Sport, and drinking. That’s about all the country town of Galah has to offer. It’s no wonder anyone young, or different, moves off to the city.
For Simon and Jade though, it’s where they grew up. Simon ekes out a living as a freelance journalist, and by giving the occasional tap dancing class at the local dance school. Jade works at the Galah pub, but lives for the Argentine tango. It’s just a shame she’s the only one in town who dances it.
But, that all changes when they are dragged into helping with a charity dance competition, and Jade is paired with the most eligible almost bachelor in Galah.
Initially the competition seems a sure fire success. With a gaggle of the town’s colorful characters partnering the dance school’s dancers, and some inter town rivalry added to the mix, the event captures the entertainment starved town’s imagination.
Soon, dancing is all anyone in Galah can talk about. And Simon and Jade are at the centre of the whirlwind.
And then things start going wrong with Jade’s Tango.
Simon could hear the muffled roar of the crowd as he stepped out of the car and sank with a squelch into the spongy turf of the cow paddock. On weekends the paddock doubled as the Galahgalone sports field carpark, and today it was packed with old cars, utes and four wheel drives.
He looked down to see watery brown mud staining the light suede of his shoes and sighed. Should’ve worn boots, he thought, trying in vain to shake the excess muddy water from his best shoes.
The noise of the crowd caught his ear and he cocked his head. They were chanting, and it sounded an awful lot like they were yelling “pig fucker, pig fucker, pig fucker…” over and over again.
Interesting, he thought, maybe today’s game wasn’t going to be the usual Saturday morning slugfest. He might actually have something other than dislocated shoulders and tweaked knees to write about in this week’s paper. Or, he thought with a wry smile, something in addition to the tweaked knees and shoulders.
He slammed the door of his old Honda in the hope that it would shut properly. It didn’t of course, so he gave the door a solid shove with his hip, causing one of his feet to sink even further into the muddy grass. Great, he thought looking down. Then he remembered that these particular shoes were at least two seasons old. So, if he had to buy a new pair, it would at least be an excuse for a trip to the city. The thought lightened his mood.
Curious as to why the crowd were yelling an unusual chant, he made his way toward the field.
The sports field in Galahgalone, Galah to its residents, was surrounded by a low levee bank. The locals called it ‘The Hill’ and it was a substitute for proper stands. To watch a game they would bring camp chairs, or if it promised to be a momentous match, one or another of the sponsoring businesses would dig into the petty cash and hire some actual stands, put on a couple of kegs and write the expenses off as a corporate event. Those games were always the more interesting ones, not so much for the quality of the football, but for the drunken enthusiasm of the spectators.
Simon had heard from his boss at work that old Charlie Melia was putting on a ‘do’ at this weekend’s game. The town’s team, the Galahgalone Mountain Goats, would be playing the Berooma Bush Pigs. Simon’s boss, Bruce, had hinted that it might be a good idea to cover the game. That was Bruce’s roundabout way of ordering him to be there. Given that he was technically a freelancer it wasn’t as if Bruce could actually order him to do anything. But, Simon was the gazette’s only staff member, and Bruce was going away for a hot weekend so it wasn’t as if he really had a choice.
Simon didn’t begrudge the assignment though. With all the rain they’d had the ground was a quagmire, and that meant that the game would more closely resemble a mud wrestling competition than a game of rugby. So it promised to be a bit of fun. Old Charlie’s free booze was just the icing on the cake, and his reputation as the town’s only reporter pretty much guaranteed that he get into whatever ‘corporate boxes’ had been set up on the hill. So he headed towards the sound of the crowd with a light heart.
Breasting the hill he stopped and surveyed the scene trying to work out what was driving the ‘pig fucker’ chant. Below him, and directly in front of the halfway line three marquees were set up. Attendance was good and the fans had overflowed out of the marquees, spreading out to the full length of the touchline. White and green, the Galahgalone Mountain Goats team colours, abounded. There were people in various states of inebriation wearing themed scarves, jerseys and beanies. And every one of them was shouting ‘pig fucker’ over and over.
“Simon, over here,” yelled a tall brunette waving and motioning him down into the crowd, “I was hoping you’d be here, they’ve started turning people away from the beer tent and I need to get in.”
