This was the first short story I ever submitted anywhere. People were very kind about it so I kept writing. It’s all their fault basically.
In case you are thinking the title is some sort of abstract reference to something completely different let me assure you this is about a quiz night. In a pub. With people. And pencils.
“It’s Bingo, I’m telling you. One hundred percent. No doubt.”
An uneasy silence fell across the table in the corner as three separate minds pondered this statement. The large man with the sand coloured beard who had delivered the surety remained oblivious to the ratcheting tension, contenting himself with a generous swig of Old Whatnot and a self-satisfied smirk.
Sandy-beard placed his handled beer mug slowly down on the table, eyeballing the questioner all the while. The tall man stared coolly back through his lightweight, frameless spectacles refusing to be intimidated.
“You’re absolutely sure?” he continued in a level tone.
“Absolutely. Totally. No doubt. In fact,” said sandy-beard before pausing for a brief sip, “I have never been so sure of anything in my life.”
A silence no less uneasy than the first settled over proceedings once more.
“You’re completely positive?”
“Who are you? Chris Bloody Tarrant?” said sandy-beard with a degree of irritation not altogether masked by another sip of his pint.
“No, I’m Chris Smith same as on my driver’s license” said lightweight-specs prompting snorts of laughter from the rest of the table.
“I’m not trying to question your obvious wisdom Alan it’s just that last week you were absolutely positively one hundred percent sure that the dog in the Famous Five was called Jimmy and it cost us big time”
“Yeah, you’ve got a point I suppose” said Alan with a grudging series of thoughtful nods. He drained his glass before adding, “But I’m really convinced on this one. What do you think, Anne? You’re pretty sharp when it comes to the TV”
The small blond lady sitting opposite Alan sandwiched between Chris’ wiry frame and Tony’s rather more substantial girth jumped slightly at the direct question. She gathered herself for a moment and then let out a nervous giggle.
“I’m sure you know better than me Alan, but something, well, doesn’t sound quite right with Bingo.” Anne’s fingers fluttered and tapped against her half pint glass of beer shandy as she spoke. “Tony?”
“Don’t ask me” said Tony heaving himself to his feet and gathering up empty glasses. “I’m here for sport and beer, nothing else. Speaking of which, my round I believe?”
“Good man!” said Chris proferring his freshly emptied glass in Tony’s direction. “You’re no bloody help but you do keep us hydrated”.
Tony let out a short barking laugh as he took the glass. “Hydration is key my friend, hydration is key”.
The three remaining team members lapsed once more in to silence. Fingers were fluttered, beards were tugged and Chris, in his role as team scribe, doodled absently on one corner of the answer sheet in front of him.
“OK guys and gals, here’s a quick repeat of the rules for this final question as some of you appear to be slightly confused Steve”
A cheery “WhaHEY!” went up at a table near the bar at this announcement presumably from Steve’s teammates.
“The rules are quite simple” the quizmaster continued, “All you have to do is to name as many characters as you can from the seventies television show The Wombles. But be warned! This is a jeopardy round.”
The quizmaster paused for a moment for effect, beaming at the assorted groans around the room.
“The rules of jeopardy are equally simple. You get two points for every correct answer and there are eighteen points on offer”
“That means there are nine possible answers Alan”
“Yes, thanks for that Chris, as ever your powers of mental agility leave me breathless” said Alan
“Sssh!” said Anne “I’m trying to listen”
“You can provide as many answers as you wish…but if you get one wrong…”
The quizmaster’s grin grew broader still as he let the last word hang, looking at each table in turn before repeating, “But if you get one wrong…you…get…”
“NOTHING!” came the response as the quizmaster held the microphone out to the crowd.
“One more minute folks.”
As the sixty second mark was announced Tony settled back in to his seat after handing out the drinks. “So?”
Chris was the first to respond. “Hmm, I’m still not totally convinced I…”
“It’s a cert. I’m telling you!” said Alan breaking in to the conversation.
“What about the rest of the furry little buggers?” said Tony, “Any doubts?”
“Nope.” said Chris, “All good.”
Alan and Anne nodded their assent as Chris glanced at them individually.
“So it’s all up to Bingo then?” said Tony.
“I’m telling you” began Alan before Tony cut him off with a single wave of a Pringle-jumpered arm. “Yes, yes we all know you’re absolutely positively unquestionably incontrovertibly convinced, the question is,” Tony raised his pint in one meaty fist to an equally meaty mouth, gulped, belched and continued, “are we?”
The four members of Norfolk And Clue formed an oasis of calm amid the rising susurrus of fifty odd quizzers frantically seeking Wombling wisdom.
“Just to clarify Tony” said Alan failing miserably to suppress a smile, “Does the belch form part of the question or should we tackle that one separately?”
Tony waved his arm again as he fought manfully to keep a mouthful of beer from spraying the table. Eventually he gave a painful swallow and a cough before choking out a good natured “Bastard!” in Alan’s direction.
“Fifteen seconds people!” bellowed the quizmaster. Chris grabbed a well-worn pencil and turned to his right.
“Wimbledon fortnight? No problem. Wimbledon Common…? I say go for Jimmy.”
“Ha bloody ha Tony.” said Alan rolling his eyes to the ceiling and shaking his head.
Anne spread her arms in a slightly helpless gesture. “I think it might be but…”
“We’re six points behind we have to take a risk!” said Alan with a series of pleading looks at his team “Chris, help me out here?”
“That’s it ladies and gentlemen please swap your papers with another team.”
“OK folks, here are all the possible answers to the final question. Anything not on this list and you get?”
“Nothing, yes we know. Get on with it.” muttered Tony under the general chorus from the room.
“Oh…Kay…” said the quizmaster, placing his reading glasses on an ample nose and bobbing his head until he reached the optimal distance between eyes and page.
“The answers are…Drum roll please”
“Get on with it Colin” shouted someone from the Quiztopher Robins
“Patience is a virtue.” replied the quizmaster with a chuckle
“So is abstinence but there’s not much of that in here!”
The quizmaster waited for the room to go quiet before resuming
“The answers are…in no particular order…Great Uncle Bulgaria, Madame Cholet, Wellington…”
As the answers continued to be read out some teams cheered, others groaned. A man in a worn rugby jersey stood up in a pencil snapping rage after the seventh answer and yelled at his older colleagues “I told you it was Tomsk! How can you not know that? I wasn’t even born and I’ve never been beyond Majorca and even I know Omsk is in Russia” before stalking off to the bar with a shake of his head and a mumbled “bunch of tits”.
Not that the members of Norfolk And Clue paid any attention.
Seven answers. A perfect set of seven answers.
“That’s sixteen points Chris! No one is going to get near that” whispered Anne.
“We’re only going to bloody win it” said Tony slapping Chris on the back and exchanging a nod with Alan. “We never win anything! Ever!”
“…and last but not least…Bungo!”
A whoop of delight from the Mindless Bogglers left no one in any doubt as to who had won. The sound of Alan’s head thumping against the table told an equally obvious tale.
After a short period of contemplation Alan raised his head and glanced meekly at the rest of his team. Not a word passed between them as the scores were read out.
“…and in second place is Norfolk and Clue with 46 points…”
“HOUSE!” shouted Tony
“Oh VERY funny” said Alan to the laughing faces at his table “Bingo…house…you should be on the bloody stage”. His face broke in to a grin. “Same again?”
“Yeah, get them in you useless sod.”