May The Best Team Win – Episode 21

Gerard Fay © Neil and Rachel meet outside pub Illustration: Gerard Fay

“Well, what is it? Do tell us,” Rachel begged. “Maeve’s here now. We can’t wait any longer.”

Everyone nodded.

“OK,” Ali began, her cheeks flushed. “Cam and I are going to have a baby. I’m pregnant!”

There were gasps that quickly turned to clapping and cheers.


“How wonderful.”

Maeve looked around the table at her friends’ excited faces.

Ali was receiving lots of hugs and everyone was shaking Cam’s hand. Everyone, except Dawn.

To Maeve’s horror, her friend had turned away and her eyes were filling.

Maeve added her own congratulations and gave Ali a hug. Then, quietly, she moved over to Dawn.

“Could you come with me a minute, love? I need your help with something.”

Dawn got up in silence and followed her into the office behind the bar.

“What can I do for you, Maeve?” Dawn asked, wiping her eyes.

“You can give me a hug.” Maeve put her arms around Dawn, who sobbed.

“There. There. It must be so hard for you.” She patted Dawn’s back and, when she was calmer, handed her a box of tissues. “Feeling better?”

“Yes. Thank you, Maeve. I’m so sorry. So silly of me.”

“It’s understandable,” Maeve replied, watching Dawn with concern.

It must be awful never to have had the children you longed for.

“I should be used to it by now. I thought I was. We have our wonderful nieces and nephews and the dear children at school. A lot to be thankful for.”

Maeve nodded.

“You’re right, but I don’t imagine it’s the same.”

Dawn shook her head and blew her nose.

“I’m thrilled for Ali and Cam. I really am. But I always find it difficult to bear when someone’s pregnant.”

Maeve patted her hand.

“You and Graham are amazing,” she told Dawn.

“I wonder you’ve never fostered or adopted. You would be brilliant at it.

“Can you face it out there again?”

“Yes, thank you, Maeve.”

“Well, wash your face. I’ll get you a drink – it’s on the house.”

Neil pushed open the door of the Fox and Ferret. It was the second pub in the village of Quinton.

It was a more modern affair than either the Fancy Pheasant or Flying Duck and it was hosting the third round of the Quiz Quartet.

The Smarty Pints had been knocked out in the third round last year, but Neil felt confident that this time they would go further.

There were only eight teams left and he knew that they would be playing Universally Challenged.

They were a good team, but not perhaps as good as those the Smarty Pints had already beaten.

As he went inside, he was hit by the familiar smell of beer and food.

The pub wasn’t as crowded as in previous rounds, but it was still heaving with teams and their supporters.

It was hot, too, even though the Fox and Ferret didn’t boast fireplaces.

Neil looked around for a familiar face.

“Neil. Over here.” Graham was waving at him from the bar and he made his way over.

“How are you this evening?”

“Well, very well, thank you.” It was true. Neil had been feeling positive lately. He wasn’t sure why.

“Dawn and Rachel are over in the corner there.” Graham pointed towards the back of the room and Neil followed, helping him with the drinks.

“Oh, hi, Neil.” Rachel smiled up at him as they approached and a jolt ran through him.

She looked really lovely tonight.

It had occurred to him that her break-up with Ewan might also be playing a part in his good mood, but he pushed that thought to the back of his mind.

“You look well.”

“Yes, I’m fully recovered! Sophie has agreed to let me come back to dance class, despite embarrassing her so badly!”

The others laughed.

“She’s very lucky to have a mum like you who’s willing to join in,” Dawn replied.

“Well, everyone set?”

“Yes, we’re ready for victory.” Graham grinned.

“Who are the Master Minds competing against?” Dawn asked.

“Oh, it’s a team called the Know It Ales. We don’t know much about them. They only formed a few months ago.”

Rachel grinned.

“I’m sure Priscilla will be a match for anyone.”

“I expect so.”

Soon after, the quiz began and this time the Smarty Pints were up first. Neil smiled round at them.

“You’ve got this,” he said. “Enjoy yourselves.”

Once they started, Neil was delighted to find that his geography studies were really paying off.

He was also impressed by Rachel and Dawn – they had clearly gone back to their music research.

By the end, they had some kind of answer down for every question and Neil was feeling hopeful.

“Let me get you all a drink,” he said, while they waited for the results.

“No, no. It’s our turn.” Graham insisted.

“How’s work?” Neil asked Rachel, as they waited.

“Great, thanks.”

They had a chat about her nursing, and the new lad at his accountancy firm. Then they got on to films.

Dawn and Graham were taking a long time, they seemed to have been waylaid by Priscilla.

But it was so easy talking to Rachel, and Neil felt entirely comfortable. The time went too quickly.

Before he knew it, the publican made an announcement.

“We’re ready with the results,” he said. “Universally Challenged have twenty-two points, but the Smarty Pints have an impressive thirty-four.”

Rachel cheered and then hugged Neil.

“How exciting is that?” she said laughing. “We’re through to the fourth round. Fantastic!”

Neil wasn’t quite sure what she’d said. He suddenly felt very hot.

He couldn’t seem to think too clearly. He took a draught of beer.

“Wow! How well did we do?” Dawn and Graham were making their way over. “Fantastic! Round four, here we come.”

It took a while to settle down but, eventually, they became absorbed in the quiz once more.

The third team from the Flying Duck was knocked out and then it was the Master Minds’ turn.

Priscilla, Ewan, Ali and Cam took their seats and the others gathered round.

Priscilla looked confident as ever and Ewan laid back. Ali and Cam held hands, and the questions began.

They were relaxed at first, Priscilla wielding the pen with aplomb.

Part way through, the mood appeared to change.

Every now and then, the Master Minds debated, whilst their opponents recorded answers swiftly.

The Master Minds began to leave the odd answer blank, whilst the Know It Ales nodded and smiled.

Even Priscilla seemed to have lost her calm. Deep patches of colour spread along her cheekbones and she fidgeted with her scarf.

“What’s going on?” Rachel asked, a worried expression on her face.

Neil sighed. “I think the Master Minds are in trouble.”

To be continued…

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