“Hi Jade,” Simon said. Then he frowned, “But why did you think I’d be here, Bruce normally covers the games, he’s the mad Goats supporter. For that matter what’s a bun-head like you doing at a rugby game?”
“You know how it is,” she said, and Simon could have sworn he saw her wink. “It’s been wet, really wet. The boys will get all wet and muddy, their jerseys will cling…”
“And?” asked Simon feigning disinterest
“Fit young lads, well most of them young anyway. All muddy and wet?” she waved her hands as if to tell Simon he should just fill in the details himself.
Simon’s journalistic senses started tingling. ‘Jade’ and ‘Rugby’ were not two words he usually used in the same sentence. Something was up. She wasn’t here for an eye-full that was for sure.
“Come on let’s get a drink,” she said, grabbing him by the arm. She pulled him toward the back of the nearest marquee. “Hey look. It’s not properly tied down, we can get in this way.”
Simon took her elbow before she could disappear under the flap of canvas. “Let’s see if we can do this by the books first. Besides, that will open up behind the bar. Before you know it you’ll be shackled to a keg and you’ll miss all the fun.”
“Good point,” she said nodding.
Jade worked weekends at the Galah Pub, and if any of the locals saw her behind the bar she’d have been swamped with orders in a heartbeat.
Simon directed her away from the flap and they walked along the back of the tent.
“So, what’s this chant about?” he said as they rounded the corner of the marquee. They made their way through the crowd, which became thicker the closer they got to the front of the tent.
“Oh, it’s priceless,” Jade said pointing through the crowd. “The mascots got into a fight, and the Goats mascot knocked the Pigs mascot out.”
“I didn’t even know the Goats had a mascot.”
“We don’t.” Jade stifled a giggle. “But the Pigs turned up with one. And you know Galah, we’re not going to be outdone by Berooma, so one of the players took some duct tape and a cardboard box and put something resembling a goat’s head together.”
“And then what? They got into a fight?”
Jade shrugged. “This is Galah, of course they got into a fight.”
“And the Goat won? Is the Pigs mascot all right?”
“Sure, He’s OK but, well you can see for yourself what they’re doing to him now.”
Simon shouldered his way through the crowd to the edge of the touchline. Everyone around him was yelling ‘pig fucker’ to the point where his ears were ringing. He craned his neck to see over the heads of the people ahead of him. The crowd were packed in tight but after bobbing and weaving a couple of times he managed to catch sight of the mascots. Once he did, it all became clear.
The Goats mascot, if you could call him that, was wearing a green Goats jersey. On his head was an empty VB box that had been sliced and taped into a rough triangle. Simon guessed this was supposed to resemble a goat’s nose. It even had a couple of eyes drawn in on the sides of the box. The ‘costume’ was complete with horns, which in reality were just two sticks stuck to the side of the box with more duct tape. Simon noticed that the creator of the costume hadn’t even bothered to choose two similar shaped, or even two similar sized, sticks.
The Goats mascot was doing some exaggerated and enthusiastic pelvic thrusting in the direction of the unconscious Pigs mascot. The Pigs mascot was on a stretcher being loaded into an ambulance. The spectacle had clearly been going on for quite a while and Simon smiled thinking about how he’d write it up in the paper. Old Bruce was going to be pissed off that he’d missed this particular game.
Even though he hadn’t seen any of today’s game yet, Simon suspected that the result wouldn’t matter to the Goats fans. As far as they were concerned, today’s game was already won. He lingered for a while watching the ambulance officers work before he felt a pull on his elbow.
“C’mon rubbernecker,” Jade said in his ear, “I need a drink, remember.”
Simon nodded and let her lead him to the door of the marquee. The door was guarded by one of the old Goats players. He was a good choice to act as a doorman. While a lot of his rugby muscle had turned to fat he was still a formidable barrier to entry.
“Where’s Bruce?” the old player asked in a suspicious voice.
Simon’s response was smooth, almost lazy. “Down the coast. Weekend away with the missus, so I’m covering the game today.”
The doorman nodded and then frowned, “What about her.”
Simon took the camera from around his neck and gave it to Jade. Then, with a dead straight face, he said, “Photographer, for the social pages.”
