“You’re about to make a very stupid mistake, my friend”, I say to the man, as he is shifting his weight to his back foot. I know what is coming. I also know that there’s a video camera pointing at us.
I fully intend to let him punch me, but as his fist starts moving, something happens inside me. I can see the wave of force make its way through his body. His weight is shifting forward, as the force is springing forth from him. It starts from his rear foot. His weight is coming towards me, as he tips forward slightly, onto is front leg. Power from his punch is rippling through his body, from his knee, through his hips, through his upper body. I can see his torso flexing, as the rotation from his shoulders is the last part of this movement. The force he is generating is only going to go one way: the entire weight of his body, accelerated through his arm, transferred through his fist, and straight into my face.
“Honey”, my girlfriend called out as she spotted my shoes in the hallway after coming home from work. “Shouldn’t you have been at work already?”
My eyes go from closed in a restless slumber on the couch, to wide open. The title screen of the Blu-Ray of Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is staring back at me from the television across the room. How long since the film ended? I glanced up at the notoriously inaccurate wall clock, and, as my freshly awakened eyes manage to focus on the clock, leapt to my feet.
I’m a blur as I grab my jacket and kiss her on the cheek. “I fell asleep on the sofa”, I said, in an explanation that elegantly explains nothing at all.
“There’s a parcel for you”, she said, and handed me an envelope. “Oh, thanks”, I said, and ran out of the door.
As a motorcyclist, I’m normally a huge defender of ATGATT – All The Gear, All The Time – but today, there simply wouldn’t be time. My shift had started half an hour ago, and I had a 10-minute ride between me and the police station. My phone rang, and as I looked down, I saw it was the shift sergeant. I answered.
“Sorry sarge I fell asleep about to jump on the bike now I will be there in five minutes.” I shouted, stringing my words together into an unintelligible string of uninterrupted sound as I’m trying to force my left foot into my motorbike boot.
“Make it 15 minutes, Matt, and get here in one piece without a speeding ticket.” the skipper replied, sensibly.
“Yes yes”, I say, already slipping into my on-duty radio protocol.
When you are transmitting on the police radios, the first half-second of voice is sometimes cut off, so for short messages, you repeat your message to ensure you’re being heard. During a car chase, it’s never “left”, always “left left”. When you’re confirming something, it’s either “Affirmative” or “yes, yes”. I’ve even heard a motorbike copper transmit “oh shit, oh shit” in the midst of chasing down a couple of robbery suspects on a scooter.
It’s just one of those things, I suppose.
I made it to work, and discovered that all the cars had gone out already, the front office is staffed, and that there wasn’t a lot I could do. I decided to stop into custody to say hi to the skippers, before wandering down to the writing room, check my email and deal with any outstanding CRIS messages I had to deal with.
As I made it to the writing room, I found myself face-to-face with a couple of the SOCO (Scene Of Crime Officer) guys. I greeted them, and as I did, discovered I was still holding an envelope – the parcel from that morning.
Grumpy that all the computers were taken, I opened my envelope. As I peeked inside, I remembered: I had ordered some new memory cards for my camera. 4 very fast, very expensive Sandisk ULTRA memory cards for my video camera. Excellent; it had taken the best part of the month for them to finally arrive.
“That’s some professional equipment you’ve got there”, One of the SOCO’s piped up. I looked up, and see it was my old friend Trev. He was nodding at the four cards I’m holding. “Where’d you buy them”, he asked.
“eBay – got a great deal”, I said.
“Oh. Better make sure they aren’t fakes, then”, Trev said.
I looked down at the cards and shrug. They looked genuine enough to me. The blister-packs are sealed shut. The pack had metallic printing on it. It all looked above board.
“How can you tell?”, I asked Trev, and hand over one of the blister packs.
“It’s not easy”, he said. “But we’ve come across a load of ‘em that are forgeries. They look perfectly above board, and some of the forgeries even find their ways into high-end photography stores. Even the store managers can’t figure out how that happens.”
