The Secretary of State left the squash court dripping in sweat. He held his Harrow racquet in his left hand and draped his right arm around the shoulder of his opponent.
“We ought to call you the Secretary of Squash,” said his vanquished playing partner.
It was an old joke, repeated many times after a result like this one.
Both men smiled. At 63 years old they were no longer able to cover the court like they used to in their prime, but a lifelong passion for the game could not be quelled by the march of time.
The two old friends played squash together at school and both had built private courts in the mansions they had fashioned some twenty miles apart in North Virginia.
This time, on a Sunday morning, it was the Secretary’s turn to host their regular round-robin prior to lunch for both families.
And it was the Secretary who raised his voice to pronounce: “That’s 12-6 to me this year.
“A bottle of champagne and the best dinner in Washington for the series winner at Christmas. I can almost taste it now.”
Their four extra guests smiled as Bob Murray absorbed the familiar banter, slapped the Secretary on the back, wiped his brow with his towel and slumped into a chair in the spacious lounge behind the court.
In a dazzling act of one-upmanship, the Secretary had replaced the original timber building, housing a 70-year old court, with a modern glass-backed version. Built into a sloping paddock behind the vast, eight-bedroomed house, the lounge opened out on to a patio with spectacular views over a countryside panorama that told many tales of American history.
His opponent, familiar with the relaxed etiquette despite his friend’s high office, grabbed a can of beer from the fridge next to the leather armchairs and raised it in the direction of the four younger players who had also completed their on-court work-out.
Bob Murray had chosen the Navy over politics, leaving his brother Will to run the family construction firm.
They always joked that every time Bob and his colleagues blew up some building, Will could step in and put up a new one.
American foreign policy had suffered similar taunts throughout recent ill-fated forays into Iraq and Afghanistan.
The four younger squash players had served in both pointless missions but were not at liberty to question their orders from above.
As the first mouthful of cool beer struck the back of his throat, Murray turned to his young friends.
“Great game, guys,” he said.
“I was watching you before you kindly gave way to the old boys, although our 25-minute slog was nothing like the quality you guys can show.”
The discreet security shield hovered outside the entrance to the squash lounge as the Secretary followed his friend in flicking open a refreshing can of ale.
They hardly needed any kind of protection with four top Navy Seals their guests for the morning.
Murray took another long slurp from the can and spoke.
“Gentlemen, the Secretary and I have a surprise treat in store for you guys.
“As the four best players ever to emerge from the Navy squash team, you are to be flown down to Rio later today to watch the final of the most spectacular squash tournament ever held.
“The glass court is set up on Copacabana Beach and you have VIP tickets to the final, plus a hotel suite across the road in Rio’s best hotel.”
Before the young men could answer, Murray added: “We have also laid on a shark-fishing trip in the afternoon, with a few special guests we’d like you to look after.”
The four guests all murmured a “thank-you” in unison, their faces lit up by broad smiles that concealed an inner understanding that they might have to get their hands dirty before enjoying the hospitality on offer in Rio.
The Secretary chipped in. “Boys, this is a thank you from the two of us. Bob here has kept his eyes on you ever since you entered the Academy squash team as totally raw rookies.
“In fact, Bob’s very proud of the fact that you guys have been the outstanding guinea pigs of his little squash project.”
The two men chuckled.
Murray nodded and took up the conversation.
“I was looking for a new kind of recruitment policy to help me fast-track the guys who do the jobs you do.”
He looked into the faces of all four men. All were respectfully staying silent and hanging on his every word.
“It suddenly struck me that squash was the ideal way to find the guys who really stood out from the rest of the pack.
“Forget all the training manuals and the military academy bullshit.
“Or glass,” said the Secretary, ever keen to remind his friend of their state-of-the-art surroundings.
“Yes, every time you step inside that box, it’s all about survival. One of you will win and one of you will lose.
“It was a given that you all had the right fitness, strength, speed, stamina and mobility.
“The ability to make instant decisions and, of course, excellent shot selection. (This last remark brought a nervous laugh from the four Seals).
“In short, gentlemen, we wanted to find the guys who did the job quietly, efficiently and ruthlessly.
“No histrionics. No tantrums. Anybody who screamed, or moaned, or whinged, let alone broke a racket, was off the team and out the door faster than you could say John McEnroe or Jonathan Power.
“You four came through with flying colours.
