The Extinction Game
by Philip Murray-Lawson
Bertie Mapplethorpe unbuttons his waistband to let his stomach sag more comfortably. He creaks back in the leather sofa. Sucking at a beer bottle, he presses a key on the remote control. A voice is heard several seconds before any image appears on the screen.
And I think that we can promise you a great, great afternoon of sport, bloodshed and hopefully even death. A very warm welcome to those of you who have just joined us; I’m Harry McGowan and, live from London Zoo, this is theeee... (fanfare and drum roll)... Extinction Game! Keeping me company while I handle the lion’s share of the commentary chores (laughter) is BBC 401 sports consultant, Chichester Charlie. Good to see you again, Charlie. There’s a huge crowd here today.
Two middle-aged men, arms folded, are perched side by side in a cramped glass cubicle packed with wires, cables and screens. Both wear open-necked shirts, navy blue blazers and beige trousers. Harry McGowan’s bald dome swelters under the unforgiving lights. His eyes gleam with good humour and every muscle in his face is marshalled in a smile. Chichester Charlie’s mouth manages similar twitches. He can still boast a few tufts of brown in the vicinity of his headphones.
The camera leaves them to pan along elephants, giraffes, crocodiles and monkeys to reach, at last, a rather scruffy, overweight panda. All the animals doze on stretches of terrain approximating their natural habitats, except for the panda which is in a cage at the head of a playing field traced with white lines and circles.
On either side of the lawn, row after row of cheering supporters — many with painted faces — flourish red, orange and blue scarves. One boisterous group unfurls a banner which reads Pulverise the Panda! The men wave six-packs and moon; a little boy drops a lollipop to stick out his cherry tongue; and a girl flashes her tits.
Chichester Charlie: An enormous crowd, Harry. London Zoo is just about bursting at the seams. People were queuing outside, in wind and rain, for over forty-eight hours. Tickets were selling on the Black Market for over £1000. The Extinction Game has had its share of detractors, but I think here’s the proof, if any were needed, of the game’s appeal.
Harry McGowan: No one wants to miss what might be the last game ever. The Anti-Ecologists really have to win this one, don’t they Charlie? Otherwise, it’s the end of them, and possibly even the game.
Chichester Charlie: You’re absolutely right, Harry. The Greens have had a really excellent season. Fine show of points: the dolphin, the whale and the tuna no longer threatened... They’re confident; Flower Floyd on top form despite his injury last January; very few players maimed or dead. It’s not the same story in the Anti-Ecologist camp. Another poor showing and they’re the ones risking extinction!
Harry McGowan: And the game?
Chichester Charlie: Well, there have been petitions to end it, but judging from the number of spectators here today, Harry, I wouldn’t bank on it.
Harry McGowan: Even the Greens wouldn’t want this one outlawed.
Chichester Charlie: The Greens are raring to go! If I were Cornelius Grimes, I’d have a few butterflies in my tummy.
Harry McGowan: No one’s about to make butterflies extinct! (Laughter) Janet Lee is right this moment down on the field with Cornelius Grimes... Janet, can you hear me?
A tall, scarlet-lipped lady, with a violet beret slanting over her glowing chestnut locks, is yelling silently into a fluorescent pink microphone. The microphone is about the size of a new-born baby.
Standing next to her is a smallish man with bleached hair, grey eyes and a tanned face. He is wearing a rusty tweed jacket and matching tie. There is a twinkle of gold as he replaces his spectacles. He has been wiping them on a fluffy scarf. The crowd jostles him, but he maintains a patient smile.
Janet Lee: Harry? Harry! Yes, Harry. I’m talking to Cornelius Grimes, the Anti-Ecologist coach. This really is make or break time, isn’t it Cornelius?
Cornelius Grimes: Why do you say that?
Janet Lee: No one’s been impressed by the Anti-E’s performance so far.
Cornelius Grimes: I’m confident in my boys. We’ve got a strong team spirit, a lot of talent, and we’ve been playing with greater cohesion and rhythm in every round. Don’t forget, we were only two points away from annihilating the tuna.
