Golf and Erica
The golf course wasn't the Stockport Golf Club, but one that only Heston and Hiram could have found. Meadowbrook, tucked away against a river and marsh, had once been a famous private course. There had been major tournaments there, and Bobby Jones, in a dozen or more rounds, had never broken seventy. After the stock market crash, the club had come on hard times, and had been closed for a year or so. It was then bought by a group of bootleggers who, during prohibition, were doing rather well.
The Mafia turned out not to be elitist. The new owners put up a sign which said that the public was invited. But it was still rare for anyone not connected with them to play the course. Instead of giving lavish gangland balls and parties, they let the large ornate club house slide into decay. They also changed the course itself, again in a plebian direction. Many of the Meadowbrook tees had looked over a hundred and fifty yards of marsh or river. The dons and capos, having come late to golf, couldn't manage such obstacles. Hence, with their usual direct approach to problems, they moved the tees past the obstacles.
By the time we got to Meadowbrook, most of the Mafia had disappeared. There remained only the owner, Anthony Tertulli, otherwise known as "Scuzz Flats."
Scuzz Flats was reputed to have been a machine-gun killer in his youth. Even in age, he had a striking and rather terrifying face. The features were so crudely exaggerated that it was hard not to stare. Indeed, the deep creases around his mouth looked as if they had been there even in youth. His body was massive, and, despite his slightly arthritic movements, he looked as if he could still strangle with his huge hands. I couldn't guess the derivation of the street name. However, it was possible to imagine its owner prowling slowly through a large flat waterfront slum, emerging from the night shadows only long enough to dispatch a deviant with a burst of red-orange machine-gun fire.
When Scuzz Flats spoke, it was with a high rather halting voice which had a catch in it. It was nothing like machine-gun fire. On the contrary, it sounded as if his pleasantries had been intended for the last customer, but had been produced so slowly as to be just in time for us. Having greeted us, he looked at Hiram and said slowly to Heston,
"We knew you were coming, so we didn't let anyone else out on the course."
It was a joke which I understood only later, but it seemed that Scuzz Flats was a Sicilian version of Heston himself. It was no wonder that they got on well and often played golf together.
Mrs. Scuzz Flats was something else altogether, a gypsyish-looking vixen much younger than her husband. She happened to like Heston and Hiram, and I was glad that I didn't have to confront her alone. I heard later that, when a customer complained about some feature of the course, she refunded his money by throwing it at him. It was also said that she goaded her husband into fights in the huge empty ballroom, in the course of which they threw full bottles of gin at each other.
In this atmosphere, a little eerie from my standpoint but comfortable for the others, we proceeded to the first tee. Rather, we went to what had once been the first tee. Heston played the course as it had been designed, and led us to a hummock covered with tall grass on which there was a flat cleared space just large enough to allow one to drive.
It was a good thing that I learned to play golf early and well. I was originally taught golf because a child who cannot run is cut off from so many other things. Moreover, if it is one's right leg that is longer, and one is right- handed, there is a slight advantage. It's easier to shift one's weight to the front foot as one swings, besides which, one is hitting ever so slightly downhill, a feature that allows one to nicely fit the flange of an iron under the ball as it nestles in the grass.
More important, because of the canes and crutches of my girlhood, I have much stronger arms than most women. None of this would avail in the slightest without a good swing, but I was well taught at an age when such things make a difference. The result is that I get a fairly steady two hundred yards or more off the tee. About a third of my drives hook, but the irons are pretty steady. If I learned to putt, I might score well. However, golf has always struck me simply as a pleasant pastime, and it doesn't engage my competitive instincts as does running.
Heston did suggest the ladies' tee, but I will have none of that nonsense. I hit my first drive a trifle low, but it carried easily over the no-man's land and split the fairway beyond. People are always impressed the first time they see me hit, but Heston was almost as surprised as he had been when he heard about my running. It was fun to come across someone with a conceptual scheme so easily shaken.
Heston drove next, and, as he lined up, it was noticeable that his hands shook. He also placed his club, not behind the ball, but completely inside it. Unorthodox addresses and backswings usually produce unfortunate results, and I held my breath. In fact, Heston hit his ball straight and rolled it well past mine. Not many men his age could do that, and I congratulated him fulsomely. He assured me,
"Something usually goes wrong before I get in the cup."