“And that’s why you four have landed your dream job in Rio.”
John Allenby had spent several weeks in Brazil, setting up the tournament and making sure that the biggest event in the history of squash would prove the IOC right in admitting the sport to the Games programme in 2020.
If all went well, squash was on the verge of being invited to take part four years earlier if the landscaping of the Olympic golf course failed to be completed on time.
Allenby was surrounded by TV screens for much of the week, but he was so busy that he paid little attention to events outside of his immediate concern.
He had seen the headlines about the massive demonstrations in Brazil as large parts of the population complained about the combined costs of staging the World Cup and the Olympics.
Embittered crowds wanted the same kind of money spent on schools and hospitals, alleviating poverty and clearing the cities of crime.
He had seen pictures of the crowds filling the Rio Blanco Avenue but his mind was filled with the minute detail of several squash projects. In no particular order of priority, these were the finals of the Rio Beach Classic, the safe return of Shelley Anderson and some major business contracts that needed to be signed within the next 48 hours.
He trusted the Army and police would continue to keep the venue secure so that he could concentrate on delivering all three.
After the Seals had showered, changed and left the Secretary of State’s private squash pavilion, Bob Murray filled in much of the hidden detail for his friend as they prepared to join their families for lunch in the main house.
“We’ll have to keep Homeland Security informed at some stage, but it’s a lot easier and cleaner to avoid any of this mess landing up on our shores,” he said.
“The President has already stopped using the phrase ‘War on Drugs’ because it’s a war we’ve been losing ever since Nixon came up with the idea.
“There are 20,000 missing children in Mexico, most of them victims of the drug gangs or innocent kids kidnapped to work in drugs, prostitution and a myriad of other things you don’t see in the tourist brochures.
“The gangs obviously have connections in Colombia and Brazil, and we know that a major meeting is being set up in Rio while the security forces are worried about patrolling the streets and stopping the demonstrations turning into riots.
“Added to that, our Russian friends want to get in on the act and sell guns to the bad guys. At the same time, they’re arming the Taliban, the Syrian Army and anyone else who prefers a hole in the ground to one of these lovely Chesterfields.
“Added to that little lot, one of our female operatives is in a slightly difficult position and we need to her to feel comfortable in time for the squash final.”
The Secretary zipped up his chinos, slipped on his deck shoes and nodded to his friend.
“Just do what you’ve got to do, Bob.”
Police struggled to contain the exuberant crowds who flocked to Rio to demonstrate.
A protest against a few cents being added to the cost of bus fares had grown into a nationwide storm of fury.
After a rally had attracted 80,000 people to the Maracana Stadium, with the same number locked outside, the mood had changed from a fun day out to anger at the authorities.
The speakers at the Maracana had whipped up the crowd. Now they were marching on the City Hall, where riot police had erected barricades and were armed with tear gas, water cannon and live ammunition.
Looting of shop windows had already begun as the Brazilian population launched their own version of the Arab Spring.
The Seals had touched down at the Santos Dumont airport in Rio and quickly made contact with a support team trying their best to look inconspicuous on a private yacht in the nearby marina.
A Russian private jet had been tracked across the Atlantic and a tail had been placed on the two cars that had collected the VIP cargo.
The convoy headed back to the marina, where the Russian guest was to meet up with business contacts from Mexico, Colombia and Brazil.
Marina de Gloria was full of expensive yachts. The one being watched by the Navy had a helipad and a team of guards who were obviously armed.
Inside, eight men sat around the yacht’s boardroom table.
Dimitri Molotov was pointing an accusing finger at a lone woman.
“Miss Anderson, we want to trust you. You are working for us. We love the fact that you have a wonderful cover as head of the World Squash Tour. We love that you have so many useful contacts in America and all over the world.
“But, the big question is, can we trust you?
“Our friends here, from South America, can perhaps help me to find out those answers.”
The Mexicans and Colombians sneered.
The Mexican leader stepped forward towards her. She almost wretched as his breath, laden with chilli and garlic, assaulted her senses.
“We have a business, Miss Anderson, which is growing into an international corporation.
“Of course, nobody likes to see poor people suffer, but in the end we aim to be stronger than the governments who screw up our countries.
“When we take power, we will make life better for everyone. As long as everyone understands how the new nations will operate.
“You may call us ignorant criminals. I am sure you do. You call us drug gangs, but what you don’t realise is that we all grew up in these villages, these towns, these cities.