Janet Lee: What’s your reaction to critics claiming that Cornelius Grimes couldn’t even kill the dodo?
Cornelius Grimes: I think that particular piper will be playing a different tune by the end of this afternoon.
Janet Lee: They also say that your relationship with your own players has been fraught with difficulty.
Cornelius Grimes: There were strategy disagreements with Belsen Bill early in the season. Our relationship has much improved since his brain surgery.
Janet Lee: You’re confident even though today your own life is at risk?
Cornelius Grimes: Let’s just play the game. I think the Greens will be in for a few surprises.
Janet Lee: It’s a long way to that sleeping Panda’s cage...
Cornelius Grimes: It is, Janet, and the Greens are wide awake. But that Panda is as good as skinned. I promised Luja a new fur coat.
Janet Lee: (Laughter) Thank you, Cornelius. Good luck this afternoon.
Moving through the crowded VIP section, a very beautiful girl shakes her fringe from her eyes and smiles into the camera. Dark-suited men shift their legs as she brushes past. Silk streamers from her dress tickle their faces and they flinch and snigger. With a hint of nylon knee and the delicious promise of a thigh, she slides into her seat. A cheerful man with blue eyes and a reddish face leans towards her with outstretched hands. They kiss each other, continental style, on either cheek.
Harry McGowan: That’s the lovely Luja Naifeh, just taking her place next to the former Prime Minister, Mr Terry Lair... So, Chichester, he’s not giving much away?
Chichester Charlie: Cornelius has lived many years in Mauritania so I guess he’s used to wearing a veil! My question is whether there is a strategy behind all that adroit verbal fencing.
Harry McGowan: He mentioned Belsen Bill.
Chichester Charlie: He did, Harry. I spoke to Belsen yesterday during the training. He is in better shape. He’s an enthusiastic kid, but I’m not sure he’s the old Belsen we used to know and er... love.
Harry McGowan: You don’t think Cornelius should be counting on him?
Copehagen Charlie: That was one hell of a nasty blow Hippy Slim dealt him in the Dolphin Match.
Harry McGowan: Here are the names of today’s players... No real surprises, Chichester?
The GreensHippy Slim
The Lizard King
The Anti-EcologistsGuantanamo Gary
Chichester Charlie: The Greens have replaced no one except Sexy Sadie — may she rest in peace — since the Tuna Trials and, of course, Belsen Bill is back with the Anti-E’s. The Greens have five players on the bench, but the Anti-E’s have sustained such heavy losses that they have no substitutes.
Harry McGowan: Amen. We should remind our viewers that the rules in the Final are a little different from previous games. Is that right, Chichester?
Chichester Charlie: Absolutely right, Harry. As always, the Anti-E’s have to work their way to five bases before they try to snuff that snoozing panda just showing on the left of your screens now...
Harry McGowan: But today not only an animal’s life is threatened.
Chichester Charlie: You’re on the ball, Harry. If the Greens get to their five bases on the right there, they can have a go at the Anti-E coach, Cornelius Grimes.
Harry McGowan: And Cornelius cannot move or even defend himself?
Chichester Charlie: He mustn’t move from his position, but he is allowed one pistol shot.
Harry McGowan: But only...
Chichester Charlie: After his opponent has fired at him.
Harry McGowan: The referee’s placing his whistle to his lips... We’re off!
Hippy Slim, nearly unrecognisable under his bulky padding, waves to the crowd as he strolls across the lawn. He crouches before the wicket, his bat poised.
Directly opposite, Wanda Rwanda steps daintily to the line and pitches a fast one. Hippy Slim slams it and runs towards first base.
Taliban Ted tackles him from the front but Hippy, wielding his bat, smashes him across the lugs, leaps over the body and touches base before Belsen has fielded the ball.
Harry McGowan: Magnificent work from Hippy Slim! Taliban is KO. No, he’s getting up... He’s tottering... He’s down!
