It's a Cracker! by John Bunting

(In memory of our dear friend Phil Alexander (‘Pilchard’))

It’s a glorious, star-shot summer’s night and the moon is so bright we can read the small print on our beer cans. We’re on our way to play the most important match of our lives and we have a plan. It’s a cracker of a plan, it can’t go wrong!

Driving the van is our captain, Guppy, and next to him, doing the navigating, is Snapper. Handing out the beers are me (they call me ‘Turbot’ because of my flattened nose and beady eyes) and Crispy. Having a snog on the back seat are our sexagenarian lovebirds, Pilchard and Whitebait.

Guppy thinks of everything darts-wise. It was his idea to give us noms des poissons and to have team colours — grey slacks and blue polo shirts with our names on our backs in case we forget who we are when we drink too much. Guppy’s very clever like that.

Crispy’s piscean anonym used to be Haddock, but we changed it a couple of months back when he forgot to go home early, and his wife phoned to say his fish supper had been in the oven for four hours.

Our team name is The Lazy Soles (which is a play on the name of our pub, The Basking Bass), but everyone calls us The Lazy Sods. We’re a mixed bunch, from all walks of life, but we get on well together. Despite our ever-increasing age and list of ailments, we still lead busy lives and like to meet up a couple of times a week to relax. We enjoy playing darts and having a drink or two, and all we ask is that people let us do so in peace.

Our spirits are high. If we win tonight it will be celebrated for years to come and we’ll never have to buy another round. The beer is flowing and we’re singing our team song:

“We are the Lazy Sods such jolly folk are we.

We always win quite easily by scoring ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY.

We are the Lazy Sods we’re feared throughout the league.

We always beat the other team AND THEN DRINK LOTS MORE BEER.”

We didn’t use to sing ‘beat’ in the last line, but we had to change it last year after I taught the song to the team from the church choir and the vicar complained.

Snapper shouts above the banter that it’s the next village, five minutes away, and we go quiet, more thoughtful. It’s time to focus and prepare; a lot of people are relying on us. Some bastard bureaucrat from Basingstoke wants to blast a bypass right through the middle of The Basking Bass, and we need to stop him. We’ve tried everything we legally can but to no avail, so after tonight’s practice match we stayed on and drank some more beer, and slowly a plan came together. Crispy is an internet whizz and he hacked the bastard bureaucrat’s office HR system to find out where he lived. We’re on our way there now. Before we left, we did a blind swap around of our team shirts so if we get stopped we won’t know who we are and if we don’t then the police will have no idea either. That was Whitebait’s idea, she’s very clever too.

And here we are, pulling into the bastard bureaucrat’s drive. Everyone shakes out their creaky joints and breathes in the cool, hay-scented air to calm their nerves. Guppy has asked me, as a man of letters, to talk to the bastard bureaucrat first. If I can’t persuade him to move the bypass, then Snapper and Pilchard, both ex-squaddies, will have a ‘chat’ with him. Between us, that should work, but if it doesn’t we have a Plan B. Guppy makes a rousing speech about carpets and denim and Pilchard bangs on the door. ‘Game on’.

One Hour Later

We’ve only gone and done it; we’ve saved The Basking Bass! Guppy phones the news through to them and they’re going to stay open all night to celebrate. Jubilant crowds are awaiting our

return. It wasn’t easy — the bastard bureaucrat just wouldn’t listen to reason, and we had to go to Plan B. But we were well prepared. Guppy had brought his pitchfork, Snapper his shotgun, and Pilchard had dug out his old chainsaw. I don’t mind blood, so I bagged up the body parts and put them in the back of the van. Whitebait says we can throw them into the slurry tank on her farm. Crispy doesn’t like violence, so he kept a good lookout. There was a lot more mess than we expected — it’s surprising what one man can leak when he’s chainsawn into a dozen pieces — but I managed to clean most of it up.

We’re on our way back now but we’ve got to be quick. Crispy’s been checking police radio channels and it seems that when the bastard bureaucrat’s wife came home she found his right foot on the front doorstep. I must have dropped it. That made her suspicious and when she couldn’t find any more pieces of him she dialled 999. Roadblocks are being set up.

Houston, we have a problem.’ Guppy’s eyesight isn’t so good these days and he drives round a corner too fast and loses control. The van slides across the road, smashes through the wooden fencing, and topples onto the embankment on the other side. We seem to hang in mid-air, like Wile E. Coyote defying gravity for that impossibly long moment, before crashing down. Everything is moving in ultra-slow motion. Crispy’s mouth is wide open screaming, but I can’t hear a sound. Now the van is rolling over and over as it tumbles slowly, oh so slowly, towards the river below, and the first flames start to flicker around our feet.

And deep down I know there’s no way back from this. No ‘double out’ or ‘bull finish’ to snatch victory from defeat with the last dart. It’s ‘game shot’ for us all. Surprisingly, I’m not scared; in fact, I’m smiling. I know it’s a great shame I won’t get to play darts and have a drink with my friends anymore, I enjoyed doing that and all I asked was that people let me do so in peace. But what a way to go! Because no one will ever forget us, The Lazy Sods; our names will be carved with pride on the wall by the oche. We had a plan, it was a cracker of a plan, and it didn’t go wrong. We won the most important match of our lives. That bastard bureaucrat from Basingstoke ain’t ever going to blast his bypass right through the middle of The Basking Bass!

Selected: 24th Short Story
Published in Issue #30

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