“Our families are all here. We want to make life good.
“We don’t need our friends from America telling us how we should behave.”
The four squash-playing Seals sized up the situation when they were confident everyone they needed to tackle was on board.
Eavesdropping on the Russian yacht, they heard the first slap, the heard the first tear of fabric. They heard the first female scream.
Dressed just like any other passing millionaire, they slowly manoeuvred their own craft from its mooring.
Setting a path towards the open sea, they suddenly changed direction.
As they headed straight for the vessel they had been tracking, the guards began shouting in Russian, ordering them to stop.
The Seals merely accelerated. As gunfire sounded from the moored craft, the yacht borrowed by the Navy slammed into its target.
The mainly VIP crowd for the women’s final clapped enthusiastically in all the right places as Florencia Perez battled against Brigitta Krause.
As the match see-sawed one way then the other, promoter John Allenby summoned his event staff to the side of the bleachers to make sure everything was ready for the presentation immediately after the fifth game.
The trophies glistened under the court lighting, two beautiful bouquets were ready for the players, plus one for the sponsor’s wife, and the sponsors’ backboard smelt of fresh ink.
The final was a dramatic contrast in styles between the shot-making ability of Perez and the physicality of Krause.
The athletic-looking Krause won the first and third games, but the enormous physical investment left her slightly drained as Perez won the second and fourth with her intelligent ball placement and ruthless accuracy at the front of the court.
Krause started the fifth game strongly, driving powerful shots to the back of the court, but Perez was playing the game of her life.
At seven-all, Perez played a backhand drop shot with a lot of slice. She did not want to hit the tin and aimed a little higher than usual. She was more intent on making sure the ball glued itself to the left-hand wall. In cutting the ball from underneath, she kept the follow-through of her racquet fairly flat.
Krause initially set off for the front-left corner of the court, but had to adjust her stride as she realised the ball was travelling much deeper into the court.
As she checked her stride and stretched low to her left, Perez’s racquet struck her in the face.
It was not an excessive swing, and the collision was entirely accidental, but Krause refused to see it that way.
She dropped her own racquet on the floor and squealed in mock pain.
Holding her face, she ran straight to Perez and screamed in her face.
“You fucking bitch! You did that on purpose.”
As the referee prepared to speak, and Perez apologised for the incident, Krause lost the plot completely.
Repeating her earlier expletive, she pushed Perez into the side wall.
Under her breath this time, avoiding the ears of the officials, she hissed: “Do that again and I’ll fucking kill you.”
The centre referee attempted to restore order.
Ignoring the decision of the two side officials, who had each signalled a “let” the referee announced: “Conduct stroke against Perez. Dangerous play.”
This time Perez screamed out loud.
“What? You can’t be serious? The swing was an accident but didn’t you see her push me? Didn’t you hear her swear at me?”
The referee refused to budge.
“Video review, please,” said Perez.
The crowd couldn’t wait to see the replays of this explosive confrontation.
They cheered when they saw the racket hit Krause in the face, then booed loudly when she pushed her opponent.
The incident was replayed from a variety of positions, and each time it looked worse. Each time the crowd reaction grew louder as they waited for the decision to flash up on the giant screens.
There was only one problem. The TV graphics team had set up artwork for three decisions, let, stroke or no let.
No-one had thought to provide a caption for the decision arrived at by the referee handling the video review.
So the official, who was sitting in the outside broadcast truck behind the bleachers, hurriedly wrote his decision on a scrap of paper and rushed into the arena.
On it he had written: “Conduct penalty for gross misconduct and audible obscenity. Match awarded to Perez.”
The video official had to push his way through the jeering crowd to reach the centre referee.
When he read the words, written clearly in capital letters, he froze.
“I am not reading that out,” he said. “You’ve got it completely wrong.”
“No,” said the video review official. “You did.
“Give me the bloody microphone and I’ll do it before you get lynched.”
The centre referee, still open-mouthed, handed over the microphone and sat down.
When the video official made his announcement, the crowd went wild.
Krause stormed off court, grabbed her bag and rushed out of the marquee.
But, as she set foot on the rubber-matted walkway on the beach, she was stopped by a soldier armed with a machine gun.
“Sorry madam, you will have to go back inside.
“No-one is allowed on the beach.”
