I’ve never liked bank managers and I’m bound to admit that they’ve never really taken to me. Our relationship is doomed from the start. I’m just not their type. What they want are people who deposit more money than they withdraw, self-respecting citizens who are dependable, well-behaved and responsible. I fail on all three counts.
When you try to make a living as a professional golfer, you have to take the rough with the heavy rough. In my case, it’s made me about as dependable as a three-legged race-horse and forced me into all kinds of erratic behaviour. As for being responsible, it’s an attitude that I simply can’t afford most of the time.
The net result is that the average earthquake has more stability than my bank balance. I inhabit a precarious world. The only thing I earn on a regular basis is Bad Risk status. It’s the main reason that bank managers don’t find me very appealing.
Donnelly is a typical example of the breed. Smug, watchful, offensively polite. He waved me into his office with a podgy hand.
‘Come in, Mr. Saxon.’ ‘Thanks.’
‘Happy New Year!’
‘That’s up to you.’
‘Yes.’ His false affability vanished at once. ‘Have a seat,’ he said, resting back in his own chair. ‘This won’t take long.’
I got the message. Evidently I was being fitted in between two much more important customers. Solvent ones.
While Donnelly looked through my crime dossier, I sat down and glanced around the featureless room. It had an overwhelming sense of order to it. Desk, chairs, filing cabinets, small table, computer, fitted carpet. Bare walls apart from a hideous calendar with a coloured photograph of the Tower of London as its illustration of the month. I tried to remember if it had ever been used as a debtors’ prison.
‘You didn’t need to see me about this,’ decided my host with suppressed irritation. ‘Mr. Rhodes could have taken care of it.’
‘But he couldn’t,’ I said. ‘Mr. Rhodes is only an assistant manager and I wanted the top dog. I’m tired of being palmed off with one of your underlings.’
‘I can’t be expected to handle every account personally,’ he retorted, his flabby cheeks quivering. ‘You were passed on to Mr. Rhodes because he deals with this particular area.’
‘And what area is that, Mr. Donnelly?’
‘Minor disasters.’ His eye fell on my file once more and he let out a sigh. ‘This does not make happy reading.’
‘Christmas has been a very difficult time for me. I had a lot of additional expenses. You know how it is.’ He nodded grimly. Bank managers know everything. ‘Things should even out a bit now,’ I added, injecting a buoyant optimism into my voice. ‘They always have in the past.’
‘That is patently not true, Mr. Saxon,’ he argued, flicking through the pages. ‘Over the last few years, your current account has been consistently high on our problem list. You seem to have no idea how to organise your finances.’
‘My income is a trifle irregular, that’s all.’ ‘Doesn’t it worry you?’
I shrugged. ‘It terrifies me. I’m tortured with anxiety. I make at least three suicide attempts a week.’
‘This is not a laughing matter,’ he chided, then he leaned over the desk towards me. ‘Have you never thought of using an accountant?’
‘I’ve had several but they never seem to last the pace.’ Another sigh. ‘That doesn’t surprise me.’
‘Mr. Donnelly,’ I said, stating my case in plain terms, ‘all I ask for is a little understanding and compassion. Bear with me for a short while and I’m certain that everything will sort itself out to our mutual satisfaction. Brighter days lie ahead.’ A thought nudged me. ‘Oh, and I’d be grateful if you could have a word with young Rhodes about his itchy trigger finger.’
‘Yes. As soon as my account is overdrawn by the tiniest sum, he shoots from the hip and fires off a warning letter. And he doesn’t use blanks either! Where do you train your staff—the OK Corral?’
‘Our computer monitors any over-spending,’ he explained, wearily. ‘Letters are printed out automatically. Mr. Rhodes merely has to sign them. Besides…’ His third sigh explored a whole new octave of regret. ‘Besides, Mr. Saxon, we’re not talking about an account being overdrawn. We’re discussing an overdraft facility which has been—to put it mildly— cruelly abused.’
‘Christmas comes but once a year,’ I reminded him.
