As he watched the football results in an electrical retailer’s window, he saw that the only goal scored in the Denwick-Whitelaw match was scored by Tristan Simian, a Swedish striker. It didn’t surprise him one iota. Tristan played for Denwick in the third division, and at his current firing rate, his team were heading for the top of the league. They were fourth. It wouldn’t have surprised him if talent scouts had already got their eye on him.
Peter Conrad hated him. The team he supported with a passion, Penhallow town were languishing in the lower half of the table in the same division, and when the two teams met, he watched on with despair as Denwick’s golden boy ran rings around the Penhallow men and netted a few winners. This time, however, things were different. Penhallow was as close as they had ever been to silverware.
They were in the semi-final of the FA Cup, much to people’s surprise, and were playing Denwick, whom he knew had gotten that far because of Tristan. There was one more league match before the following weekend which was when they played each other. Denwick was bound to play golden boy, and Peter couldn’t face the prospect of his team being knocked out by him. He knew he couldn’t allow it.
Peter was thirty-six and lived across the road from his parents. Their inward satisfaction at his announcement that he was leaving home at thirty-four, was dampened somewhat by the fact that he simply moved into a block of bedsits opposite. He was a student, studying international relations and politics, in his second year. When he wasn’t debating South Africa’s economic climate or New Zealand’s carbon emissions, he was following his beloved Penhallow town, attending every home game, and cutting out newspaper and magazine articles and photographs which featured them.
Golden boy was now a serious threat, not just to the team, but to him. As he walked away from the window, he wondered how he could stop him. What could he do to stop him from playing? Find Tristan’s address, have a little ‘word’? tell him to feign illness? Threaten to hurt his friends and family? No, stop him playing altogether. End his football career. What was more important, Penhallow winning their first trophy, or ending golden boy’s career? Peter smiled a humourless smile as he turned a corner.
Through his acquaintances at the university and his own investigations, he managed to find golden boy’s home address and saw that it was forty-seven miles away in Camborne. He didn’t have a set plan. All he knew was that before the teams met each other, Tristan’s career had to end. Denwick was playing Mountberry in their next game, so that would be the perfect time to enter his house and wait for him to come back.
He didn’t know if he lived with anybody or not, as golden boy was only nineteen, was a swift, lithe figure, had long dulled blonde hair which he kept back with a band, and always pleaded with the referee whenever reprimanded. With clasped hands and pleading eyes, he had sometimes had decisions reversed.
The three days Peter had before the game were filled with apprehension and doubt. Sometimes he had second thoughts. Maybe he won’t be played, maybe he’ll get injured, maybe he just won’t score. Yet, on the day of the Camborne match, he found himself on a train, and walking along pathways and lanes to find golden boy’s house.
When he found it, surrounded by conifers, he saw that the main entrance had an intercom at the side of large, creosoted doors that automatically swung back when activated by the owner. Going in that way was out. He decided to use the intercom to see if anybody was in. He would simply say if Derek Miller was home, that way he would be told that he’d got the wrong house. After the third press of the button, there was no answer.
With the house on a narrow tarmaced road, with similar houses also surrounded by greenery, he looked around and saw that nobody was around, and nor could they be in a position to see him. They could, however, suddenly appear from either road direction, so Peter knew he had to act fast, and scaled the fence beside the entrance, which wasn’t too difficult. He fell in a bed of white roses.
Standing up and gathering his bearings, he decided to walk around the back but found his way blocked by a gateway. All he had to do was reach through and unhook the latch, which he did, and soon found himself on a backyard lawn, looking across at an open shed. He was sure he could find a better weapon than the bike chain he’d brought along with the intention of breaking his shin.
There wasn’t much in there he could use. An eight-inch wrench, a beech mallet, or a digging spade. He picked up the spade, and wandered around the garden, checking his watch. It’ll be the second half now, he thought. Then he realised that he could be seen from a few nearby houses from their bedroom windows, so he spent the next hour and a half in the shed, nervously dry-washing his hands, and looking up like a meerkat every time a vehicle drove past the house.
When the main gateway doors opened, Peter breathed in a deep, nervous breath, picked up the spade, and walked quickly to the side gate. He was soon peering around the side of the house at a black Ford Ranger. He heard a voice talking, and then he appeared, talking into a mobile phone, with mirrored sunglasses, dulled blonde long hair in a band, wearing the Denwick football club kit.
Peter raced around, swung back the spade before the boy could see what was going on, and sent the weapon into his right shin, hitting it on its side, so easily splitting the bone and tearing through muscle. He collapsed to the ground and screamed, but Peter had gone, throwing the spade aside, and disappearing along the road.
He spent the next few days mostly in hiding, fearing the police raiding his abode and hauling him to solitary confinement. On the day of the semi-final, he was tuned in to local radio to hear the team news and was horrified to learn that Tristan was playing. Surely there had to be some mistake, he thought. There’s no way he can play football after that.
He was preparing to leave when there was a knock on the door, and it was as he’d feared. Two men flashed their badges at him, and it wasn’t long before he was being interviewed at the police station. Fear ran riot within him, like an excited bird when let out of its cage, fluttering around the room. Some of the nerves were for Penhallow town. They would be playing now, and he wondered how they were getting on, whether golden boy was dancing around their defence, or whether he was hobbling towards the goal on crutches, and still scoring.
“I’ve told you,” said Peter, “I’m not guilty, I don’t know anything about Tristan’s brother being attacked. Nothing to do with me.”
Tristan, being a paranoid striker of some note, became more and more suspicious as his star rose. He was sure he was destined for the premier league or Serie A, so he had coerced his brother who looked very much like him to fool the paparazzi into thinking it was him when he left the football ground. He thought they would either follow him, or be waiting at his house, so when his brother got there, he would ring Tristan to tell him it was safe to come home. So far, two reporters had been outside his house in four months, that was all.
“You’ve got nothing on me,” said Peter with all the conviction he could manage.
“Oh really,” said Detective inspector Fitzpatrick, leaning across the table.
“Where you, or where you not caught stealing from a supermarket eighteen years ago?” Peter’s eyes widened in fear.
“Such naivety,” said the policeman. “Your fingerprints were all over the spade, and they matched the ones we still have on record.”
“I thought convictions get wiped after ten years,” said Peter. Fitzpatrick shook his forty-eight-year-old balding head.
“Not wiped. Not deleted, simply moved from one file to another, and made to sound like it’s removed. It simply gets archived. Nothing ever gets wiped.”
Peter was aware that his prints may be taken from the spade, but was so convinced that they could never trace him because he wasn’t on record that they wouldn’t find him. His lack of guile and desperation had convicted him.
He later found out that Penhallow town had won the game. Golden boy had been sent off after five minutes. Angry about his brother maybe, or angry that the press would be with him more, and he would have to learn better English. Either way, when the final came a month later, Penhallow was playing Millworth, and the sliding hatch to Peter’s cell opened and a tall moustached warden looked in at him sitting on the bed, staring at nothing as he served two years.
“Your team lost two nil,” he said and closed the hatch. Peter lay on the bed and curled up into a foetal position, and stayed like that for a long time. He became quiet and reclusive, simply just staring for hours at a time, sometimes rocking back and forth, until he was confined to a mental institution, and never left.