Chapter TWO by Mick Joint
“For the third time, it was dark blue. Not light blue, dark blue. With the word “Prince” in big white letters all over it” Tyler Wolf was beyond irate. For one and half hours he had been waiting in line in the particularly claustrophobic “Lost Luggage” office of LAN, the Chilean national airline.
It was the cherry on top of what has been the without a shadow of a doubt the worst flight in the history of aviation. He was sure God was punishing him for something and the Almighty was handing it out good and hard.
At 36, Tyler was still one of the world’s best squash players. An Aussie by birth, he learnt his squash through the teachings of his Scottish father, a strict, take-no-crap coach who taught him the value of mental discipline early on with torturous training sessions. If you weren’t throwing up, you weren’t trying hard enough. As painful as they were, they also paid off. Tyler was world number one for several years before his age recently started to catch up with him. Now ranked 5, he was still considered to be the toughest, fittest, scrappiest, most resilient and at times – dirtiest – player ever to grace the arena.
But even this was testing his mettle. The flight from Sydney to Rio should have taken just under one day travel. First, the weather delay in Sydney put everything 3 hours behind schedule. That of course caused him to miss his connecting flight in Auckland – a disaster because the next available seat was the following day. LAN refused to pony up for hotel or food since the hold-up was an “act of God”, something airlines don’t compensate for. Tyler was forced to spend the next 21 hours in the waiting lounge.
The Auckland to Santiago connection also should have been postponed. Stormy weather buffeted the 737 for 11 hours straight. If you didn’t have a phobia of flying beforehand, the turbulence surely would have created one. Many passengers were ill – as were a couple of the stewarding staff – and the nasty acrid smell of vomit permeated through the fuselage. The overweight gentleman sitting next to Tyler gripped the arm rests so violently he ripped off the padding, threw up on himself multiple times, and Tyler was sure he also wet himself as he didn’t go the bathroom once.
Landing late in Santiago, he also missed his next connection, but thankfully LAN flew more than once a day to Rio de Janeiro. He was actually appreciative for the extra couple of hours after the last experience. Lamentably, half way through the flight, a mechanical problem forced the plane to land in Sao Paolo, where they sat on the tarmac for 5 hours, without air conditioning, before continuing on to Rio. All in all, what should have taken 21 hours, took 53. And now, just in case he wasn’t infuriated enough, his bag was lost.
“Prance?” The LAN baggage clerk mumbled back. Uninterested and bored, the clerk with an upside down name tag ‘Juan’ kept looking at his watch and the long line behind Tyler with contempt.
“Prince. P-R-I-N-C-E. Prince. Like the singer. Like Prince Charles. Jeez…” Tyler was about to blow a gasket.
“Si, si, Prance.”
“Yeah, whatever. Where the Hell is my bag?”
“No se. Don’t know. You miss some flights, no? Maybe bag is here already? Get here before you. Let me look here…” Juan started punching some keys on his computer.
It took at least another 5 minutes before Juan spoke another word. Tyler was sure he checking his facebook account.
“Your bag, Mr. Wolf, seems to be lost”
“It will turn up.” Juan shrugged his shoulders and sighed. “Maybe tomorrow, maybe day after. We call you when bag is here, si? Where you staying?”
Tyler mustered up all the strength he had left not to leap over the counter and rip Juan’s head clean off. “Listen, Juan, it is vitally important that…”
“Si, si. Vitally important that you get your bag.” Juan was mocking him. “Everybody bag is vitally important.” He rolled his eyes and started muttering away. “…sue the airline…, …make my life a misery…, …never fly LAN again…, Look, there is nothing I can do now. Your bag? Poof! Not here. You wait. We call you. Now go away and let me tell all people behind you the same thing. It is not about life or death.”
Tyler passed on his hotel information without one more sound and marched out the office. Little that he knew, it actually was about to affect his life.
John Allenby was having a much better day. The court construction on the beach was going swimmingly well. He was rather surprised and impressed at the efficiency of the crew putting the large jigsaw puzzle together, including the stadium seating all around the venue. It was almost complete. The tournament – and his career – was back on track. Doubly pleasing was the wonderful eye-candy that paraded constantly past. He had never seen so many beautiful women, amazing bodies, perfectly proportioned, and not exactly shy about showing off just the right amount of skin… or wrong amount depending on how you looked at it.