The minute Hiram took his first practice swing, I knew we were in for some excitement. It wasn't a bad swing. He kept his left arm straight and whipped the club through with a great deal of force. However, he lost control of the clubhead at the top of his backswing and never quite regained it. I predicted a violent slice.
When the course was originally laid out, its designer must have thought that he had put the club house just out of range of a long slice from the first tee. He had reckoned without Hiram. The ball took off with an impressive trajectory, but, as I had foreseen, it curved sharply right. It kept carrying and finally hit the club house on the fly between two ground floor windows, in fact, right by the pro shop. A figure soon popped out of the door, and, even at that distance, could be heard. I was sure that it was Mrs. Scuzz Flats, and was somewhat alarmed. Both Heston and Hiram were amused, I thought unwisely, as we trekked toward her.
When we were half way we could make out the obscenities clearly. Moreover, I gathered that this was not the first time that Hiram had reached the house. Scuzz himself ambled along behind her, evidently enjoying the performance as much as Heston. The lady, to my relief, didn't become physically violent.
Hiram's ball had hit the wood-framed building solidly enough to bounce across the lawn, past the drive, and on to the edge of the course. His way was now blocked by a large solitary tree, some forty yards distant, which guarded the right side of the fairway. While Mrs. Scuzz urged Hiram to give up golf and take up badminton instead, everyone else had advice for him. The consensus was that he should play the ball low, under the branches, and aim for the trunk on the theory that the ball would be bound to go either right or left. Hiram leaned into a two wood. The ball hit the trunk, only a few feet up, harder than I had ever seen a ball hit anything. I was standing well off to the left, keeping judiciously away from Mrs. Scuzz, and the ball, on the rebound, shot over my head on its way to a resting place in the middle of the new first tee.
It was only then that I realized how good looking Mrs. Scuzz was. Delighted that Hiram had ended up where he should have started in the first place, she danced like a gypsy, skirts and necklaces flying, and embraced him passionately. Her husband chatted with Heston while she followed Hiram part way back, chattering gaily.
Before Hiram could hit again, Mrs. Scuzz returned to us. She lined up her husband and Heston, facing Hiram, and took me by the wrist. She then led me behind them, saying,
"It won't matter if they're killed, but a woman of child- bearing age must be protected."
This time, Hiram hit a good shot, one that landed far up the fairway of the long par five. We all then walked up to my ball. I used a wood and hooked it only slightly, the ball remaining in the fairway. As we departed, Mrs. Scuzz enjoined me to beat the men, especially Hiram. She screamed after us,
"He's too confident. He needs to experience humiliation."
After that, we went along in a fairly ordinary golferly way. Heston and I alternated between pars and bogies. Hiram scored unevenly, but got in less trouble than I had expected. We sometimes had to look for his ball, but an occasional excursion into the woods and fields isn't unpleasant, particularly if one finds a couple of balls. On one occasion, as we returned to the fairway, Hiram said to me,
"You're limping. It must be from the race yesterday."
My golf shoes, unlike the others, haven't had the special treatment. While I would ordinarily have accepted an excuse such as the one offered, I instead explained the situation. Heston looked me in the face in a way that was unusual for him, but said nothing.
The course itself was lovely, a series of peninsulas and islands in the marshland. The holes were often connected only by rickety wooden bridges over lily ponds and slow moving little tributaries of the main stream. We had it all to ourselves, and I asked Heston why it wasn't more popular. He replied,
"A lot of Scuzz's old pals are dead. They still get a crowd on weekends, but not much in the week."
"Scuzz has a habit of driving his old Cadillac around the course and shooting pigeons. That helps keep the crowds down."
The eighth hole, a par three, crossed the main river. Since the green was on the far side, and the footbridge was lacking its middle span, I asked how we got across. Heston indicated a couple of rowboats tied to a stake on the bank.
It was Heston's honor. He hit a seven iron high, and to the back of the green, where it stuck. I used a six and concentrated on getting a good shoulder turn without breaking my wrists, something I don't always accomplish. I picked the ball clean off the broken tee without any turf, but, still, it was a good shot. It came down right in line with the pin with a short high bounce. However, the green had little tilt, and we couldn't see how close the ball might be. Hiram hit his ball much too far, but it hit a tree beyond the green and bounced back on to it. Heston and I made the slighting remarks which are, in such a case, required by the traditions of golf.
