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The Pine Barrens League, part 3: Who can beat Wall Street?

Editor’s note: For your offseason pleasure, PSP is happy to present an multi-part fiction series entitled The Pine Barrens League. In part three, Schnauzer and company play a bunch of nasty Wall Street types. Look for each new installment on Monday mornings through the end of January.

As captain of the team I felt obligated to arrive early at the meeting place. Knees was already there and she had a worried look on her face. “He’s dead,” she said when I opened my car door. I immediately knew who she was talking about: Kel, the captain of the team we beat last week.

“How do you know?” I asked.

“Through my work,” she said with a cold stare. “His remains were found in a dumpster and your DNA might be on his knee braces. ”

“I didn’t see anything in the newspaper about it,” I said.

“They’re keeping it under wraps.” She took a deep breath. “Can I trust you?” she asked. I nodded. “There’s is already an investigation going on, the gambling. His death is now part of that investigation.”

“Did you tell them anything?”

“No.”

“You should quit the team,” I said resolutely, “you will lose your job.” She smiled. It was the first time I’d seen her smile.

“I can’t. This is what keeps me sane.”

“Did he have a family?” I felt bad about not feeling sad for his demise.

“No,” she answered, “he lived alone.”

“He died on the field?” I asked.

“No. He was alive when we left, it’s not your fault,” she insisted.

“I hope we play less insane people today,” I told her.

She smiled, again, “We’ll see.”

 —0—

About an hour later, Sandler asked, “Who’s the goalie?”

We had just arrived in the “champions van” and were watching the other team warm up. The man he was talking about had a brooding face, and the physique of a weathered goal keeper. The way this guy moved towards the ball was pure muscle memory. He must have been goaltending a long time at a pretty high level.

“It’s Jaromír Blažek,” Doc said. “He was a back up for Petr Čech on the Czech National Team.”

“No wonder we don’t know him,”  Sandler said. “Petr Čech is the best.” There was brief moment of respectful silence.

“Can you feel it?” Jericho asked with his eyes closed. Nobody responded. “That guy is one touch away from Chelsea, one touch away from the Premier League.”

“He’s old, don’t worry about him,” Bunga Bunga said.

“He’s younger than Mondragon,” Doc replied. “And he is still doing quite all right.”

“We should worry about him,” Win said quickly, before an argument could burst out about the Union line up. “This guy is a problem. He limits our options significantly.”

“Isn’t there a way we can get him off his rocker?” Slim asked.

“He grew up in post-Nazi, communist Czechoslovakia,” Hung said impatiently. “You think a bunch of free wheeling amateurs can get him off his rocker?” Let’s warm up and let the coach do his thinking, lest we take the other half of his earnings.”

 —0—

At kick off it appeared they were playing in a bizarre 3–1–2–2–1–1 formation. Player-coach Jean-Paul, a Mediterranean-looking Frenchman, positioned himself as an old-fashioned ‘libero,’ the beating heart of the team.

Minotaur scoffed, “Who the hell does he think he is, Beckenbauer?” Jean-Paul moved like a top player, but clearly had put on some weight, and on this field that was going to be a huge disadvantage.

Win told Knees to step up offensively and Duke to step back to play more defensively. “Jean-Paul’s strategy is to score quickly and then to shut it down,” he explained. “They’ll be everywhere for the first 15 minutes or so. If we can stop them from scoring in the the first half we should be OK.”

And he was right.

Under the watchful eye of an audience about the same size as last week, they kicked off and started plowing the field like a herd of nut-tied broncos. Of course the ball went back to Jean-Paul who directed a puffy faced greasy haired forward towards me. The other forward, apparently the bespectacled love child of Bill Gates and Ann Coulter, didn’t stop yelling for the ball. Bunga Bunga was marking him and, reading his face, I knew he already hated him. Pope stepped up to Jean-Paul who skillfully left him behind. Duke wasn’t too far away. Knees saw Jean-Paul looking to his left and stepped towards a guy who looked eerily like foregone presidential candidate Herman Cain, who was able to pull Knees out of position. Quickly the ball went to the other side where a guy with short curly hair trapped the ball inside his thigh and started to dribble it up.

“Justin, pass the fucking ball,” Cain yelled, to Jean-Paul’s obvious approval. Justin, now obviously irritated, passed it quickly to their right forward, a guy with a newscaster’s hairdo. I can’t describe it any other way—his hair stuck on his head like a helmet. Newscaster Hair came right at me, accelerated, and disappeared behind me in the direction of the corner flag before I could say “99 percent.”

