James was tired. He wiped his hands across his face, dealing with the fatigue caused from meeting all of his commitments, constantly, unendingly. Alone in the studio, he thought of his Setanta job, the meaningless voice overs, covering football, discussing it, but never of it. He ruminated over his decision. It would be all over by the end of the week.
The studio door swung open and in walked Kevin. Here we go now, James surmised.
"Och aye James, did you get my notes from last week?"
"Yes, I did. Um, I'm not sure they would fit into the format of this podcast. It's not exactly...cutting edge stuff."
"Rrright, well, we're just talking a few minutes of history once a week James."
It had started with Ingle. About a year ago after the show, when he was off to catch an eleven o'clock flight to Milan, Sean had grabbed him by the arm in the studio hallway, and said the words, "Walk with me." The podcast was going to go in new dynamic directions, more international football, perhaps even guests, football players, you have connections right? James had smiled through clenched teeth, and tried not to protest when Sean insisted in getting in his airport limo to give his opinions on the show. Sean did own the thing, if only in title. Maybe it was for the best.
Then a few weeks later, Doyle chimed in over lunch on doing a bit on Asante Kotoko, then Tom Lutz actually handed him notes about doing a series on corruption at Birmingham City, and soon after that he found himself avoiding Jonathan Wilson in the hallway lest he get a fifteen minute lecture about why there should be more Lithuanian football on the pod and, by the way, could he get a regular spot on the show.
All bothered him, except of course Barry. Barry had long confided to James he'd rather be dead than do the show anymore, but his bird appreciated the extra cash. For the others, "Talk to Sean" was the verbal auto-reply, but they knew who called the shots. The man had cracked jokes with Elvis Costello and had Paul Ince on speed dial, he would be making the decisions.
AC Jimbo had a decision to make of his own.
"You know, Kev, I'm thinking of leaving the show."
"No this again James. Come on. Who's going to do it? Curling? We'd be dead and under and Fighting Talk would be picking up the pieces of our mangled corpse."
"No, Kevin, I think this is really it for me. I'm really tired of all this, this blather. The posts are truly awful, we talk all the time about the same four teams, my Italy time is getting rounded down each week, I mean crikey, I'm just a talking monkey aren't I?"
Kevin laughed out some of his sandwich on the mahogany conference table.
"Come on, we all know who the monkey is." Kevin nodded toward Barry's empty seat. Baz would often come in halfway through the pod, so the producers had become adept at cutting in his groans in the post edit.
"And that's another thing. Barry is really hurting about the way you're treating him. He's seriously thinking of abandoning ship to the music pod completely, and then we really are in trouble. You know how many times I've convinced him to stay on the show?"
James noticed Kevin's face narrow. It was a look he'd never seen on Kevin's face before.
"Is it the money James?"
"You know it's not. It's...the uselessness of it all. How is our talking making the game any better for anyone? What new information are we introducing to the listening public?"
Kevin's face grew more serious. James found himself getting a little uncomfortable.
"I don't know. But I do know that you and Barry aren't going anywhere. You've both got quite a reputation now around town, thanks to Sean and I. If you left, things could get a lot worse... your Setanta job could evaporate in a matter of weeks."
James felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.
"Kevin, what the hell are you talking about?" He looked to the clock. When was, someone, anyone else going to arrive, James thought.
"We have enough on both of you to make your lives quite difficult if you go..."
"Enough what? You have nothing on Barry and I."
"It will be our word against yours Jimbo. About expense accounts in Austria perhaps? Sean's found someone in the tech department whose done up some lovely receipts...misspending, misappropriated funds, heinous abuse of journalistic privileges. No, you won't be leaving James, and you will be reading my notes on Celtic."
"You're...Kevin, you're mad!"
Then Kevin laughed -- a deep low, hideous laugh, like the devil himself.
"Am I? You know the Guardian James, you don't need to be mad to work here, etcetera, etcetera."
James looked at Kevin in disgust. And then fear. And then resignation. A few more months maybe. Perhaps Kevin's just pulling my leg he thought. And then Paul Doyle walked in with a French Championat break down he wanted to read, and then Rafa Honigstein and the rest, the notes, the suggestions, the horrible familiarity of it all...a few more months he thought. Maybe to spread some 'truths' of his own.
Kevin finished his sandwich, and the producer signalled for quiet for the sound check. James put his face back into his hands, to try and coax back the tears. He looked to Barry's empty seat, and pictured San Siro, 1986, lovely in the late Spring breeze, the lovely languid football. And the feeling it would last forever.
As he looked up, the light went red.
This is a work of fiction, any resemblance to anyone living or dead is a coincidence. A total coincidence. And I apparently have WAY too much time on my hands.