Since we were all on the green, it was necessary to take only ourselves and our putters across. Hiram managed the boat smartly, and brought us up broadside to the other bank. When I popped out, I was thrilled to see my ball only a foot from the pin.
Heston putted first. Although his hands shook as always, he was easily the best putter among us, and lagged up almost as close as myself. Hiram, some twenty feet away, hit his putt too hard, but the line was exactly right. The ball hit the back edge of the cup and bounced up before it dropped, clunking.
It was Hiram's first birdie ever, and, in his excitement, he actually removed his cap. I, congratulating him, couldn't help noticing that he was partly bald on top. However, more than that, he had a tan line from the cap which left the top of his head peculiarly white. My laughter merged into the general merriment, even as Heston casually sank his putt. I, still laughing, missed mine without even coming close. The ball ended up as far away as it had begun. Hiram, with the flag, said to Heston,
"Give it to her before she misses that, too."
He had his cap back on, but I was still too diverted to be very much upset over missing my birdie.
Heston, taking the oars on the way back, told a story, the first I had heard from him. Hiram's birdie reminded him of the only other man he had ever taught to play golf. The man turned out to be, to my great surprise, Bret Halvorson.
"We were playing a par three course with Bret's cousin, a young feller in college named David, a pretty good golfer. Well, Bret was getting sixes and sevens on those little holes til we got along to about the seventh. Now Bret didn't get a birdie like Hiram, but it was his first par."
Heston, resting on the oars, turned half way toward me in the bow, and let us drift slowly across the stream.
"Bret topped one off the tee, but it rolled up somewhere near the green. David was quite a joker, so he went up to hold the pin, as if he thought Bret might get it in. Bret took a wedge and swung hard. He then hit the ball right in the middle and got a line drive. It hit David right in..."
Heston didn't know what to say, but Hiram was laughing loudly. I said,
"Okay, I know where it hit him. Go on."
"Well, David was rolling on the green yowling and holding himself. But the ball dropped a few inches from the cup. Bret had a big smile on his face as he came up with his putter. He stepped right over David and sank the putt. Now that's the only thing I know to compare with this birdie of Hiram's."
Amid continuing jollification, Hiram took the honor at the next hole and almost missed the ball altogether, rolling it into the tall grass in front of the tee. Heston, wagging his head sagely, muttered appropriately while I, my eye on the ball, ran into the rough and retrieved it. His moment of glory now forgotten, Hiram tried again with better results.
The ninth, another long par five, aimed at the club house. The latter, sitting on a rise above the surrounding flatland, was really an immense old pile, older than I had at first realized. It probably pre-dated the golf course, in which case it must surely have been the stately home of some industrial robber baron. If one knew, as I did, that there was an old bathtub in the middle of the ballroom floor to catch the rain as it came through the ceiling far above, it made a difference to one's perception. However, it was the sort of difference which, if anything, added to the romance.
We had time for only nine holes, and, happy with a forty one, I went with the others to the clubhouse. In the little part of the building that was actually in use there were a couple of tables where Heston and I had beers, and Hiram a Diet Pepsi. Scuzz Flats sat with us while his wife, after bringing our drinks, wandered around us conversing. She had a way of standing behind one or another of the men, speaking and looking over their shoulders. Not one of them was, I think, entirely sure that she might not tap him playfully on the head with a rolling pin.
Mrs. Scuzz was particularly curious about me, about my golf, and about my profession. She found out more about me in twenty minutes than either Heston or Hiram had in the course of our entire acquaintance.
The next day at the office, everyone was quite curious about my golf outing, particularly Bret Halvorson. When he found out what I had scored, he replied,
"My God. I was going to invite you to play with our group, but you'd embarrass us. I'd never get a forty one in a hundred years, much less on that course."
"It's a beautiful course."
"Yeah, but I'm not going near that crazy gangster or his even crazier wife. You could end up in the river with cement shoes."
I said that I had found them quite charming, adding,
"I bet it's been twenty years since he's taken anyone for a ride. Besides, he may have money to invest."
"You can have that account, Adrienne. Anyway, you can't buy or sell franchises for numbers and prostitution on the stock exchange."
