The Albatross Rules: Chapter 26 – The Sour Cream Defense

26. Round 14, (Bye): The Sour Cream Defense

Boof’s case was to be heard on Wednesday night in Mt Logan before a panel headed by Mt Logan J.P., Henry Parkinson. His impartiality would be sorely tested—his family had featured in The Eye‘s exposé earlier in the year.

In Boof’s defense the Albertville brains trust could cite the clearly erratic behaviour of his victim. The Prof had even obtained a tape of the radio call, as he thought it might add weight to the argument. The umpire in the case was a hard-nosed Presbyterian who was not inclined to change his mind once it had been made up. They couldn’t expect any favours from him. None of the other officials admitted to having a good view of the events. And Mt Logan were going to play it tough. They’d been collecting ‘witness statements’ to back the umpire’s account—there was no love lost between the towns. Any expectation that Piggy would do ‘the honourable thing’ were quickly put aside.

On Monday morning Boof, The Professor and Con drove to Rory Schindler’s studio to discuss the matter. The club used Rory as an advocate at the tribunal, as his flamboyant nature and robust personality suited the inquisitorial environment. Con was told that he always rose to the occasion. He only wished that it was in different circumstances that he would witness Rory’s skills as a court-room performer. The team for the defence took down Boof’s version of the incident. They listened to the radio tape and played the video a number of times to see if it contained anything they could use. They talked tactics and discussed Boof’s exemplary record. And they made a list of folk with standing in the area who could attest to the club captain’s character.

Con spent the remainder of the day collecting testimonials and troubling over what he’d do if Boof was suspended.

The next morning, as he was going over his notes of the case in the Chew and Chat cafe, a new venture at the front of the general store (and, some said, a sign of reviving fortunes in the town), Sam Murfett (Smurf to his mates) approached looking excited. “Have you seen the papers, Duck?”

Sure he’d seen the papers. Usual stuff. Wars and pestilence. Lies and dirty tricks. Shady deals and shady characters. It always left him a bit bewildered. He’d seen nothing to get too excited about.

“Back page,” said Sam, “look. It’s what we need, I reckon. For Boof, I mean.”

The headline of the sports section read, ‘FREE TO PLAY’. Beneath was the story of the young gun forward, Travis Marsh, who was on the verge of kicking a ton in just his second year when he’d been cited for a nasty, behind the play clash that had been picked up by television cameras. The club had employed a bio-mechanics consultant to raise doubts about the tape; it was standard practice in the big league. But Con still couldn’t see how much use the story could be to the Albatrosses. “He’s a lucky bastard, Sam. That’s all I can say. What’s it matter to us?”

“What’s it matter?! My brother-in-law’s a bit of a boffin; I’ve never understood ‘im. But that’s it, there in the paper. That bio-whatsit. That’s what he does!”

Now this put a new light on things. They knew that the contact had been far less severe than the tape made it appear. Con trusted Boof’s version on that matter. If an analysis of the tape could support such a finding then they’d be half-way home. Just bringing in scientific evidence could be enough to make the tribunal doubt their gut instincts. It had surely never been done in the Upper Downs League before so it was worth a try. “Can we get him up here, Sam?”

“I dunno mate but I’ll see what I can do.”

Con felt like there was a ray of hope. Boof remained stoic. “Let’s just see what happens.” At least Murfett’s news allowed the coach to shift his attention to the needs of the rest of the team. He spent the afternoon discussing the finals campaign with Perce. They put a regime in place to ensure that the momentum of the last few weeks was not diminished by the bye in the last round. It was great to be able to rest weary bodies but they wanted minds to stay sharp. So they designed the week’s training around that need alone. Perce was a great motivator and his efforts with Boof and Archie and Cotto were already bearing fruit. They were fitter, if not a lot lighter yet, and had all noticed how well they were running out matches. The sight of them all putting in the extra yards on the track had not gone unnoticed by the younger men who drew inspiration and motivation from their commitment.

So training consisted of drills to hone specific skills with each player nominating their own key deficiency and working on it. It was Perce’s idea to make the boys responsible in this way. They had strength drills, kicking drills, opportunities for players to focus on defensive skills and a session for the ruck and centre players who had decided, as a group, that they wanted to improve their effectiveness at clearances. Con was proud of the team’s work-rate. They were ready for finals football. They were so ready they were nearly bursting for it.

It’s an unpredictable energy, that twitchy, restless entropy of anticipation. But you’d rather have it than not have it. And the Albatrosses had it in spades. If Con could nurture it through the coming month, trap it so it didn’t dissipate, then they’d be a good chance to go all the way.

The coaches only concern was Sam’s news. He’d been unable to contact his brother-in-law that day. The tribunal would sit the following evening.

But by next morning Murfett had better news. “He’s going to knock off early and drive straight up. I told him to come to The Grand and we’d fill him in. He should be there about six-thirty.”

Sure enough, at twenty-five to seven the next night a rangy figure sporting a neatly trimmed grey beard and wearing a white coat came lumbering into the public bar. He spotted his wife’s little brother. “Sammy, How are ya?”