Chichester Charlie: Wanda’s bowling was fast, efficient and direct to the stumps, but Hippy was more than equal to it. A strong run. Taliban exploded like a bomb. Is this the end of Taliban? Oilslick Rick is at his side. They’re loosening his helmet. I can see some profuse bleeding...
Harry McGowan: Hippy’s released a strong flow there. The Anti-E’s look worried.
Chichester Charlie: The referee has his ruler. If the puddle reaches the six-inch mark, it’s another point for the Greens.
Harry McGowan: They’ve managed to staunch it. It’s only his ears and nose. He’ll be alright. Now it’s for the Greens to bowl. Sharon Straight. Belsen batting.
Sharon tries a slow spinner... Belsen strikes. Great strike! He’s running for first base. Sharon herself tries for the interception! Ooooooooooooo! My God! That was a nasty crack. Belsen’s home!
Chichester Charlie: Sharon’s out for the count.
Harry McGowan: The medics have arrived. The crowd is hushed. Not the slightest sound in the whole stadium.
Chichester Charlie: You can hear a tooth drop.
Harry McGowan: Her head is at a funny angle. What’s the verdict? They’re hesitating...
Chichester Charlie: Death would give the Anti-E’s a much needed twelve extra points.
Bertie Mapplethorpe’s cell phone rings. He touches a button on the remote control; Harry and Chichester are cut.
“Hello Luja! I’ve just seen you on TV! Lovely dress! Good game, isn’t it? Say Hi to Terry... Eh? Eh? No, it’s okay. I managed to do it yesterday... Yes... I... Well, what I did...” Bertie scratches his cheek and white flakes fall onto his tummy.
“No, don’t worry. It’s done. Blanks. I said replaced with blanks! I’m sorry? No, I’m at home now. Best not to be seen... Wouldn’t want them to suspect anything...
“What?” Bertie frowns and stands up. He catches his trousers before they fall. “Again? Wouldn’t that be risky? Listen, Cornelius will be fine... There’s no reason for them to... They won’t have re-checked...
Yes, I still have my changing room pass. Yes, I can be there in fifteen minutes, but I don’t think... Yes, but Luja... What? I... Okay, okay. Don’t worry. I’m leaving.”
Shaking his head, Bertie hangs up. He switches off the TV, tightens his belt, and muttering about anxious Africans, hurries from the room.
He does not return until about forty minutes later. He points the remote control at the TV. It is almost the end of the game, and Harry McGowan is breathless.
Harry McGowan: (Coughs) Sorry, running short of breath. Belsen Bill! What a run! Just incredible! I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an exciting Final! The suspense is palpable!
Chichester Charlie: A very tense finish to this Final... Sharon Straight, Wanda Rwanda, Flower Floyd dead, both Hippy and Belsen at last base... Very tense indeed.
Harry McGowan: There’s no one between Belsen and the panda! One error from the Greens and the panda is extinct!
Chichester Charlie: But there’s no one between Hippy Slim and Cornelius Grimes either, Harry; and it’s Hippy’s move. He only needs to shoot Cornelius for the Greens to win. I’m putting my money on Panda coming out of this alive.
Harry McGowan: Has Cornelius times Grimes come... er... Grimes’ time come? This is very tense.
Hippy Slim, swaying at the very tip of the line, raises a pistol. Most of his padding has been ripped away; his strip hangs in tatters; his torso is scratched, and his limbs are stained scarlet. He staggers and his helmet falls.
The crowd sighs with awe. One of Hippy’s ears is hanging from a thread, his left eye is mashed to a pulp, and his nose is running. He steadies himself and manages a toothless smile. Seven yards away, Cornelius Grimes — arms hanging loosely at his sides — watches him. A revolver is stuck into Cornelius’s waistband.
Harry McGowan: If Hippy misses, the panda’s goose is cooked.
Chichester Charlie: Hippy’s not going to miss.
Harry McGowan: He’s never missed yet.
Chichester Charlie: The boy has nerves of steel.