"By the way, Heston was telling us all about teaching you to play golf and your getting your first par. Mrs. Scuzz Flats said she thought you might be her kind of man."
This last, of course, was invention. Bret knew it, but reddened just the same. He did say that Heston's story was 'substantially true,' but claimed that his cousin had only been pretending to be hurt. Bret then took me out to lunch for the first time in some weeks.
As soon as we were seated, I asked him how things were going.
"Too well. I'm overloaded. It's gotten to the point where I'd like to get rid of a few of the customers who take up the most time even though their accounts are good ones."
"Can't you get your secretary to take their orders and talk to them?"
"That's an area where I'm behind you. I've never used a secretary much. I thought, if a customer's worth having, I wanted to talk with him myself. It's just recently that I've felt the need. If I'd been smart, I'd have gotten Janey before you did."
It was typical of Bret to admit openly that we were in a competitive situation, and that he'd take any advantage he reasonably could. He added, musingly,
"I think I may have been afraid to have her always floating around in front of me. Maxine is much safer. Unfortunately, she's not nearly as smart."
I explained my arrangement with Janey. Bret responded,
"I figured it was something like that."
"How did you know?"
"She's suddenly become better dressed, and she's acting much more professionally. That had to be your idea, and I didn't think you'd do it just for the sake of appearances."
"Do you think it's a good idea?"
"Sure. It's good for both of you, and I wish I could do the same thing. I'd be worried if I were Larsen, though. All of us give bad advice sooner or later, and someone could make a stink if it comes from a secretary."
"I don't think he'll object. He's started taking her out."
"That's dumb! Real dumb. I'm beginning to wonder about him."
"Well, if he were smarter and more assertive, he might not have let that thing with Maloney go through."
"I'm not complaining. I got some very good accounts out of that, ones Maloney should never have had in the first place. You've profited from it, too."
"Do you think Maloney will hold together?"
"Sure. I've seen lots of guys like that, Adrienne. They never get much better or much worse, and it takes a hell of a long time before it gets to the liver and kills them."
A moment of silence passed between us, dedicated, I suppose, to cirrhosis of the liver. I broke it.
"I agree that David leaves a lot to be desired in many areas. Among other things, I doubt that he's nearly as honest as he looks. But, anyhow, he has the great virtue of leaving us alone."
When we returned, Janey approached me with the breathless manner she has when excited.
"I've got someone waiting in my office to see you. This one's definitely for you. She's a real lady, someone special."
I asked her name.
"It's Mrs. Constanza Tertulli. Isn't that a nice name? She has an accent, too. I think she must be some kind of Italian countess."
The name meant nothing to me, so I peeked into Janey's office. The lady facing almost away from me sat absolutely upright and motionless in an elegant black dress with elaborately done hair. Her immobility, while complete, looked composed, as if she could remain in that posture indefinitely. One foot was thrust forward, a slim ankle in a dark stocking bent improbably over a high heel. I knew at a glance that this woman's clothing allowance, put into stock, would buy a nice little portfolio.
As Janey brought the lady in, the latter's walk and carriage, particularly accentuated by her small supple waist and tightly fitted bodice, made Janey look less impressive than usual. I popped up to introduce myself. The woman smiled and replied in a deep and lightly accented voice,
"It's so nice to see you again, Miss Brooks. I'm afraid no one bothered to properly introduce us yesterday."
I must have looked extremely foolish as I literally fell back into my seat with my mouth open. My visitor laughed delightedly, but in the manner of a lady, without reverting to the role of Mrs. Scuzz Flats. She said,
"Call me Constanza."
As I was still somewhat disorganized, she continued,
"Let me explain. Men like my husband don't wish to marry American girls. They consider them too brazen, too independent, and too worldly. So they send to Sicily for innocent little virgins of good family who've been educated in convents."
With this she gestured, palms up, and pulled an innocent face. She then smiled in a knowing way.
"But, then, we learn. At least, some of us do. These men are not so very cultivated themselves. They don't appreciate a modest and shy creature like myself, one who cannot raise her voice even when treated shamefully."
There was again the laugh, this time less inhibited.
"And so we learn to be what they really want us to be, at least part of the time."
She gave me a look which, had I been a man, would have caused me to kneel at her feet. Even as it was, I was prepared to make the most extraordinary efforts on her behalf. As it happened, she wanted very much what Heston had wanted, a review of her holdings.