Shelley was a life saver. What mountains she moved to get this thing going, her connections appeared boundless. Naturally, her ‘assets’ were an essential part of the equation and John winced at the thought of what she must have ‘endured’ to save him all that money. Pangs of jealousy made him shiver in the warm sun. He was not her type, he knew that, but that didn’t stop him from fantasizing about her. It was her accent that drove him wild the most.
He couldn’t afford the distraction. Tomorrow was a big day with the public announcement of the men’s and women’s qualifying draws and the start of play at the Copacabana Squash Club. All the qualifiers had checked in – except one. John wasn’t worried just yet. The American trained Argentinean lass – 19 year old Florencia Perez – still had 16 hours to show up before roll-call and the deadline, although she had been known to miss such deadlines before. It wasn’t that she just the top ranked qualifier, she was drop dead gorgeous. The ‘Kournikova’ of the squash world, she had serious potential to be world number one. She was so marketable on top of it, with the inclusion of squash into the Olympics, sponsorship and commercial offers were coming in thick and fast. Squash was selling. If healthy and reliable, Florencia was a guaranteed money generator for the sport worldwide. It would be a more than minor disaster if she wasn’t playing due to tardiness.
His cell phone started to ring loudly. Guns and Roses “Welcome to the Jungle” started playing. “John Allenby.”
“John, its Erika Hoskin”. Erika was Florencia’s coach in New York. “Got a minute?”
“Sure. What’s up?” John prepared himself for what was about to come. He had received this phone call at least twice before.
“Florencia’s plane was delayed. Some staffing issue at United Airlines or something. She should already be there, but she’s on her way now. Plane should land in Rio tomorrow morning at 8:00 am.”
“Erika, the qualifying draw is scheduled for 10:00 am!”
“I know, I know, just wanted to give you a heads up. She needs to be picked up the moment she comes out of customs and raced to the club. It will be close, but if it all goes smoothly she should still make it.”
Shit. Smoothly? In Rio de Janeiro? A lot of things could go wrong for Miss Perez not to be on time. Flight delay, weather, customs, traffic, baggage claim… and they were just the things he could immediately think of.
“Guess we’ll hope and beg things go according to plan then? Thanks Erika.” John hung up.
He wasn’t religious, but he thought he might start to be. To no one in particular, he mumbled, “God, please don’t fuck this up.”
Shelley Anderson was standing in front of the floor to ceiling window ignoring the magnificent view of Copacabana beach with an almost completed squash court from her hotel room with a white wine in her hand. Her mind was elsewhere. She was a little drunk and not happy. Nothing upset her more than to be kept waiting. A day and a half late was not acceptable. Not being sure how she was going to react when he finally did arrive upset her even more. She did not enjoy losing control.
The knock on the door made her jump and spill some wine over the carpet.
Rushing over, she yanked the door open. Tyler Wolf stomped into the room, greeting her with clenched teeth and a deathly stare.
“Thank God you’re here! I was so worried. What happened? Thought your plane had disappeared over Bermuda Triangle or some…” Shelley stopped mid sentence. She could see he was ready to erupt.
“You have no idea what I’ve just been through!” Tyler paced restlessly through the room striding from one end to the other, gesturing, at times shouting, swearing and occasionally kicking some furniture as he unloaded his recent travel escapade on her. Twenty five minutes later, he had calmed down somewhat and the two of them were sitting on the couch with a fresh bottle of wine opened on the table.
“Is the Prince rep here yet?” he asked. “I need some gear until my bag gets here… if it gets here.”
“I’m sure he is. I’ll call John Allenby and ask. Tyler, you’re here, you’re in one piece, you don’t play for a couple of days, it’s time to focus on your squash. You need to be on the top of your game. This tournament is huge for us!”
Shelley Andersen and Tyler Wolf go way back. Growing up in suburban Sydney, they attended the same private school and all the way through their teenage years had an on-again-off-again-on-again relationship. They were one of those couples that would kill each other when together but would kill themselves if apart. When Shelley was 18, her parents moved to the States and they gave her the golden opportunity to study at Trinity College – a prospect too good to pass up. Tyler was heartbroken, but through his squash tour and Shelley’s tennis business career, the pair hooked up occasionally to stoke the embers. Their mutual feelings for each other never faded. Now, with Shelley working full time on the squash tour, they could see each other more regularly. Neither would openly admit it, but they weren’t sure that was such a good idea. Their intimacy was not public knowledge, although rumours had been circulating for years.