“So, er, what’s the difference between a forged card and a real one”, I asked him. As I looked closer at the envelope, I noticed that the parcel was sent from China. That would explain why it took so long for the cards to arrive.
“They’re less reliable, and a hell of a lot slower. Sometimes they have a 1GB card, and they just change the electronics so your camera thinks it’s a 16GB card. So the first time you try it, it works, but any photos you write to the card after the fist 1gb gets overwritten, and you lose data,” Trev said, shaking his head. “Other times, they are sizes of the same capacity, but they won’t be your high-end ULTRA cards; instead, they’re slower. It can sometimes be really hard to tell.”
“Can you have a look?”, I asked him. Trev shrugged, nodded, and took one of the cards from me. He peeled it out of the blister packs.
“Looks real enough”, he said. “Can I look at another one?”
I passed him the whole padded envelope of cards, and he took the next one out of the blister pack, too. He examined them both closely, compared the blister packs, held the cards up next to one another. Suddenly, he made the sharp-intake-of-breath-through-the-teeth sound that should be familiar to everyone who has ever taken their car to a repair shop. It’s the sound that emanates from mechanics before they’ll tell you that some expensive is broken and needs to be repaired.
“Hmm?” I murmured.
“This isn’t looking good, mate”, he said, and handed me the two postage-stamp-sized memory chips. “Take a close look at ‘em, and tell me why they might be fakes”.
I spent the next ten minutes looking at the cards, as Trev turned back to his computer to fill in a form to submit a set of photographs on DVD, as evidence. I looked closely at the connectors, the label, the card itself. I flicked the ‘lock’ switch to locked and unlocked a few times. As far as I can tell, they are completely identical, and they looked every bit as genuine as you’d expect from a genuine product.
“I give up, man”, I said. “As far as I can tell, these things are genuine.”
Trevor turned to me from his computer. “The serial numbers”, he said, prompting me to re-examine the cards again. I felt pretty dumb, as I still can’t see anything wrong. The two cards are identical. I tell him.
“Mate, if there are serial numbers,” he said,Â “there’s no way they should be the same, should they? That’s kind of the point of serial numbers, isn’t it?”
I took another look. True enough, the two serial numbers were the same. I opened the last two blister packs as well. Another two cards, again with the same serial numbers.
“I’ll be damned”, I said. “If I had only bought a single card, I would’ve never known”.
“Yup”, Trevor said. “They’re pretty good at forging stuff, aren’t they?”
Since there still isn’t anything useful I can do at the police station, I decided to find out some more. I picked up the phone, and dialled UK customer support number for SanDisk on the back of the blister packs, half expecting not to be connected.
“Hey”, I say, as someone answered the phone. “Is this SanDisk customer support?” It is. The cheeky bastards had made a very high-quality copy of the blister pack, including foil printing, a hologram, and the official Sandisk telephone numbers.
I explained my situation to Gary-the-friendly-phone-support-guy, but there wasn’t much he could do.
He confirmed that the number we thought were serial numbers were, indeed, serial numbers. He agreed that there was no way that two – let alone four – cards should have the same serial numbers.
“That is a serial number we recognise”, he said, as I read it out to him, “But it belongs to a high-speed Compact Flash card, not an SD-sized card”.
Conclusion: I had a set of forged cards, Sandisk wanted nothing to do with them, and I had a load of storage media I couldn’t trust with my photos or videos.
The next few weeks, I spent hours trying to get to the bottom of things. I decided to lodge a complaint with eBay. The seller refused to take the cards back “because they had been opened”. eBay refused to give me a refund because “I had to prove that the cards were forgeries”, and Paypal helpfully concluded that “The claim does not fall under PayPal’s definition of significantly not-as-described and does not qualify for a refund. Your claim has been closed as you failed to provide PayPal with the requested documentation”.