The collision sent most of the Russian guards flying into the harbour as machine-gun fire sprayed harmlessly into the air.
The Seals quickly jumped across to the damaged vessel and threw smoke bombs and stun grenades inside every door and hatch.
Wearing night-vision goggles, they quickly entered the yacht’s boardroom and shot dead six of the nine inhabitants.
When the carnage was concluded, one female and two males were left standing.
“Miss Anderson, you are to come with me,” said the leader of the squash-playing Seals.
Shelley was transferred to a neighbouring speedboat and taken to the shore.
The two Russians, Dimitri Molotov and his chief henchman, were transferred to another craft that quickly headed out to sea.
They were tied back to back, tethered at the elbows, knees and ankles.
Their surprise turned to anger, then to fear.
They soon realised that swearing got them nowhere. Nor did threats. Nor did the pathetic pleas uttered during their rapid journey towards the deep ocean.
The Seals maintained the calm ruthlessness that had so impressed their superior officers earlier in their careers as they pulled the engines and threw bait over the side of the boat.
Only one broke his silence to say: “Mr Molotov, you have upset some very important people in our country. Maybe if you played more squash in Russia you might learn some decent manners.”
A large rubber ring was forced around the Russians’ legs and moved up their bodies until it rested under their shoulders, with their arms hanging over the top.
Without a flicker of emotion, the Seals rolled the two men into the fish blood on the deck until they were satisfied that their Armani trousers had soaked up enough fluid to attract a passing shark or two.
The safety ring was attached to a rope and the two men were bundled overboard.
Screaming and pleading, with just their head and shoulders above the waves, it took just a few minutes before the first predators arrived on the scene.
One of the commandos shouted to no-one in particular: “It’s the sharks’ lucky day. Bite one, get one free.”
The rest of the team laughed as the dorsal fins circled the two Russians.
They screamed in unison as the first shark chomped off four legs in one mouthful.
The two torsos toppled headlong into the water as more sharks arrived to finish the meal in a frenzy.
Watching the grisly denouement of their task, the Seals pulled in the rubber ring and headed back to the marina.
As she stepped ashore, Shelley Anderson was passed a cell phone by one of the Seals.
“Glad we got you out of there,” said the male voice on the other end. “It was looking close there for a minute.”
“Yes sir,” she said. “It was.”
“Well, you know that we always look after our own. “
CIA double agent Shelley Anderson was escorted to her hotel room, where she changed into an evening dress.
Within a few minutes she was accompanied by four healthy and handsome young men, wearing chinos, blazers and sunglasses, across the Avenida Atlantica to the squash arena.
The Brazilian armed forces had put up barriers across the road but a whispered word of caution from one of Shelley’s guard of honour resulted in instant access.
“Glad you could make it,” said John Allenby.
The guards on the beach were not quite so acquiescent with Brigitta Krause.
As the crowds spilled from the Maracana Stadium and found their path to City Hall blocked by police and the army, the demonstration leaders told their followers to split up into smaller groups and meet up again on the beach.
Plain-clothed police officers who had infiltrated the marches quickly texted ahead to warn their colleagues to expect some company on the beach.
As the women’s final ended in such controversy, John Allenby had to think on his feet.
He announced to the crowd that the men’s final would follow immediately and that a joint presentation would take place at the end of the evening.
“This is for the benefit of our live television audience all over the world.”
Tyler Wolf was ready. So was Andres Lopez.
As Allenby announced the players on court, the marquee was suddenly surrounded by hundreds of Brazilian police and army personnel.
The VIPs inside were enjoying the free champagne and oblivious to the storm brewing in the city.
As the two men’s finalists began their knock-up, John Allenby found Shelley Anderson and her guests.
He whispered to Shelley: “I had to make some hasty changes to the seating plan when a special call came through earlier today for extra seats in your name.”
He gave her a playful tap on the arm.
“But who are these guys? Are they all your dates for this evening? No wonder you missed the pre-final briefing.”
Shelley smiled, looked sideways at Allenby and replied in a whisper: “I’ll tell you over breakfast – if I make it that early.”
Allenby added: “By the way, where’s McDiarmid?”
Shelley replied: “Let’s just say that my friends here persuaded him that his presence was no longer needed here in Rio.”
The squash audience may have been in the dark about the impending arrivals on the beach, but the local TV crew clearly had good contacts.
Suddenly three roving cameras and their operators headed for the exit.
