Outside his little room the crowds are on the street, jubilant, a mass of them forcing their way from Charlton Church Lane onto Floyd Road. Banners are flying, confetti falls from the air. Mortimer can hear them, their excited chatter, the cheering.

He puts the finishing touches to the miniature rocking chair he’s been working on all week. It is perfect, he feels a slow sense of pride.

Oh Chrissy Powell, Chrissy Chrissy Chrissy Powell!

The crowds keep coming. Men and women, girls and boys. They’ve got their Charlton back, and they’re loving it, every minute. Mortimer frowns, rests his head on the window pane.

What’s wrong with you Morts? Can’t you just get out there, get among them and celebrate?

But there’s something wrong, he thinks. Something that just doesn’t add up. Slater, Jiminez – sure, they’ve made a popular move, and it sends a message. But there’s something missing.

Mortimer feels the old instincts take hold of him again. Follow the money, Morts, follow the money. You follow the money, you find out who’s really at the top. Who’s really pulling the strings. What kind of Charlton we’ve really got.

Mortimer wheels around – there’s a scuffling at the door, a hand pressed against the reeded glass. What is that, blood? Mortimer reaches for his desk drawer, feels the reassuring touch of cold steel.

‘Who’s there?’ he rasps.

The handle of the door turns, and it gives with the weight of a man. He falls to the floor. Mortimer rushes forward. The man’s face is covered with bruises, scratches, smeared with blood. Mortimer leans forward.

‘Parkinson?’ he says, disbelieving.


The Family Pet

It’s Sunday afternoon and Mrs. Murray is taking in the washing when she hears a whining down the end of the garden. She pauses, gazes down the path, and turns back towards the house.

‘Richard dear,’ she says as she closes the kitchen door. ‘Don’t you think we should let him in now? He’s been out there all night, the poor love, and it’s getting awfully chilly out.’

Murray has on that dear old sweater she bought him three Christmases ago – the woolen one with the zig-zag patterning. It warms her to see him wearing it as he lowers the paper and looks over at her.

‘Not after yesterday, love. He needs to learn what’s acceptable and what isn’t.’

‘Oh, it wasn’t all his fault. And he tries so hard to make you happy, Richard.’

She goes back to her folding, and Murray sees again the red-faced old man storming by the dug-out. It means something when it comes to that kind of thing. But he can’t do it again, can he? He couldn’t face all the palaver. It would mean he’d got it wrong again. When he thinks of those steady old times, Curbishley… and it’s just not the kind of club to go around sacking managers just like that. We’re no Southampton, after all.

‘Go on, dear. Go down there and let him back in. He’s been punished enough.’

Bloody women. He feels the strength sapping out of him, and he knows he’ll fold again. So why fight it? After all, it’s a family club, and we reward loyalty – we give our people a chance or two.

He goes to the counter, picks up the lead, and sets off into the garden.

Rad Men

Radostin Kishishev unscrews the lid of the J&B bottle sitting on his desk and plonks a dash into his glass. It’s hot in the office; Kish loosens his tie and frowns at the wall as he lifts the glass absent-mindedly to his lips. There’s a rap at the door.

‘Come in,’ says Kish, and raffish Gustavo Poyet sticks his head through the gap.

‘Raddy! Why don’t you lose that frown and we’ll go for some oysters and Martinis, maybe end up in a bar somewhere with some broads, get our kicks and suffer a heart attack or two. What do you say?’ 

‘I’d love to Gus, but I can’t. I’ve got the Charlton pitch tomorrow and I can’t find the right angle. I can’t find that spark.’

‘Forget it – just dip into that old nostalgia routine of yours and it’ll all be fine.’

Nostalgia, thinks Kish, his gaze drifting to middle-distance. Like a carousel, it takes us to a place we ache to go again. It lets us travel the way a child travels – around and around, and back home again, to a place we know we are loved.

‘Come on, Rad. They say once you start drinking alone you’re an alcoholic. Do me a favour now.’

The pain from an old wound. He sees the Valley, 26000 people, the Premiership.

He downs the last of his scotch and scoops up his hat.

Tangoman lies on the bed. His cup of coffee gone cold on the side, pastryflakes scattered all over the sheets. Over by the sink Pardew is grinning at the mirror; beside him Dowie’s face is big and glum.

Tangoman flicks his eyes from one to the other, then lands them on the third man. ‘What’s wrong with you, Reed?’ he sneers, his tongue flicking reptilian on his lips.

And Les Reed shuffles from foot to foot, takes his hands out his pockets, puts them back in. ‘Nothing guvnor, it’s just… there wasn’t to be any more killing.’

‘You gone milky, Reed?’ Tangoman’s face throbs orange in the halflight. In his pocket he thumbs his flick-knife. Pastryflakes on the sheets.

‘No, boss, not milky. Not me.’ He looks left, catches a glimpse of Pardew’s mouth in the mirror, curled to a snarl.

The room goes dark, momentarily; the light dips. Tangoman sits up, draws his knife.

‘What was that?’ he rasps.

Dowie raises his heavy lids. ‘Looks like something moved across the window, boss.’

Out on the window-sill, something is hanging; something masked, caped, and dark.