The referee blows his whistle. Hippy Slim spreads his legs for more stability, and sights (with his good eye) along the barrel. He takes his time. The camera gives a close up of Cornelius Grimes whose Adam’s apple wobbles perceptibly. The Anti-E supporters bellow insults. Hippy squeezes the trigger.
Harry McGowan: Hippy fires!
Chichester Charlie: Grimes is dowwwwnnnnnnn...
Harry McGowan: Standing! Grimes is still standing! He’s alive! Hippy’s missed!
Chichester Charlie: I... Hippy! Cornelius... Hippy’s missed! Extraordinary! It’s just impossible. How could he miss?
Harry McGowan: It’s Cornelius’s turn. He’s taking aim! He’s waiting for the referee... Will he go for an injury or a kill, Chichester?
Chichester Charlie: Hippy has played a great game today. Okay, he’s failed to take out Cornelius, but he’s a very generous lad. He’s put his heart and soul into the match. It’s impossible for the Greens to win now. I don’t see Belsen fluffing it. He’s in better condition than Hippy was... er... is, and there’s no one between him and the panda. At this stage, I’d like to see some mercy from Cornelius Grimes. He can afford it, and it would be a great gesture.
Harry McGowan: It would be sporting of him.
Chichester Charlie: Fair play is what this game’s about. Let Hippy live, Cornelius, that’s what I say.
Harry McGowan: Listen to the supporters! They’re cheering Hippy! I think that they would like to see something of the same. Let Hippy live, Cornelius.
Chichester Charlie: Hippy deserves it.
The whistle blows. Cornelius Grimes fires. Hippy falls. There is a black hole between his eyes. The crowd cheers.
Harry McGowan: What an amazing shot! Right between the eyes!
Chichester Charlie: You can’t fault the precision.
Harry McGowan: Cornelius has had a lot of practice. The whistle has sounded! It’s Belsen Bill’s move...
With his remaining teeth, Belsen Bill pulls a pin from a steel canister. The Greens start running towards him. He lobs it into the panda’s cage. The panda disappears behind clouds of mustard-coloured gas. The Greens stop running.
Harry McGowan: Well there you have it! Belsen Bill! Magnificent! The panda is extinct and the Anti-E’s have won the Final! What a great game! Stay with us for the award ceremony. Hold on! Hello? Janet? Janet! Have you found...? Are you with anyone? Is Cornelius Grimes there?
A flustered Janet Lee is wagging the pink tip of her microphone at a magnificent black beard. The face above it is broad, healthy, florid and not at all suited to its current expression of glumness. With his khaki anorak and cap, Janet’s young man resembles a South American guerrilla. His eyes flash as he shoves a well-gnawed cigar between his teeth.
Janet Lee: No, Harry. Cornelius is back with his team in the changing room, but I’ve managed to find the Green’s coach Nicolas “Ché” Boreloo. A disappointing result for the Greens, Ché?
Nicolas Boreloo: Very disappointing, Janet. Frankly, I’m gutted. Very, very upset. It’s a disastrous day for ecologists.
Janet Lee: The panda is now extinct...
Nicolas Boreloo: The extinction of the panda is a tragedy. But it’s what happened to Hippy Slim that disturbs me the most.
Janet Lee: It’s hard to believe that he could have missed.
Nicolas Boreloo: Well, did he? I have very serious doubts about that.
Janet Lee: What are you saying?
Nicolas Boreloo: I would like Hippy’s gun examined.
Janet Lee: The rules are that referee himself checks the pistols before the game.
Nicolas Boreloo: Yes, Janet, those are the rules. He’s meant to check that they are loaded with live rounds.
Janet Lee: So...? You’re prepared to contest the referee’s decision today?
Nicolas Boreloo: There’s not much point, at this stage, in asking for a replay. But I insist that the EG Federation make an enquiry.
Janet Lee: Thank you very much, Mr Boreloo. I’m afraid that’s all we’ve got time for. Mr Terry Lair is about to present the awards. Harry?
Bertie Mapplethorpe smirks and switches off the television. “Cornelius, old fellow,” he says. “You owe me one.”
Copyright © 2013 by Philip Murray-Lawson