“Nothing over here.” She pushes stalks aside with her driver and looks deeper into the trees. If Sasha’s drive did land in here, they may not find it until they both have grandchildren in grad school.
Sasha, tall and blonde, unzips her golf bag and pulls out a new ball. “I’ll drop another one.”
According to the rules, a lost ball means she should go back to the tee and hit her drive again, but four men in carts are practically in their hip pockets, so she’ll call it her third shot to save time. It’s not like they’re in a tournament.
It’s Thursday, which most doctors take off to play here at the Slippery Ridge Country Club, but these guys play so quickly Freddi wonders if they have cocktails waiting, maybe wives or girlfriends and dinner, too. If she and Sasha hold them up, they’ll stay close and make snarky comments the rest of the round.
“Yeah, OK.” Winifred returns to her own ball, fifteen yards ahead of Sasha’s and in the middle of the fairway. In the two years they’ve played together, she can count the times that’s happened—except for today—on one hand.
The men crowd around the markers on the tee. One leans on his club. When he sees Freddi look back at him, he brings up his arm and seems to study his watch. If he were a little more subtle, he could be in opera. Or ballet.
Sasha faces the green and drops another ball over her shoulder. Her legs look long as Freddi’s driver and their tan makes her white golf shoes resemble an albino Dumpster. When she steps away, Freddi can see her ball nestled in a patch of crabgrass with the texture of a scouring pad. From that lie, no way she can reach the green.
“Par for the course today, is it not?” Sasha pulls out a six iron. It will still leave her a long shot to the green, but from that lie, her best bet is to hack her way back to the fairway. She might do even better with a machete, but she’s only allowed fourteen clubs.
She takes her grip, plants the club behind the ball and takes a slow backswing, careful not to snag her club in that tall grass.
“Fore on the right!”
The voice sounds like it’s right behind them and Sasha’s head jerks up. She tops the ball, which bounces into the fairway only a few yards beyond Freddi’s tee shot. Freddi can already see the cut in it, bigger than the smiles on the faces of the jerks behind them.
“Shi-shoot.” Freddi promised herself she was going to clean up her language. “Going to need a new ball when you get to the green.”
“Those assholes…” Sasha didn’t make any such promise. She glares back at the two carts bearing down on them like chariots in full battle mode.
“You want a mulligan?” Freddi asks. “They distracted you.”
The men come closer, crisp golf shirts and razor-cut hair. Freddi wonders how much money they’ve put on this match. She and Sasha bet a fruit cup. With five holes to go, she’s about half an orchard ahead.
“They’ll just get even more obnoxious if I keep holding them up,” Sasha says. “Let’s let them play through.”
“Might as well.” Freddi pulls her cart up next to her ball. One of the men is about thirty yards beyond her, but on the same line. The carts slow down and one comes to a stop inches from Freddi’s cart. If they weren’t on grass, she’d hear tires screech and smell rubber burn.
“Hi, sorry we hit so close.” The guy’s voice almost drips off Freddi’s face. “We thought you were farther along.”
“We’re just girls.” Sasha’s voice makes Freddi think of a snake waiting for the rodent to get closer. “We’re not big and strong like you.”
“Yeah, there’s that.” The guy in the royal blue shirt eases out of the cart and frowns toward the green. His shoulders are square as a storm door, but his shirt strains across his stomach. Freddi would need a four-wood, but he takes a five-iron. Testosterone adds lots of yardage.
“Would you like to play through?” Sasha asks. The guy’s already taking his stance, but he stops and turns.
“Oh, thanks, we’d appreciate that.” Freddi’s afraid Sasha’s going to flip them off, but she doesn’t.
The guy bends over his ball again and waggles his club so often Freddi knows it must be a ritual he goes through every time he swings. Which one of the pros does that? Whoever it is, it looks stupid. The guy takes a divot the size of a snow shovel and contorts his body while he watches the ball flutter into the sand trap to the left front of the green.
