artful execution. This witnessing of grace under pressure was what gave Toss Longespee his sense of belonging in this upside-down world. It was knowing that man was capable of such displays of divine grace that gave him comfort in his kind. The Rolling Stone antics of a few celebrities never fascinated him; for Toss Longespee it was always about art. Even during his studies of the defense arts taught in the academy for his special training, he looked first for the art. Once the art was seen, for Toss Longespee the rest was all gravy. Gravy.

It wasn't the clay-covered legs of Hellmantle that bothered Longespee; it was the sudden movements of security guards now buzzing around the far entrance of the players' locker rooms. One of the guards had disappeared and the other was checking near the foot of the stands. The guard looked rushed and hurried, and some fans had started to peer down at him from the seats above.

"Ah" he said aloud, making the person beside him look over. Toss picked up his binoculars and looked at the security guard by the locker rooms where he saw an anxious-looking Carter Manson walking by and speaking into a miniature phone. Toss pursed his lips looking at the US Open Chief of Security and said "curious. Very curious..."

 

 

As Hellmantle lay on the backcourt in a deafening silence of relief he hadn't hurt himself enough worthy to seek medical assistance, he caught a cool, refreshing breeze that snaked along the top of the hot clay. For a moment the warmth and the safety of finding himself in the fetal position made him think of his twin brother on Vancouver Island. Hellmantle elected not to wipe the clay from his legs since it covered his fungal knees, and then chose to go directly to the bump behind the baseline that had been the cause of such an ill-timed and awkward fall.

After making sure the French crowd knew that it had been an irregularity that had almost caused him to snap his Achilles Tendon (the true "Heel" of all men), he glanced over to the Brit and was momentarily taken back by the robust rosy hue that had taken Ketchum's flushed cheeks above his lambchops. Had one of his nuts ruptured? The stinging red colour of his face contrasted against the thick, black curls of Ketchum's sideburns, together with his scratched and raw chin from doing his ‘pose,' made it appear as if he was sunburned. Had his vas deferens been struck? Perhaps some blood in the urine? Hellmantle shook his head - some may say he shook it violently - and tried to regain his composure. His thoughts were streaming in too quickly. He had to compose himself.

"Forget the fans..." he said to himself under his breath. He looked up to his faithful servant Layton Corners but couldn't see him. He glanced at Johnny Mac and gave him a much-needed nod, but he couldn't see Pete. Wait, he said to himself again, forget the fans...

*

"I gave him some of these," said Layton Corners, pointing at the small packet of anti-inflamatories that he pulled out of his small, hidden shoulder pocket in his jacket. There was only one pill left. "Gave ‘im three," he mumbled. Biting his lip, Layton Corners decided to let his one piece of quick thinking speak for itself. "You can't prove otherwise" he said under his breath. Corners held the packet in front of the surveillance camera, and then looked at Captain Raoul Grosjean. The sight of what appeared to be part of a jelly belly on the Captain's lip immediately took away his motivation to carry on with his sobbing act. His cry slipped into soft, mocking laughter that was hidden from all except himself.

It wasn't Monsieur Poussin's way to speak up when he was in another man's jurisdiction, so he had been content to let Captain Raoul Grosjean of the French DGSE swing his dick around as he saw fit, that is until the little man Corners in front of him, with the sharp surname, revealed the evidence that would protect him and Hellmantle from persecution. Being part of the 2001 French Open Security Team was too important for Poussin's freelancing career, especially since he had teamed up with van Goethenburg to help guard at the Masters Series tournaments plus the four Grand Slams. With his few other gigs, Monsieur Poussin had a decent life cut out for himself. It was a life in which he could concentrate more on his music - an inheritance of genes from his father's side. Having grown up in Rennes-le-Chateau in the Languedoc wine region where his grandfather attended the church of the renegade priest Berenger Sauniere, he had heard the rumors about the rolls of parchment found establishing the claim once again of the Royal House of David line marrying into the Visigothic line of kings that resulted in the Merovingian dynasty of kings in France spanning six centuries up to Charlemagne.

But despite the hoopla over the Royal line emanating from the offspring of Jesus, which needless to say flew in the face of Roman Catholic dogma, Poussin was more intrigued with the Visigoths who had ruled the area ever since they sacked Rome in 410AD. As a boy, he had daydreamed in his math class about the Visigoths and in time knew that he wanted to carry on the Visigothic thread of living history. His Visigoth within as he liked to call it, would take him to the limestone halls of overseas French Legion officer's clubs and into the deeply guarded web of Interpol.

Captain Grosjean was still staring in silence at the packet of anti-inflamatories on the table in front of him.

"Tres bien Captain Grosjean," Poussin said, rubbing his Visigoth chin and motioning not to the hunched figure of Layton Corners but to the entire mise-en-scene. "You have done a job par excellence. I shall include it in my report to the minister." The words "Homeland Security Chief" appeared to cross Monsieur Poussin's lips, and then, with a nod, Poussin and Grosjean stood up into military postures and shook hands. In front of the Renault Facial Imaging MF3000, Poussin caught a waft of Grand Marnier. 

Monsieur Poussin and Layton Corners left the bunker that was etched in the bowels of the courts. The so-called "drug paraphernalia" that had been given back to him, consisted of Rizzla rolling papers, a small well-used pipe, a pill case containing a half-dozen red muscle relaxants, a lighter and cigarettes. There was nothing illegal in these ingredients; they only pointed towards illegal activity. And after they all had watched the replay on the camera seeing clearly that it was Johnny McEnroe who had engineered the "Scottish tea," his innocence was no longer in doubt. Feeling a severe lightness in his step at the immediate prospect of getting off Scott-free, Layton Corners followed Monsieur Poussin up the stairs. It was a moment until he wondered why they weren't using the elevator. There was a vibrating sound coming from Poussin's hip. He picked up his phone.