“Is that the mayor in there?” Jade said squinting her eyes as if to peer into the dark tent. “Isn’t it great that he’s supporting the team, I absolutely have to get a shot of him.”
The doorman was still frowning, but then after a few moments relented, shaking his head. “What the fuck. Charlie’s put on way too much beer anyway. Go on in y’ lousy freeloaders.”
Simon nodded his thanks and stepped into the marquee. The interior was darker and warmer than outside, and the malty smell of spilled beer permeated the air. The ground seemed even softer than the car park turf. He looked down and suspected that spilled beer was as much to blame for the mucky footing as the rain-soaked ground.
Jade was making a beeline for the bar, in reality just a couple of trestle tables at the back of the tent. Behind it were another two old Goats campaigners pulling beers. They had the tap on and were shuffling glasses under and out as fast as they could. But even so they couldn’t keep up with demand. Each full beer glass was being snatched from the bar before its ripples had even settled.
“Looks like the choice is VB, or VB,” Jade said.
“Like you’d care.”
Jade grinned at that, grabbed two beers, and handed him one. She motioned towards the other end of the marquee. The canvas there had been rolled up to allow the occupants a view of the game.
“Come on, let’s see if we can get a better spot I want a good view,” she said.
“What, of the game?”
Jade cocked her head. “Yeah sure, the game. I know as much about rugby as you do about ballet.”
“Hey, I know about ballet,” Simon said.
“Don’t get your hackles up, I know you do,” she said patting him on the hand dismissively.
She worked her way through the crowd towards the other end of the marquee, shimmying and weaving with a grace that only a born dancer could muster. She stopped when she found a place just behind a couple of rows of chairs placed right against the rolled up window at the front of the marquee.
The spot she’d chosen was a good one. In front of them people were sitting down so they could see out across the whole field. Simon could see the ambulance officers hauling off the unconscious Bush Pigs mascot. The players were still milling around the centre of the field. Jade seemed fixated on the players. But it didn’t look like the game would resume anytime soon, so Simon scanned the marquee to see who else was availing themselves of the free booze.
To his amusement, he saw that Galahgalone’s Mayor was inside the marquee, talking to old Charlie Melia. If Betty at work found out that they were both here and that he didn’t get a photo, he’d hear it from her on Monday morning.
“Swap you,” Simon said, holding out his beer and indicating toward the camera still hanging around Jade’s neck. She nodded and exchanged it for Simon’s beer without taking her eyes off the players.
“They are something huh,” Simon said as a joke but only got an absent ‘uh huh’ in reply so he left her where she was and moved away from the front of the tent back toward the Mayor and Charlie.
You couldn’t have found two more different individuals. Charlie was a bear of a man in his mid sixties who, unlike many ex rugby players, hadn’t gone completely to fat after retiring. In contrast the Mayor was a rotund man a little shorter than average. What they had in common though, apart from a love of beer, was that they wouldn’t have had more than six hairs on their heads between the two of them.
Simon held up his camera. “Mr Mayor, Charlie, for the Gazette?”
Ever the politician, Mayor Grimshaw was never shy to take advantage of some free publicity. He struck a pose and put his arm around Charlie as Simon took a couple of shots. Simon could tell without even reviewing them that they weren’t going to be great photos.
“Thanks,” Simon said. A cheer rose from the crowd out on the field.
“They’re resuming play,” roared Charlie. He strode off towards the front of the marquee. The small crowd that had been hovering around the two men moved off as well, lagging behind like preschoolers following a teacher.
Simon made his way back to where Jade was standing, reclaimed his beer, took a sip and looked across the field as the game resumed.
For the rest of the half the green and white clad Goats players alternated between taking a pounding and, occasionally, giving one out. It was a close game but it didn’t look to Simon as if the Goats were going to win this one. The field was becoming more churned up as the game progressed. Rucks collapsed, fumbles occurred more often than usual, and players were continually slipping over.
The Goats played doggedly on. By the beginning of the second half it was becoming nearly impossible to distinguish between the two teams. Only the occasional flash of Goats green could be seen. The players were literally dripping with mud.
While he didn’t usually follow rugby, Simon was enjoying the game. Sure, the play was rather scrappy but both teams had their heart in it. The crowd, assisted in no small part by excessive consumption of beer, were getting into the spirit too.
