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A Late-Afternoon Golf Match - Part 1
[Editor's Note: The following yarn is the tale of a late-afternoon golf match that takes an unfortunate turn for the apoplectic. It is an excerpt from the novel, "Shooting Genji," by writer (and bogey golfer) Richard Voorhees.
By way of background, "Shooting Genji" is a noir thriller set at the time of the 1929 Stock Market Crash, and features rumrunners, dancers, financial chicanery and one very angry golfer. Unlike classic, hard-boiled crime fiction, "Shooting Genji"is leavened with humor in the vein of P. G. Wodehouse.
The main character in "Shooting Genji"has one extraordinary quality: he has unbelievably good night vision. This makes him perfectly suited for all sorts of shady business, including night-driving for whiskey smugglers and twilight caddying for a Hollywood ne'er-do-well.
This two-part excerpt from the novel turns on the loss at nightfall of a #2 Spalding golf ball embossed with the initials SB. (A second golf ball plays an even more decisive role later in the novel.)
Enjoy Part I of "A Late-Afternoon Golf Match" and be glad these fellows are not your playing partners. Look for the conclusion, Part II, "A Hole-In-One," which will appear at a later date on Cybergolf.]
Part I: Pardon My French
All you need to know about me is this: I have ridiculously good night vision. And in a world of shady rackets, it's been my meal ticket. These days, it's 1933, I'm working for a film producer named Charles Granyer, who enjoys having me chauffeur him around L.A. after dark.
One day, being the sharp operator that he is, not to mention ingenious, Granyer comes up with a new angle for putting my cat eyes to good use. It's around noon and my phone rings. It's Granyer on the line and he sounds excited.
"I've a golf game this afternoon and I need a caddie," he says. "Have you ever done any caddying?"
"Never. What's a caddie do?"
"You'd carry my clubs and refrain from talking when I address the ball."
"You're going to talk to your ball?"
"No! I'm saying I don't want you talking when I'm preparing to hit the ball!"
"You want me to be quiet…"
"Exactly. And for your information, we may do some talking to our balls, but we usually wait until after we hit them. For instance, you may hear people yell strange things at their ball in flight, like, 'Get up there, you bitch!' Golfers tend to improvise. Not phrases to repeat off the course. And this is especially important, I'll want you to watch my ball and help me find it, in case I foozle it."
"Do caddies make more than chauffeurs?"
"In your case, no. Caddies and chauffeurs earn the same generous salary. However, if I don't lose any balls and I win, I'll give you a big tip at the end of the round."
"How long will this take?"
"Eighteen holes usually takes four or five hours."
"What happened to your old caddie, Lester the Blister?"
"I got tired of his antics."
"Like rattling the clubs when I was trying to concentrate. Not paying attention to where my ball went. Misreading my line."
"Well, I like to read. I'll give it a go."
"All right, then be here by 1:30 p.m."
Granyer has a mid-afternoon tee time, and the sun is beginning its downward arc when I ease the Hudson up to the golf club. The place looks pretty swanky. His opponent is sitting under an umbrella on the porch nursing something with ice in it. Stuart Blanchard, Granyer's accountant, is the picture of dissolute gentility.
Granyer introduces me as his driver and Blanchie makes a lame joke asking him how far he can tee off with me. Granyer says if I don't do a decent job caddying, he'll get plenty teed off, indeed. Ha ha ha. This isn't like Granyer, who's usually in no great hurry to speak. He's trying to make this guy comfortable, I guess. One bad joke deserves another. I give a little snort to let them know that I can recognize an attempt at humor when I hear it, and I leave it at that. Today my goal is to watch and learn. Granyer excuses himself and heads into the clubhouse.
As I go to sit down, his friend says: "Caddies aren't allowed on the verandah. Be a good fellow. Wait for us around the corner. You'll find the other caddies there." I'm used to waiting in the car for Granyer but I don't like this guy's attitude. I hope Granyer cleans his clock.
Turning the corner I find a stooped old man who seems to be propping himself up on a set of clubs. Could he be the other caddie? I put Granyer's clubs down a few paces off and nod to him. I have no idea what the protocol around here is. He nods ever so slightly and then goes back to sleeping standing up.
I hear Blanchard's name announced a few minutes later. "The Blanchard party of two, on the first tee…" Granyer and his friend come hurrying up to us. Blanchard looks downright lopsided, as if he's spent his whole life lifting weights with one arm. Or playing too much golf.
"Oh, there you are," Granyer says to me, impatiently. "Let's not waste time now. We're up on the first tee." As if it were my idea to wander off. These guys are getting on my nerves. The old fellow and I shoulder the clubs. I'm wondering if there's some way for Granyer and his friend both to lose this match. After hitting his first shot, Blanchard pulls out a hipflask and takes a nip.
Caddying is tougher than it sounds. The tendency toward greater randomness is a constant problem. Clubs, when not handled just so, like to dump themselves all over the place, which makes a helluva racket. And they're surprisingly heavy. I get the hang of it eventually, though, and I learn some colorful terms, especially for bad shots - shanked, duck-hooked, hoseled, skulled. I hear these expressions a lot. As the afternoon wears on, I begin to wonder if it should be called golf at all. Maybe this game should be called drinking and swearing. It's a bad sign there's such a rich vocabulary for lousy shots.
