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The Ace of Spades


tenthreeleader

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The first drops of another cold evening rain tapped softly against Terry Christian’s porch window.

Lately, it always seemed to be raining.

He sat in his chair, looking out over his lawn. The drops began to fall with greater speed and as they did, he sighed out loud.

It was raining. Again.

One of four local lads who had helped guide Leicester City back to a place of reasonable prominence in the English game, Terry Christian was regarded as one of England’s best midfielders in a generation.

Surely the call would then come from a Liverpool or a Manchester United or a Chelsea or an Arsenal, giving the sandy-haired playmaker his well-deserved place in the footballing sun.

But, it never came.

Now, he sat in his chair. Watching it rain.

They called him a ‘midfield general’, whatever that meant. His creativity could break open a game, whether through a slide-rule through ball to one of his three best friends or a wickedly taken set piece that could shift momentum at a moment’s notice.

Terry ‘had it’. He had a gift. He could make things happen.

But, the call never came.

##

Might as well christen the 'new' board with this effort I started working on when we were all away.

FM 11.2.1, home nations, Germany, Italy, France and Spain. It should be noted that the the pre-history in this story is at least partly an 'alternate universe'. Readers should bear this in mind. Thank you for reading!

11 July 11

ttl

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Quite different, my friend.

___

If they had played in America, some public relations flunky would have given the four of them a catchy nickname.

Terry Christian, Boyd Hyatt, Darrin Rishe and Tommy Bartlett made the Foxes go. Born within a year of each other, all four had come up through Leicester’s youth program. They had known each other from boyhood, had played on all the traveling teams together, and all had signed for Leicester at their first opportunity.

Hyatt was a pace striker. Faster than mercury spilled onto a smooth stone floor, he could find space in a defence or make his own.

A wild shock of red hair led to his informal, and inevitable, nickname of “ginger ninja”, but it seemed to suit his play. Hyatt would appear seemingly from out of nowhere for the purpose of scoring critically important goals.

Rishe was the targetman. Six feet four inches high, his forehead converted many of Terry’s passes into opportunities for Hyatt or into goals for himself. Since growing seven inches in a single summer as a boy, his mates called him “The Towering Inferno” after the 1970s movie none of them had ever seen. It just sounded good.

Yet it was Bartlett who was closest to Terry. He was the holding midfielder who allowed his partner room to roam.

Strong, with the constitution of a mule, Tommy was the tonic to Terry’s gin, the perfect complement to his game. He would patrol his patch of ground like a lion, and never seemed to tire or flag.

They understood each other instinctively, like the old rugby stars Gareth Edwards and Barry John. Like scrum-half and fly-half, they worked as a team.

They hardly had to look at each other on the pitch. Terry knew that if he moved forward, Tommy would be there to cover. Tommy knew that when he came deep to win the ball, his first outlet would be Terry, and he knew where he’d find him.

The two of them were brilliant together, best friends on the park and off. Tommy also didn’t have a nickname – at least, not to Terry. One was never necessary.

Together, the four of them added up to more than four players, creating a synergy that rubbed off on their teammates.

Happily, they broke into the Foxes’ senior squad when all four were twenty-one years of age. It took them two years to spur the club to a playoff place, and a third year to make the playoffs unnecessary.

The riches of the Premiership beckoned, and speculation abounded as to whether Leicester could afford to hold on to all four of its starlets.

The concept of ‘hometown heroes’ certainly applied to the four of them, with United the first to try to prise one of the four away and thus test the ideal.

They tried – and they tried hard – to buy Hyatt after Leicester’s promotion. Yet, the player had no wish to leave and obviously a grateful club did nothing to encourage him to do so.

Having had the foresight to tie all four to multi-year contracts, the Foxes were able to keep suitors away for the club’s first season back in the Premiership since the days of Martin O’Neill’s management.

Life was difficult but not impossible in the top flight, and Terry’s pinpoint passes made it possible to stay up.

At age 25, the world was Terry’s oyster. Capped sixteen times for England, with two international goals to his credit, the word on the street was that the big boys would soon come calling. This time they’d make an offer too good to refuse.

But, the call never came.

##

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Gentlemen, thank you ... didn't want you all to think I was slacking during our recent enforced hiatus :)

___

The day after that first season in the Premiership ended, the club’s publicity department gathered the four young men together for a special photo shoot.

They stood, side by side on the touchline at the Walkers Stadium, while a still photographer set up his equipment. As they did, a media representative handed Terry four playing cards.

“You’re going to be our Four Aces,” he was told. That obviously took real imagination.

“Nothing’s lame here,” Tommy joked, and, as per usual, Terry was thinking the same thing. His friend’s sense of sarcasm served him well, and helped keep Terry grounded whenever he started to think a little too highly of himself.

So, the duo of Christian and Bartlett (or “Beavis and Butt-head”, “Bat-Man and Robin” or “Assault and Battery” depending on whom you talked to in the East Midlands) were singing from the same hymn sheet once again.

“Well, let’s just do this and be done with it,” Terry finally said, a smile crossing his face like it always did. Nothing ever seemed to get him down, and why should it?

“Let’s just deal out the cards, take the bloody pictures and get out of here,” Hyatt said with a snort. “I’ve got friends I need to meet and they’re waiting for me.”

As anxious as they all were to leave the stadium and start their summer holidays, Leicester came first. It always did.

“Here,” Terry said, handing out the cards. “Everybody grab one.”

“Okay, skipper,” Rishe chided. “You’re the boss.”