He sat back heavily and appraised me with that mixture of antagonism and bewilderment that I have put on so many faces in the banking fraternity. Donnelly resented me because I came between him and his complacence.
‘Do you have any other assets?’ he asked, bluntly. ‘Fourteen golf clubs and a winning smile.’
‘What about property, investments, stocks and shares, premium bonds, accounts with building societies and so on?’
‘Nothing,’ I admitted. ‘Apart from a controlling interest in ICI and the two million quid I’ve got stashed away in Switzerland.’ I flashed my winning smile but it lost out immediately. ‘Last year was a bad one, Mr. Donnelly: this one will be much better.’
‘How do you know that?’ ‘I have this sixth sense.’
An acerbic note intruded. ‘It’s never seemed to work before.’ ‘Now, that’s unfair!’ I protested.
‘This is not the first time you’ve assured us that your financial situation was going to improve, Mr. Saxon, but we’re still waiting for the great day to dawn.’
Anger reduced me to pomposity. ‘It may interest you to know that I’ve had some highly successful seasons as a tournament golfer.’
‘Not since you became a customer here.’
‘Those two facts may not be unrelated, Mr. Donnelly!’ ‘So you think we’ve brought you bad luck, do you?’ he blustered.
‘Let’s just say that you’d never pass for a rabbit’s foot.’
Covert dislike had now matured into open hostility and we glared at each other across the desk. When I had reached this point with previous bank managers, they usually invited me to leave the premises for good and to take my account with me. Donnelly resisted the temptation and sought instead to wound my pride.
‘What puzzles me is why you didn’t save more when you were actually making it,’ he observed with condescension. ‘I believe you were quite famous twenty-odd years ago.’
‘Very famous,’ I replied with measured calm. ‘And it wasn’t that far back.’
‘So what happened?’
‘Marriage. A child. Divorce. Three giant steps towards total bankruptcy.’ I shook my head dismissively. ‘But that’s my problem.’
‘And ours, Mr. Saxon. For the time being.’ He pursed his lips and stole another glance at my file. Then he came to a decision. ‘I will give you one last chance.’
‘Thank you,’ I murmured.
‘We’ll increase the overdraft facility by £500—but only temporarily. The bank is not prepared to go on subsidising your financial mismanagement. You must get your act together.’
‘How long have I got?’
‘It’ll be enough,’ I promised.
‘It had better be. If we don’t see a marked improvement by the end of that period…’
‘You’ll start bouncing my cheques like beach balls.’
‘We’ll do much more than that,’ he threatened. A curt nod signalled that the interview was over. ‘Goodbye, Mr. Saxon.’
‘Goodbye.’ I was on my feet at once.
‘Oh, one thing…’
‘Yes?’ I paused at the door.
‘Have you ever considered giving up golf altogether? Before it gives you up, I mean?’ He smirked at me.
‘Then what makes you keep on playing?’
‘People like you, Mr. Donnelly.’
‘I enjoy proving you wrong.’
Before he could answer, I went out of the office at speed. When I left the bank and stepped out into the street, cold air hit me like a slap in the face. I suddenly realised what I had done. With the easy confidence of a man who has unlimited funds at his disposal, I had blithely undertaken the Herculean labour of sorting out my money worries in a mere six weeks. It was like volunteering to pay off the national debt by the following Saturday. I quailed.
The first few flakes of snow began to fall rather aimlessly out of a swollen sky but I hardly noticed them. Inside my head, a blizzard was raging. I walked along the pavement in a daze.
There was, of course, a solution.
That’s what I kept telling myself, anyway. All I had to do was to play four brilliant rounds of golf and earn a large, life-saving cheque. It sounded so easy. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t even get the chance until the Safari Tour started in the middle of February. Over a month away. And leaving aside the vexed question of how I’d raise the cash to get to Lagos to compete in the Nigerian Open, there was the problem of my persistent lack of form. It had dogged me for the best part of a year.
Could I still turn it on when it really mattered?