Tyler Wolf and Andres Lopez warmed up the white Dunlop ball during the knock-up, then left the court to take off their tracksuit tops. They went through a similar process with the ball after they had returned to the court.
Lopez nodded to the referee and pointed towards his opponent, indicating that Wolf had won the spin of the racquet to determine who would serve first.
A typically cautious start resulted in long rallies up and down the backhand wall as each player worked his way into the match.
After six rallies, nine minutes, and two lets, it was two-all.
It was clearly going to be a long night.
“Front Wall, come in please.”
The voice in Shelley Anderson’s earpiece requested confirmation that his message had been received and understood.
“Loud and clear,” came the response. With the noise of the ball, accompanied by the shouts of the crowd, and a soft breeze causing occasional ripples in the marquee roof, Shelley could talk at almost normal volume without being overheard by neighbouring spectators.
She turned to her four guests and said: “I’m not sure if we’ll be able to watch the whole match. Let’s hope Tyler starts to hit a few nicks.”
Tyler Wolf was not wired up the same network, although the communications team involved had certainly been listening in to several of his calls in his recent weeks.
One of the Seals leant across and murmured: “I think there’s some telepathy going on here, unless Shelley has trained this guy into being a squash robot.”
Wolf hit three stunning winners in quick succession to lead 6-3.
He was past that vital psychological barrier of being beyond halfway towards the 11 points needed to win the game.
Now it was time to step up a gear, avoid mistakes, pile on the pressure and finish this first part of the mission.
Lopez made him work for it. He knew he would, but Wolf took the first game 11-8, weathering a fierce storm of resistance as Lopez won three points in a row after being game ball down.
Squash, just like military action, induced similar responses when survival was being threatened.
That Navy chief knew what he was talking about.
The four Navy Seals had declined every drop of the champagne on offer throughout the evening.
One turned to the other and said: “Gentlemen, it’s turning into Omaha Beach outside. They’re holding the marchers about a mile away from here on both sides, but there are lots of side streets where people can squeeze through.
“Let’s hope we get to see the whole of the final.”
Perez sipped his water as he listened to his coach between games.
Club players would be amazed if they knew how simple the instructions were to help the world’s leading players regain focus and play sensible squash.
“Don’t take too many risks. Work him longer. Work him harder. He’s older than you. Keep the rallies going. Keep it tight, then attack anything loose.”
That was all it took to rouse Andres Lopez for the second game.
The Argentine shot-maker suddenly began slow-balling, lifting his drives higher to get the ball to the back of the court with minimum physical effort.
Tyler Wolf loved to smack the ball around the court. But most of all he loved to feed off other peoples’ pace.
Lopez suddenly stopped giving him that opportunity.
With a slower ball, Wolf’s timing was not as tight as it had been earlier. His swing was fractionally off-beat.
Lopez stepped in and chopped up anything loose. Soon it was one game all. Lopez looked delighted. Wolf was clearly frustrated.
Like most Aussies, he liked a scrap. But Lopez was giving him nothing to hit.
The third game followed in the same pattern, and Tyler Wolf was suddenly two-one down and struggling to find a way back into the match.
As the Argentine coaching team headed towards their man’s corner, a cameraman pushed past them as he headed for the door.
The tripod struck one of the coaches on the head and although he began shouting at the cameramen, he had no time to join in the conversation apart from a quick shrug and a “Sorry, so sorry” as he left the arena.
Only a handful of spectators had witnessed an incident that was over in seconds, but the coach was upset.
Instead of paying attention to his player, he rubbed his head and began mouthing threats about complaining to the World Tour, the promoter and the TV company.
Lopez was distracted as he returned to the court.
Instead of playing the same highly disciplined squash that had offered up so many opportunities to finish rallies with extravagant winners, he lost control.
He lost his length, and the tables soon turned as Wolf took advantage of shots that landed in mid-court.
He was given a succession of strokes or simple drops as his opponent’s poor control often left him trapped, hopelessly out of position, as he surrendered the front half of the court.
The Brazilian President was seated in a special box with a group of local dignitaries, including the Mayor of Rio and several Olympic officials.
Prince Hamza Al Omani and his entourage, plus a number of other squash guests, sat in the neighbouring box.
The security staff attending the VIP area were under strict orders that nothing was to interrupt an event that was being broadcast live around the world, portraying Brazil as the ideal sporting location.