It turns out that a sworn statement from a Metropolitan Police Scenes of Crime Officer wasn’t enough for PayPal: they needed “a statement from a professional who is an expert in the field”, and the common-sense argument that four cards with identical serial numbers – none of which were recognised by SanDisk – fell on deaf ears. SanDisk were very apologetic about the case, but Gary informed me that they would not be able to produce a written statement that the cards were forgeries, as they had a policy not to comment on the matter.
I was, for lack of a better term, up shit creek with a broken outboard motor and without the oars common sense would have dictated I had brought with me when making my way up such an unfortunately polluted waterway.
After a wave of inspiration, I picked up the phone to the fraud investigation unit, but they told me that being defrauded of only about Â£250 worth wasn’t really their thing – they wouldn’t get involved unless I’d been a victim of losing Â£5,000 or more. Rats.
I briefly considered ordering another 80 cards off eBay so I would be above the fraud team’s limit, but decided that would be a little bit on the crazy side, even for me.
In a last spasm of desperation, I tried to file a small claim via MoneyClaim Online. They issued a judgement, but when the bailiff tried to serve the papers, it turned out that the address I had for my dear friend was a student halls address. He hadn’t left a forwarding address, and as such, I was out of luck: It was a dead end.
Finally, I spoke to a friend of mine who works as a private detective. Let’s call him Sam Spade.
“Can you send me the raw source of all the e-mails you’ve had from this guy”, Sam said. “I’ll see if I can’t dig something up on him”.
A few days later, he asked me to meet him in the pub.
“I’ve got his address.” Sam said, tucking into his pint of Stella. He explained, with not inconsiderable pride, how he was able to track him down through a really elaborate process which I’ve since forgotten. It included a lot of googling of e-mail addresses. Eventually, it turned out that the guy I had sent money to had a company in his name. According to Companies House, his company was registered to a post boxes company, but through a bit of sweet talking, Sam managed to convince the post boxes company to hand over the guy’s real name and private address.
“None of this information is admissible in court”, Sam said, and refused resolutely to answer any details about how he had managed to convince the postboxes company to hand over the address of one of their customers. “But I suppose the least you can do is to go have a chat with the guy. He only lives in Essex, in Hempstead, just outside Saffron Walden! I’ll come with you if you like.” he said, with a glint in his eyes.
Sam is one of my motorcycling buddies. On our days off, we’ll often head out into Essex; the A- and B-roads in the triangle between Epping, Cambridge and Ipswich are glorious for a summer’s day ride-out, playing cat-and-mouse with each other. It’s one of the glorious things about riding a powerful motorcycle: even within the speed limits, you can get the thrill of riding as you zip past cars with the wind in your, er, helmet.
We decided to make a bit of an excursion of it the next week-end; a ride-out punctuated with a confrontation with the scoundrel who had defrauded me of my Â£250.
“I’ve brought a video camera”, Sam said, when we pulled up at the address he had unearthed. He pointed to the camera he has mounted on his positively obscene, supercharged Suzuki Hayabusa motorcycle. “I’ll park my bike so the camera covers the front door, and I’ll ‘accidentally’ leave the camera rolling. Don’t tell him you’re a copper, just confront him. You did bring your memory cards, didn’t you?” he asked. I nod in reply.
I’m taking my helmet off. Since we were on a ‘spirited’ ride, I was definitely fully ATGATT this time; I was wearing my steel-reinforced motorcycle boots, and my leather motorcycle suit. Underneath, I had my chest- and back-protector. Covered from neck to toes in cowhide and kevlar, I felt more protected than if I had worn my police-issue stab vest. A confrontation? Easy-peasy.
Sam re-positioned his bike, as I grabbed the memory cards, the blister packs, and the envelope out of the tank bag on my motorcycle. I left my helmet resting on the mirror on my bike, and was ready for my confrontation.
I’m pressing the white button on the door frame, and I can hear the door-bell play a little tune inside. Someone opens the door. It’s a red-headed man, about 20 years old.
“Can I help you?” he asks the covered-from-top-to-toe-in-leather apparition that wouldn’t look out of place in a superhero cartoon.