I was glad to see him grasping for breath when he stopped to cross—some guys have only one Olympic sprint in them during games likes this. He crossed hard. The ball went horizontally towards Coulter who took down Minotaur from behind, and jumped off his back to head the ball over the goal post.

“He’s a dead man,” Minotaur fumed after he had gotten up. Doc was about to take the goal kick. I wanted to say something about preferring there not be another dead guy, but I didn’t.

Hung observed their offensive line. “Those two won’t make it another half hour,” he said pointing at Hair and Puffy. Then he pointed at Coulter, “That guy worries me. He is on something.”

We were trying to play possession but Jean-Paul and Cain fired up their team to hunt for the ball like a bunch of hyenas chasing a blood soaked rag. I don’t want to say they were foaming from the mouth, but it sure looked like it. So, some four or five touches later, Slim received the ball from Duke on a short pass. He then lost the ball when he was double teamed by Dustin and their Waspy right back.

The broad-smiled defender passed the ball with a quick kick to Jean-Paul. He then passed the ball in front of Cain, who touched it to guy with the red puffy face, who next kicked it to short man with a gentle Saddam Hussein smile carved on his face. He was standing at 40 yards when he fired the ball towards the goal. Doc flew to the top left corner and was barely able to get his left hand behind the ball.

The ball was still in play. Minotaur was on it, as was Coulter, who came in howling like a screaming spider. Minotaur had the ball on the goal line about nine yards to the left of  the goal post. He looked like he was thinking whether whether to punch Coulter, and risk a penalty kick, or kick the ball out for a corner kick. That brief moment of hesitation was enough for Coulter to snatch the ball away. In that same moment Doc landed on top of him while grabbing the ball.

“Terribly sorry, old chap,” he apologized, while Coulter tried to bite his hand. I was waiting for a whistle but the ref was looking at a group of women on top of the dike. Jean-Paul started yelling at the ref, asking for a PK. Doc quickly threw the ball towards Jericho, who had come all the way back to the 18. He trapped the ball on his chest, looked up and found some space.

“And Jesus said, if you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” After 15 yards he found Cain in front of him while Saddam Hussein was trailing him. Knees was to his left, but she was covered by Puffy. Coulter, still covered in dirt, was already screaming, back in their defensive line. The guy wasted too much breath yelling.

Jericho chipped the ball in the hole between Cain and  Pope, and Pope was able to retrieve it. The middle WASP came sliding in with two feet forward, looking to break Pope’s ankles. Pope intuitively touched the ball in the direction of the goal, jumped up and went after it. By this time Coulter jumped on him like a rabies infested monkey, taking Pope down while biting his ear. Now the ref had to blow the whistle. Pope grabbed Coulter like a little puppy and smacked him down into the dirt. He then grabbed his head to discover he was bleeding.

I was yelling at the ref to get his attention. He turned his face in my direction while I sprinted towards him. “How are you tonight,” said the ref mischievously.

“He needs medical attention, sir. He is bleeding, he might need stitches and definitely a tetanus shot, do we have a medic?” The ref checked out Pope’s ear; his wound was bleeding significantly. He quickly exchanged a moment with Borat at the platform then gestured at the linesman to get the medical kit.

“Arrêter le temps!”—which I know from my high school French class means “Stop the clock!”— Jean-Paul yelled furiously because he knew I was trying to take the momentum out of the game, and deflate his game plan like a bad souffle.

I yelled back at him, “Control your players. Start playing the game.” He looked at me as if  I just had whipped him. “You went to the dark side buddy,” I said. “You came here to win, and not to play soccer.” I pointed at the stars. Jean-Paul looked up, thought for a brief moment. “Life,” he said with intensity, “is about winning, not about playing games.”

The linesman was working on Pope’s ear, the clock was still ticking away. Jean-Paul turned away from me, looked up at the stars for a brief moment, and briefly stopped to think.

“You OK?” I asked when Pope came back on in the 14th minute.

“No man, it fucking hurts! Have you ever been bitten? The guy ate me!” He had a bandage around his head.

The look in Pope’s face worried me. “Retaliate,” I told him while I grabbed his upper arms. “But retaliate with your feet, OK?” I knew it would be hard for him to control his temper but I was hoping somewhere inside of him he’d find the smarts to kill them on the score board.

