Kevin McNair was enjoying, if that was the right word, his usual Christmas at his new home in Spain. He hadn’t made many friends since relocating there a year ago and had no intentions of making any. The fewer people that knew he was there, the better.
He had harboured no thoughts of visiting Edinburgh any time soon; he was over that place. It hadn’t stopped him getting in contact with some of his betting contacts though, as well as those few people who were happy to throw a match or two, miss a penalty, that kind of thing. His pension from his playing days wasn’t enough to live on so he had to supplement it somehow. The bar bills he had run up weren’t going to pay themselves, so he continued to bet on the football every weekend, usually coming up trumps and occasionally hitting the big one. He didn’t want to bet on the shadier events in the market too often, that would draw attention to himself and the last thing he wanted was another visit from Edinburgh Fraud Squad, thank you.
However, the big one was coming up in 2022; the World Cup which was being held in Australia. He wouldn’t be able to influence or buy off any of the participating players as they earned too much money to be bought, but he studied the form religiously and reckoned he stood a good chance of making some decent money this time. Enough to buy him a bigger place somewhere nearby, or up in the hills in some small village where he could be even more anonymous.
All the teams had been put in the draw earlier in December and Kevin was working out all the permutations to see who would get to the final. Scotland had been drawn in Group C along with Chile, Cameroon and Russia which didn’t look like a tough group, so he went for Scotland to win their group meaning they would likely play England in the first knock out round. Again, that shouldn’t be a problem for Scotland with their recent record, so he carried on. Their Quarter Final opponents would be Mexico or Japan, and yet again, he couldn’t see Scotland getting beat by either of them. It was only when he looked at potential Semi Final opponents did he see a possible problem. Assuming they got that far, they were going to have to beat Spain or Italy which wouldn’t be so easy.
Having spent hours working out the odds, he was confident that it would be a Scotland .v. Argentina Final and he was backing Scotland to get revenge for the last time they met. He then checked online to see what the bookies were offering and was surprised to see Scotland were only 6/1 to lift the trophy. He laughed at that; the bookies still weren’t treating Scotland as a decent team despite winning the Euros and getting to the last World Cup Final. This was going to work to his advantage. The word on the street back home was that if anything, Scotland were now a harder team to beat as their relatively young squad had matured and the FIFA ranking of 3rd was not a mistake.
After a couple of days sitting in his local bar with a calculator and a laptop, he had his bets sorted out. Group winners, top scorers, individual games, correct scores and number of red cards had all been logged with his online bookies and he was about to make some calls to his betting contacts back in Scotland where he would find the odds on Scotland winning were not as generous.
He had spent a large chunk of his savings on this tournament, including the £10,000 he had placed on Scotland beating Argentina in the final by two goals to one at 10/1 with one of Edinburgh’s dodgier bookies who he knew through Hugh McInally. Bradley Gardner had better not let him down, he thought. That was the big one that was going to set him up. He had done his homework.
Bradley could still be quite naïve at times, especially about the darker side of football. He was a simple soul at heart; he just wanted to play football and spend time with his family and friends. Last Christmas when his dad got friendly with that Kevin McNair had been a bit upsetting as the Police got involved and that was attention Bradley didn’t want. He knew McNair was still living just along the road from Mijas which spoilt it for him, but he figured it would be unlikely that their paths would cross as they lived different lives, or so he thought.
The morning after his party was a gloriously sunny one and perfect for a long walk around the sights of London. The staff had laid on a superb breakfast buffet spread for them all which would set them up for the day. There were a few sore heads from the excess amounts of wine, Baileys and brandy that were consumed, but not for Bradley as he stuck to his usual Ginger Beer and tea all night apart from one glass of Champagne which he didn’t particularly like anyway, but had to join in the toast. He was going to need to work off some of those extra calories and blow the cobwebs away, and a long walk would be just the job.
After enjoying their sumptuous breakfast banquet, they all wrapped up warm with heavy coats and scarves ready for the impending walk. Deepak was getting particularly excited as usual and was waiting for the others by the front door a good fifteen minutes before everybody else had got themselves ready to go.