To rankle his adversary, Granyer trots out some choice French golf expressions that he learned playing in the French concession in Shanghai. When Blanchard hits his ball 40 yards over one of the greens, Granyer says to me pretending to be impressed, "Il a bouffé du lion aujourd'hui!"
"What's that supposed to mean?" Blanchard wants to know. "I was just saying that you must have eaten lion today, Blanchie." When Blanchard dumps his ball in the middle of a pond, Granyer says in a mock whisper, "J'ai entendu une petite éclaboussure." "Now what?" Blanchie squawks. "I simply said that I thought I heard a tiny little splash…"
After he himself hits a string of terrible shots, Granyer practically moans, "C'est la Berezina," referring to Napoleon's debacle fleeing Russia in winter. According to the metaphor, every time you think you might make it out alive, some Cossack gallops by and picks off another of your men. It's used to describe a round of golf that's nothing but carnage, one casualty after another.
Late in the round, toward twilight, I understand why Granyer wants me on his bag. The two golfers are having trouble seeing where they've hit their balls. Granyer tells me quietly to keep an eye out for his ball. And that I should watch his friend like a hawk. He doesn't trust him and he wants to make sure he doesn't get away with any dirty play. They have a $100 bet riding on the outcome and he's hoping his opponent is going to lose a ball and he'll emerge triumphant. Losing a ball costs you a stroke penalty, I'm told. And, Granyer says, under no circumstances am I to find his friend's lost ball. Unless he tells me to. This is where I earn my keep.
Night is creeping up on us, and I can see fine.
We get to the fateful 18th hole, the match all-square, and sure enough, Blanchard hooks his ball off the tee. I see it disappear into the left rough between two trees. He has no idea where it's gone and starts swearing like a tripe wife. In plus-fours. Very hard on the ears.
Granyer looks at me steadily, giving me the eye, and pretends that he's going to do all he can to help.
"I'm sure you'll find it, Blanchie. We'll all just have a little look around. I'm sure it'll turn up."
"The lopsided guy keeps ranting. "Where'd that goddamn ball go?" he shouts at his elderly caddie.
"We'll find it, if it's to be found…" the caddie begins.
"Dammit! How're we supposed to find our balls? It's the goddamn-middle-of-the-night!"
"You're playing a Spalding 2, no?" asks Granyer, knowing full well that's the ball the guy's chasing.
"Of course I am. My initials are on the goddamn thing."
We march forth into the darkness and I lead my boss to his ball, while Blanchie spirals around in circles like a titanic drunk getting washed down a drain. Which, at this point in the round, he is. He's been drinking nonstop all afternoon and evening. I realize that he's not so much lopsided as completely unbalanced.
Suddenly, he pipes up, "Found it!" He's standing over on the right side of the fairway with a ball at his feet and I know that isn't his ball because I saw it clearly go sharp-left into the trees. But the lopsided guy wastes no time and he hits his next shot straight and the ball trickles on to the front of the green. That one will be easy to find. Granyer makes a par, but Blanchie miraculously holes his long putt for a birdie and wins the match. He does a lot of gloating.
Granyer invites me to join them for a drink in the clubhouse. We don't even have to repair to a speakeasy. Prohibition's over. As we slake our thirst, Granyer asks to see his adversary's ball. Blanchard produces a Spalding with his initials on it.
"This is a Spalding 3, Blanchie. I thought you said you were playing a 2."
"It was pitch-dark out there. I could barely see a thing on the back nine. I was playing this ball, that's all I know. If it's a 3, I was playing a 3."
"All right, Blanchie. If that's your story. But if I come back here tomorrow when it's light and I find a Spalding 2 with your initials on it, I'm going to claim the win and the $100. Until then, no money's changing hands."
"You're such a..."
"Face it. 2's don't turn into 3's."
"You can come along, Blanchie, in case you think I'm going to manufacture a Spalding 2 with your initials on it."
"If you're really going to pull this kind of bullshit, take my caddie along. His eyesight's pretty good during the day. He'll keep you honest."
"I've got a better idea. You come with me. If we find a Spalding 2 with your initials on it on the 18th hole, you can play it from where it lies and if you still make a birdie, you win. Make a par, we tie. Make a bogey, I win. Can't be more sporting than that."
"And if you don't find a ball, which you won't, because it doesn't exist, you pay me double for calling me a cheater."
"And if I do find your ball, then you are a cheater, and you pay me quadruple for losing and cheating and bitching. Cheers then, Blanchie. This round's on me."
"Okay. You're on. But the next round's on you, too. You lost. Tomorrow," Blanchard scoffs, "you'll owe me two C-notes. I'll take a Manhattan."
Next up - Part II: A Hole-In-One
("Shooting Genji" can be downloaded for $4.99 at www.Amazon.com or from the author's website at www.rgvoorhees.com, where you can also read the first chapter of the actual novel, watch the official trailer, or browse Voorhees' other works.)