A Fair Cop

Hello – yes that’s me, Frank Packard, Duty Sergeant, Melchester Central nick. Melchester is a pretty normal mid-sized town. I joined the force from school and I’ve no real complaints. Five years off retiring now, unless the bloody government reneges on its latest set of promises. Anyway this story concerns golf. Specifically a charity golf competition sponsored by one of our local celebs, Billy Rich. You’ll have heard of him of course, comedian and telly game show host. He’s done OK has Billy and like a lot of showbiz folks he’s always up to support some charity or other. This one was for disabled kids.

Anyway the format of these things is fairly standard. The local club draws for members to compete and the sponsoring celebrity drums up other people to play and be a bit of a draw for spectators. Most of the celebrity guest players are his show business mates, local football players and perhaps other local personality faces. There are nominally a few prizes but mostly it’s about getting people to make donations. Billy’s agent had brought a whole crowd of pretty young girls dressed in little more than a few hankies and smiles to circulate and drum up the cash.

I come out of the draw and I am playing in a fourball with Billy’s agent, Manny Nugent who is about 60 going on 45 with a fairly obvious facelift and more than a bit of botox but he seems OK. The other pair is Wayne Lugg, who used to play centre forward for Melchester and remains a bit of a local hero. He now runs a nightclub of sorts, about which the Force has, shall we say, some reservations and his partner is Charles Rance, an accountant and another Club member. I’m off a seven handicap, which is the right side of good and the wrong side of very good. Charles is off 9, Manny 12 and Wayne is 5. On paper it’s a good match. We’re second off. Billy and his four go first. He takes the tee, rips off a couple of fair funnies, nothing naughty with the kids there, and tees off with a nice shot followed by the rest of his four. Then it’s our turn. Obviously Wayne is the main attraction so he gets the honour on the first tee and we follow, relieved that all of us hit at least half decent shots.

It’s on the fourth hole that I start to get a bit worried. Manny was clearly a bit optimistic about a 12 handicap on his current form and hadn’t featured in the scoring so far. In fourballs only the players on each side with the best score on a hole count. At this point I should diverge to tell you something about golf and its rules. Perhaps because it’s a game where it would be so easy to cheat, cheating is just about the worst thing a golfer can do and, even more than cards can get you ostracised p.d.q. with no way back. There is a legendary story about the great Arnold Palmer who went into and played out of a bunker in a very important tournament and then reported himself immediately to the official covering his playing group, saying he’d accidentally touched the ball and had to take a penalty. No one saw it. The television ran it again and again and couldn’t spot the touch. No spectator ever said they saw it but Arnold knew and Arnold called it himself – greatness!

Now I was sure that Manny had hit a Spalding Topfilight number 1 off the tee and I was equally sure that he holed out for a par with a number 7. He’d had a bit of a rummage in the rough to look for his drive. Had he just spotted a lost number 7 and thought it his ball or had he done the other. You can bet I was watching him like a hawk from then on. We started to catch up with and overtake the other two and by the turn at the ninth we were two points up with a very respectable score and I was damn sure Manny was cheating: a little nudge here to improve the lie of his ball and another nearly lost ball incident where I was convinced he dropped a ball down the inside of his trousers.

As a copper and, more importantly, as a golfer I was horrified. I was also on the horns of a dilemma. If it carried on this way we could be in the prizes. If I called him out then it would cast a real cloud over what was supposed to be a happy day out for charity. In the end I did the only thing I could do. Me, Frank Packard, threw the match with some judiciously bad chipping and putting and a lost ball I was actually standing alongside. Back in the clubhouse I had one drink with the four for form’s sake and then faked feeling sick before leaving as soon as I could: not though before I left a little note in Manny’s golf bag.

Dear Mr Nugent,

If ever I hear of you playing in any public golf event again I will call you out as a cheat. Marvellous little things these new phones are with their built in cameras. Take up cards. They shoot you if you cheat at that.

Yours sincerely

Frank Packard, Melchester Constabulary’.

A far as I know he retired to Marbella a couple of months later. Oh, and I had a quiet word with Billy Rich. He’s got a new agent now.

Robert winston McNaughton

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