I consoled myself with the thought that I had actually played four superb rounds the previous summer. Each one was a gem that sparkled in the memory. Powerful drives, brave approach shots, deadly putts. Vintage Alan Saxon. Had those four rounds been in the same tournament, I would undoubtedly have won it by a record margin.
As it was, each day of magic had occurred in a separate event. A single immaculate round had not been enough to redeem the three indifferent ones with which it was partnered. In each tournament, I finished out of the money and out of sorts with myself.
Why should it be any different in Nigeria?
This mood of fatalism took me around a corner and into the side street where I had parked Carnoustie. Snowflakes were settling gently on her windscreen. She looked cold, bored, neglected. I unlocked the door and got in behind the driving wheel. After switching off the alarm system, I turned on the ignition and moved slowly away. When I reached the junction with the main road, Carnoustie stalled.
I gunned the engine again, waited for a gap and then swung left. Carnoustie responded without enthusiasm. A motor caravan is not the ideal means of transport in suburban London on a busy afternoon. Instead of picking my way through heavy traffic in a bulky vehicle, I could have come in by train. It would have been much quicker and far more restful. But it would also have exposed me.
In becoming Open Champion up at Carnoustie all those years ago, I did more than just find a name for the Bedford Adventura that is now my home. At a stroke—283 strokes, to be precise—I changed from private man into public property. My unusual height and prematurely grey hair made me instantly recognisable and thus a ready target for the total stranger with the knowing grin. Fame is trial by ordeal. As a result, I’ve learned to hide my grey hair beneath a hat and to travel in the secrecy of my mobile refuge. Only a stern summons from the bank could have got me into London at all. I tend to keep a very low profile. So does my income. At the first set of traffic lights, Carnoustie stalled again.
I gave her some choke, coaxed the engine back into life and edged forward with caution. Carnoustie was long overdue for a major service and she took every opportunity to remind me of the fact. I would have to nurse her carefully. It was going to be a long journey to St Albans but I had plenty to think about on the way.
I had reached crisis point.
It was not only my bank balance that was ruinously overdrawn. My emotional capital was severely depleted as well. Christmas was to blame. The festive season began—as it always does—with a vicious wrangle about how and when I could see Lynette. My teenage daughter is eager to be with me and I’m desperate to spend time with her but there’s a brick wall between us.
Rosemary. My ex-wife.
You never get divorced from a woman like Rosemary. All you do is to redefine the marriage. Though we haven’t lived together for a number of years, she remains as crucial a part of my world as ever. A subversive presence. The court awarded her custody of our only child and the right to supervise my access to Lynette. She takes full advantage of that right.
Christmas always brings out the worst in her and she had a special reason for being obstructive this time. Katie. I should have known that Rosemary would never understand someone like her. It was a mistake even to try to explain.
Katie Billings had brought sunshine back into my life for the past three months. Her charms are not immediately apparent. Tall, willowy and red-headed, she has the kind of subdued loveliness that creeps up on you and catches you unawares. It certainly took me by surprise. We met at a party in Hatfield given by some mutual friends. At the beginning of the evening, I hardly noticed Katie. She looked rather dull and submissive. By the end of the party, I thought she was the most beautiful woman in the room and I was lucky enough to drive her back to her house in St Albans.
She invited me in for coffee. I’m still there.
What I like about Katie is her devastating honesty. She has no time for those petty evasions and half-truths and wilful self-delusions that the rest of us seem to need. Over medium roast percolated coffee, she explained that she was a personnel officer in a local factory and that she was only interested in serious long-term relationships with men. Having recently parted from her live-in lover, she was now searching for his replacement. Later that night, she interviewed me for the post. By morning I had got it.
The honeymoon continued for week after glorious week. I came to believe that I could stay with her forever. Katie Billings had all the qualities I admire in a woman, including an ability to see me in the kindest possible light. Also—a decisive factor—she wore silk pyjamas. I was hooked.