“Good, Brian. How ‘re the kids?”

“Brats as always. Trish sends her love. Now where’s your little problem. I’ve got the van out the front—should have whatever you need.”

“Come on then, mate. I’ll introduce you to Boof and Duck and the others.”

Boof and Duck,” muttered the scientist to himself, “this oughta be good.”

They introduced themselves. “So Brian says you’ve got a little problem that I can help with. He made it sound pretty urgent too.”

Con explained Boof’s situation. The scientist’s expression went from one of concern to one of exasperation. “Anything wrong?” Con asked.

“I think you’d better take a look at my van.” came the reply and he motioned out the front window. “I knew you never paid attention at Christmas, Sam, but I didn’t think even you could be this far off the mark.”

We all turned and stared out the window at a white delivery van that proclaimed, ‘Bio-dynamics Australia: High Performance Pro-Biotic Dairy Products’. Next to the text was a cartoon cow lifting a barbell. ” ‘A bit of a problem,’ he says. ‘Needs an expert like you,’ he says. ‘I’ll explain when you get up here,’ he says. Bio-dynamics you wacker. Not bio-mechanics. I thought you wanted some dietary advice. I thought I might flog you some yoghurt!”

The group fell silent.

“Shit. Sorry Bri’. Only I thought…” But he hadn’t thought. Poor Sam’s voice trailed off to a pathetic whimper.

“Well it’s a bit late to start worrying now. What’s plan B?” asked The Professor.

Though he’d driven all the way from town on false pretenses Palmer seemed quite unperturbed by the unexpected turn of events. Clearly his motives for accepting Sam’s request were not wholly professional. In fact as Sam’s discomfort grew he appeared to become more relaxed about the unlikely situation he found himself in. Con could swear he was smiling.

All around him, however, were blank faces. Blank, bleak faces. The faces of doom. Con didn’t know where to look. Boof was white as a sheet. Rory’s head hung dejectedly. The Prof was leaning back, contemplating the ceiling fan, taking big gulps of air.

But as a scientist Palmer knew how to apply the principles of problem solving to a predicament. So while the others despaired he set about silently analysing the situation. He considered such things a challenge—just like making butter spread when cold or improving the flavour of powdered milk.

Finally, after long minutes of silence the bearded boffin piped up. “No worries,” he proclaimed chirpily. “We might just be able to pull this off.” An evil-scientist glint came into his eyes, like the look of a cartoon villain.

‘Bloody hell, what’s he gonna do,’ Con thought, drop something sinister into the panel’s coffee?’. Dr Palmer started madly scribbling on the paper on his clipboard. “Yes, yes, I think we just might.”

“The sour cream defense, eh? I’m all ears, Doc’. What’ve you got in mind?” the Prof enquired, incredulously.

“Well, put it this way. I’ve got the lab-coat. I’ve got the clipboard. I’ve got pens poking out the top of my pocket. The missus says I’ve got the nerdiest haircut on the planet. I look, you know… scientific. Maybe they don’t need to know I’m an expert in dairy products and the gastro-intestinal tract. Let’s just say my doctoral dissertation was a study of how the human body functions under stress. That’s a true enough description. And let’s add for good measure that I studied under the renowned sports medicine pioneer, Arnold Loeffler. It’s true. He taught me a semester of anatomy as an undergraduate. If I can stand up there with a straight face I think I’ll have your tribunal members, as we like to say in my line of work, ‘shitting their pants’.”

“Do you reckon they’ll really buy it?”

The scientist thought for a minute then recalled a little exercise he’d done during his Masters. “Let’s add, for good measure that I’m the author of the paper, A Study of the Movements of Elite Athletes. That was the subtitle but let’s not split hairs. The tribunal members don’t need to hear about ‘The Impacts of Exercise on Lactose Intolerance’ after all. And, of course I have been published in respected medical and scientific journals internationally.”

Well bugger them all if they weren’t convinced. Con looked at the Prof, who looked suitably impressed. Rory was delighted. The scenario appealed to the thespian in him; a chance to create a fiction so convincing that the pretence on which it was based dissolved. Boof shrugged his hands, “Sure, Why not? Let’s give it a go.”

So an hour later they all marched into the tribunal hearing with their video tape, their testimonials and their surprise witness, Dr Brian Palmer, the world renowned lactose expert.

The case against Boof was outlined and the umpire gave his recollection of events. Then Rory took centre stage. He railed about doubt and about reputations and talked in colourful terms about justice before introducing the star witness. One by one he listed the Doctor’s many achievements.

The Prof nudged his coach hard in the ribs. “Rory’s really gonna milk it tonight.”

“Point of order,” interjected Cam Cummins for Mt Logan, just like the pompous twit he was. “This is an unprecedented move in this forum. We’ve never allowed anything like this before. I’m concerned about the precedent we might be setting.”