Bradley suggested taking a similar route to the one he and Jessie enjoyed in the summer, starting at Buckingham Palace then working their way through the Royal Parks to Trafalgar Square, Whitehall, Westminster Bridge and along the South Bank to Tower Bridge. Then they could see who needed to take a taxi back and who wanted to carry on. Everybody was enjoying it and wanted to keep going by the time they reached the Tower so Jessie and her dad led them over Tower Bridge and through an almost deserted Financial District to St. Paul’s Cathedral then along Fleet Street and Strand back to Trafalgar Square.
Because it had been taken at a leisurely pace, nobody was particularly knackered, but to go any further might just have pushed one or two of them over the edge. Even though most of them were born and bred Londoners, it was like seeing the place for the first time as Jessie, Barry, Sharon and Martine acted as tour guides to Carlos, Archie, Sam, Kate and Deepak. Only Brian was unusually quiet. This London, not the one where he lived and worked now, brought back a lot of memories for him. Some good, some great, and some dark ones too. He had spent most of the walk recognising old haunts; restaurants where in the good old days he would entertain clients lavishly in an effort to win their business. Bars and pubs where he would drink until closing time with colleagues swapping stories about absolutely nothing, but laughing anyway. Where were those clients and colleagues now? It just proved how superficial the whole set-up in the City was. They weren’t friends, merely acquaintances. In many ways, he was glad to have left that life behind. He also missed it as well.
On the other hand, Deepak was loving every minute of the walk. The old buildings and associated history had left him fascinated beyond belief as his guides told him all about London and its 2,000 year old past. Even reading the books available in the main library in Jaipur hadn’t readied him for the real thing. Pictures were fine, but seeing it in the flesh was the only way. He wondered if his grandad had ever made it to London; he had never mentioned it but if he was his grandad he would have been on that train every week. He would ask him when he next spoke to his family back home.
They arrived back at the house around six where they all unloaded their coats and scarves in the hall and slumped into the nearest armchair happily chatting away about their favourite parts of the trek. The butler had met them in the hall and tidied up their discarded clothing and footwear before bringing them all some tea and coffee on a large silver tray that he placed on the dining table.
By the time dinner was served some of the guests had nodded off in their cosy chairs, having had too much fresh air and exercise. Blearily, they made their way to the table which, once again, was laden with a fantastic spread, with a Chinese theme this time. By the time they had demolished as much of the crispy duck, dim-sum and ribs as they could, it was decided that they should have a rest with some more Chinese tea and watch football on the sixty inch plasma TV in the vast lounge. It wasn’t long before most of them had dropped off to sleep, leaving Deepak and Bradley watching the TV until they too, decided it was time for bed.
Tomorrow was travel day for most of them. Only Jessie’s parents, Brian and Lucy were local enough to leave at their own pace without having trains or planes to worry about, but they were the first to leave and declared it another winning Christmas, even better than last year. Especially for Brian who had behaved himself but looked deep in thought most of the time.
Archie was going to accompany Deepak on the 15h00 train to Edinburgh from King’s Cross and see him back to Mrs Colquhoun’s place along with Sam and Kate who had travelled by train as well. Bradley had a car arranged to take him and Jessie, Martine and Carlos, back to London City Airport for the flight back to Malaga where they would have another week together on their own recovering from the holiday.
Bradley made sure the staff were well tipped and thanked for their excellent service. They had made it special and it was always nice not to have to work hard over dinners and drinks. If you’ve got the money, why not?
Still feeling bloated and sleepy, the Malaga bound passengers boarded the private jet and fell asleep before they had even taken off, not waking up again until they felt the bump of the plane’s wheels hitting the tarmac at Malaga airport where they transferred to Carlos’ car which was waiting in the VIP parking area.
Carlos dropped Bradley and Jessie off at their villa and kissed goodbye, promising to see each other again in the next couple of days. Bradley had some serious training to do before he headed back to Barcelona, but that would have to wait until tomorrow. Now, he just needed the comfort of his own bed.