As it turned out, the defibrillator wasn’t needed. After a couple of moments of agonizing stillness, life returned to Reggie Playfair. He sat up, propping himself against the wall, and looked with some befuddlement at the ministering George Hazlitt and the doctor called Henry. Oenone had also rushed on to the court, her paralysis of shock dissipating when she saw her husband move.

The doctor gave Reggie a fairly detailed examination, though from the dedans Jude couldn’t hear what he was saying. There was still tension in the spectators muttering around her, but they had relaxed a bit when they realized there wasn’t a corpse on the court.

Reggie Playfair’s rising to his feet was a cue for a round of applause. He shook himself, waved and bowed towards the dedans, as if to indicate that the crisis was over. Then he picked up his racket from the floor and called out, ‘Sorry about that little hiatus. Now what was the score?’

There ensued quite an argument between Reggie, the doctor and George Hazlitt. The player was insisting that he was fine to carry on, that he didn’t want to let down ‘his old mate’ of a playing partner and that next time he’d ‘remember where the bloody walls are’.

It was George Hazlitt who finally dissuaded him from continuing. As the court’s professional, he was responsible for the players’ safety. And since quite a few of the members were in their seventies and even eighties, it was a responsibility that he took very seriously.

So Reggie and his partners’ opponents were declared the winners of the game, and the little group filed off the court towards the dedans. Oenone was holding her husband’s arm, but he shook free of her, not wishing to look as if he needed support. ‘God, I need a drink after that,’ he announced.

‘I’m not sure that that would be a good idea,’ said Henry the doctor.

‘What the hell do you mean?’

‘I think that might be what caused the problem in the first place.’


‘I think the wine you’d already drunk might have made you unsteady, which is why you lost your footing and fell against the wall.’

This was a moment that could have erupted into something unpleasant. Reggie Playfair was not the kind of man who took kindly to being told what to do, least of all by doctors half his age. He was about to come back with some scorching riposte, but the gentle pressure of Oenone’s hand on his arm made him think better of it.

‘Oh, well,’ he said grumpily. ‘Not sure I can manage watching the rest of the day’s play without a drink.’

‘I don’t think you should watch the rest of the day’s play,’ said Henry bravely. ‘You’ve got mild concussion. The best thing you can do is go back home and spend the rest of the day in bed.’

‘Look, I’m not ill. I just had a fall.’

‘Reggie,’ said Henry, ‘you should take things carefully. You’re not as young as you were.’

‘Oh, now you’re telling me I’m about to pop my clogs, are you?’

‘No, I’m just saying-’

‘Well, if I’ve booked a one-way ticket to the crem, there are a good few things I want to do before I get there.’ Reggie Playfair’s voice was getting quite loud now and attracting uneasy attention from other people in the dedans. Jude saw the pained expression on the face of Felicity Budgen, a woman in whose presence, she got the feeling, everything had to be ‘nice’.

‘I’m not the kind of person,’ Reggie went on vociferously, ‘who believes in the idea of carrying secrets to the grave. No, my instinct has always been to come clean and confront people with-’

‘I think you should go home and spend the rest of the day in bed,’ Henry the doctor repeated firmly.

Reggie Playfair swung round to face him, as if about to burst into another tirade.

‘Better do as the doctor says.’ Oenone Playfair’s voice was soft but forceful and it had the desired effect. Miserably, her husband let himself be led away to collect his clothes and sports bag from the changing room. When, a few minutes later, he and Oenone left the court, he was given a rousing round of applause from the dedans.

Meanwhile the doubles pair who had profited from Reggie Playfair’s default kept saying how guilty they felt about it, and how that wasn’t the way they would have wished to reach the final (though the way the game was going before Reggie had his accident, they would probably have won anyway). Jude was once again struck by how nice and well mannered everyone in real tennis seemed to be.