Back in Virginia, the Secretary of State was on the phone to his Navy friend Bob Murray.
“Sounds like your squash boys did a good job and rescued the missing package.”
“Yes sir. They did. I just wish they could take the rest of the day off and enjoy the finals, but I don’t think that’s likely.”
Lopez was furious. Not only with himself, for the way he had allowed that fourth game to slip out of his control, but also with his coach, for the nonsense that had ruined his concentration between games.
“I don’t care if somebody hits you over the head with a fucking hammer, you don’t ruin my game like that. Just fuck off and leave me alone. I’ll sort this out on m y own.”
Lopez’s coach opened his mouth to argue, but no sound emerged as the player gestured towards him with a menacing glare.
Tyler Wolf watched the episode unfold and wiped the moisture off his racquet grip before returning to court first.
He wanted to grab the psychological ascendancy. Get back on court. Grab the ball. Own the court. Don’t let it go.
The crowd’s roar as the players returned to court for the fifth and final game muffled a sharp noise in the distance.
Party-loving Brazilians are used to the sound of fireworks, but this sounded different.
The security staff hovering around the VIP boxes immediately sprang into action.
Outside, the Brazilian army guards and police were joined by several Navy launches in a holding position offshore.
They were ready to protect all the marinas that dotted the Rio shoreline and also accost anyone who might fancy leaving the scene of a crime via the Atlantic Ocean.
Their senses had been aroused by the news of the American mission in the marina earlier the same day.
Everyone in Brazil loves soccer. The samba spirit permeates every level of society.
But many of the locals in Rio this evening were complaining about the costs involved of building new stadiums when so many millions were living in poverty.
In a monumental act of irony, lost on most of the demonstrators, a large percentage of them were wearing the yellow, blue and green Brazilian soccer uniform as they took to the streets.
Those streets were already a battleground.
The Chinese guests of the World Tour, funded by two rival court-building companies, were enjoying their hospitality at the Rio final.
They had seen the plans of the new Rio squash centre, and had instantly sent copies back home for Chinese designers to come up with their own plans for new clubs and courts, possibly with gymnasiums, badminton and tennis facilities attached.
They had enjoyed the presentations from the European and US court builders, but knew that their own technologies and low-budget construction companies would soon be fighting over the same contracts.
The US deputation, however, had the added benefit that was rarely available to squash clients: namely, the possible sharing of military information.
Tyler Wolf sized up the situation in his rivals’ corner.
He knew that something had upset Lopez. Upset his concentration and made him angry. Not many players can channel anger into a winning position.
Anger results in rushed shots and a lack of control. All the things that Lopez was displaying.
But Tyler was smart enough to know that things can change in an instant.
He had to watch out for a fifth-game backlash. A do-or-die battle for the one hundred thousand dollar first prize.
The demonstrators smashed more shop windows as they headed towards the beach.
Bars and cafes were left alone. It was the banks they were after are. And anything that looked like a municipal building.
Banging drums, and with whistles and horns making them sound just like the soccer crowds they were supposed to be protesting against, the human wave headed for the beach.
The President was informed of a likely stand-off on the beach, but refused to budge from her seat.
Following her lead, other dignitaries vowed to stay put until after the presentation ceremony.
Shelley Anderson was deep in discussion with her four guests.
They forget their earlier talk about the tactics on show in the finals and concentrated on providing a safe route back to the hotel when the presentations had finished. They wondered about allowing the planned firework display to go ahead.
John Allenby entered the outside broadcast truck and grabbed the TV producer by the collar.
“Where the fuck are your camera crew? There’s no-one around to get on court and film the presentations.”
The producer squirmed. “Look, if you let go of my throat I might be able to tell you.
“Around half a million demonstrators are heading for the beach right now. They probably don’t know the squash is taking place. But, when they do, and they find out that the President is here, and the Mayor of Rio, they might like to join in the fun.
“So, we need to be able to see what’s taking place outside. At the moment we hear that the police and the army have everything under control and that everyone is safe, so we just need to get the final finished and get the fuck out of here. Shame we’ve got to hang around for the speeches and the presentations.”
Allenby relaxed his grip and headed back to the marquee to find Shelley Anderson
Tyler Wolf was three-love up in the fifth game when he felt the first onset of cramp in his right calf.
One desperate lunge into the front right corner had hurt. Now he felt a little tentative every time he got near that part of the court.