“If it gets us done here sooner, yeah, I’ll be the boss,” he said. “My kids are waiting for me. I don’t go bar-hopping anymore. Unlike some people.”

Rishe gave him a pair of friendly upturned fingers in response, but then grabbed a card. Hyatt and Tommy did the same and soon everyone held an ace.

“All right,” the photographer said. “Hold up those aces in front of your chests and stand close together. You know, pretend you like each other.”

The players gave a courtesy laugh at the unwelcome familiarity of the photographer, but did as they were told. In a few minutes, it was all over, and the players went their separate ways.

Terry walked to his car and as he sat in the driver’s seat, realized he had forgotten to give back his card. So he tossed it onto his dashboard.

It was the ace of spades.

##

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Thank you, Spavlachenko ... you should know. :)

___

He didn’t think much about the playing card that day, or even the day afterward.

Terry was enjoying the life of a Premiership footballer, having just bought a house on the outskirts of the city.

His home was nice, but not extravagant. He had had only one Premiership contract and, unlike the style of his play, he wanted to be conservative with his money.

He was 25 years old, and married to his school sweetheart with two impossibly cute young children.

He had met Alison at a football match when both were fifteen years of age. At the time, she was seeing the opposing team’s goalkeeper.

During the match, Alison’s boyfriend got himself sent off for a professional foul on Terry as he burst through the defence. He powered home the spot kick with authority in front of the young lady watching from behind the goal.

Two nights later, Alison was seeing a different footballer, and they never did break up.

They fell hard, fast and deeply, marrying two weeks after Terry signed his first professional contract.

Terry adored Alison. Alison adored Terry.

Their children were born one year apart – first Dana, and then Wade. Named for their maternal grandmother and paternal grandfather respectively, they were beautiful to look at and happy children to boot.

Terry had never been much of a party animal – Alison had seen to that fairly quickly – but he never seemed to mind not going out with his friends. They were only Three Aces on those nights.

He was completely and utterly devoted to his family.

Over time, the Christian family became club ambassadors. Whenever there was a school appearance to be made, Alison made it.

The town embraced the family. There was already a lineup of public schools wanting to take the Christian children when they were ready for school in just a few short months.

Really, the only thing keeping Terry from legendary status within the town was the possibility he might leave for someplace else.

He swore up and down that he’d never leave. Players do that sometimes, usually right before they take a big offer from another club.

But with Terry Christian, it all seemed different. You could trust his word. His easy manner and ready smile was often accompanied by a firm handshake, even to a total stranger.

He had life by the tail.

Until that day.

##

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It was a crisp, clear late June evening, and Terry was sat watching television just before sunset. The kids were comfortably asleep and it was time to enjoy a very nice early summer night.

But before he did, he wanted to watch a repeat of the Premiership season summary on Sky Sports. As he did, Alison passed behind him.

“Just going for a quick run before bed, love,” she said, trailing her hand softly along the back of his neck as she passed behind him. “Enjoy watching yourself on telly, unless you want to come with me.”

“Hurry home, darling,” Terry smiled, touching his wife’s hand before she left. “It’s cold tonight.”

She never came home.

After an hour, he ventured outside, calling his wife’s mobile phone to find out where she was. There was no answer.

Puzzled, Terry looked down the pathway she usually traveled. He couldn’t see her. Unable, and now unwilling to leave his children alone inside the house, he began to panic.

He called the police and in minutes, they were there. They soon confirmed his worst fears.

Alison Christian was gone.

It took them about twenty minutes to find her mobile phone, smashed and laying on the concrete pathway about a mile from their house. There could have been only one reason as to why it had been destroyed.

The search began. Given that it involved the wife of Leicester’s hometown hero, it soon involved a lot of people.

Terry was now faced with the horrible task of telling his two young children that their mother was missing. It was the hardest thing he had ever had to do, and even the presence of all four of the childrens’ grandparents didn’t make it any easier.

The search continued. Sadly, the first day became the second … and then the third. And then the fourth.

##

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Thank you glenn ... I appreciate the kind comment!

___

It didn’t take long for the whole country to learn all the details of the sad situation. The tabloids had the story, and once they latched on there was no way they were dropping it.

Terry knew that the longer it took authorities to do their work, the less chance he’d have of seeing his sweet wife again.

The sixth day became the first week. And then, the second week. And then, the third.

June turned to July, and pre-season training was scheduled to begin.

Terry couldn’t concentrate. Hell, he couldn’t even think. No one should have expected anything different, but there comes a time when a man simply must carry on. So, he tried.

Every day, as pre-season training dragged on, he would call the police. Every day, they’d give him the same answer.

Making the call would give him hope. His unabashed love for his children gave him reason to persevere.

He hired a private dick to help the police, and they in turn put up with the man. It was the least they could do.

The new season began, and anyone with a brain could see that Terry’s brain wasn’t in the game. Anyone with a heart could see that his heart wasn’t either.

So the news, when it came, wasn’t unexpected.

Terry Christian has been granted a leave of absence from the club to tend to personal matters,” the club’s news release said. “We wish him nothing but the best at this difficult time in his life.”

His children held Terry together, though Dana kept asking where her mother was. Not only was the question impossible to answer, it would routinely drive her father to tears.

The other three Aces, meanwhile, were laboring mightily to keep Terry’s emotional head above water. While the club missed him terribly in midfield, his friends knew the man’s mental health was more important.

They tried to comfort him. They spent time with him. They even tried to take him out on the town from time to time. When he would go, the outpouring of support he would get from the townspeople was heartwarming.

