The Library

The Putt a the End of the World:

A novel by Lee K. Abbott, Dave Barry, Richard Bausch, James Crumley, James W. Hall, Tami Hoag, Tim O'Brien, Ridley Pearson and Les Standiford

Chapter 1: The Deep Rough
Part Three

Pal Desert, California

Rita Shaughnessy stood beneath the patio overhang at the rear of the bungalow she had occupied for nearly a month at the Samantha Forbes Clinic, a copper-faced wedge poised about three-quarters back in her swing. Though it was a man's club, it hardly mattered. She'd been the longest-hitting woman on the tour, could outdrive more than a few of her male counterparts. Besides, she was hardly in a position to be picky about her equipment.

"Spend enough time in a place like this," she said over her shoulder, "you can figure out all sorts of things." She hitched her hands just a bit higher. "One thing I realized, I'd been cupping my wrist at the top of my swing," she said. She gave a toss of her shoulder-length blond hair and, without appearing to look, brought the club down neatly onto the Astro Turf carpeting of the patio. The ball she'd placed there arced out into the clear desert sky, its white orb outlined cleanly against the purple range of mountains opposite.

The ball seemed to hang in the sky for an inordinate amount of time, and when it finally dropped, it landed with a gentle plop on the immaculately tended grass of the clinic's croquet court, took one quick hop backward, and came to rest by a wicket peg, not half a yard from where several other balls lay.

"Pepsi," Zamora corrected him.

Hector shrugged. "Same thing."

Zamora glanced back toward the green where Harvey Byers was peeling bills off a roll, handing them over to his own caddy. "You think he set me up?"

Hector made a snorting sound that might have been intended as a laugh. "You better start wearing those glasses like the doctor said, Z-man. That's all I got to say. You seem to be missing quite a bit these days."

At that, Zamora turned his broad, bronzed Aztec features away, wondering what Hector would say if he told him he had been wearing glasses, contacts anyway. He'd slipped away to find a Specs-Is-Us outlet during that rain-out day at the Atlanta Senior Classic, had himself fitted for a pair of the soft lenses. And they'd worked fine, for a month or so. But now...He shook his head. The truth was, he didn't know what was happening with his eyes. Soon as he got back home, he'd go see the doctor again---.

"Look out!", Hector cried, and Zamora came back with a start. He slammed on the brake of the cart, locking it into a power slide that stopped a few inches short of a decorative pond occupying the grounds between the clubhouse path and the parking lot. Vague orange shapes slithered around in the shallow water there---those giant Japanese goldfish, Zamora thought; either that or orange alligators. He reached down to the transmission lever, flipped the cart into reverse.

"Throw those clubs on the cart and get in," he said to Hector. "We got a plane to catch." Zamora had his foot poised atop the accelerator, was doing his best to ignore the shrill warning ping that the cart was sending out. He didn't have to read his watch to know they'd be cutting it close. Maybe forty-five minutes to make the last plane out; he was due in Orlando for an 8 A.M. tee time, a corporate outing with some executives from Disney the day before some new Senior event -- the Mickey and Minnie Open.

Only ten grand for the outing, but he had alimony payments rolling around, and he'd just blown this appearance money. The way he'd been playing on the tour this season, it might be the only cash he could count on taking home from the Florida swing.

"I been meaning to talk to you about Orlando," Hector was saying. He had his head hanging down, the big bag off his shoulder now, resting it on the ground in front of him. He was moving from one foot to the other as if he might be practicing how to dance.

"Talk about what?" Zamora said. "We'll have plenty of time on the plane, man. Come on."

Hector glance up finally. "Fact is, I won't be going to Orlando."

Zamora stared at him dumbly. He reached down, twisted the key of the cart. Though the pinging stopped, the throbbing of his temples did not. "You're not going to Orlando? Why the hell not?"

Hector rolled his big head around uncomfortably, glanced back in the direction of the eighteenth green, "Z-man, you don't have to make this any harder than it is."

"You sound like my last wife, Hector. Now tell me what's wrong."

"Well, you know we ain't been doing so well lately ___"

"Don't tell me Hale Irwin's been after you again. Promising you things? I told you that guy is just trying to mess with me. He don't care about you, Hector, not like I do. Besides, he's picked up a hitch in his swing, and his putting stroke is shot. He lost back-to-back playoffs against a couple of nobodies."

