It was Beth's idea that we could actually win the NICKO. It was shortly after we'd won our first battle against a team from Hampstead. On the way back we got lost and I stopped to ask directions from three weird-looking women.
"Excuse me, we've just been playing a bridge match somewhere on this blasted Heath. Can you direct us out of here?"
One of them giggled drunkenly that the only cards she and her sisters knew about were Tarot ones and offered to tell our fortunes. Bianca, who was then my partner, thought it would be fun and so I crossed their palms with silver. The first woman cackled
"OOh, I bet you're a master bridge player dearie - you're not? You will be soon."
And the second joined in "and this competition - you're sure to win it."
Bianca butted in "And what about me? Any good news for me or my family?"
"Why yes, pet. Even if you don't win this event, your children certainly will." And with that the third sister directed us to the road home.
I awoke late the next morning and picked up the post. There was a letter from the EBU - I'd been promoted - I was the first Regional Master of Cawdor Bridge Club! So then I remembered the weird sisters and told my wife Beth about it. She looked thoughtful.
"You could do it, Mick, you know. It's only that partner of yours holding you back."
"Bianca? But she's an old friend. I couldn't dump her."
"But she's the weak point in the team - our fears in Bianca stick deep! She's so pernickety about signalling - you'd never catch me worrying about damned spots. We play King's team next round - they're better than us. Imagine it, Mick & Beth to beat King hereafter! We must cultivate a deceptive style. Thou wouldst not play false and yet wouldst wrongly win? Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under't."
So I told Bianca that from then on I wanted to play with my wife rather than her. I hardly think I am to blame for what happened. Yes, she took it badly, and drank too much at the club Christmas party. That terrible scene when she accosted one of our players crying "Is this a Jagger I see before me...come, let me clutch thee!" The tragic accident that followed was not of my doing.
We were home for the crucial next round. Duncan King sat in the open room throughout, because he took a liking to one of our armchairs - `a pleasant seat,' he called it, as he ran his hand through his graying locks.
"I'm going to do something about that," he confided. He should have dyed hair after.
We were 22 IMPs down going into the last set as Beth and I took on Malcolm and Donald Bain. Malcolm asked if he could smoke.
"What, in our house?" responded Beth disparagingly.
North dealt the first hand of the set with EW vulnerable:
When I opened with a game force Beth rapped the table excitedly.
"You'll waken Duncan with your knocking," warned South.
A few cue bids later and I declared a grand as North led K. All I had to do was find Q. It looked normal to play South for it, as North was a passed hand, with presumably KQ and K, but I couldn't be sure.
"Look how our partner's rapt," joked Beth nervously. I ignored her. Perhaps I could find out more about the distribution.
"Small, please," I directed.
"Unsix me here," she babbled on, playing 6.
I led A and ruffed a diamond high, crossed to hand in trumps and ruffed another diamond high, South pitching a heart. I ruffed a heart in hand on which North dropped Q. I had no need now to ruff the third diamond and so drew trumps, North showing out on the 2nd round, and paused again to count the hand. North had shown 6 diamonds, two hearts, a singleton club and hence 4 spades. He might have opened with Qxxx KQ KJ10xxx x, but equally, he might not.
Beth began to get restless.
"If it were done, when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly," she mumbled. For all her faults, Bianca was at least silent when dummy.
So I drew trumps, cashed A, unblocking 10, and ran 9.
When South won with the Q I was quite unmann'd in folly. For I swear in place of her usual visage, the spade queen bore Bianca's head, shaking her gory locks.
"Which of you have done this?" I cried. "For false face must hide what the false heart doth show."
"Er, yes, I false-carded in hearts," admitted North, "but please don't get upset."
"Avaunt! And quit my sight!" I cried at Bianca's image on the Q, much to the consternation of the opponents, who thought I'd merely lost a finesse rather than having to look on that which might appal the devil.
Well, I eventually calmed down, but not so Malcolm & Donald who threw away 70 IMPs over the set. I heard them apologising to team mates.
"Sorry, I was quite distracted by that bloody man."
"What bloody man is that?" enquired Duncan.
I didn't hear the reply. We'd won, narrowly, and I consulted the draw to see who our next round opponents would be.
Two unknown clubs are playing. Apparently Birnam Wood is away to Dunsinane. Well, I can't see either of them giving us much trouble.