He never had to buy a drink. That was both good and bad.

Terry knew he had to keep his emotional health for the sake of his children. His parents were now helping him raise the youngsters, but deep down he knew it was only a matter of time before the news he was dreading arrived.

##

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They found Alison just before Christmas.

The news made headlines all over Europe, and for the most ghastly of reasons.

Acting on a tip, police found the poor woman’s body buried on a secluded bank along the River Soar – only they didn’t know it was Alison at the time. Making that determination took some time.

Medical examiners couldn’t tell how she had died, only that it had happened some months before.

Sat down by the police for the conversation every man dreads, Terry took the news with as composed a visage as he could muster.

After a quiet moment for himself, he then told his children that their mother was in heaven, leaving them for a moment to the care of his parents.

Slowly, Terry then trudged up the stairs to the master bedroom.

Opening the door, he looked at the place where he had slept with Alison. He hadn’t used the bed since the night she had disappeared, and wasn’t about to now.

Terry reached into his pocket and pulled out the playing card he had recently rediscovered stuck in a storage bay in his car.

He hadn’t seriously thought about the card until right at that moment – but now he understood what he held in his hand.

It wasn’t just a card.

It was an omen.

To some people, the ace of spades is known as ‘the death card’.

The realization pushed him over the edge. Finally losing control, Terry threw himself down on Alison’s side of the bed and buried his face in her pillows.

He cried until he could no longer breathe.

##

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Alison’s funeral drew dignitaries from all over the English game.

The town was in mourning, united in its outpouring of grief over the loss of a life which held so much promise.

The service was short and tasteful. The pictures taken outside the church of Terry and his children, dressed in black and getting out of the car behind Alison’s hearse, made world headlines.

Alison’s funeral was held in the same church where she had been married, with the irony lost on no one.

The footballing and sporting communities united around Terry, a man devastated by a sickening and senseless loss.

There was worse yet to come.

Almost before Alison had been laid to rest, the police were questioning him – because they had to.

The tabloid press reported, wrongly, that the Leicester hero had been detained for questioning and the speculation soon spread like wildfire. Terry couldn’t keep the tabloids away.

He had put out a contract on her, they said. He had had an affair, they said. He wanted a divorce and she wouldn’t give him one, they said.

The stories were horrible, the most scandalous and scurrilous rumors imaginable. And not a damned one of them was true.

Terry, in his agony, blamed the press publicly for adding to his plight, and rightly so. He was considering legal action before finally, mercifully, the reportage ceased. He grew to loathe the press.

The vultures soon moved on to other things, while Scotland Yard changed its investigation from a missing persons case to a full-fledged homicide investigation.

All that change didn’t help Terry, though. He had to try to live.

##

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Gentlemen, thank you very much. I'm glad you are enjoying the story. However, the backstory is just getting started.

___

Two weeks after the funeral, he returned to Leicester’s team, making the bench two weeks after that for a match against Manchester City.

Though the match was at Eastlands, Terry’s introduction late in the match earned him a three-minute standing ovation from the Citizens’ faithful.

He was credible that day, though understandably a shell of his former self.

Terry’s mates were delighted to see him back, and it soon looked like only a matter of time before the Four Aces would rekindle their old magic.

It took time for Terry to find his form, which was also understandable, but by the time March rolled around he was playing almost as well as he ever had.

Struggling all season in his absence, the Foxes rallied around Terry and pulled themselves out of the drop zone by mid-April.

The victories were coming fast and thick by this time, and an inspired team soon found itself safe with two matches to spare.

It was all well and good. In fact, it was wonderful.

But it meant nothing to Terry, who returned home each night to kids who adored their father but also to an empty bedroom and a shell of his personal life.

There was only one thing that could help Terry heal.

One year almost to the day since he had drawn the ace of spades from that four-card deck, Scotland Yard made an arrest in the murder of Alison Christian.

##

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Actually, DM, the undisputed master of the FMS cliffhanger is one Mr. Copper Horse. All I know, I learned from him. Thanks to you and Rikulec for the kind words.

___

His name was Dario Leckington.

He was a dockworker, and by virtually every account he was not a good man.

Living in Leicester after being dismissed from a job in the Tyneside shipyards, Leckington was a drifter. He was known to wander the trails by the River Soar at night, menacing to some and with a history of harassing women.

Leckington had vanished for a time after Alison’s disappearance, and soon prosecutors had compiled a case against him. One piece after another, it all seemed to fall into place.

Most damningly, fibres from Alison’s clothing were found in his car. Leckington told police she had asked him for a ride to the market on the night she disappeared, and he had left her at the door rather than arouse suspicion.

That explanation washed with no one. According to the police, he couldn’t prove his alibi.

There was also no sign of a struggle in the vehicle, though it was admitted that evidence of such a struggle could easily have been removed, or rather cleaned up, in the intervening months.

The police and prosecutors had a mountain of circumstantial evidence. A month after the season ended, the trial began.

The proceedings were held in the Old Bailey, due to the passionate feelings the case generated in Leicester. It drew tremendous press coverage.

It had all the elements of high drama – a drifter accused of murdering of a football star’s wife, a beautiful young woman dead, and two equally beautiful children who would never see their mother again under the most horrific of circumstances.

At that time, another photograph which would cause considerable stir was taken.

The day the trial began, a Press Association picture of Terry entering the building to testify was sent round the world.

As he entered, he was pictured looking at the inscription above the Central Criminal Court’s main entrance – “Defend the Children of the Poor & Punish the Wrongdoer.”