Within seconds, it seemed as is if this information had been absorbed by his opponent by some magical kind of sixth sense.
Lopez chopped in drops and boasts, shots that rebounded off the side walls and dragged his opponent around the front of the court in a manner that exposed his diminishing quality of movement.
As Lopez drew level at four-all, three spectators ran down a gangway in the middle of a rally and began arguing with security staff at the exit.
The referee asked the audience to remain seated while play was in progress, oblivious to the fact that the spectators had all been gun-carrying presidential bodyguards.
Six-all. Seven-all. Someone had to break soon. As the crowd noise grew, the players struggled to hear the referee announce the score.
Only the extra volume was not coming from within the marquee. It was outside.
The demonstrators had managed to push the police cordon back to within 200 yards of the squash venue. Behind the police, the Army was ready to open fire, with rubber bullets and live ammunition if they felt the President was in danger.
The chanting grew louder as the tension mounted on-court.
Wolf looked across at his opponent.
“They’re not mates of yours, then.”
Lopez smiled. Then, just as his opponent prepared to receive serve, he said: “Just fuck off.”
The timing was perfect. It was just enough to put him off.
“Fault,” came the cry from the centre referee.
Lopez was leading 8-7.
Shelley Anderson had to maintain a neutrality that befitted her position as head of the World Tour, but deep inside she was willing her compatriot to turn things round.
High up in the bleachers, a small group of Argentine squash fans tried to squeeze past their neighbouring spectators to get close to the gangway in the hope of rushing toward the glass court to cheer on their hero.
Lopez hit two nicks in quick succession to move to match ball, but Wolf desperately pulled it back to make it ten-all.
Tiebreak time. Only they didn’t say tiebreak any more, simply “Player to win by two points.”
The players were startled by the noise of a helicopter overhead as it drowned out the crowd noise.
“Play on please,” said the referee.
The interference had an instant impact on the match. When Wolf served to his opponent’s forehand, Lopez volleyed a crosscourt nick winner as the big Aussie’s brain struggled to cope with the noise and the occasion, let alone the sublime racquet skills of his opponent.
It was 11-10 to Lopez. Match ball again. A furious rally ensued, registered at 68 shots by the TV shot-counter, before Wolf drew level.
Both players leant on their racquets as the helicopter droned overhead.
Lopez was gone. Physically and mentally. Despite possessing so much talent, so much skill, he was unable to function in this pressure-cooker atmosphere and the final two points went to the Australian after two short rallies.
As John Allenby welcomed the VIP guests on to the glass court for the presentation ceremony, the noise grew louder outside the marquee.
Half a million Brazilians had chosen to air their grievances during a rally that coincided with the squash final.
Hardly any knew the event was taking place.
However, as soon as they learned that the President herself was in the marquee, plus the mayor of Rio and many other dignitaries, the mood changed.
The massive crowd surged forward on to the beach.
The police held their fire and slowly moved backwards until a ten-deep cordon surrounded the squash marquee.
As the presentation ceremony began on court, a snarling Brigitta Krause managed to coax her face into a smile as she lined up alongside champion Florencia Perez.
As Andres Lopez collected his runners-up trophy, and Tyler Wolf tried to remember all the people he should thank after receiving his Rio champion’s trophy, a shot rang out. It was outside the marquee.
But it was so loud that everyone inside the building panicked.
As Wolf ended his winner’s speech somewhat prematurely, a teenage boy entered the glass court.
“You want an autograph? Sure, no problem mate.”
The young man looked at Tyler Wolf.
“Yes, sorry to spring it on you like this.
“Bloody hell. You mean…?”
Tears fell from Wolf’s eyes. And his son’s.
As the two hugged, and the cameras clicked, the noise from overhead intensified.
More than one helicopter was in the air.
The president cut short her speech as Shelley Anderson gently grabbed her wrist and motioned to her, and her remaining bodyguards, to stay close to the four men who had sat next to her during the finals.
As the Seals powered their way through the crowds, to set up a safe route to the nearest hotel to the squash arena, the number of marchers quickly swelled on the Copacabana.
Chanting, waving flags, blowing whistles and singing, they suddenly clashed with the police and soldiers guarding the squash venue.
A stray bottle was all it took to spark the riot that followed.
The government warned the military that TV cameras were both inside and outside the marquee, and that it would not look good ahead of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics if Brazilian law enforcement officers were to be filmed shooting their own civilians.