"Do you have him?" a voice asked from the other end.

"What did I tell you Carter" he said in reply as he climbed the stairs. "I'm a God-damned Visigoth. Of course I ‘ave ‘im!" It was as if the Visigoth-called-Poussin had caught the US Security Chief's arrogance.

"Wait," said Layton Corners, stopping. "What's this all about?" Poussin couldn't help but grin inwardly at this most loyal of all friends to the new leader of Norman tennis. Poussin sighed loudly in the stairwell.

"We are investigating a possible bomb threat and we need your help Monsieur Corners." Instead of showing fear or apprehension, the face in front of Monsieur Poussin embodied the glow of a child at play. Something in Poussin responded to that. He continued.

"Do you recall that man who left the room who was wearing a Glen Mishibata trainer outfit and was carrying a Wilson racquet bag? When I saw him I knew he fit the profile."

"So what are we going to do?" asked Layton Corners, recalling that the figure looked familiar.

"Rendezvous with the team five floors up, equippe, and then we find out what's in that bag of ‘is." 

*

Hellmantle wasn't sure if it was the chemical cocktail or the pills but as he composed himself with his Yonex towel - that Guy had brought to him - he felt a great calm come over him. His muscles were relaxed and his limbs felt agile and his eyes were as sharp as a hawk's. Hellmantle wanted that Cup and he wanted it for the greatness of Normandy and Merovingian France.

He looked to his coach Terry Kilpatrick, known on the tour as ‘Killer,' who had finally returned to his seat on the opposite side of the chair umpire Rusty Hugh. Jelena Dokic sat beside him as she often did as one of Hellmantle's most fervent supporters. Wearing his best prescription sunglasses and holding a red plastic cup in his hand, Killer looked across at Hellmantle and uttered the word "rally" as he brought his cup to his lips. He nodded and looked across to his opponent.

Ketchum, the player that was on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine for his pop hit "Eeuuh! What's that Smell?" looked squarely back at him and then stepped up to the line. ‘OK' thought Hellmantle, ‘you wanna rally, you'll get your rally. Let's just hope your crotch isn't swelling.' He could hear a high-pitched murmur coming from the Iron Maiden ring in his front pocket but ignored it. Hellmantle assumed the receive-of-service position and waited for another of his flagrant topspin serves to the wide court...'I hope he tries it' he said to himself...'Remember his small shoes...'

Ketchum tossed the ball so high that when the ball came down he was forced to smack it as hard as he could. The ball barely cleared the net and skipped in the deep service box at Hellmantle's chest. Handcuffed for an instant with his forehand grip, Hellmantle whipped his racquet face to his solar plexus and stuck out a leg as if he was an ice hockey goalie making a toe save. Somehow Hellmantle connected cleanly and caught the ball flat. It darted back to the Brit's backhand but he took it on his forehand and nailed it down the line. Without losing a beat Hellmantle ran it down in his back backhand court and hit a solid cross-court backhand wide to Ketchum's forehand. Getting a hop on the bounce the Wimbledon Champ smacked it down the line but without the gusto of his previous stroke. This gave Hellmantle the extra piece of time to catch the falling ball low on his forehand. The ball was struck cleanly and again hit cross-court to Ketchum's backhand. Jarred by the power Hellmantle generated from his forehand hit on the run, Ketchum appeared to have misjudged the pace of the slow-topspin return and hit a weak backhand into the open court.

Hellmantle chose to drag his left toe on his slow stroke to the floating target, snapping his wrist upon impact on the lower part of the racquet face. The ball carried just enough and just wide enough to Fletch's backhand that his approach was unchallenged. Ketchum, with Hellmantle in the corner of his eye, slapped the ball cleanly so that they could both hear the fine cling of the strings of a well-hit ball. Following the ball from point of impact, Hellmantle lunged firmly with planted feet and stepped through the stroke earnest to the core. The ball slowed from the backspin but the lanky legs of the Celt chased down the volley and tore into it with a swing of grace. In that moment Hellmantle heard a voice in the crowd from the north corner that wasn't a grunt but was what sounded like a muted celebration of good tennis. But the sound vanished when he whipped around to his backhand side and cut off the ball with a drop volley. Ketchum's hand went up for a bizarre moment and then he sprinted to the net, eyes focused fiercely on the falling ball. Taking advantage of the loose, untouched clay by the net, Ketchum took a chance of a heavy slide and a scoop stroke to save the ball from a second bounce. As luck would have it, the Celt got to the ball and flipped it over Hellmantle's head.

The strike was a soft lob but a deep one, and Hellmantle for a moment thought of a between-the-legs return but instead elected to come around with a mighty big whack at it with a powerful and high topspin over the net. With Ketchum's reach so high he took only one step back and smashed it right at Hellmantle. The ball was traveling so fast that he had absolutely no time to move his racquet but the ball struck his racquet near the neck and coughed over the net. Startled, Fletch swung his Wilson racquet face carelessly at the ball also mis-hitting it so that the ball bumped off the tape close to the net. Hellmantle, in a feat of what looked to be the impossible, decided to fling himself head first to the ball and with his racquet squarely out he snagged the ball just enough for it to heave over the chord. When the tall man from the British Isles saw the ball drop over he hesitated, and then threw his racquet at the ball catching the fuzz on the strings that nudged the ball over Hellmantle's head and just outside of the baseline. Hellmantle thought the ball was going to be in from the sound and the trajectory of the ball, but the wind had carried it.

"Game Higgins, six servir six," came the voice of Rusty Hugh.

The crowd erupted off their seats in amazement and awe.

 
 

 

 

 
 
 

 
 

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