Chapter NINETEEN by Pierre Bastien
It was nighttime. Agent McDiarmid sat in the command center. The command center was a folding table and an uncomfortable plastic chair, but he was issuing commands, so it counted. McDiarmid was wearing a headset. He issued a command: “Go”. On command, a half dozen agents swarmed a nondescript semi-industrial building in downtown Rio.
The next morning, John Allenby’s phone rang, and he answered.
“Mr. Allenby, this is Agent McDiarmid. We’ve recovered Fritz Mallinson. He’s back safe with our agents.”
“Really,” said Allenby. “That’s great news! Where did you find him?”
“He was being held in Rio”, responded McDiarmid. “The Russians had him — as we suspected.”
“Is he alright? What did they want with him?”
“He’s unharmed, aside from a few bruises,” said McDiarmid. “We’re still trying to find out everything. Apparently they mostly wanted to learn about his squash technology — the Viper technology — and how it worked.”
“How it worked?” mused Allenby, wondering what the Russians were up to.
“Mallinson says they were after technical details,” said McDiarmid.
“The Russians seem pretty interested in our squash tournament,” said Allenby.
Allenby suddenly realized: the Russians must be backing Tyler Wolf. After all, Andres Lopes was Mr. Fino’s horse. At this point, Wolf was the only other option.
“They want to hack into the Viper stuff, eh?” asked Allenby. “That’s pretty clever.”
“Apparently Mallinson told them it can’t be done. Or at least, not to his knowledge.”
“OK,” said Allenby.
“Allenby, there’s one more thing,” said McDiarmind. “It’s about Shelley. Mallinson swears he heard her voice coming from another room while he was being held.”
Allenby said, “What? You mean she’s been captured too?”
“Mallinson didn’t think so. He thinks she’s working with the Russians. He says he’s not sure, but still, you should watch your back.”
“Thanks,” said Allenby. He hung up with McDiarmid.
There wasn’t much time to dwell on everything he’d just heard. He needed to get ready for tonight’s semi-final matches. Still, he decided to make one more call.
He punched F on his phone and within a few minutes he was through to Mr. Fino.
“What can I do for you, Mr. Allenby?”
“Mr. Fino, I’ve just learned something I think you’ll want to know. Fritz Mallinson has been found. He’s alive and well.”
“Where was he found?” asked Fino.
“The Russians had him.”
“No surprises there,” responded Fino.
“Really?” wondered Allenby out loud. Fino seemed quick on the uptake.
“Oh yes,” said Fino. “They have been interfering with squash for years. It makes sense they are behind this too.”
“What do they want out of this?” asked Allenby.
“Well,” said Fino, “in the past it was always about the money for them. Some matches are fixed and you can make some good money.”
“Is it still about the money now?”
“Well, yes,” replied Fino. “But maybe there is more money this year.”
“I don’t understand how there’s more money,” said Allenby, thinking it over. “It can’t be because of the Olympics. I mean, I know that’s a big deal for squash, but it doesn’t seem like there’s THAT much more money to be made betting on squash this year. I mean, it’s going to take a while for that to develop. It doesn’t seem worth all the trouble the Russians are going to. Abductions seem a bit much don’t they?”
“Not when your survival is at stake,” said Fino.
“What do you mean?” asked Allenby. “Whose survival is at stake?”
“Let me ask you this, Mr. Allenby. With squash in the Olympics, will Russia win more Olympic medals?”
“No,” said Allenby. It had been a bewildering few days. He was happy to have Mr. Fino gently walking him through it. Allenby ventured, “Russia has a strong wrestling program, don’t they? When squash replaces wrestling in the Olympics, Russia will come away with fewer medals.”
“Exactly,” said Fino. “Many livelihoods in Russia depend on wrestling being in the Olympics. When wrestling was ousted, many people’s jobs were jeopardized. But there’s more to it than that. It’s a matter of national importance to perform well at the Olympics. So maybe even the Kremlin is taking an interest in these developments.”
“Really? The Kremlin has a hand in this?” Allenby blurted out.
Mr. Fino broke into laughter. “Maybe, my friend. Maybe they have. Maybe they haven’t. I am just trying to show you the possibilities. This year, it is bigger than a few guys placing bets. If squash has a spectacular failure, perhaps the Olympic Committee will make some changes to the lineup. After all, one wouldn’t want to tarnish the reputation of the Games.”
“You don’t seem too worried,” ventured Allenby.
“I suppose I am not. This is no reason to be discouraged. Even if the odds are against you, Mr. Allenby, it’s sometimes still worth the gamble. And if it doesn’t work out, I have many other opportunities besides squash!”
This time Allenby laughed. “That must be a comforting feeling, Mr. Fino.” It actually comforted Allenby, too. He was, after all, a new shareholder shareholder in Mr. Fino’s corporation.
“Well,” said Allenby, glancing down at his watch, “I need to prepare for this evening’s semi-final matches.
“I must be going as well,” said Mr. Fino, “but there’s one last thing I must tell you. You have a partner in all this, Miss Shelley Anderson. You must be careful around her. Her motives appear to be complicated, but they may not be aligned with ours. Good luck Mr. Allenby.”