Then came my tactical error. I whisked her off to a quiet hotel in the Cotswolds for a romantic away-from-it-all Christmas. With a reckless disregard for the tremors it would send through my bank account, I booked the suite with the fourposter and had a bottle of their best champagne awaiting us in an ice bucket. A frenzy of last-minute spending bought me armfuls of presents to shower upon her.
It should have been the most perfect Christmas.
Instead, it was a disaster. While we could be relaxed and happy in a semi-detached house in St Albans, a quiet hotel in the Cotswolds made us tense and furtive. We had lost the very domesticity that had drawn us together.
Besides, Katie had wanted Christmas at home. Sainsbury’s turkey with all the trimmings. Christmas pudding served with flaming brandy. Wine, crackers, laughter, celebration. Gentle love-making in front of the James Bond film on the telly. Washing up together.
We stayed one night at the hotel then cut our losses. I never did get to enjoy the wondrous combination of silk pyjamas and fourposter. The honeymoon was over. My days were numbered.
As I drove back to St Albans now, I wondered how much longer it would last. Donnelly gave me six weeks: would Katie allow me as much time as that? I doubted it.
The snow had thickened now, road conditions worsened and the British motorist was given every chance to prove just how stupid and inconsiderate he can be. As Carnoustie chugged along in low gear, we passed various examples of the national death wish. Some cars had collided head-on, others had merely exchanged dents and a lorry had spun off the road. At a major intersection, a bakery van had some- how managed to overturn itself. Delays were inevitable. Frustration levels were high. It was early evening before we finally reached the familiar cul-de-sac and groaned to a halt. Katie owned a small, neat, modern house in red brick. I let myself in, put on the lights and basked in the warmth of the central heating. The telephone rang on the hall table. I lifted the receiver with a gloved hand.
‘Alan?’ The voice was unmistakable. ‘Is that you?’
‘How the hell did you get this number?’ I demanded.
‘That doesn’t matter,’ said Rosemary in her usual brisk way. ‘I rang to let you know that Lynette has decided to go back to school a few days early.’
‘But I haven’t seen her properly.’
‘That’s not my fault.’
‘Of course it is. You do your damnedest to keep us apart!’
‘Please don’t shout,’ she replied with irritating coolness. ‘I’m entitled to have access to my own daughter.’
‘It just hasn’t proved feasible this holiday.’
‘Rosemary, we have a spare bedroom here,’ I argued. ‘Lynette could have stayed as long as she wished.’
‘I’m not letting her share a house with you and one of your lady friends. Think of the effect it might have on her.’ Her tone of sophisticated venom made red mist appear before my eyes. I didn’t dare to speak while I was in the grip of such rage. Rosemary had lost none of her power to wound me to the quick.
‘Alan?’ There was a pause. ‘Are you still there?’
‘Yes,’ I grunted.
‘You do understand my position, don’t you?’
‘Let me speak to Lynette.’
‘She’s not here at the moment.’
‘Don’t lie, Rosemary. Put her on right now.’
‘She goes back on Friday. If you’re that keen to see her, you’ll have to come up to Little Aston.’
‘No,’ I asserted. ‘That would mean having to see you as well.’
‘In that case, you’ll have to arrange a visit to Benenden one weekend.’ The venom returned. ‘And please don’t take anyone with you, Alan. You mustn’t embarrass Lynette in front of her friends.’
‘Who gave you this bloody number!’ I hissed.
She hung up on me and the line went dead.
I was shaken. Katie had spoken to her? I felt utterly betrayed. It was minutes before I could even replace the receiver. The thought that Katie might have taken sides against me was like molten metal coursing through my brain. She knew all about Rosemary and yet she had talked to her behind my back. It was a sickening blow.
Stumbling into the living room, I reached for the last of the Christmas brandy and poured it into a glass before slumping into an armchair. Still wearing hat, anorak and gloves, I sipped disconsolately and brooded. I did not have long to wait. Katie’s Metro scrunched up on to the drive outside and its engine was killed. The car door slammed and was locked, the front door was opened and closed, then a cheerful call came from the hall.