The children weren’t poor. Terry wasn’t poor. Except in spirit.

Under examination by the prosecution, Terry had recounted the events of the evening. He told how she had been in a hurry to leave, but how she had been loving and kind as she left. Alison was always kind.

Cross-examination was hell.

It is part of a defense counselor’s job to create doubt. While it seemed impossible to believe that Terry could have been involved in Alison’s death, the line of questioning was expressly designed to foster a sense of mistrust in the family relationship.

Biting his lip at times to avoid snapping at his interrogator, Terry simply told the truth. No, he hadn’t offered to go with Alison on the walk. No, he hadn’t said he loved her as she left. And no, he hadn’t reacted well to all those newspaper stories.

When asked if he was angry because the stories were true, the resulting objection drew an immediate retraction of the question. But the damage had been done.

Mr. Justice Parks, the High Court judge assigned to the case, looked at Terry as he dismissed him from the witness box. He saw a very sad, and very angry, young man. However, he also saw one who had been legally questioned, and as such could say nothing.

Red-faced and spitting mad, Terry was dismissed from the witness box. It was one of the worst days of his life.

##

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You mastered the cliffhanger, Copper ... I beat it to death.

___

The trial lasted for three weeks.

Over that time, the prosecution rolled out an impressive string of evidence against Leckington, who sat in the dock, day after day, wearing the same blank expression.

It’s been said that some criminal defendants are given tranquilizers during their trials so as to avoid them giving jurors looks or expressions, even by accident, that might prejudice them.

Leckington sat there, day after day, with the same expression on his face.

Crime scene photographs were shown, and Terry couldn’t look at them. That was for the best. Once the medical examiners were done with their work, Alison’s remains had been cremated.

Terry could have used a tranquilizer after that day of testimony, but, alas, the relatives of crime victims rarely have that luxury.

It was good that he didn’t see. However, the press had yet another field day.

He lost sleep. He made sure his children didn’t see the news or read the papers during the trial.

All he could think about at night was what the prosecutors said the police had found: a skeletal woman with her hands bound behind her back, using a strip of her own clothing that matched the strands found in the defendant’s car. It was the only clothing police had found on her body.

Night after night, it was hell.

All that mattered to Terry was seeing justice done. His mind raced, his heart ached, and he was haunted by the memory of his cross-examination.

He was haunted by what he had failed to do.

While lying awake at night, he thought things through. He thought those failures through, and dwelled on them.

Over and over again.

He hadn’t even told Alison he loved her before letting her go out, never to be seen again.

What kind of man was he? What kind of cruel, unthinking, unfeeling man was he? What kind of rotten son-of-a-bitch would let his wife walk alone, to her death?

The thought tore at him. It ate at him. It was crushing him.

He hadn’t said those three words that now meant everything to him – the words he would have moved heaven and earth to say again to his dear wife’s smiling face.

Terry didn’t just miss Alison. His grief was palpable.

He never got to say goodbye.

Then came the announcement that a verdict had been reached, giving Terry a chance to start his life over again.

##

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Spav, Fergie, thank you very much ... I appreciate your kindness.

___

“We the jury find the defendant Dario Leckington not guilty.”

Terry sagged at the news, gutted to his very center. He had asked Tommy to be with him when the verdict was read and it was all he could do not to make a scene.

Mr. Justice Parks nearly had to clear the court after the verdict was read, but Terry wasn’t one of those making a commotion. He was too numb to move. He felt dead – just like his poor wife.

How? How could it happen?

Where was justice for Alison? Where was closure for her family?

Finally, a sense of rage foamed within Terry as Leckington grinned and shook hands with each member of his defense team. Of course, they were entitled, but what Terry saw nauseated and sickened him.

He saw a group of lawyers celebrating that a dead woman could not find justice. They were, in effect, pointing to the legal scoreboard, and it made Terry sick to his stomach.

The jury, which had seen so much evidence and still decided on acquittal, was dismissed. They filed slowly into the jury room to gather their things, and presumably to start work on their book deals and ‘tell-all’ stories for those damned foam-at-the-mouth tabloids.

Not a one of them could gather up the nerve to look at Terry, whose narrow-eyed, stone-faced gaze seemed to pierce right through their bodies.

They had clearly disregarded a great deal of evidence, believing the link to Alison’s death could not be tied to the defendant.

The prosecutors said the jury had not been properly instructed regarding the idea of ‘reasonable doubt’, which does not mean ‘beyond a shadow of a doubt’.

It was not possible to say exactly how Alison had died; therefore jurors said it was not possible to tie the crime to the defendant.

Bollocks, Terry said to the press in his first and only public statement after the trial. It didn’t matter how Alison had died; the fact that she was dead should have been enough. All that needed to be proven was a link to the defendant, and the circumstantial evidence lay thick upon the courtroom floor.

The prosecutors had told him it was possible to convict based on such evidence, Terry said, and they were right. However, it hadn’t happened in this case.

Beyond that, he would not speak any further other than to say his last words about the case while standing on the front porch of his home:

I loved my wife dearly. I will love my wife forever. A jury has let a man go free who I believe killed her, taking away my family’s happiness and the mother of my children. The requirements of the system have been met; the requirements of justice have not.”

With that, he walked back into his house and closed the door. His dignity was intact. That, and the two children in his charge, was all he had left.

##

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He just couldn’t do it anymore.

The new season was about to start and Terry was in neither the emotional shape nor the physical shape to play.