The next 15 minutes or so we had an even game. Coulter was playing like a normal monkey. Jean-Paul assumed the role of field marshal. The few shots on goal we had were easy grabs for Jaromír. Saddam Hussein shot wide and Coulter had a nice volley from about 15 yards from a cross by Cain.

 —0—

Jean-Paul knew he had given the initiative away, and was playing our game instead of his. He also knew that come second half we would be having the advantage. Both he and Cain were over 40. Only Dustin, their right midfielder, looked like he was in his twenties, and he was clearly intimidated by his team mates—most likely his superiors in some Wall Street office.

It was the 39the minute, the play had slowed down significantly. I tried to figure out what Jean-Paul was thinking. I’m sure he knew his Napoleon Bonaparte and the battles of Charlemagne. And… he knew the Art of War, by Diego Maradonna. Jean-Paul demanded the ball from Dustin, who was actually in a great spot because I was out of position. Saddam Hussein was open at the top of the 18 in scoring position. There was enough space for Dustin to cross to him and Saddam Hussein had an open road to the goal.

But Jean-Paul thought differently. He started dribbling in the direction of Cain, who was moving up. Duke cut off the path to Cain, while Knees went in Dustin’s direction. Pope was chasing Jean-Paul, but he had some decent speed for his age. He cut out Minotaur, and then Hung. I was still covering Hair, who was pulling to the outside as far as he could. The three WASPs were in our half now and getting in position to pick up a rebound shot. Doc was yelling at Slim and Jericho to come back while the defeated Hung and Minotaur ran as fast as they could to cover Saddam Hussein. Coulter started to scream again, distracting Bunga Bunga. I was still on Hair because I knew he would be able to get the ball to Coulter or Saddam Hussein. Jean-Paul exploited a little hole in our defense—he’s French after all—to find himself in front of Doc. Jean-Paul was able to flick the ball in every corner of the goal with his eyes closed. His eyes went to the top left corner and his toe went to the bottom right. Our goalie had no chance: 0-1.

Jean-Paul was too exhausted to cheer. His whole team jumped on top of him. He had won the battle, but the war was far from over. The difference between the Napoleons and the Jean-Pauls in this world is that the Napoleons are already planning their next battle. All that was going on with Jean-Paul was that his ego was about to burst. Usually after you cheer you go back to the game. Not Jean-Paul, he just wanted to continue to bask in the afterglow of his own euphoria. Cain, his most loyal general, tried to re-energize the troops, but they looked put off but Jean-Paul’s ongoing display of vanity.

The clock was ticking towards 44 when we had the kick off. It was Duke who lead the attack. He kicked off to Pope, who went a few steps sideways until Coulter got to him. He flicked it to Jericho who was reciting Genesis 1—”And God said there is light and there was light…” He made a few quick steps towards the side line and Cain came up to challenge him. A Cruyff at full speed took care of Cain. Duke was standing in Jean-Paul’s area. The three WASPs were confused because Jean-Paul had lost his concentration. Duke pulled Jean-Paul with him to his left. Both Slim and Pope came in on the left as well, yelling at the top of their lungs for a pass. Jaromír anticipated a cross and kept the right side of his goal protected. Knees saw what Duke was doing and sped towards the corner of the 18. “Let there be a vault between the waters,” Jericho said while he lobbed the ball in front of Knees. It bounced up perfectly for her and she hammered it hard into the right side off the net. 1-1

Jaromír was furious. He yelled at  Jean-Paul for letting knees slip past him, and at the three WASPs for being clueless. “Use your foecking eyes you iediots!!” he screamed with a heavy accent. 44:56…44:57…44:58…44:59..45:00. The ref blew the whistle exactly on time, no injury time bullshit despite Pope’s monkey bite.

 —0—

“All right guys,” said Win. “That was a great goal—my God, you don’t see that often.” He took a comedic pause. “And your’s was nice too, Knees.” Win directed our attention to the other team to see that Jaromír was doing the talking instead of Jean-Paul. “They’re organization is crumbling, so you will see more individual actions. And that guy up front who looks like Saddam Hussein, he should not be near a ball within 40 yards of the goal—I have never seen legs like that.” He scanned our faces. “Anyone hurt? You OK, Pope?”

“That fucking bastard. I’ll kill him!” Pope said, with a swallow. “I’m not kidding.”