Now Henry Parkinson might have been a Mt Logan local and not normally predisposed towards Albertville’s best interests, but he also fancied himself as a jurist of some standing. “Mr Cummins,” he boomed, “the Upper Downs might be a small league but we are not a bunch of hicks. We believe in the rule of law. Do you know what that is, Mr Cummins? The defendant is entitled to put forward his best defence. I find the initiative Albertville has taken commendable. Now let’s hear the testimony and judge on the facts.” These last three words he spaced out slowly giving them added gravitas.

‘Shit,’ Con thought, ‘we’ve got Parkinson. We’re a shoe-in now.’

And so it was. With the chairman swayed in favour of the milk expert’s analysis the case proceeded smoothly, notwithstanding Cummins’ petulance.

“Now tell me doctor,” asked Rory, his thumbs tucked into the lapels of his multi-coloured jacket, “You have had the opportunity to study the video of the incident in question. What conclusions did you draw.”

“Firstly, I can find no substantiation in that evidence that significant contact was made with player Pandazopoulos’s head.” Given the relativities of scientific proof he felt comfortable making the assertion. Furthermore he believed Boof. “I also find no evidence of unreasonable or excessive contact of any sort. In fact given the evidence already tabled about the disoriented condition of the Mt Logan player I find it unlikely that the contact with McKenzie was the major contributing factor to that player’s collapse.”

Cummins rose to question the witness. “I might remind you, Mr Cummins,” chimed Parkinson, “that you’re here to represent the interests of the Mt Logan player, not to badger.”

“I’m concerned,” Cummins retorted, “about whether this witness has any experience in these type of proceedings or if his experience is,” and his voice became filled with contempt, “purely academic.”

“Mr Cummins!” The chairman found the line of questioning impertinent.

“No, no…” the doctor interjected, “that’s fine. It’s a fair point. I’d just say that I use video analysis techniques regularly and I’ve given advice to a range of organisations including the National Football League…”

The Doc nudged Con again. “This bloke’s good!” Con could only concur. It was amazing what he could imply with such a simple deceit—two unconnected observations thrust together into the same fraudulent sentence. The chairman, for one, had heard enough. “I think, Mr Cummins, that the witness’s credentials have been more than adequately established. Now please, let’s move on.”

“Well, Doctor, Here’s my concern. I’ve looked at the tape and all I see is a brutal bodily assault on our team’s player. I have to say I’m less than convinced.”

“What do you think I am,” Palmer snapped back, “some sort of quack!? Are you suggesting that I’m only here to butter up the panel? Do you suppose my opinions can be bought so easily. You may think, somewhat conveniently that that tape shows player McKenzie creaming player Pandazopolous, flattening him out, but I am an expert in those things. And I can say categorically that that is not the case!!”

Chastened, the Mt Logan advocate retook his seat.

After a short recess, during which Parkinson thanked the doctor for his contribution, the tribunal panel returned to deliver its decision in McKenzie’s favour. He was, to quote the previous morning’s newspaper, ‘FREE TO PLAY’.

At the conclusion of the historic hearing the parties filed out of the room. Desultory hand-shakes were offered along with disingenuous ‘no hard feelings’ and ‘best wishes for the finals’. Cobra coach Phil Everitt sidled up to Dr Palmer in the hope of obtaining a little free advice. “Impressive evidence, Doctor. I wonder if you might be able to help me out. My full-forward, Mitch, has been nursing a chronic ankle injury and can’t seem to get it right.”

“Yoghurt,” the Doctor replied.


“Well, it might sound funny, but I’ve been doing a lot of work with the stuff lately. It has some amazing properties. I recommend he try soaking the limb for an hour each night in the best quality yoghurt he can find. I noticed they stocked a good one at the store up in Albertville,” While the rest of the Albertville contingent stifled their mirth Palmer tore a corner from his notepad and scribbled the name of his company’s most expensive product.

“I don’t get it,” said Sam Murfett, some time later. “So, all you do is muck round with milk and stuff but you drove all the way up here to help me out.”

“Sam, my boy,” replied the scientist, “Let’s talk about Christmas.” For as long as he’d been married into it the extended Murfett clan had descended on Palmer’s tiny inner city terrace house each December, stressing his wife, traumatising his children, alarming his neighbours, ruining his tiny garden, releasing his pets and generally making the festive season far from festive. Not this year. Not now. In fact, by the time he was ready to head back to town in his dinky cheese van Dr Palmer, who had hoped to force Sam and his missus to host the next yuletide gathering, had secured from his brother-in-law, a four year deal! He was more than satisfied with his evening’s work. He had also offloaded a whole lot of samples—the gastric health of the people of Albertville would never be as rude as in the coming weeks. And he had sold two pallets of top shelf yoghurt to Sue-Anne in the general store with the guarantee of healthy sales in the coming weeks. On top of that he’d had a ball helping out Boof, who he found to be thoroughly likeable. “I’ll see you all in three and a half weeks,” he shouted as he jumped back into the driver’s seat for the long run home.

“Three and a half weeks?” Sam couldn’t recall any family shindigs coming up.

“Grand Final day, Dopey.” shouted the good doctor as the engine spluttered to life, “You’ve gotta make it now. Sam, I know you and Therese can put us up. After all, we wouldn’t miss it.”

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