Playing The Game

Entry by: Paul McDermott

19th October 2017
Playing the Game

“Six an’ Out! And you have to find the ball!”
“Aaaah – Ray! Ain’t yiz gonna help? It’ll be quicker …!”
Pete was still reliving the satisfaction of his glorious boundary shot, disappearing into the cutting of a disused railway line, but the team’s unwritten Rule was inviolable, sacred as anything contained in Wisden’s Almanac. His adenoidal Scouse twang lent an edge of pathos to his plea.
“Fair enough, I guess.” team captain Paul conceded. “It’s the only decent ball we’ve got with us, and we’ll get back to the game quicker.”
He nodded to the rest of the team and they all trotted off to the point where they’d seen the ball vanish into the undergrowth.
The cherry-red ball nestled clearly in the middle of an unidentified weed, raising an automatic cheer from the search party. This died as every pair of eyes locked on a curious object right beside it.
“A rocking horse! My Dad got one fer me kid sister last Christmas.”
“Yeah, Tom” Paul agreed, “ but it’s got no head, it must have been dumped.”
“Bet my Dad could fix it, though, if we took it back.”
“Your Dad’s a good chippie, Gerry. Let’s have a decko …”
The Noble Game was forgotten for a few minutes while fifteen boys (mostly clad in once-white shorts and T-shirts) investigated the unexpected find.
Being a whole three days older than anyone else Paul took command of the Usual Suspects. He swung an investigative kick at the curved runners, punched a flank, then dug into the frayed opening where the missing head had once been.
He frowned.
“There’s something solid in here …”
With a grunt of effort he managed to extract whatever "it" might be. A spray of ancient rag stuffing fluttered to the ground: he ignored it and opened his fist.
“What the … !”
“Jeez, Paul …!”
Everyone tried to speak at once as Paul removed a thick elastic band and flattened out a sheaf of banknotes: an impressive
wad with the magic numeral 20 in the top corner.
“Right, guys. One at a time – no shoving, we’ll all have a crack! Let’s see if there’s more moolah in old Dobby!”
Ten minutes later, fifteen identical bundles of notes lay side by side in the dirt. At first glance they appeared identical in size: Paul’s initial find was counted carefully and checked, and they agreed it came to £2000.
“Times sixteen – that’s thirty-two grand! Jaysus, I’ve never seen so much cash …!”
“ … all in one place, Tom.”
“ Point is, Paul: what are we going to do with it? ’Cause for the first, it’s not ours …”
“ … an’ for the second-third-fourth, if I was to go home with so much as a fiver, me Mam’d go ape: I’m not sure if I ever had any ‘folding money’ in my pocket, ’cept on me birthday, maybe.”
Fifteen heads nodded instant agreement. They stared at each other in silence. Paul sensed he had to earn his Leader stripes.
“It’s not ours, guys. Nice to look at, lovely to hold …”
“But if you break it…” Tom added.
“Consider it sold!” the rest of the team chorused, adding the ‘tag line’ of a large poster in the window of a local china and crockery shop. They collapsed into genuine, heartfelt laughter as the excitement and tension of the moment disappeared.
“We have to do what’s right” Paul said, with a flick of his head towards the opposite end of the park. “We came here to play cricket. Now we’ve got to Play the Game, take this cash down to the Cop Shop.”
The Police Station was across Springfield Park, next to Alder Hey childrens’ hospital.
“Play up, play up, and Play the Game” Tom muttered the words of a poem they all knew by heart. Looking at the faces of his friends, Paul was certain each of them was also reciting the same verses in his mind. There was only one possible solution.
“We’ve got to hand it in, tell the cops where we found it. Whoever stashed it here had a reason for not putting it in a bank. We can be certain they’ll be back looking for it before long, and I for one don’t want to be here when they do. C’mon, it’s not safe to hang about. Grab the cricket gear on the way past, we won’t be coming back today!”

“ … and that’s about all we can tell you, officer. We counted the one bundle, an’ they all look the same to us. But we’ve not kept any o’ the roll we opened an’ counted, honest!” Paul insisted. The Desk Sergeant and the DI he’d called in as a witness while he took the statement nodded reassuringly.
“I believe you, and I’m sure Inspector Bradley does, too. If the times you’ve given me are even vaguely accurate, you’ve had no time to do more than collect the money and bring it here. Just one more thing, though. Did you see anyone in the park, anyone watching you?”
“Don’t think so” Paul said “I mean, I tried to keep my eyes open, but I’ve got no idea what a robber, y’know, looks like?”
Both policemen laughed, setting all the boys at ease.
“If we knew what a criminal looks like, this job would be a lot easier!” the Sergeant said. “But I’m glad to see you decided to do what’s right …”
“Play the Game” Paul murmured “It’s part o’ cricket, isn’t it?”
“And there will be a reward, of course.” the Inspector added, “though I can’t say how much it might be. We’re pretty sure we know which supermarket this cash was stolen from, and I’m sure they’ll show their appreciation! There are also funds the police can draw on to reward law-abiding citizens. You won’t be out of pocket, promise!”
Gerry caught Paul’s eye, then pushed his way to the front.
“Sergeant, will you want the rockin’ ’orse as evee-dence or sump’n? ’Cos my Dad’s a carpenter, I’d sorta hoped I could keep it, ask ’im to fix it …”
Gerry clung possessively to the rocking horse, now stripped down to a basic wooden skeleton. Most of the stuffing which had been pulled out of it had been crammed into a variety of plastic bags and placed in one corner of the Interview Room.
“If you can Play the Game, I’m sure we can do the same!” the Inspector said, absolving the Desk Sergeant of responsibility for the decision. “Now, I can arrange for you to have a lift home …”
There was an instant, horrified wail of protest all round. Paul took the initiative and explained:
“If we arrive home in cop cars, we’ll never live it down – me Mam’d probably have a heart attack! No disrespect, Sir, but on our street …!”
“I understand. People assume, any passenger in a police car is there …”
“Cos they’ve been arrested!” Paul nodded, as the DI hesitated, looking for the best phrase.
“ ’Sright!” Tom confirmed. Paul shot his cousin a grateful look, which the Desk Sergeant noted. He closed his notebook with a loud snap.
“Best if I send a PC out to make sure there’s no odd characters on the street without a good reason for hanging around. Once you lot get out there mob-handed you’ll be noticed, a group that size can’t help being seen – and you’ve no grounds to hide yourselves away, you’ve done nothing wrong!”
The Sergeant paused, then turned to Inspector Bradley.
“Sir, can I suggest something? Later this evening an unmarked van would save our young heroes the bother of hauling the remains of the Rocking Horse a mile or more up the road. That also gives us the opportunity to take some photos, keep Forensics happy.”
“Why not? That seems the least we can do. We also know how to Play the Game.”