Hector held up his big paw. "It's not Hale Irwin," he said sorrowfully. "I just told you I ain't going to Orlando'

"Well, what then?"

Hector shrugged, glanced back along the path toward the green. Harvey Byers, the bond trader, was striding their way, his smile glinting even in the fading light. "I got kids in high school, Z-man." Hector said. About to go off to college. I got to be thinking of the future."

"Mr. Zamora," the bond trader was calling. "I wanted to catch you before you got away --"

"We're having a conversation," Zamora snapped.

"I better just leave these here," Hector said. He stepped forward, propped the big bag against the seat of the cart.

"Why don't you just go inside, tell them you're with me," the bond trader said to Hector.

Zamora stared at Byers, then back at Hector. His mouth fell open as it began to dawn on him. "Hector!" he called. "Are you shitting me?"

But Hector didn't turn. He was moving down the path toward the clubhouse as quickly as Zamora had ever seen him move. Zamora swing back to Byers, who held his hands up in a placating manner.

"Now I know you must be upset...," Byers began.

"Did you just hire my caddy away?" Zamora said. He vaulted over the clubs Hector had dumped in his path, and in one smooth motion had a handful of Byers's shirtfront before the man could step away.

"Hustle me out of twenty thousand dollars, steal my caddy..." Zamora dragged Byers toward the pond, had one hand on his collar, another at the seat of his pants. Yes, let them be orange alligators, he thought.

"Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars!" Byers cried, as Zamora neared the top of his backswing.

Zamora hesitated, glanced down at the man he held in his hands. "You offered Hector that kind of money? He's a good caddy, but he's not that good."

"I'm offering you two hundred and fifty thousand dollars," Byers said. His voice sounded a little strange. "That's what I wanted to talk to you about."

Zamora realized he was strangling the man with his polo shirt. He released his hold on the back of Byers's collar. The man managed to catch himself on his palms, keep his face from smacking the curb at the edge of the pond.

"Are you going to let go of my pants now?" Byers asked. He looked like he was frozen halfway through a push-up.

"Maybe," Zamora said. One good sling and he could still run the man right into the water. "It depends on just how good this story is."

"It's not a story at all," Byers said. "It's true. It's why we brought you down here to begin with. We wanted to be sure your skills were still intact, you see, and they were outstanding. I must say, except for that final hole--"

"I am going to feed you to the fish," Zamora said. He noted agitated splashing in the pool now. Perhaps they were golden piranha. This was South Florida, after all.

"Please, Mr. Zamora, hear me out..."

"Just who is this we?" Zamora said, tensing himself for the toss.

"I represent Phillip "Bates," Byers said.

"The computer guru," Zamora said, irony in his voice. "Richest man in the world."

"Not to mention golf aficionado," Buyers added hastily. "Remember when he tried to buy Augusta Country Club?"

Zamora peered down through the gloom. Of course he remembered. For what Bates had offered, even the supposedly inviolate membership of Augusta had finally caved in. It had taken an act of the Georgia legislature to keep the deal from going through. "What would Phillip Bates want from me?" he asked suspiciously.

Byers twisted his head around. In the gloom, only one eye visible, his mouth working awkwardly, he looked a bit like a fish himself. "He wants you to come to Scotland, Mr. Zamora."

"To Scotland" Zamora said. He released his hold on Byers finally and the man dropped in a heap. "What the hell for?"

Byers got to his feet then, straightened his thinning blonde hair, dusted his hands on his slacks. "For two hundred and fifty thousand dollars," he repeated, his voice back to something like normal. He had withdrawn his wallet, was holding out something that looked like a check. "Half to be paid now, half when the job is done."

"And what sort of job is this?" Zamora asked dubiously.

"Why don't we go inside and talk about it?" Byers said, handing over the check.

Zamora stared down. It looked like his name all right, and he thought all the zeros were in place. He checked the sky, saw he'd have to find better light to make sure the decimal point was right.

What the hey, he'd already missed his flight. He could go inside, do that much, he thought, and followed Byers away.


Part Three

Back to Part One

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