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“So, this sport’s from northern England?” Solo settled back in the rickety chair close to the piecemeal stage of the smoky bar and fingered his Scotch.


"Yes. It’s quite popular, especially in the cold of winter when entertainment is difficult to find.” Mark wiped the foam from his pint with his tongue.


April looked around the dark pub skeptically, her delicate eyebrow arched.


“You don’t believe me, do you?” Mark asked his partner.


She replied as she scanned the room. “Well, it is rather . . . odd.”


Illya merely signaled for another shot of vodka and kept silent.


An air of excitement rolled over the crowd as four men stepped up to the stage. They all wore similar baggy pants tied tight at the ankles and no shirts or shoes.


“They look . . . healthy,” April commented lightly, appreciating the physique of the working-class young men.


“Now, now April,” Solo warned. “They may look nice, but I’m not sure about their mental state.”


The crowd cheered as four more men carried four undulating sacks to the stage.


“The record is 65 seconds.” Mark added.


They watched as each of the four back-up men pulled a pair of hissing, spitting, madly wriggling creatures by their tails from each sack.


“Ferrets.” Mark said. “Also known in these parts as ‘shark-of-the-land’ and ‘piranha with feet’.”


“Look at those claws!” April marveled.


“You should see their teeth,” Mark countered.


Solo looked sick. His partner’s face was unreadable


“READY?” An announcer yelled. The crowd cheered. The contestants pulled opened the tops of their pants with bravado.


“SET?” The ferret handlers dangled the writhing rodents over the open pants. The crowd surged.


“GO!” The ferrets were released with a rousing cheer from the crowd, and the contestants quickly tied the pants shut.


April’s mouth hung open in disbelief. Solo shot down the rest of his drink and waved for another. Mark grinned crazily. Illya looked unimpressed.


The crowd went berserk. The contestant’s pants jerked as the rodents flailed about within. Within seconds, the contestant on the right screamed and fell over; Mark winced sympathetically.


“Mikey looks to be down!” The announcer shouted over the chaos as Mikey was dragged off stage.


Almost immediately, the center man yelped and grabbed his crotch. He bent over, and Solo thought he turned green before he collapsed and was also dragged away.


“Aye, and there goes Colin!”


Solo shot down his second drink, feeling rather queasy and hoping he wasn’t as green as Colin.


The remaining two were statues frozen in agony, their previous bravado completely gone. The one on the left gripped his stomach tightly with both arms and bit his lip until it bled. The other had his eyes tightly squeezed shut, the hands on his hips in a white-knuckled grip.


“My God, they are insane!” April yelled, spilling her drink in the excitement. She couldn’t seem to tear her eyes away.


“AHHH! Get ‘em off! GET ‘EM OFF!” Screamed the man on the left as he began to slap at his crotch and run in small, panicked circles. His screams faded when he ran hysterically off stage, arms flapping desperately.


“Darren ‘ad a good showin’, folks, but ‘e canna beat William!”


William’s eyes crossed as his face turned deathly pale and his fingers dug deeper into his sides.


“William’s goin’ for the record!” The crowd’s enthusiasm was deafening.


“Go Willam!” April yelled, caught up in the excitement. She jumped up and joined the surging throng surrounding their table.


“That’s me man!” Mark yelled, also joining in. He raised his pint and it sloshed down his arm as he stood.


Solo turned away, and was reduced to watching William through one eye, sideways, the other firmly shut.


William’s eyes dramatically rolled skyward and he dropped straight down in a dead faint. Mugs clinked all around in a salute, and the crowd gave the final contestant a ‘hip-hip-hooray’ as he was de-ferreted and propped up by his friends. They poured ale over his head to bring him around.


Strangely exhilarated, April and Mark plopped back in their chairs, bright eyed and flushed of cheek.


“70 seconds, folks! A new record!” The crowd cheered again, and a tide of people moved to surround the dazed William.


“That was unbelievable!” April laughed loudly. “If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes . . .” At a loss for words, she raised her glass to the center of the table. “To William!” She said with exuberance.


“Better him than me!” Solo gulped, holding his glass aloft.


“Hear, hear!” Mark added his mug to the circle.


Illya shrugged. “If you insist.” He lifted his shot glass with obvious boredom.


His three companions looked at the blond agent with surprise, their toast hanging in midair.


“Do you mean to tell us that show didn’t impress you in any way?” April asked, amazed.


The Russian shrugged again.


“Let me guess.” Mark said. “You’ve seen this before?”


“You can say that.”


“Here? In England?” Solo inquired, suddenly suspicious. His partner hadn’t mentioned he was familiar with this ‘sport’ when Mark had described it at the office. In fact, he hadn’t said anything at all.


Illya hedged. “Well, no. In Russia.”


The three looked at each other, astounded that this bizarre event happened anywhere else in the world. They were still astounded it happened right before their eyes; their drink glasses sank to the table.


“I don’t think I want to hear this,” Solo mumbled uncomfortably, seeing his partner was going to add more. He quickly rose to his feet.


An appalled look sprouted on April’s face as she began to piece together the hints of Illya’s attitude.


Mark simply laughed and shook his head. “I should have known. . .” he said lowly to his lap.


"But in Russia, we used minks and . . .” Illya began brightly as the others bolted from the table.

The End


Author's Note : Yes, this is an actual sport!

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