‘Alan, I’m back!’ I could hear her taking her coat off to hang it up. ‘How did you get on at the bank?’
‘Not as bad as I expected.’
‘A stay of execution.’
‘Look, why don’t you let me loan you some money?’
‘Against my principles.’
‘But I want to help.’
Katie sailed into the room wearing a smart blue suit and a kind smile. Instead of getting her usual kiss and glass of sparkling wine, she was confronted with a morose figure sprawled in an armchair. She read the situation at once and volunteered the truth.
‘Rosemary phoned me at the office this afternoon.’
‘How did she know where you worked?’
‘You told her.’
‘I did no such thing!’
‘You did, Alan. Indirectly. She knew my name and you mentioned that I ran a personnel department in a small factory. She rang almost every business in Hertfordshire before she finally tracked me down. Rosemary is a very determined woman.’
‘What did she want?’ I pressed.
‘To explain about Lynette.’
‘And you let her?’
‘What else was I supposed to do?’ she asked, reasonably. ‘Hang up on her? That would hardly have been the way to convince her that I was a fit person to meet your daughter.’ Katie looked me in the eye. ‘Besides, I had a lot of sympathy with her point of view.’
‘Sympathy!’ I croaked.
‘Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to invite Lynette here.’
‘Katie, you agreed.’
‘That was before Christmas.’
‘And before Rosemary poured her poison into your ear.’
‘It wasn’t like that.’
‘Then what was it like?’
‘Did the two of you simply have a cosy little chat about me?’
‘Then what? Tell me.’
‘Alan,’ she said, taking a deep breath, ‘I’m sorry but I’m just not ready to play Happy Families.’
‘So you gang up on me,’ I accused, rising to my feet.
‘Don’t be silly.’
‘I expected better of you, Katie.’
‘Circumstances have changed.’
‘Yes. Until today there was only one woman trying to stab me in the back. Now there are two of you!’
She winced at the sting of my words but she did not lash back at me. Katie did not believe in violent rows. She liked everything to be on an even keel. A sad smile flitted across her lips.
‘The neighbours are complaining about Carnoustie.’
It was over as easily as that. Three months of sustained fun and togetherness had suddenly come to an end. Further argument was pointless. I went straight upstairs to pack my case and collect my golf clubs. When I came down to the hall, Katie was waiting for me with a faint hint of regret in her eyes.
‘Let’s keep in touch,’ she whispered.
‘Yes,’ I sneered. ‘We can exchange messages through Rosemary!’
As soon as the words slipped out, I wished that I’d never said them. But it was too late. Her face crumpled and she opened the front door for me. I went out into the snow and let myself into Carnoustie.
Without looking back, I drove noisily away.
Road conditions were more treacherous than ever now and we soon had our first skid. It was not an evening to be out and about. I made for a nearby park and worked my way around its perimeter until I found a fairly secluded spot. Carnoustie rolled to a stop, glad to have a safe mooring for the night.
Donnelly. Rosemary. Katie. I’ve known better days.
The righteous indignation which helped me to stalk out of the house now gave way to remorse. I hadn’t really let Katie defend herself and I saw that I’d been far too aggressive. Now that I’d left her, I realised just how much she meant to me. At a more immediate level, I began to miss my creature comforts. I’d forgotten that Carnoustie was in no state for owner occupation. The heater was broken, the water tanks were empty and there wasn’t a scrap of food in the kitchen.
In every sense, the cupboard was bare.
I pulled out my thickest blanket and wrapped it around me as I sat in front of the television. Absent-mindedly switching the set on, I ignored the programme completely. My mind was preoccupied with its favourite pastime of devising a suitably dramatic end for Rosemary. Death by high-speed golf ball had a definite appeal. There would be poetic justice in that.