“Maybe you can”, I reply. “Are you Zhipeng?” I ask, guessing (correctly) that this young man with a thick Birmingham accent probably isn’t.
“Naw”, he laughs, “Do I look like a Zhipeng?” he says. “His English name is Chip. I’ll get him for you.” he says, and turns away from the door. Then he turns back, having apparently had an idea.
“Who shall I say is calling?” he asks, casually.
My mind is racing. If I say my name, Chip will recognise it, and would possibly not come to the door. I give Sam’s name instead.
“I’m Sam Spade”, I say.
“Right-oh”, the man says, and vanishes inside, leaving the door open.
Chip comes to the door. He’s taller than most Chinese people I’ve met. It’s obvious he’s spent a lot of time in the gym.
“What do you want”, he says, with only the slightest trace of an oriental accent; he has obviously been in the UK for a long time.
“Hey,” I begin. “You sold me some memory cards on eBay. They are fakes, and I would like my money back, please.”
There’s a long silence. He’s obviously figured out who I am and what I want, but I can see in his eyes that he’s trying to figure out how I found him.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about”, he says, quickly steps back, starts closing the door. I move my foot forward, and place it in the crack before it closes. As I’m doing this, I realise I’ve technically committed burglary, but I wasn’t going to let him just close the door without getting some sort of resolution.
“Get the fuck away from me”, he says, and he opens the door again – only by a couple of inches – before slamming the heavy wooden door shut on my foot. If I had been wearing my police boots, I’d have a couple of broken toes at least. Fortunately, my motorbike boots are built for it. They are designed to keep my feet and ankles safe in case I come off the bike in a crash. The slamming door is a lot less abuse than the boots would have taken if I had come off with my leg between the bike and the road. I barely even felt it.
He opens the door again, and surprises me by pushing me backwards with both his hands against my chest.
“Get the fuck away from me. You can’t prove anything”, he says, before taking yet another step forward and pushing me again. “Why don’t you piss off before I call the police”, he says.
“Actually,” I reply, with as much calmness I can muster, “That would be a good idea. Then we can explain to them how you defrauded me of Â£250. Let’s see what they say to that.”
Chip doesn’t take that very graciously at all.
“Fuck you”, he elocutes. Then it happens: His arm drops down, and he takes a step back. I have no idea what martial art he is trained in, but I’ve done enough randori in my life to recognise a fighting stance when I see one.
“Calm down,” I tell him. “Let’s talk about this properly. I obviously know who you are, what you’ve done, and where you live, and I’m not going to leave until you refund my money. There’s no need for all of this. Well done you for tricking me out of some money, but just give it back, and I’ll be out of your hair, and I won’t contact you again.”
He changes the way he is standing. His legs are no longer next to each other; one is slightly behind the other. His head drops down slightly, and whilst I’ve been staring into his eyes the whole time, I realise that he has bent his knees slightly. Suddenly, I’m regretting being here at all. I know exactly what’s going to happen next, and I realise that I’m not going to enjoy it in the slightest.
He is signalling his punch. Actually, ‘signalling’ is giving him too much credit. He might as well have written “I am going to punch you” in long-hand on a post-card, dropped it in a Royal Mail mailbox, had it come in return because he forgot to put a stamp on it, stamp it, put it in the mailbox again, have it arrive at my house, and left me to read it whilst sipping a cognac and listening to a nice Madeleine Peyroux album.
Put differently, he’s not a very experienced fighter.
I can see the punch starting from the corner of my eye, as he shifts his weight.
“You’re about to make a very stupid mistake, my friend”, I say to him, as the entire world drops into a bizarre yet familiar slow-motion as the adrenaline dumps into my blood-stream.
I know the video is rolling, and I really want to let him punch me. The plan after that is to take a quick trip to the local police station and get him arrested for assault. We’ll have the video and Sam’s witness statement as proof. And hopefully, in the interview, Chip will fess up to his fraud, and I won’t have to explain how I found him. All of this is racing through my head, as Chip is moving himself into position for the now-inevitable punch.