Just before the second semi-final started Piers took Jude through for lunch in the club room. This was a large space with tall mullioned windows looking out on to the well-kept Lockleigh House gardens. At one end sagging leather sofas were gathered round a fire that burned away merrily, though more for comfort than because it was needed, the weather being mild for early October. Doors to either side of the fireplace led off to the men’s and women’s changing rooms.

At the other end the space was dominated by a large refectory table surrounded by chairs. It was loaded with bread and cheese, salads, chutneys and poppadoms. And a great many bottles of wine. From the adjacent kitchen the smells of curry were almost unbearably tantalizing.

In glass cases along the walls were displayed discoloured, cracked rackets from earlier centuries, along with other real tennis memorabilia. There were also rows of honours boards, recording in gold leaf the names of the champions in the club’s various competitions. Piers couldn’t prevent himself from pointing out to Jude the date, some thirty years previously, when the Sec’s Cup had been won by ‘R.A.G. Playfair and P.H. Targett’. Round the same time a board recorded that he’d won another doubles title, partnered by Wally Edgington-Bewley.

Members came and went at the lunch, drifting in and out from watching the tennis. As places at the table became empty, they were quickly and informally filled. Nobody gave any sign of minding who they sat next to and all of them seemed to know each other.

Jude and Piers had their plates loaded with craters of sharp yellow rice into which the curry was generously ladled. Then they took their places at the table and the cheery banter continued around them. A lot of the talk, being of course on the subject of real tennis, was incomprehensible to Jude, but she didn’t feel in any way excluded. The curry was just as good as it had been puffed up to be, and meanwhile the Chardonnay flowed unstintingly.

She was feeling extremely mellow when Piers led her back to the dedans to watch the closing stages of the second semi-final, which was won by two women of about Jude’s age. According to Piers, they had only just taken up real tennis, but both of them had once been ‘county standard at lawners’. As a result, they were ‘rather bandits in the handicap’. Once again Jude hadn’t a clue what he was talking about.

But the women’s banditry in the handicap stood them in good stead. Though the pair they were up against in the ensuing final were much better players, some incomprehensible system of taking points from one pairing and giving them to the other meant that the two men couldn’t afford to make any mistakes. Unfortunately for them, they did make a few, just enough to tip the balance in the women’s favour. The female pairing were declared the winners, and then came the presentation of the Secretary’s Cup.

This took place on court. First the club chairman spoke. His name, according to Jude’s ever-helpful guide, Piers Targett, was Sir Donald Budgen and he had retired a few years back after a long career in the Foreign Office which had ended up with his achieving the status of one of Her Majesty’s ambassadors. A tall thin man with greying hair, he wore a suit and tie that gave the impression he never ‘dressed down’. The existence of a pair of jeans in Sir Donald Budgen’s wardrobe somehow seemed an impossible incongruity.

The chairman said what a jolly occasion the weekend tournament had been, and how much the thanks for that were due to George Hazlitt and his junior pro, Ned Jackson. He then added thanks to all the people who had helped with the catering and other organization, finishing up with an accolade to all of the players who had ensured that ‘the occasion lived up to the fine traditions of good sportsmanship which is so much part of the ethos of real tennis.’

After that he handed over to his wife to make the presentation. With a perfectly judged couple of sentences Felicity Budgen congratulated the winners and handed across the Sec’s Cup. The successful pair were loudly applauded from the dedans, and after the clapping had died down, their male opponents were subjected to a good deal of raucous ribbing and congratulation. The voices calling out were interestingly mixed. Jude heard a good few her next-door neighbour Carole Seddon would have described as ‘common’.

Jude, full of Chardonnay and delicious curry, had enjoyed her first encounter with real tennis. Still clueless for most of the time about what the hell was going on, she had liked the company.

And she had liked being with Piers.

In the flat that evening their love-making was as beautiful as ever. No rush, just slow, continuing appreciation of each other’s bodies. Not for the first time, Jude reckoned that there was a lot to be said for post-menopausal

Вы читаете The Corpse on the Court
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату