The roll of a dice, the turn of a card. The hand of fate twists and flips the fortunes of the worthy and the unworthy in an endless grind.
Week 26 was such a week. This time the cards fell well for a petty criminal slumped at the bar in Daveâ€™s CafÃ© Americain.
Rob Mulloy was a man burdened with pride. He ran his tongue slowly around the arch of his stained teeth to taste the cocktail that lingered there and mulled over his good fortune: a 12 place climb up the table to 19th (6 places higher than his seasonal best) courtesy of a joker, 8 correct results and the Stamford Bridge jackpot: Chelsea 2 Arsenal 0 â€“ victory was sweet and his passport to silverware was clearly assured.
The meeting with Ted Warland was planned for that evening. The legendary romancer was prepared to pay, and pay handsomely, for his secrets and there would be little suspicion of the two old friends meeting in the bar.
But Rob had other work to do that day and he couldnâ€™t risk taking the Formula around the drug-crazed streets of Church Langley. He looked twice at the owner. David Roberts was a bitter cynical man with a history, an impatient frown and a little too much Brylcreem for his own good. Roberts caught his gaze.
“… somehow, just because you despise me, you are the only one I trust.” Mulloy rasped, drawing the words through his teeth like washing through a mangle. The chairman nodded his acceptance of the package and the risks that came with it.
The man at the other end of the bar pulled off the olive into his gin and spun the pink parasol idly between his fingers as the barman came over to join him.
I hear that chancer Matt White is one of the Predictors of the Week. Funny how he seems to sneak in so regularly isnâ€™t it?â€™ spat Roberts.
â€˜And the guy over there.â€™ his companion continued. â€˜Just stepped in with that broad. See?â€™ Mark Young threw a glance and a smart couple who had just entered and were furtively scanning the club for the quietest table.
â€˜Manchester United 5 Portsmouth 0. You canâ€™t tell me thatâ€™s a coincidence. â€˜The Man with the Midas Touchâ€™ they call him. Simon Gold.â€™
The barmanâ€™s mouth dried instantly. He recognised the lady only too well.
At that moment Matt White walked into the bar and moved over to sit with the couple. Roberts and White had be old sparring partners in the league and neither trusted the other. Rumours were bandied around of missing points and deals struck on crucial Cup weeks but Roberts couldnâ€™t prove anything. He moved closer to listen in on their conversation:
â€˜We hear Formulaâ€™s somewhere in Church Langley.â€™ Goldâ€™s whispers were clearly audible. â€˜If Iâ€™m going to carry on this run, Iâ€™m going to have to track it down.â€™
Matt White looked at the barman sidling towards them just as Janet Roberts met him with a stunned gaze.â€™ It had been so long, but the wounds were as red-raw as the beetroot that had eventually tore them apart.
â€˜Youâ€™re looking at your passport, dollâ€™. Matt whispered in her ear as stood up to leave. Stopping to exchange a few words with the host:
â€˜We’d better both be on our guard next weekend, David, or we’ll find ourselves down amongst the also-rans. I hope youâ€™ve got a plan worked out.â€™
Top scorers Dave McAleer & Pete Yoder (both with 9 points) grinned as they overheard the exchange. Yoder, the only player to have predicted a Hull win against Manchester City had plans of his own.
That night the bar was buzzing and nobody noticed Simon Gold and the Chairman having an intense conversation in the corner.
â€˜It all started after that explosion didnâ€™t it?â€™ the Chairman quizzed.
â€˜Iâ€™m sorry mate, these things happen. We all want the same thing at the end of the day. But If you wonâ€™t give the Formula to me, at least give it to Janet.â€™ â€˜She deserves the silverware and a better life. I know you agree with me on that one.â€™ Simonâ€™s eyes were pleading.
The next morning Mark Young entered the bar.
â€˜I saw you talking last night Dave. You should have picked somewhere more private. â€˜Itâ€™s too late for him now though. You know me, I have no convictions… I blow with the wind, and the prevailing wind happens to be from Bury St Edmundsâ€™.
â€˜Iâ€™ll do you a deal. You saw the exchange yesterday, I know you did.â€™ â€˜Let him go and you can catch Gold red-handed. Iâ€™ll set it up before the match on Saturday.â€™
Janet Roberts climbed into the Mini Cooper to leave Church Langley. She knew the words resonating in her ears were true and the regret would come, but they stung her eyes all the same.
â€˜Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.”
On Saturday morning, Janet Roberts and Simon Gold switched on the computer. They had an envelope in their hands and the opportunity for a new life.