“You are from India?”
“California, actually,” I smiled back at the brunette.
“Ah, I see!” she had her foot in the door. God, how I hate the waiting time before boarding. “So what were you here for?”
I glanced at the hockey kit bag which had all the materials for the journey. My only luggage. “Oh I see now,” she laughed. “How silly of me!” she said in her thick accent. “So you play professionally?”
“Not really.” I finally gave up trying to be as reticent as possible. “I actually came here with my team. Needless to say we lost all the games. The Bears are still going on with the tour though. I believe they are at
Copenhagen as we speak.” I smiled. “How about yourself?”
“Just bored as ever here at Heathrow.”
I could tell.
Now boarding. Flight 113 to Rio de Janeiro. The moment I have been waiting for. But she kept the ball rolling. “So how exactly did you spend your time here?”
Wouldn’t you like to know.
Three hours ago
“Oh for God’s sakes,” exclaimed a man in suits. “Don’t people have any heart left in them nowadays? Jeezus man. You are drenched.”
“Haha, it’s okay.” I smiled politely. In reality I was sneezing continuously. I couldn’t believe that getting wet under London downpour at this time of the season will have flu in a jiffy.
“This is not right!” said the man. “I saw what happened. You have been standing here for the last eight minutes and not a damned soul had the sense to order you a lift.”
“Seriously, Sir, it’s okay.”
“You missed the 36, huh?”
“Oka —and where the hell are my manners anyways!” the man offered his umbrella. At the instant amidst the hubbub of London traffic, the din of downpour, and the being completely soaked I was overwhelmed for certain guilt at the man’s compassion.
I could deduce he was a member for the Surrey County Cricket Club. He ushered me across the forecourt area before which stood the mason’s red kiln walls of the enclosure. “What the hell are you doing at the Oval anyway?” I could tell he was annoyed that I already caught cold. “You don’t play cricket, right.”
I laughed. I sensed that he saw the hockey sticks jutting out of the bag that I carried. “I actually missed the tour bus. Then, strolled down the Vauxhall Bridge area. And then the weather happened. I tried to get on to 36 but just mis..”
“Don’t worry man.” He cut me off. “I have got a card. I will get you a cuppa and some meds. May be we can also get ya some dry clothes.” He paused. “And I will manage you the transport.”
I know I should have researched more about the weather, and felt like kicking myself for not carrying an umbrella – the ubiquitous trade symbol as I sneezed for the umpteenth time. The kind man told anecdotes about the building, when it was established and such facts which mostly went over my head. There was a weird looking clock before the member’s entrance gate encased under a sort of reverse ogee arch. It showed four men playing cricket. The security briefly stopped me and did a cursory search of my kit bag.
It was a relatively slow week. In fact it was the week of Christmas. The men in the hall – whose name I came to know of as the “Long Room” – were sparse. There were some security guards roaming around but that’s about it. The gentleman introduced himself as “Tuffey” and as it happened, Mr Tuffey came to pick up a parcel mailed to him containing some files.
I profusely apologized for making a mess of the carpet with as water trickled down to the floor and the rugs. “That’s why those vacuums are there for.” Mr Tuffey said curtly. I also noticed some panes of glasses that were bound with brown paper. Apparently, some stooge broke one of the glasses while horsing around with the leather.
Having stayed there for a half an hour, Mr Tuffey offered me a lift. At first I refused the offer, but as he pressed we decided that he will drop me off at my hotel near Heathrow.
“Well, what will you be doing at Rio though, since you are not going back to Cali?”
“The Amazon basins. Christ the Redeemer. Chat with Pele. The usual…” I replied with a hint of sarcasm.
‘Haha…” she was friendly. “We are actually going there for a business trip.” Hmm. “There he is. My handsome hubby!” she pointed to an elderly gentleman buying coffee. “Well, we better get going.”
Last call for Flight 113 to Rio de Janeiro. Flight 113 boarding now at Gate 14.
In truth, I hate hockey. Hate with a capital H. I was never a fan of hockey and never will be. As a lifelong fan of the noble game, I had an eye on John Chitty’s 1729 cricket bat. It is the oldest known cricket bat in existence, and is (or, rather was) installed in the Sandham Room of the Kia Oval Library, as Chitty was from Knaphill. But as everyone knows you cannot get hold of this for your collection—well, at least, not legally.
So I tried the next logical thing: sign up for a hockey team in Anaheim. Soon I was at competing at the pro level. Of course, during last four years I travelled to and fro London to completely familiarize myself with The Oval. The blueprint, the rough security measures, the density of visitors, off season, etcetera.
You also need luck with your plan. Turned out Mr. Tuffey was the part of that missing puzzle.
First you need the bait. As it turned out doing an unofficial experiment by setting stray dogs to the wretched weather of London in front of premises of all the members of Surrey, only a handful would respond. Some would bother to feed the dog, if not give shelter. Then there was Mr Tuffey – the most humane of all. An investment banker cum Surrey Member who was compelled to pick up a stack full of scorecard archives on that dreary and quiet day of Christmas week, by having a dummy missive sent to his apartment earlier.
Next you are ready for the swindle. You just stand at the corner on the specific date after consulting weather updates, and concoct a myth by feigning to catch the bus.
Once you are in you are continue to the next phase. And yes, you will be in swiftly since the security vaguely checks foreigners, more so, if you are a stray one from a hockey team. The next phase is a good ol’ smash-and-grab job. While you apologize for the wet rug and carpet, having intentionally caught cold by injecting a nasty microbody of virus, you take the vacuum cleaner to the Sandham Room. Breaking the glass encase, you switch the 1729 with your replica and clean up the glass shrapnel with the silent vacuum cleaner. Of course there is a huge risk to this task. But as they say, no risk no venture.
You obviously paid two urchins to smash the windows of the exterior hall which caused the delivery of the window panes previous day. You screw those in to create a glass coffin for the evolution series of the bats.
But these all must happen in Swiss time perfection. Of course, you cannot just waltz in and do the job. You rehearsed it for at least four years. But yes, at the end the payoff is priceless.
And all that remains is to finally catch a plane trip to Brazil.