And the wind breathes at the window-pane: Semedo.

Bad Boy

Lee Hughes goes down clutching his face and they’re up off the bench, on the touchline, Parkinson and Breacker, telling him to pull his bald mug off the pissing floor. But there’s no way he’s getting up, not now – Murderer, murderer, murderer coming from the stands. Usually works a treat, that kind of shit raining down on him, it usually gets him going. So why’s he shanked two easy chances then? The first was a horror show.

The ref’s leaning down, having words in his ear. Time to get up, Lee Hughes. Nah, not just yet, thanks. He sees the ball bobbling at him again, and he stretches his toe, then watches it prod off to the left of the post. Bastard bloody luck, leaving him strutting around that pitch with nothing on him but attitude.

Well, it gets worse, Lee Hughes. Later you’ll step up for a penalty that you’ll drive down the middle, nice and safe. And you’ll see the Charlton keeper fling himself off left, but the ball will hit his boot, and fly up high above the goal. And that’ll be your day done, Lee Hughes, and no-one will pay you any mind.

Old Man of the Midlands

Parkinson has them lined up in rows in front of the tactics board. Notts County tomorrow, he wants them to understand just what that means.

‘Oldest club in the world, this lot,’ he says. ‘Notts County were there before all the rest, kicking cans around t’ alleyways on their own, long before anyone else turned up. Lonely business. Just imagine it, a league of one.’ He nods his head. ‘Oh, they’ve had their glory days too. FA Cup winners of 1894, League Two Champions of 2009/10, Anglo-Italian Cup winners ’94/’95.’

He stops to let what he just said sink in. ‘That’s right. This lot were lifting the Anglo-Italian while Charlton Athletic were still nursing a hangover from Pisa the year before. Bloody runners-up that year, too. This is a club with pedigree.

Towards the back Paul Benson lifts his hand.

‘Yes, Benno?’

‘Sorry, gaffer,’ he says with a cheeky-chappie Essex-boy wink-and-grin, ‘but aren’t Notts County a bit of a joke club these days, what with Sven and Sol Campbell and that?’

Parky composes himself. ‘No, Benno, they’re not. We take teams like Notts County very seriously.’ He surveys the rows of heads watching him; his eyes land on Kinsella, standing by the door. Charlton Athletic have to everyone seriously now, he thinks, not like in Kins’ day. Oldest club in the world, or otherwise, we’re all doggy-paddling, just trying to keep our noses above water.

Dodgy hips all over the place, dodgy tickers.

Oldest club in the world, yeah, everyone feels like that sometimes.

Greasy ‘uns

Parkinson taps the microphone and peers towards the back of the bus.

‘Is this thing on?’ he says to the driver, who flicks a switch; ‘HELLO?’ Parky’s voice booms out, waking sleepy Gary Doherty in the front row.

‘Right, lads.’ His eyes scan the rows of bored faces. ‘Reidy, headphones off please. Mac, let go of Solly’s head, he doesn’t like that. Francis, stop oiling your joints.’

He waits for the coach to settle down, then begins.

‘The more observant among you may have noticed that we are now in Exeter. Soon we will be passing through the area of St. Sidwells, so named in tribute to the local saint Sidwell, a young girl murdered by a jealous stepmother, whose place of burial became one of many wells in the area which were the beginnings of Exeter’s water systems back in Roman times. As I’m sure you all know, St. Sidwells gave rise to the nickname, the Grecians, because the residents of the area are known as Greeks, or Grecians.’

‘Why dat?’ someone says.

Parkinson looks momentarily flustered. ‘Well, I suppose that was probably due to the location of St. Sidwells being outside the city walls. The name might well be a nod to Homer’s Iliad, in which the Greeks laid siege to Troy. But I’m just guessing. Anyway…’

Just then a hail of stones hits the coach window; Parkinson almost drops his microphone when he looks down the road and sees who’s there at the centre of a barricade across the top of Sidwell Street. ‘Stop the coach, driver,’ he says. The doors whoosh open. ‘Come on, lads,’ he says over the speakers. ‘Looks like an early kick-off.’

In the road Tisdale and his crew are waiting. Little oiks in tracksuits, their hair all matted and unwashed, jogging back and forth.

‘What do you want, Tisdale?’ shouts Parky.

‘Oh nothing,’ returns the bald-headed supremo with the metrosexual neckwear. ‘Just thought we could have a little pre-meet. Get to know each other.’

Just then the midfield boys come forward, juggling rocks between them. But they keep fucking up and dropping them all over the place on account of their greasy hands.

‘That’s some pretty passing you’ve got there, Tisdale.’ Parky sniggers. ‘Now watch this.’

He whistles, and Semedo steps forward, the ground shaking with each step. With a wave of his hands Martin and Reid go dancing off down the pavements, and Racon sort of starts praying. Parkinson shrugs, and presses Francis’s ‘on’ switch. But the big man runs straight into the nearest wall. ‘Damn bloody thing,’ Parky mutters, looking down at his remote control, ‘configurations are still out of whack.’

The teams are advancing on each other. Who will come out on top, the Greasy ‘uns or the Addicks?

Arthur’s bet: 0 – 2 (Martin, Abbott)