I swear, I was intent on letting him punch me, but as he started the movement, I couldn’t just let him reduce my face to a bloody mess. Ten years of Jiu-Jitsu wasn’t going to let go of me that easily, and despite my resolution to take the punch, I felt my body disobeying my brain. A subtle feint to the left, and a very fast side-step to the right brings me close to Chip, inside the reach of his punch. It’s my defense mechanism, ingrained after years and years of letting people with various coloured belts around their pyjama-clad bodies take punches at me
The sound of my feet making two very fast shuffles on the asphalt reaches my ears as Chip’s fist comes storming towards me, hitting the space where my face was a fraction of a second ago with full force. I’m inside his reach; his fist flew past the left side of my head, grazing my left ear ever-so-slighty. I’ve already planted the palm of my left hand against Chip’s nose once.
My left hand is sliding down along the arm he tried to punch me with, and as I reach the bottom of his wrist, my right hand comes up, fast. I slap him across the face, leaving him dazzled. The slap is a ‘weakener’; a punch that’s designed not to harm or disable, but to confuse. It works, I can feel the arm I’m holding in my left hand relax briefly. The hand I slapped Chip with continues its motion from right to left, down to meet my left hand. I’m holding his right wrist with both my hands, my back turned to him. I swirl around, my right leg taking a large step backwards, as I’m turning his wrist upside down, and yanking his hand to bring him off balance.
It’s elementary, white-belt Jiu-Jitsu stuff, really. I’ve done this so many times I could do it in my sleep. The next step in this rapid series of events is to snap-kick my shin into his face, before breaking his wrist with a quick clock-wise yank, and fracture his elbow by stomping on it with my left shin. I break out of the fast muscle-memory-trained sequence, and decide to hold back. Securing an assault conviction isn’t going to be easy if he hasn’t connected a single punch, but comes away from the altercation with a broken nose, wrist, and elbow.
Instead of causing any real damage, I give him a quick yank, and he’s flat on his face. I still have his wrist, and I apply enough pressure to help him realise I can break it.
I look up, and I see Sam is standing next to me, pretending to look ever-so-slightly bored. Relatively successfully too, I might add. He bows down and talks into Chip’s ear.
“Hey asshole. I filmed all of that. We have on tape that you tried to punch him in the face. Also, he’s a police officer, did you know that?”
Chip responds with a half-sigh, half-moan.
“So what’s it gonna be, Bruce Lee?” Sam asks.
“I’ll pay you! I’ll pay you!”, Chip says.
I let go of his wrist and take a couple of steps back.
“Go on, then”, I say.
Chip vanishes inside the house, and comes back out a few seconds later, holding a wad of cash. He counts up Â£250, and adds another Â£20 to the stack. He holds them out to me, but Sam snatches the stack, and makes a big show of checking each bill, muttering things about forgeries. When he’s done, he looks and me and shrugs.
“Looks fine to me,” he says. “Even the serial numbers are all different” he grins.
“Are you really a cop”, Chip asks, as we turn around to head back to our bikes. I open my mouth to tell him the truth, but Sam is quicker.
“I guess you’ll never know. Get yourself an honest job instead, eh?” he says, eyeing Chip.
Later that night, after I’ve changed out of my leathers and had a shower, I make a point of buying Sam a couple of pints at the pub. He slips me a DVD.
“It’s the tape from this afternoon”, he says. “I doubt he’ll claim he was assaulted, but you never know”.
Sam enjoys bending the rules a little bit too much to make a good police officer, but if he ever pulled himself together, he’d make a fantastic partner, I muse later that night as I’m drifting off to sleep.
Note: The eBay fraud went down in 2006, before eBay started cracking down on forgeries, and before the PayPal refund procedures were as robust as they are now. These days, this case would probably have been resolved in my favour without risking having my nose broken.
But I daresay that wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting a story.
Stay out of trouble,