I soon learned that gentlemen in certain sorts of businesses put a good portion of their assets in the names of their wives. Indeed, one reason for importing wives from Sicily is that, with luck, they can be trusted. The Tertullis, contrary to Bret's jokes, had long since reached the point where all moneys were legally invested. Moreover, all decisions, for both their holdings, had been left to Constanza for some time. She had, in fact, done a pretty good job, erring, if at all, on the side of caution. The whole fortune, not counting the golf course, ran to a bit more than Heston's. I had only a couple of suggestions: To diversify internationally, and to slightly reduce the proportion of bonds.
Constanza opened an account and made the appropriate dispositions on the spot. She then remarked,
"The golf course makes no money, but it's a pleasant place to live. Anthony can pretend to be an English gentleman by shooting pigeons on the fairways. Is it not true that an English lord shoots birds on his estate?"
Despite her smile, I realized that it was only partly a joke. I could almost imagine Scuzz Flats in tweeds on a shooting stick taking aim at a sporting bird. She added,
"But he'll die soon. I try to cook for him the things he should eat, but he throws them at me. No matter. One of these days he will go poof."
She illustrated with an expressive gesture. I asked,
"Will you keep the course?"
"I don't play golf. I find it undignified. Not the way you play, but the way I would play. I'd be almost like Hiram."
I myself considered that it would be a horrid crime to turn that beautiful course into house lots, but I knew where my duty lay.
"You could sell it for a great deal and invest the money much more productively."
As we talked on, I gradually discovered that Constanza loved the place as much as her husband did.
"I would have renovated the ballroom and given balls, but, then, think who would come. What's the point?"
She then added,
"But, after he's dead, it would be different. I could have you and Hiram and Heston."
"I'm sure that Hiram would still wear his cap even with a tuxedo."
"He's so vain about losing his hair. It really makes no difference, if he only knew."
"He is attractive in an odd way. All those women want to go on cruises because of him."
Hiram was the sort of man women talk about. I had my phone switched over to Janey, and we went at it with a will. At length, Constanza said,
"Of course, one reason women like him is because he doesn't much want them. I've tried a little in my way. He's friendly, but nothing more."
"Perhaps he's afraid of your husband."
"It's not that. Perhaps a more beautiful woman might tempt him, but I don't think so."
"He can't be gay."
"No. But he's damaged. Not physically, but emotionally. It may be the Vietnam syndrome we hear so much of, but, more likely, something else. Perhaps drugs or a woman. But, I think, not even that. Occasionally a man gets old when he's still young. I think it's nothing more than that."
I told her of the little experiment Janey and I had performed on Heston. Constanza, not at all surprised, said,
"Heston is old, but he's young. Hiram is young, but he's old. That's why they make such a good pair."
"I suppose it is a marriage of sorts, probably better than most of the ones between men and women."
"Yes. It's not always so good to be married to a man. Anthony isn't bad. At least he has money. But I'd be happier alone."
"I sometimes get tempted. I'm going with a man now, and I might marry him."
"Does he have money?"
"No. He's beginning work at another brokerage in the same kind of work. But it'll take a long time for him to make as much as I do."
Constanza looked quite doubtful. She asked,
"Is he as good a man as Hiram?"
The question struck me as funny. She asked me why I laughed. I replied,
"I never thought of comparing them. Brad certainly couldn't do the things Hiram does."
"Is this Brad as smart as Hiram? Can he do things Hiram couldn't do?"
"Brad is smart, and he's had more education. There are things he might have done and didn't. As things now stand, I can't think of any important advantage he has over Hiram. But, as you pointed out, Hiram doesn't want a woman."
"That is a problem. Does Brad?"
"Well, I think so. I certainly hope so!"
"Is Brad as good a man as Heston?"
I laughed again, but saw that an explanation would be required.
"He's about thirty five years younger."
"I'm thirty two years younger than Anthony."
"Brad is a much better talker than Heston."
"A better liar, perhaps?"
"Well, certainly that."
"Who would win if they fought?"
I found Constanza's questions on this day almost as disconcerting as her behavior the day before. But I answered,
"You know, old as he is, I think Heston might win. Unless Brad did something underhand and sneaky."