In a pre-season friendly, some idiot in the stand had asked ‘how are things at home’ after he had missed a sitter. For Terry, it was the final straw.

He didn’t mind taking criticism, but Leckington’s acquittal had cut him to the bone. Now there were only a handful of people Terry trusted – his parents, Alison’s parents, his children and the Aces.

That was all. You could count them on the fingers of two hands.

Each day, he would visit the cemetery and make sure Alison’s grave was in perfect condition. He placed fresh flowers every day.

Often he would bring the children, until he realized that his grief was not necessarily theirs. They missed their mother, but when it had all happened they were mercifully still a bit too young to fully understand.

They would grow up to live with only faint memories of their mother. Terry would not be so lucky.

At age 26, his heart and spirit broken, he retired. The big call never came.

That was six years ago.

##

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Thank you ... glad to hear you're liking the work!

___

Now it was raining. Again.

Dana was now eleven years old and Wade was ten. Both played football, and both learned how to play the game from their father.

They lived near the Walkers Stadium, which by then had been renamed the King Power Stadium.

On match nights, he would sometimes turn off the television and imagine he could hear the roar of the crowd.

After he retired Leicester had fallen on hard times, dropping all the way to League One for a single ugly season before regaining promotion to the Championship.

The Aces, and Leicester, weren’t the same without Terry. One by one, the Aces dealt themselves away.

Sadly, Tommy was the next to go, signing an offer sheet from Liverpool and leaving the season after Terry retired. They still talked almost daily, and their personal bond was still strong. But it wasn’t exactly the same.

Without football, it couldn’t be.

Hyatt had been next, finally going to United when the Foxes were relegated from the Premiership.

Only Rishe had stayed, all the way down to League One and finally back up. Now he was the great local hero, the man who had stayed with the club through thick and thin.

People didn’t talk much about Terry Christian anymore, other than to remark about how sad his story had been.

He had been very careful with his money, and lived modestly but reasonably well with his children. They were everything to him now.

He didn’t want pity. He simply wanted to turn back time. Of course, that was impossible.

If he couldn’t have his wife, he would have settled for a piece of Leckington’s new money, and never denied it.

The accused had sold his story to the tabloids and made a killing. So to speak.

Terry had been blunt with the press. He told them he would have nothing to say about Leckington and if any reporter showed up at his door he’d call the police.

He had only had to remind them once, having a hack from News of the World escorted off his property after they had printed Leckington’s story.

Terry knew it was long past time to start living again. He wanted to. He really did.

He just couldn’t find the motivation, and knew he’d have to start somewhere – and quickly.

There was no woman of the house, and there hadn’t been since Alison. Domestic bliss didn’t seem important to him.

However, the kids needed a mother figure, even if Terry didn’t want to find one.

How could he? How could anyone replace his dear departed Alison? And how on earth would it happen? Where would a man who had made himself a virtual pariah for seven years go to get ‘back in the saddle again’?

It all made his head hurt.

Quietly, Terry saw a therapist. He was dying on the vine, as the phrase goes, and there were days that he wanted nothing more than to be with Alison.

He was 32 years old and in some ways, close to being finished as a man.

His grief knew no bounds.

Then, while Terry watched on television, Tommy got hurt.

Outside Terry’s window, it was no longer raining. It was pouring.

##

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Gentlemen, thank you very much. Johnny, glad to have you aboard ... get thee to a keyboard and give us your best shot!

___

It was an ankle-breaker, the kind of injury that doesn’t even get shown on a television replay.

Tommy’s career came to a sudden and shocking end in a European Cup tie against Partizan Belgrade. Playing for Liverpool, he had been tackled sharply along the touchline and … well, the worst had happened.

Pushing age 33, it was nearing time for Tommy to call it a career, even if the injury had made it a bit premature.

After his injury, though, Tommy knew he had something freshly in common with his old friend Terry Christian.

Tommy came to stay with Terry and the children after his injury. Having never married, he was still the happy-go-lucky playboy Terry had always known, and it was great for the kids to spend time with “Uncle Tommy”.

For a few months, Terry could concentrate on something pleasant from his past, and that thought seemed to reinvigorate him.

As importantly, Tommy brought in his financial advisor to make sure his old friend was making the right decisions. Terry needed the help.

Still, though it was sad that Terry found happiness in his friend’s misfortune. He hadn’t meant it that way, but the irony wasn’t lost on him. He wondered, at times, what he was becoming.

In spending time at Terry’s house, Tommy noticed that pictures of Alison still dotted the walls and side tables. Some of them were starting to yellow from a few years of exposure to sunlight.

One day, Tommy confronted his friend.

“Terry, when are you going to start to live again?” he asked.

“Come again?”

“I mean, when are you going to move on? Alison’s been gone for seven years. Isn’t that long enough to wear the black armband?”

There were now only a few people Terry would allow to talk with him about Alison. Tommy was one.

“I’m comfortable where I am, Tommy,” Terry replied.

“Where are you?” he asked. “Look around you, man. You’re sitting in your parlour, where you’ve sat ever since the trial ended, with a few breaks in between to go to the store and to use the bathroom. Is that where you really want to be?”

“Of course not,” Terry said, sipping from a Carlsberg. “I’d rather be out there playing, coming home to Alison and watching my kids grow up. But I don’t have two of those things, so I concentrate on the third.”

“You ought to stop feeling sorry for yourself, that’s what I think,” Tommy said. He shifted his weight from one hip to the other on Terry’s couch, easing his casted leg to a new position.

“I’m not feeling sorry for myself.”