She had blighted my private life again. Katie Billings was the latest name on her long hit list. There would be others. A couple of hours drifted past. When I came out of my reverie, I was watching an episode of Cagney & Lacey. It had reached the obligatory Harv scene in which the viewer gets an insight into the domestic problems of a police-woman’s life. Christine Cagney then appeared on the screen and I let myself fantasise about the pleasures of being arrested by her and kept in her flat for questioning. Just when she had got me to the point where I was willing to confess to anything, there was a loud knock on my side door.
‘Alan!’ Impossibly, it was Katie. ‘Let me in!’
Hope flickered as I crossed to pull back the bolt. Perhaps she’d come to make an abject apology and beg me to go back to her. As the door swung open, I resolved to be magnanimous about the whole thing. Katie stepped in out of the swirling snow. She wore fur hat, long coat, scarf, gloves and boots.
‘How on earth did you know I’d be here?’
‘An inspired guess. I didn’t think you’d drive far in this weather. The park seemed the best bet. I’m glad I’ve found you.’
‘Urgent phone call from Clive.’
‘Oh.’ My disappointment was evident. ‘Is that all?’
‘You’re to contact him at once.’
‘I’ll do it in the morning.’
‘Tonight. He insisted. A matter of life and death.’
I was cynical. ‘The last time I got a message to ring Clive Phelps as a matter of life and death, he simply wanted to boast that he’d finally scored with the receptionist at the Charing Cross Hotel. A Maltese girl who seemed to have a by-line with half the journalists in Fleet Street.’ I picked a snowflake gently from her nose. ‘I’m sorry you had to come out, Katie, but I am not jumping to his call.’
‘Even though it means a lot of money?’
‘Money?’ My attitude changed at once. ‘For me?’
‘A chance for you to play golf somewhere, he said.’
I moved involuntarily towards my own telephone and then remembered that it was out of order. Pulling off a glove, I felt in my pocket for small change. I couldn’t wait to speak to Clive now.
‘Where’s the nearest call box?’
‘At my house.’ Her expression gave nothing away. ‘Follow me. I know a short cut.’
Carnoustie was unhappy about the move and stalled twice but we eventually got under way. Following the rear lights of the Austin Metro, we were towed back slowly to the cul-de-sac. Katie handed me the receiver as I stepped into the hall, then she vanished into the kitchen. I dialled the Fleet Street number I knew by heart.
Clive Phelps is a very special friend. He spotted me in my early days as a promising amateur and his faith in me has never wavered. When sober, he’s one of the best golf writers in the business, but when he’s had a few drinks—his normal state—he’s out on his own. His explanation is that alcohol helps his creative juices to flow. Warts and all, I love him. ‘What kept you, Saxon?’ he snarled at the other end of the line.
‘And why doesn’t that bloody phone of yours work?’
‘Somebody snapped off the aerial.’
‘Well, get a new one fitted.’
‘I can’t afford it, old son. It’ll have to wait its turn in the queue.’ My impatience made me gabble. ‘Now-what’s-all- this-about-a-matter-of-life-and-death?’
He chuckled. ‘Remember that waitress I told you about, at the Savoy? The one with the prize-winning thighs and the bouncy tits? You’ll never guess what she served me for dessert today.’
‘Clive,’ I warned, ‘if you’ve dragged me to the blower to tell me about your latest sordid little conquest…’
‘I’m just throwing that in for scenic interest.’ He became serious. ‘Okay. Here’s the deal. Have you got an American visa?’
‘Because you’re off to sunny California.’
‘Tomorrow. Day after. Soon as poss.’
‘Is this some kind of joke?’
‘No, it’s a firm commitment. I accepted on your behalf.’
‘Clive, what are you on about?’
‘Golf, matey. You know, that game where you try to hit a small ball into a hole with a club.’ I heard him take a sip of something. ‘Alan Saxon is flying off to Los Angeles. First class. All expenses paid. There’s even some appearance money for you.’
‘Appearance in what?’
‘The inaugural event at the new Golden Haze Golf Club in the San Fernando Valley. An amazing place, by all accounts. They dreamed up this Tournament of Champions so that they could get off with a bang. You must have read about it in my column.’