Over the course of the game Simon had also been watching Jade. She was staring in a very intense way at the field. Regardless of what she’d said before, he was sure that she wasn’t here just for the eye candy.
He leaned a little closer so he could be heard over the hubbub of the crowd.
“So which one, specifically, have you got your eye on?” he asked.
Jade answered without her eyes leaving the game. “Is it that obvious?”
“To me it is. Sure it looks like you’re following the game closely, but I know you don’t particularly care much for rugby.”
She leaned a little closer so only he could hear. “It’s the new captain, Daryl McKenna,” she said. A small sigh escaped her lips. “He plays on the wing.”
“Oh yes, I know who you’re talking about. A tasty choice, tall and handsome.”
“It’s not just that,” she said, elbowing him in the ribs. “He’s actually a nice guy.”
“How do you know? He’s only been in town a couple of weeks.”
“He was at the pub last weekend,” she said. “He’s not your usual Galah yobbo you know. There’s something different about him.”
“So you’ve spoken to him then?”
Jade twitched one shoulder. “Not really.”
Simon smiled. “Right, now I get why you’re here.”
Just as he said that the Goats pack managed to overpower the Pigs ruck. The crowd rose to their feet as one. The Goats back line started moving the ball out wide towards Daryl’s wing.
The Goats then had one of those sudden flashes of cohesion that are usually only seen in a professional side. In a textbook play, the fullback moved up and created an overlap just at the very moment that Daryl received the pass.
The ball was slimy, and the footing treacherous, but the Goats captain plucked the pass out of the air as if his hands were made of velcro. He then danced through the gap created by the overlap and put on a prodigious burst of speed.
“Jesus, he can move,” Simon said.
“Can’t he what,” Jade said.
Daryl flew down the field toward the try line with just the Bush Pigs full back between him and a try. Behind him another Goats player was powering downfield to catch up so it would shortly be two Goats against one Pig.
Daryl slowed for just a second, stealing a glance over his shoulder to sight his team mate. The bush Pigs fullback also slowed, realising that if Daryl passed the ball, he’d have to tackle a different player.
Daryl took two more steps then twisted and threw the pass. Everyone, including the bush Pigs fullback, took their eyes off Daryl and looked to where they expected the ball to go. But Daryl had dummied. He still had the ball, and while everyone else was looking at his teammate, he ghosted past the bush Pigs full back, took a few more strides and dove over the line.
The crowd erupted in a frenzied roar and Daryl punched the air, soaking in the adulation.
As the screaming around him abated, Simon scribbled a few notes down in his notebook. He looked at his watch and realised that the game was in the dying stages of the second half. Despite Daryl’s effort the Goats were still down by a couple of tries. At this point it would take a miracle for the Goats to get the tries they needed to win.
“So what’s the game plan?” he yelled, leaning in toward Jade so he could be heard above the roar.
Jade turned to him and frowned. “How should I know, I’m not the…” she paused and then smiled. “Gotcha, different game. How long till the full time whistle?”
Simon looked at the scoreboard. “Not more than five minutes. And they’ve got buckleys of winning.”
Jade followed his gaze. Then a small smile escaped one corner of her mouth. “So there’ll be some commiserating, and the players may need a little…”
“Comforting?” suggested Simon.
Jade’s smile widened. “Yes, comforting,” she said looking around the tent. “Now the question is should I try to waylay him at the door, or wait till he gets to the bar?”
Simon looked across the marquee and gauged the possibilities. “He’d be a moving target at the door.”
”But he’d be surrounded by the time he gets to the bar,” Jade said, following Simon’s gaze. ”He also may not even make it to the bar, someone could stop him before he gets there.”
They both stopped talking and surveyed the scene.
“Y’know,” Simon said. “You could be that someone.”
“Exactly what I was thinking,” she replied. “And If I had a beer for him, he’d have no reason to continue walking.”
“Clever. A babe with a beer, how could he resist.”
Jade grinned. ”That’s the idea. But, I’d better get two fresh ones now cos there’ll be a rush as soon as the whistle goes.” With a single smooth swallow she finished the beer she was holding. “Wish me luck,” she said and headed for the bar.