As the soldiers and police reluctantly retreated, their numbers were simply overwhelmed by the surging force of the protestors.
Thousands of demonstrators ringed the marquee, intent on causing mayhem.
As the TV cameras whirred in the helicopters above, the police and army made sure that all players, spectators and especially their VIP guests, had safely left the venue.
The first petrol bomb set fire to the marquee as demonstrators chanted anti-government slogans.
Once the fabric of the building had disappeared, the glass court was exposed to a hail of stones, bottles and any other missiles the rioters could lay their hands on.
Simultaneously, almost every TV news channel in the world received the same live feed from the Reuters cameraman filming from a helicopter above the court.
“We are now going live to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, where police and the armed forces have foiled an attempt by demonstrators to assassinate the President.
“She was attending the final of the Rio Beach Classic squash tournament when half a million rioters took over Copacabana Beach. As riot police fired tear gas, a crowd estimated to be more than half a million strong surrounded a huge marquee housing an all-glass squash court where play was taking place.
“As she made a speech to the crowd after the finals, rioters threw petrol bombs which set fire to the marquee.
“Security forces whisked the president to safety, and she joined spectators in a nearby hotel.
“The hotel is ringed by armed soldiers, and we understand the president and other VIP guests are all safe inside.
“No casualties were reported among the fleeing spectators, although a number of arrests were made as riot police and soldiers fought with demonstrators.
“A number of those arrested have been taken to hospital, although the roads throughout the city are still blocked with thousands of protestors.
“The rioters had made their way to the seafront area following a mass demonstration in the famous Maracana Stadium, which will host the World Cup football finals later this year.
“Demonstrators had been complaining of the costs of staging the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics in a nation riddled with crime and poverty, set against a background of alleged government corruption.
“We will bring you more on that story through the night.”
The news bulletins showed dramatic images of a sea of humanity washing over the beach, with the glass court a dazzling white cube in the middle of the mayhem.
Shelley Anderson was the first down to breakfast, much to the surprise of John Allenby.
They had both spent the last fragments of the finals night looking out from the hotel rooftop watching the rioters trash the glass court.
Amazingly, there were no major casualties.
Actually, there were some bodies in the marina that had required some immediate removal, plus two more that were now being digested by the sharks in the Atlantic Ocean.
Shelley had thought about inviting her partner to her room to explain the events that had taken place during the previous days, weeks and months as she and her CIA colleagues had set various traps around the world to ensnare a group of individuals who were regarded as being particularly hostile to American interests.
She and her bosses knew that the vacuum would soon be filled by new gangs, with new leaders, but for now they were chipping away, one by one.
This had been a complicated mission, with multiple operating theatres that had placed her in enormous danger.
She shut down those thoughts of sharing the night with Allenby, and headed to her own bedroom.
In the morning, Allenby’s email inbox was full of media reports from all round the world, many showing pictures taking up the whole of the front page with an enormous army of protestors surrounding the glowing glass court.
“No such thing as bad publicity,” he said.
Shelley nodded. Her four companions had skipped breakfast and headed back up the eastern seaboard as soon as they were sure everything was safe in Rio.
They had removed some of the biggest criminal elements in Mexico, Colombia and Brazil, not to mention a Russian on their “most wanted” list. Shelley wondered just how long she could keep this secret from her co-promoter and the rest of the worldwide squash community as they looked forward to taking golf’s place in the 2016 Olympic Games.
Allenby and his friend Will Murray had an appointment in the hotel boardroom where they were poised to sign a contract with their visitors to build 200 squash courts in major Chinese cities.
The delegation boasted of low building costs in China and did not envisage any problems with rioters attempting to smash the courts.
Upstairs, Tyler Wolf had ordered breakfast on room service as his son, wrapped up in a tournament polo shirt, held the silver trophy and stared into the reflection.
ALAN THATCHER is a lifelong sports journalist.
He started writing for his local paper at the age of 14 and has worked in national newspapers for the past 30 years.
Having fallen in love with squash in his 20s, he has promoted a number of major tournaments including the British Open, Liverpool Open and Kent Open.
He is also co-promoter of the Canary Wharf Classic and MC and Media Director for the North American Open.
A regular commentator for Sky TV down the years, he is a joint founder of World Squash Day and is President of the Kent SRA.