‘I did, Clive. Last time I bought fish and chips. As I recall it, they had some pretty big names lined up.’
‘Yes. But they didn’t get promises from those big names before they announced them. It caused a lot of bad blood. Some of the stars have pulled out.’
‘So I’m being hauled off the subs’ bench, am I?’
‘No,’ he soothed. ‘You were only left off the original list by a clerical oversight, Alan. They meant to ask you all along.’
‘Pull the other one.’
He chuckled again. ‘All right. You’re an eleventh-hour replacement. So what? It gets you out to LA and it gives you a chance to fight for a first prize of $100,000. How does that sound?’
‘Bloody marvellous!’ I admitted.
My imagination ran riot. I had a vision of Donnelly reeling back in astonishment from the counter as I banked the cheque. It would enable me to clear my overdraft, settle my other debts, treat Carnoustie to the thorough overhaul she deserved, fend off my statutory panic attack when I next had to pay Lynette’s school fees and buy myself the peace of mind to enjoy my golf properly.
‘Now for the good news,’ resumed Clive.
‘It comes in two halves. First, I’ll be jetting out to cover the tournament before going on to the Phoenix Open. That means you’ll have the joy of my company, the benefit of my advice and the chance to refill my glass whenever you see it empty.’
‘You’re on,’ I agreed. ‘What’s the other good news?’
‘You’ll be staying with Zuke Everett.’
‘He’s the one who got them to invite you to the party, Alan. You owe it all to Zuke so don’t forget it.’
‘I won’t, don’t worry.’
It was not the first time I’d had reason to be grateful to Zuke Everett. In a world as nakedly competitive as that of tournament golf, players don’t always go out of their way to befriend and help each other. Zuke was the exception. As well as being one of the top Americans on the pro circuit, he was also among the most generous and likeable. To stay with him and his gorgeous wife, Valmai, made the trip to Los Angeles even more irresistible.
‘Listen carefully,’ ordered Clive. ‘Here are the details.’
As he talked, I noted down the salient points on the telephone pad. The organisers were certainly not afraid to scatter their money around. I was being featherbedded from start to finish. I can take a lot of that kind of thing.
‘Have you got all that?’ he asked.
‘I think so. Oh—and thanks, Clive.’
‘Zuke is the person to thank. When they couldn’t contact you, he suggested they might try me. Learn your lesson. Because your telephone was out of order, this New Year bonus nearly trickled through your fingers. Fix yourself up with an answering service that will take messages for you.’
‘I’ve got one,’ I reminded him. ‘He’s called Clive Phelps.’ He growled a few expletives at me and then hung up. I put the receiver down and let the wonder of it sink in. From snowy St Albans to sunny Los Angeles. From dire poverty to unexpected solvency. From enemies like Donnelly and Rosemary to true friends like Zuke and Valmai. From the inactivity I hated to the game I loved.
From hell to heaven by courtesy of Trans World Airlines. ‘Was it worth making the call?’
‘What?’ I turned to see Katie in the kitchen doorway. ‘Oh, yes. Well worth it. I’m off to California to seek fame and fortune.’
‘That’s nice,’ she said, genuinely pleased for me.
‘They want me there immediately.’
She shrugged. ‘That’s it, then, isn’t it?’
We traded a long look and weighed the implications. My trip to the Tournament of Champions would mark a complete break from Katie. I would be going out on a high, whereas all she would be left were my wet footprints on the hall carpet.
‘Do you remember what you said when we met?’
‘I said lots of things.’
‘You asked me to promise something.’
‘Yes,’ I recalled. ‘That when it was all over, we wouldn’t just slink off in opposite directions. We’d end it in style.’
‘You had another phrase. In a blaze of glory.’
‘That sounds like me.’
We stood in silence for a long time, our eyes locked and our differences forgotten. Katie then glanced towards the front door.
‘You don’t have to spend the night out there.’
‘Won’t the neighbours complain about Carnoustie?’ She gave a slow grin.
Golf is a funny old game.
One minute you’re down, the next you’re riding on air.