Jackie grimaced every time he walked past the teamsheet pinned to the canteen message board. He had spent enough Sunday mornings watching previous incarnations of the Central XI to know they were lacking footballers who could make the difference in a game. Rob was focussing on the tactical side of things, while Stubbs had abandoned team selection duties to organise the session after their first game of the season. He was on his own.
He was on a rare foray through the main atrium of the building, unsure of himself suddenly in the throng of commuters as a pale sun struggled to break through the glass roof above him. All at once a duck out of water; or a mole above ground, squinting against the brightness of Spring mornings and wary of the explosions of noise all around him.
- Jackie lad! What’s happening son?
Bill - head of security. Bill was one of the crueller nicknames at the station, never being said to his face. What was his actual name again?
- How’sa going Danny?
Praying he got it right. It only struck him then; no security men in the team, and he didn’t remember many on trials either.
- I seen the team Jackie - ye must be seriously struggling if young Robbie is playing left-back! That boy couldn’t kick a cold!
- We’re struggling big-time. Between you and me that is.
They shifted to let a harassed-looking mother and father shepherd three children and a buggy down the platform. Jackie just had time to reflect on Danny’s industry at outside-forward “back in the day,” when the sound of alarm bells began to reverberate around the station from the shops near the front. He watched as Danny bore through the crowd like Malcolm MacDonald used to go through defences, only this time with a tightly clasped walkie-talkie pressed to his ear. The rest of the station was in a state of paralysis. Jackie could do nothing but stand and stare as a hooded man bounded past him towards the Westgate Road exits, Danny now nowhere to be seen.
In pursuit instead was The Professor - a young Sri Lankan who squeezed in some occasional hours at his parent’s newsagents between college lectures. Jackie strained the sinews in his neck watching him pass by, in the manner of Formula 1 commentators following the action on-track.
He was gaining ground, but once the shoplifter broke into the open he was as good as gone, and it was clear now that he would reach the doors before Thilan could catch him.
- Thilan, stop!
Danny stood again next to Jackie, hunched over and wheezing, breathing orders through his two-way.
The hooded man craned around like a relay sprinter to gauge his assailant, and instantly needed to swerve to avoid an elderly woman clearly in shock. Thilan seized the opportunity and vaulted over a row of chairs, shortening the bend before knocking the shoplifter sidelong and onto his back.
There was a moment’s scuffle between the two before a security guard appeared. Bill was still catching his breath, trying to command the situation on his haunches.
As if nothing had happened, the train station came back to life in a snap. The Professor was once again the shop assistant. Security personnel were busying themselves up and down the platform, and Jackie realised what the team was missing. That - injection - of pace.
He smiled broadly and gave The Professor a thumbs-up. Felt the urge to buy a paper.
- Alright Prof, what they teaching you at that Uni son?
- Philosophy Jackie. Anger is a Gift and all that.
- Who said that?
- What about this - Sometimes something's got to happen before something is going to happen. That’s Cruyff son. Why didn’t you try for the team, eh?
He shifted furtively behind the counter before gesturing towards his mother and father who were enjoying a heated debate with Danny, now back to Bill again.
- Gotta study Jackie. That’s two quid by the way.
He handed over the money, his eyes still on the miniature-NATO meeting that was taking place around the stricken shoplifter.
- Training seven-thirty next Tuesday son. Will see you there.
Thilan followed his movement through the foyer. Head bowed towards the newspaper. Then, a quick lift and a spreading of the arms in conciliatory fashion as he approached the keepers of the peace. Leans in to say his piece before retreating.
If he ever joined the CND, Thilan thought - the armistice now declared between the Sri Lankan Newcastle Station Shopkeepers Union and the station police force.