Fino hung up.
World #1 Karim Bashir of Egypt stood ready to return serve. His racket was up, and he was jiggling it in his hand. He spoke to himself in Arabic. He seemed to be trying to convince himself of the importance of this point, this game, this match.
JP, one of the Squash TV announcers, assessed the situation: “The Egyptian really has gone walkabout. He just seems completely disinterested right now.”
His fellow commentator, Yogi, nodded his head in agreement. “Bashir started this second game so strong, hitting penetrating lengths deep into the back of the court and finding his touch right away. He’s built up a big lead, got all the way to 9-5, and all of a sudden, the wheels have come off.”
Tyler Wolf stood on the right of the court, in the service box. He faced the left wall, wiggled his Prince racket a few times, tossed up the ball, away from himself and towards the left-hand wall. Wolf lunged toward the ball and and delivered a cutting backhand serve that darted toward the sidewall.
Just as the ball ricocheted off the sidewall, Bashir swung. He attempted to send the ball to the front right corner. It slammed into the tin.
“There’s another one straight into the tin,” said JP. “Bashir has just got to try something different here. He’s completely lost his touch. Tyler Wolf has now drawn level with the Egyptian at 9-all, and Bashir doesn’t seem able to do about anything right at the moment. You have to wonder what the Egyptian is thinking right now.”
“It’s true,” said Yogi. “Bashir is known for sometimes losing his concentration. He’ll be playing in top form one second, and then the next, he’ll start thinking about something else — who knows what, maybe thinking about what he ate for breakfast — and all of a sudden he’s lost 3 or 4 points. If he’s anything like you JP, he’s probably had something nice and light for breakfast, like maybe a plate of sausages and a few litres of coffee.”
“Well that does sound quite delicious actually,” said JP, “and Bashir certainly is making a hash of this game. Look, he’s now put another shot into the bottom of the tin, and suddenly Wolf has a game ball in this second game, and he’s got a chance to go up two-love in this match.”
Wolf moved to the opposite service box as quickly as he could. He was eager to close out this first game immediately, if not sooner. Bashir seemed to be doing everything he could to screw up right now.
Bashir hit himself on the head with an open palm, making contact with his forehead so forcefully that Allenby, watching from the audience, could hear the smack.
“Bashir just trying to generate a bit of electricity in the old grey cells,” said Yogi. “Meanwhile, Wolf has played well. He looks focused and relaxed here at the business end of this second game. He has to be careful with his serve here, or Bashir is liable to slam the ball into the nick.”
Wolf paused to compose himself in the service box. He bounced the ball on the floor a few times, then served right into the body of Bashir, who skipped out of the way just in time and scraped the ball off the back wall, sending it high and long, into the back court.
Wolf went to get the ball and smashed it crosscourt. Bashir, caught off guard, stuck his racket out, just trying to put his strings on the ball. He made contact, and the ball soared up to the front wall, bounced off it, and began descending towards the mid-court. Wolf took one step from the T, his racket up, preparing to smash the ball. Wolf swung, but slowed down his racket at the last possible second, sending the ball into the front left corner. Bashir sped to the corner, and managed to get the edge of his frame on the ball just before it died, but now he’d hit the ball right down the middle of the court, and Wolf crushed it, volleying the ball to the back right corner, well out of the Egyptian’s reach.
“Well,” said Yogi as the players walked off the court, “The Australian manages to take the second game 11-9 in 11 minutes, and he leads two games to love. Bashir, the number one seed, is looking quite distraught as he heads over to his corner.”
“Full credit though to Tyler Wolf,” said JP, “he’s put Bashir under pressure and kept his errors down. Great attention to detail. The Australian did well to take that second game, and I think he needs to keep pressuring Bashir deep into the back court. Meanwhile, the Egyptian just had too many unforced errors, and despite his wonderful talents, Bashir is staring at a steep two game deficit right now.”
Tyler Wolf sat in his corner, considering his plan for the this game. He felt good on the court and was playing some top-quality squash, but it would take considerable effort to keep this level of play up. Wolf had his marching orders from the Russians: win the tournament. But he didn’t have any tricks up his sleeve for this match. If he was going to get past Bashir, he would have to do it the old-fashioned way, by bringing his talents to bear. Perhaps, he thought, the reason he’d played so well in this match was that everything was so straightforward: just play squash as well as you can. No gimmicks.
John Allenby paced up and down alongside the stadium seats. A wave of nervous energy was flowing through him. For just a moment, he was lost in the squash match, imagining himself on court against either Bashir or Wolf (or both — it was all a haze), feeling the sensation of squash footwork. A song popped into his head:
Hold me closer tiny dancer
Count the headlights on the highway
Lay me down in sheets of linen
You had a busy day today
He felt a tap on his shoulder — someone standing behind him. He spun around. It was Shelley Anderson.
About the Author
PIERRE BASTIEN writes the squash equipment blog SquashSource.com .He’s been playing squash since he was a teenager.
He played on the varsity teams at Exeter and Princeton, and now hacks his way around the squash leagues in Philadelphia, where he lives with his wife and two children.
During the day, he designs software for Wall Street.
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