“One of my last gasps, I think” replied Tyler. “Don’t get me wrong, I feel great. Strong, fit, hitting well. I think I can win this.” He was coming off the recent Australian Open victory. An event he has now won for the 5th time. The final was a 3-0 comfortable win over surprise opponent Abdul Omar Khan, the new young Pakistani on the block who played out of his tree for the week knocking off world number 13, 7 and 3 on his way through the draw. The effort to get to the final cost him the title, he was simply not used to playing (or winning) so many tough matches on consecutive days whereas Tyler was. Khan’s ranking jumped into the top 12, Tyler’s stayed at 5 although he came a lot closer to the fellows above him. Winning in Rio may even get him the top spot back depending on how the others fared.
“You retiring?” Shelley was legitimately shocked. It never crossed her mind Tyler would ever give it up.
“Thinking about it. Dunno. It’s getting harder Shelley. I have to admit that. These young guys – Omar, the Egyptians, that Peruvian, even the Swede – he’s so quick – I struggle to maintain, they just keep on coming.”
“Well, you can’t think about that until after Rio. For now, you’re one of favourites to win the biggest ever squash tournament prize in the sport. And you will. You must!”
He was in a terrific position to pull off the win. Scheduled to play a qualifier first round, he wasn’t due to meet a real tough opponent until the quarter finals. The four players ranked above him had a lot more difficult time ahead of them. It was very possible a couple of them could lose early, and a third was carrying an injury everybody knew wasn’t healed properly. The only thing which bothered him was the fact he didn’t have his own gear. He may have to play with unfamiliar equipment.
“The qualifying matches start tomorrow. You have an interview with the local television in the morning at the local Copacabana Squash Club just before the announcement of the qualifying draw. John Allenby will be doing it with you. Please be nice to him.” Shelley wasn’t really asking.
“I’ll be fine as long as he’s nice to me. Just hope I can use my own racquets and wear my own shoes.”
Like on cue, there was another knock on the door.
“Did you order room service?” Tyler enquired.
“No. I was not expecting us to be interrupted all night,” answered Shelley with a sly wink. She stood up and looked through the peephole. She couldn’t see anything but blackness. “Who is it?”
“LAN luggage delivery. I have a bag for a Mr. Wolf?” It was a question more than a statement.
Tyler was momentarily confused. How could it be here so quickly? Just over an hour ago it was lost in the abyss of world transit, and now it was on the other side of the hotel room door. It wasn’t even his hotel room. A red flag should immediately have been raised but the relief of knowing his gear was actually here made him react without thinking. “Thank God! Let him in!”
Shelley opened the door and sure enough a LAN delivery man was standing there with a dark blue Prince bag in his hands. Also standing there was the hotel manager, two armed policeman, and that bastard British squash reporter that followed all major events around the globe for his website, ‘smashingballs.com’. Aptly named, Charles Buckler was a total ball breaker that went out of his way to find dirt on anyone and everyone. Everybody loves to read about a train wreck. He wrote about the game of squash very well however, and mostly his articles were excellently scribed. He was also rather adept at finding out the most obscure information. He knew about their love affair but up to now has failed to provide printable proof. Because of that, Tyler Wolf was a common target of his. Nothing pleased Charles more than raking the Australian through the muck and right now he had a wide grin plastered on his pale, bushy moustached face and a camera at the ready. Not a good sign.
“This your bag, sir?” The larger of the two policemen asked the question. His hand was on the butt of his gun which thankfully was still in the holster.
“Errr… yes. There a problem?” Tyler’s heart sped up instantly.
“Sir, you may want to come with us to the station to answer a few questions.” It was not a request.
“What? Why? What’s going on…?” Tyler started to get scared.
The second policeman held up a small plastic bag. Clearly it had marijuana in it. “Droga,” he said waving it in Tyler’s face.
The camera flashed.
“What!” Tyler was genuinely horrified. “That’s not mine! What’s going on!?”
“You need to come with us,” the bigger cop said. He removed handcuffs from his utility belt and arrested a dumbfounded Tyler. He started to lead him towards the elevators.
“Shelley! Help me! Do something!” The Australian squash professional did not know what to do. This couldn’t be happening, not two days before the biggest tournament of his career. He started to cry.
The camera flashed again.
About the Author
MICK JOINT was born in Melbourne, Australia, 41 years ago and began playing squash at age five. He trained at the Australian Institute of Sport with greats Geoff Hunt and Heather McKay.
Mick coached in Argentina, Germany, Australia and Canada before settling into his current position in 2004 as Head Pro at the Detroit Athletic Club in Michigan.
Mick is married with one daughter and authors the entertaining blog, The Squash Joint.
Next Up: Chapter THREE by James Zug