“Like hell you aren’t.”

Terry fell into a sullen silence. He was tired of fighting. He was tired of inner demons wrecking his sleep. He was tired of regrets. Above all, he was tired of blaming himself for not walking with Alison on that fateful night. Yet, it was his fault.

Maybe he could have saved her. Or, maybe he’d have been killed too.

Either way, he felt he’d have been better off.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Tommy said. “You wish you were dead, don’t you?”

“F**k you, Tommy,” Terry replied.

“F**k you, Terry,” Tommy shot back. “It’s what you wish, it’s what you want. Do you think the kids can’t see it? Do you think they really, honestly have no idea what is happening to their dad?”

It hit him like a slap in the face. The impact was just what Tommy had intended.

He said nothing for a long moment, taking a long drink from the bottle he held in his right hand. It was ironic, in a way, that his friend who had never married – or showed any inclination toward getting married – understood raising his children better than he did.

It really was time to do something. Anything.

##

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Tommy forgave Terry his outburst, as friends do.

Yet, he was deadly serious about seeing Terry get on with his life. It was time.

The two men talked about the future for several days after their fiery conversation. Even Terry could see that constructive talk about the future was better than living in a past filled with so much sorrow.

Terry had one big problem. He had never held a job outside football for more than a few months. He really didn’t know anything else – and that was entirely his own fault.

One day Tommy suggested a solution.

“Get your badges,” he suggested.

“I’ve thought about that,” Terry said. “It’s a lot of work, though, and not everyone makes it.”

“Look, for someone who wished he were dead last week, you sure think highly of yourself,” Tommy joked. “No one says you need the Pro License or anything like that. You don’t need one and it’s not as though if you got into management you’d go straight to the Premiership. You, my friend, would need to earn your spurs.”

“I suppose that’s true,” Terry mused. He poured another drink.

“And lay off the juice,” Tommy said, this time a little more sharply. “Don’t you know the only drunks in the game are supposed to be the players?”

“Well, I haven’t been hired yet,” Terry said, ignoring his friend and downing the contents of the glass. “Since nobody knows I’ve even thought about this management lark.”

“You might get a few bites,” Tommy replied. “You had the reputation of being a pretty smart player, especially for a moron.”

“Very funny.”

“We need to do a few things with you,” he said. “Next week I get my cast off and start therapy. I want you to come with me and do a little training. You need to be active again.”

“I can do it here,” Terry replied.

“You can, but you haven’t,” Tommy answered. “That’s the problem.”

“I have the kids at home.”

“Bring them along,” Tommy said. “You all can stay with me. It’s summer, and the kids probably want to quit looking at these four walls for awhile. Right?”

Terry had no more arguments to make.

##

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Gentlemen, thank you very much. I'm starting to like this story quite a bit as well.

___

Dana Christian was destined to become a wonderful young lady.

Anyone could see it.

Despite her fierce competitive desire that showed up every time she played football with her local girls’ team, she had a heart of gold.

Her visage was the very image of her mother’s – long, flowing blonde hair that she usually wore tied in a simple pony tail. Her face was slender, featuring the hint of her mother’s gently sloping jaw.

As near as Terry could figure, the only thing she had really inherited from him was the shape and color of her eyes. She had her father’s deep, piercing blue eyes, which she could use to get virtually anything she wanted from him.

Yet, she chose not to do so.

Of pre-school age at the time of her mother’s disappearance, Dana remembered Alison just well enough to understand she was gone. The longer she was missing, the more Dana came into conscious thought about where Alison was.

She shared her father’s grief, but mercifully her tender years blunted that grief to a point.

Growing up without a mother for more than half her life, Dana was not surprisingly very close to her father.

Over and over as the months and years passed, she would tell him, “all I want is for you to finally be happy, Daddy.”

She cared about him. In Terry’s eyes, she was every bit as irreplaceable as her sweet mother.

As a result, talking with her about a trip to Liverpool brought the girl a lot more happiness than it brought her father.

In the evenings, they would sit together and watch television.

When she was younger, Dana would climb onto the arm rest of her father’s easy chair so it would be easier to see the screen and snuggle at the same time. For Terry, those moments provided all the love he needed, and also all he wanted.

However, Dana was the opposite of her father in her schooling.

An excellent student, she would absorb concepts with dazzling speed. This also made her a very coachable young footballer. Whereas Terry had learned the game by graft and imagination, Dana seemed to take to it naturally – like she did everything else.

Her dreams included playing for England one day, like her father had done. She wanted to reach the pinnacle of the game, as he had -- until everything had fallen apart.

They talked about going to see Uncle Tommy in Liverpool and this time the young lady leaned hard on her father. She wanted to go – but she wanted him to go even more.

“I’ve never been there,” she said, when Terry broached the question. “But I think it would be good for you. You need the exercise. I want you to be able to catch me next time I run up and down the touchline.”

“Don’t think I can’t, missy,” Terry smiled.

“If you say so, Daddy,” Dana responded.

Sometimes Terry wondered why a girl of her age simply didn’t call her father “Dad”. Taking Tommy’s words into account, though, the reason seemed more and more clear to him.

Dana knew, almost subconsciously, that she was a link to the past. Keeping her father in that past – in the place he wanted to be – made him happy.

“I do say so, little one,” he responded, mussing her hair as he so loved to do.

“Daddy, I think Mommy would probably want you to go, too.”

She had never offered an opinion like that before, and Terry snapped his head toward his daughter’s words.

“You think so, sweetie?” he asked.