“He’s ARMY, they are like that,” Knees explained dryly. Everybody stared at her. Silently thinking the same question: how did she know that? “He has a tattoo!” she exclaimed.

“Now for the bad news,” Win continued. He quickly checked the clock. “As you might have guessed, we are trespassing on this property. I just saw some activity in between the cars over there. A guy came up, talked to the drivers and quickly disappeared again. So, two things can happen. He can call the police and the game is over or he doesn’t and we are able to finish the game. In the case of the former, there’s no over time or shoot outs in this league. If it’s a tie the incumbent loses.”

“Fuck that!!” Bunga Bunga yelled.

“It’s the rule—that’s how we were able to advance last year,” Win explained.

“We have to put in two in the first 5 minutes,” Hung said in a low voice.

“Why don’t we take their game plan, that would be the last thing they’d expect,” Jericho said.

Win smiled, “That would be amusing.” He looked at Duke, “You stay on Jean-Paul, that should be sufficient.” Duke nodded. Win looked over to where all the vehicles had been parked. The drivers of the buses and the limos were standing in the vicinity of their vehicles in case they needed to make a quick exit. “I want you guys to put all your belongings in the van before you go back out there.”

 —0—

The atmosphere in the air was electric. The idea of being caught had stirred up the audience like a bunch of little kids who just found the hidden cookie jar. I tried to find the smiling lady in white but she wasn’t on the platform.

  —0—

Pope touched the ball to Sandler for the kick off. Duke sprinted towards Jean-Paul, who seemed to have regained his focus, and didn’t look too pleased to be man marked. Sandler touched it back to Knees who started dribbling the ball up to meet Puffy. He wasn’t too focused on covering her so she curved the ball around his left and ran past his right. His face all red and furious, he started to chase her.

Jericho was covered by Cain and Saddam Hussein wasn’t to far way. Slim was covered by Dustin and Chad. Pope and Sandler were on the move towards the 18. Knees found a hole next to Duke, who should have been able to get to the ball before Jean-Paul. Jean-Paul, however, took advantage of his body weight and agility to force himself between the ball and Duke and elbowed him hard in the ribs.

Gasping for breath, Duke stayed behind while Jean-Paul started to move the ball into our half. He found Cain. Chanting something about turning the other cheek, Jericho pressured Cain. Bunga Bunga was on his way to Saddam Hussein, but he was too late. Cain passed to Saddam Hussein, who wanted to shoot—I could see it in his face—but Doc was in perfect position. so he decided to pass towards Hair. To my surprise he was able to head the ball hard, but not accurately, right in Doc’s hands. Win was yelling at the side line, pointing at me and then at Jean-Paul. “You! Cover! Him!” I gave Win a thumbs up and ran towards Duke, who was still suffering the effects of Jean-Paul’s elbow. I asked him if he could still play.

“I’ll be fine,” he said, breathing heavily. Doc was still holding on to the ball waiting to distribute with Coulter standing in front of him, breathing in his face. Puffy was covering Bunga Bunga and Hair was on Minotaur. While Duke started to jog a little to walk off the pain, Doc booted the ball in my direction.

“I hope you have life insurance,” Jean-Paul said, trying to intimidate me. Doc’s punt came toward us and I could feel him winding up to hammer my kidneys so I quickly stepped aside and gave him a hard push, exactly when the ball was about to hit his forehead. His head whipped backwards and instead the ball landed full speed in the middle of his face then bounced in front Knees. Jean-Paul started calling for a foul hoping, in vain, the ref would stop the game.

“Stop whining,” I told him. “Typical, you guys fuck the whole world in the ass and as soon as you get kicked in the face you cry foul.” He looked at me flabbergasted. Before he could come up with a come back, Knees found Pope with a perfect pass. He stepped from behind left WASP and stood face to face with Jaromír. Center WASP came in hard, but he was too late and Pope showed no mercy. The ball landed in the bottom right corner, 2-1.

About half a minute after the restart we heard police sirens in the distance. The ref received a signal from the platform and, to Jean-Paul’s horror, called off the game. The audience was getting into their buses and Win was yelling to us to get in the van but quick.

I got home to find our babysitter Rachel insisting I take her home “this instance.” While I was playing, Ann had gone out Christmas shopping. Rachel said Ann had called her “last minute” and her friends were at some party and she needed to be there “right now.”

In the shower later on I realized the next game was supposed to be on Christmas Eve. Damn Russians with their Julian calendar, who the hell is going to play us on Christmas eve?

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