"So. Brad has no money, he's a liar, and he's a sneak. Heston is almost as good a man as Anthony. You should marry Heston. If you do, you'll also have the services of Hiram. Not in bed, but in many other ways."
"I think you've convinced me not to marry anyone."
Constanza's strange reasoning reminded me of something I had once learned in a logic class, the reductio ad absurdam. If it was more reasonable to marry Heston than Brad, it was crazy to marry Brad.
Constanza was somewhat satisfied with my conclusion, shrugging her shoulders in an attractive way. At that moment, Janey stuck her head in. I knew at a glance that she had been curious as to our goings-on, and was taking advantage of an excuse to come in. As I welcomed her, she said,
"You wanted me to open your mail, but I don't think this one was intended for my eyes."
She handed me the envelope as I introduced her to Constanza. Inside it was a note from David Larsen inviting me out to dinner on Friday night. I said to Constanza,
"It's a note from my boss, asking me out to dinner. He also goes out with Janey."
Much of the fun of being with Constanza consisted in watching her face as it took on one or another of a thousand different expressions. I suggested that the three of us repair to more comfortable surroundings, and excused myself to make arrangements. On my way down the corridor, Bret Halvorson stopped me and whispered,
"Who is that exquisite woman in your office?"
I explained, enjoying his reaction. I added,
"She has quite a nice portfolio that she wants me to work on. It's only an hour to closing time, and she and Janey and I are going out to discuss it. Could you take any orders that might come in?"
Bret wasn't used to covering for anyone, but he agreed readily enough. I told the receptionist to switch my calls to him, and then went down to David's office. He was with a client, but I stuck my head in, and, holding up his note, smiled and nodded. He looked pleased and waved.
When I got back to my office, Constanza was explaining to Janey how she had met me. We moved off quickly before anything came up, and headed for a lounge down the street. On entering, we got a great deal of attention, some not even disguised, from the men present. I knew I was the least attractive, but I still enjoyed it.
Constanza wanted to know all about a man who would go out with two women in the same office. At first, she seemed to think that it might be a sign of extraordinary courage. After further questioning, she concluded,
"I see, then, that he's only stupid. What a pity!"
Constanza was able to think of a great many things we could do to David, all more diabolical than anything that had previously occurred to Janey or myself. In their excitement, both Janey and Constanza adopted postures that drove some of the men at the bar very nearly wild.
The next day I went for a run with Erika. Since it was now late May, there were many people on the island, even during the week. We ran past a couple of clumps of children, none of them very appealing, and then approached the sandy point at the end of the island. I ran slowly while I explained.
I know that it's silly to talk to a dog, or even a wolf. I am not one who believes that they "understand"; still less do I think they can give valuable advice, expressed with wags of the tail or barks. On the other hand, people who are having trouble with the opposite sex, or even the same sex, need to talk. They generally have a much lesser need to listen, and sympathetic grunts will do quite nicely. So, then, why not substitute an occasional woof for the grunts?
It's also better to talk to a dog than to run along talking to oneself. People who talk to themselves are generally judged to be crazy; those who talk to dogs are, at least, accorded the benefit of the doubt.
What I had to say boiled down to something quite simple. Nothing had gone wrong with my objectivity. I knew what a mistake it would be to marry either Brad or David, but I might still do it. The problem was the likelihood of a failure of will. What I needed was a posse of people who would protect me from myself and keep me from doing the things I knew I shouldn't do. Janey was one, but she was younger and had junior status. I might not follow her advice. My new friend, Constanza, was, not only clear- sighted, but authoritative.
Since Mr. Haberle wasn't home, Erika and I ran to the bridge, where I stopped with her. I might not really have had so much to say, but I was strongly inclined to go on saying it. Erika sank to the planking with a loud clunk. She may have been bored, but another advantage of talking to a dog is that it's not necessary to let the boredom of one's audience stop one.
Partly in order to make myself less conspicuous, I dropped to one knee beside Erika and found that she would allow me to touch her. The thick silver-gray fur of her head and back was surprisingly wiry, not the soft fur of a house pet, but it had a fascinating texture. At last I asked,
"Erika, if I brought Brad to see you, would you bite him?"
Erika gave a low throaty growl, which may have meant that, while she was allowing me to stroke her, she didn't want me to overdo it. I gave her a final pat, and was on my way.