“Yes, I do.” She leaned on the armrest of his chair, as she had done many times as a young girl.

“Daddy, did Mommy ever want you to be sad?”

“Of course not, sweetheart.”

“Then, why are you?”

The child’s logic was stunning in its simplicity. Terry took a deep breath and for what seemed like the millionth time, fought back tears.

He decided to level with his daughter.

“Because, my dear child, there was never any justice for your mother. After what happened to her, a man went free who shouldn’t have. I can’t accept that. So yes, I’ve been sad but no, I don’t think she would want me to be.”

“Then, why don’t you listen to her?”

A single tear raced down Terry's cheek.

“Because, honey, I can’t hear her.”

She pointed to the far wall, where a family picture hung. It was taken one month before Alison’s disappearance and showed a very happy family of four, with each parent holding a child.

“Mommy’s here,” she said, leaning her head against Terry’s chest. She then pushed an index finger against his breast.

“And Mommy’s in there,” Dana added. “Please, Daddy. Let’s go.”

##

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Thank you very much ... this is quite enjoyable to write as well.

___

For Terry, it was yet another sleepless night.

Dana’s words were filled with wisdom quite far beyond an eleven-year old girl.

Alison, though she was gone, really hadn’t gone anywhere in the sense that mattered most. So it was that the discussion with ten-year old Wade was a lot easier.

Growing up without his mother had made him both fiercely loyal to his father and a surprisingly hard young man at the same time.

At his youth football matches, he would watch the other parents greeting their boys after the contest was complete. He wondered what it would be like to have a mother in his life.

Only three when Alison had disappeared, he had very few memories of his mother. All he knew were the pictures – and that what had happened had destroyed the father he loved so much.

He took his cues from his sister in how to handle his father’s sadness, but he knew he also held the key to one very important thing that made him happy.

Terry took an immense amount of pride in his son’s football. Some days, it seemed to be the only thing that could shift his mind. Innately, Wade knew that he could lift his father’s spirits by simply giving his all on the pitch.

So, he did. Already, the boy’s work rate and technical skill were very advanced. He loved the game – but he also wanted to make Terry happy.

Almost too late, Terry had seen the relationship and had cautioned his son about playing the game for the right reasons.

Don’t be like me, he had told Wade. Be happy when you play but be happy for your own sake. Not for mine.

So, the thought of going to Liverpool appealed to the boy for more than one reason.

“Maybe Uncle Tommy will take me to Anfield,” he said.

“I really liked playing there,” Terry said. “It brought out the best in me.”

“So, why not get the best out of you again, Dad?” Wade asked. “What are you waiting for? I’ve never known the same dad that I think mom knew. I’d like to find out who he is.”

The more he thought it over, the more Terry realized that he had been selfish. It was understandable, he thought, but he knew that his children had been very patient with him.

A cold chill raced down Terry’s spine. He had the feeling you get when you drive your car and almost smash it up. Both his children had been correct, and both his children had helped him make up his mind.

They had been patient, yes. But they hadn’t had a choice.

It was time to live again.

##

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A wonderful piece of work so far, tenthree, so this will sound like nit-picking* when I point out that Dana and Wade - both being English - would probably refer to their "mum/mummy" rather than their "mom/mommy".

* - or more likely simple envy. ;)

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Spav, thank you so much for the comment. I did think long and hard about Dana's choice of words in that post -- in fact, I consider it one of my favorites I've ever done -- and may yet go back to edit the words. I need to do a bit more research due to their education, which is established as public schooling. Though, you are probably right. Thanks for the attention to my detail, which is always important to me.

Forest, thanks so much. I'm glad you enjoy the work and I hope you'll keep reading along!

___

Tommy still needed to use crutches for awhile as he gained strength back in his injured limb.

His injury had required a fusion in his ankle – and further examination after the removal of his cast showed he would never run well enough to play again.

That was all right with him. He was just grateful to be able to walk.

However, as a player under contract to Liverpool, he was still entitled to therapy under the terms of his contract until he was formally bought out. So, since he was still under contract, he was at Anfield to do what he needed to do.

Funny how that all worked out, Terry thought, as he accompanied his friend to the great stadium’s player and staff entrance.

The children followed in tow, with Wade especially in awe of the huge structure. Terry had passed through this door before, but doing so with his children gave him a sense of appreciation for what he had accomplished during his playing days.

Tommy was greeted with warmth by the non-playing staff he passed as he approached the medical area. Clearly he was quite popular.

Terry, however, didn’t attract so much as a passing glance – that is, until the group passed the club offices.

Tommy ducked his head into the office to greet manager Kenny Dalglish, who came out to meet his injured player.

They shook hands and as they did, Dalglish looked at Tommy’s guest.

“As I live and breathe, it’s Terry Christian,” he said, extending his hand. “We thought you’d fallen off the face of the earth.”

He hadn’t meant to insult, but Dana’s hurt look drew a quick apology from the manager. Wade hadn’t noticed – he was too busy craning his neck around to look at the bowels of the great stadium.

“Pleased to see you,” Terry said, giving Dalglish a firm handshake and introducing his kids.

“What brings you here today?” Dalglish asked.

“Well, just spending some time with an old friend. You know how the game is. You never get to see the people you want to.”

Tommy gave Dalglish a look that said Terry wasn’t getting to the heart of the matter and Dalglish simply smiled.

He knew Terry’s story – everyone in the game did – and he caught on quickly.