Simon looked down at his own beer. It was still half full and while it was a little warm, and more than a little flat, he was driving so he decided just to hold on to it for now. From where he was standing he could see the door and the bar so had a good view of what was going to be an interesting show. He’d taken enough photos during the course of the afternoon to populate both the sports and social pages for the coming week, so there was no reason not to kick back and relax at this point.
As he’d predicted, the game ended a couple of minutes later. Neither team scored again. Despite the home ground advantage and the near rabid support of the crowd, the Goats had lost. Not having any kind of dressing room the Goats players headed straight for the beer tent with Daryl at the head of the pack.
Simon craned his neck to try and spot Jade. It took him a couple of moments to pick her out in the gloom of the tent. She was a third of the way between the bar and the door, and was watching the door like a hawk.
The players came through the door in dribs and drabs, not in the jubilant rush of a win. But even though Daryl had led the team off the field he wasn’t in the first couple of groups of players through the door. Simon looked out the front of the tent to see where he’d gone and noticed that old Charlie had pulled Daryl aside. Judging by the body language, hunched shoulders and pats on the back, it looked like Daryl was getting a ‘better luck next time’ kind of chat from the old player.
Back in the tent Jade was starting to fret. She must have known that all the players were in by now and that she’d either missed her target, or he wasn’t coming in. She started looking around the tent and Simon waved to attract her attention.
“Where is he?” she mouthed silently.
“Any second now,” he replied, exaggerating so she could lip read. He stole another quick glance outside and saw that Charlie had put his arm around Daryl and was leading him towards the door.
“Move Up!” he mouthed, pointing at the door and making hurry along hand signals.
Whether it was her lip reading, or his gesticulating, Jade got the message and moved toward the door.
Charlie and Daryl appeared. Jade straightened up and pulled her shoulders back. Then disaster struck.
Two young girls appeared, as if out of thin air, right beside Jade. They screamed and bolted for Daryl, literally throwing themselves at him, leaving Jade standing there holding her two beers in shock.
Simon realised that some damage control would shortly be needed. He dropped his half empty flat beer in a bin and moved towards Jade as fast as he could go. It didn’t take him long to get to her, but by the time he made it the blondes each had one of Daryl’s arms in theirs and they were leading him to a group of players.
“Jade,” he said, pitching his voice to carry. He took one of the drinks she was holding, “Thanks for the beer, I’m parched.” He followed her gaze to the trio, as if noticing them for the first time, and in a quieter voice added, “Are they?”
Jade’s voice could have curdled milk. “The Melia sisters.”
Simon frowned. “I thought they were…”
“Still in school? Yep, well one of them is.”
Simon appraised the two girls, still clamped like limpets to Daryl’s side. They were wearing short shorts and Goats rugby shirts that were so tight they’d have fit the under eights kiddies.
“They sure grew up,” Simon said. This drew a dark look from Jade so he took her by the arm and shepherded her towards the door.
“Sluts,” whispered Jade taking a look over her shoulder at the two girls.
Simon could hear them laughing and giggling all the way across the tent. “They look like they’ll be there until closing. C’mon the show starts in an hour, you don’t want to miss that.”
Jade sighed and turned away, “I can’t compete with the possibility of an eighteen year old threesome.”
“I doubt it’ll get to that,” he said. “They’re just stringing Daryl along. Besides, their dad is watching, and you can bet that he will make sure that Daryl gets really drunk.
“So it won’t happen?” asked Jade with a hopeful look in her eye.
“Unlikely,” Simon said.
They left the tent with a nod to the doorman and walked outside. Even though the game was just over there wasn’t much left of the crowd. There were just a few people packing up picnics and some underage teenagers loitering. The teenagers had probably failed to get into the Galah pub and were likely thinking that they’d stand a chance of some illicit beer in Charlie’s tent.
“Looks like more rain,” Jade said pointing up at the sky. Thunderclouds were gathering and there was a smell of ozone in the air. “Do you think it will affect reception?”
Simon looked up and frowned. “It could,” he muttered.
Jade grunted, “Even with Bruce’s setup it’s not as if we ever see much of the damn dancing anyway.”
Simon just pretended not to hear her and unlocked his car. It was just in time too, because, as he fishtailed his way out of the paddock, the first fat drops of the oncoming storm started thunking onto the windscreen.