“Tell you what, lad,” the manager said. “How about we find a guide to take your children here around for a tour while Tommy takes his therapy? We’ve got some u-19s taking training on the pitch so our media department can do some work with new stadium cameras. How about we join them?”

##

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For the first time in far too long, Terry had the old light back in his eyes.

“I’d like that a lot,” he admitted. “Thank you.”

“All right then,” Dalglish said. “Tommy, be off with you then, and Terry, let’s get you some kit.”

A quick request at the front desk by the boss found a tour guide for the kids in record time. A few moments later, Dalglish and Terry stood in the Liverpool changing room.

He strode to an equipment bin and pulled out a box containing brand-new Pumas.

“These look about your size,” he smiled.

“Only one way to find out,” Terry replied, and Dalglish tossed him the box. In moments, the rest was done.

Terry and Dalglish walked to the players’ tunnel – this time from the home side. Terry wore a set of generic Liverpool training kit which made him – almost – fit in.

Not wearing blue felt odd to him, but that feeling was soon overwhelmed by a rush of excitement.

They reached the top of the red-carpeted staircase that led to the pitch and Terry stared at the famous sign that was now before him.

“THIS IS ANFIELD.”

The famous liver bird seemed to be staring back at Terry and he couldn’t help but grin. The two men started their walk down the stairs and Dalglish laughed.

“Go ahead, Terry. Even though you’re a Leicester man, you know you want to.”

With a wry smile, Terry reached up and touched the sign on his way to the pitch.

“Thanks for this, Kenny,” Terry said. “I really appreciate it.”

##

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oh i got to the bottom and was disappointed to find out id read it all so far! Gripping to put it mildly... Talk about emotional, i hope he still has some kick ass skills ever when hes coaching the lads :D

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Gentlemen, thank you for the comments. The developing character of Terry Christian is already one of my favorites. There's a lot more to go, though, and perhaps even some FM thrown in for good measure soon!

___

For an hour, he felt like a kid.

After a little time to stretch, he took the pitch with the boys for about half an hour and realized how far out of match condition he really was.

But, it was fun. He thought he worked hard when drilling Wade on fundamentals of the game, but getting out and playing with such young teammates was really a test for him.

His first touch and ability to thread a ball were both understandably dodgy, but nothing had changed about his ability to read the game.

He made sure that whenever he had the ball in a decent position, he gave it to someone else – this was Liverpool’s training, after all, not Terry’s – and simply enjoyed his runout.

As he played, he looked around from time to time at the cavernous stands on all four sides. Playing here as a visitor with The Kop baying for his limbs on a platter had provided him with extra incentive.

Yet he had walked away from it. From the money, the fame, and above all, the activity.

And for what?

To grieve and to raise his children, Terry thought as he sent a young striker away with his best pass of the day.

With that, he waved to the touchline to come off the park. He wanted to slump down on a seat and catch his breath, but that wouldn’t do.

Instead, he stood alongside the touchline and watched the boys play on. It felt nice.

Soon his children had joined him, and the three of them stood watching some of the stars of tomorrow running hard and playing with youthful enthusiasm.

Presently Dalglish was standing next to the family, with a smile on his face.

“You showed flashes,” he smiled, and Terry just laughed.

“Flashing will get you thrown in jail,” he grinned.

“Look, maybe you missed the game a little,” Dalglish said, and it didn’t take Terry long to agree.

“I wonder why I waited this long,” he sighed.

“You weren’t ready. And there’s no need to discuss it in any greater detail.”

Terry looked down at his shoes, but only for a moment. Soon the group was heading back up the stairs and to the changing room.

They parted company outside the changing room door before Terry got a badly needed shower.

“Keep the kit,” Dalglish said as they shook hands again. “Remember the player you were, and look forward to what you’ll become. Good luck, Terry.”

##

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Thank you, Marmoset ... and now, may I have a drum roll, please?

___

Terry had food for thought.

He also had a purpose.

He was energetic again, and to his children Terry seemed almost like a different person.

His grief, while still great, was now channeled. He could function again, and as the new season approached, Terry was looking forward to what it might bring.

What it brought was opportunity.

He had started work on his badges after Tommy’s challenge and was soon qualified to manage, though not at a top level.

Quietly, he let it be known that he was interested in accepting a managerial position. He didn’t have to wait for long.

Just a week before the first friendly of the 2010 season, Terry was approached by Chesterfield FC.

Former Irish international John Sheridan had received a hugely lucrative managerial offer at Bohemians and had snapped it up, leaving a vacancy at exactly the wrong time for Spireites chairman Barrie Hubbard.

The club was a favourite for promotion from League Two, so to have his first call come from not only a Football League club but also a contender came as a shock to Terry.

It was a gamble, but one Hubbard felt secure in taking despite two obstacles. First, of course, came the issue of Terry’s lack of managerial experience.

Second came the issue of geography. Despite being only about 50 miles apart as the crow flew, Leicester and Chesterfield thankfully weren’t heated rivals. And, Hubbard told Terry that his brain came well recommended.

“You were always seen as a thinking man’s player in the Premiership, and I know you have the badges you need,” Hubbard had said. “If you’re interested, we think you’re the man for us.”

“We have a good squad, one that people think can win,” Hubbard added. “We have a brand new stadium, as you know. We want to grow, and we think you can help us do that. We also know you’re a family man and we’ll support you in that way as well.”

Terry promised to provide an answer as soon as he talked to his children, and had accepted the position within two hours of its offering.

For £37,500 per year and rental costs for a flat in Chesterfield, Terry Christian re-entered the game. It had been nearly seven long years.

##

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