“That is one of the most annoying traps on this course,” Sasha says. Freddi can almost see Sasha’s raised middle finger.
The guy glares at her before he strides back to his cart and shoves his club into his bag. He and his buddy take off without another word.
“And your mouth is another,” Sasha finishes.
The other cart is on the far side of the fairway, where a man nearly as thin as his
clubs hits a beautiful shot that arches high and settles gently on the green just the way it’s supposed to. Freddi hates him.
The carts pull up between the green and the next tee and all four men get out. Blue shirt hits a decent shot out of the sand and returns to the cart for his putter.
“Jerks,” Sasha says. Her voice barely carries to Freddi.
“Par for the course today,” Sasha answers.
Freddi waits until the men have replaced the flag, then hits her shot to the front edge of the green. Her putt will be long, but straight uphill.
“No, really. Are you OK?”
Sasha shrugs and fiddles with her clubs. “I’m a little tired,” she admits.
“Something like that.” Sasha pulls out a nine iron. Her eyes stay focused on the flag on the green. She hits her best shot of the entire round so far, settling on the middle of the green, no more than twenty feet from the flag. She slides the club back into her bag and walks to the green with a decisive strut that suggests she’s just found her rhythm and stroke again. If she has, Freddi’s five-stroke lead could melt like a snowball on the Sahara.
The men hit their drives on the next hole and their carts move down the next fairway.
Sasha’s first putt rolls around the rim twice before staying out. Freddi two-putts, too. They move to the next tee and pull out their drivers while the men hit their second shots toward a green that looks smaller than an emerald in a patch of trees four hundred yards away. On a good day, Sasha can reach it in two. Freddi needs three.
Freddi tees up her ball and hits down the left side of the fairway.
“Are you and Chuck making any headway?” she asks. Sasha and Chuck have been going to a marriage counselor, but Sasha told Freddi two weeks ago that she doesn’t think it’s helping at all. He still misses dinner one or two nights a week and she’s not sure he’s always at the office.
“We’re fine,” Sasha says. She tees up her ball, then changes her mind. She picks up the ball and tee and moves two steps to her right to tee it up again. She stands behind it and sights toward the green, then hits her drive at least forty yards beyond Freddi, and smack in the center of the fairway. If her second shot is as good, she’ll reach the green.
While they pull their carts up to their drives, the men scatter across the green with putters in their hands.
Sasha clears her throat.
“Actually,” she says, “he didn’t come home last night.”
“What?” Freddi almost trips over her own feet. “Did he call or anything?”
Sasha stares straight ahead so Freddi can’t see her face. But she strides more quickly until they reach Freddi’s ball. The men move to the next tee. The fairway runs parallel to the one the women stand on.
“I hope they hit the water on sixteen,” Freddi says. Sasha and Chuck live just across the fence from the sixteenth green. The pond in front of it turns an easy hole into a potential nightmare.
“I wish there were alligators,” Sasha replies.
Freddi’s second shot is well short of the green, but in the fairway where she has a straight shot at the flag. Sasha’s stroke slices off to the right, bounces once and rolls into a sand trap. She stabs her club back into her bag.
“Did you try to call him?” Freddi asks. “Or text him?”
“I only hit his voicemail. He never answered.”
“Not even a text?” Freddi feels her mouth sag open. It’s about two in the afternoon now. Chuck should have been home, had breakfast, and gone off to work hours ago.
“Not even a text.” Sasha shrugs but Freddi can see the anger in her shoulders. “Like I keep saying, par for the course.”
“Shit.” So much for cleaning up her language. “Did you call the police?”
“This morning. They told me they can’t do anything until he’s been missing twenty-four hours.”
“That’s stupid,” Freddi says.
“Tell me about it.” Sasha’s voice feels brittle.
They reach the green and Sasha shuffles through her clubs. She frowns and looks through them again, then looks back at the fourteen holes they’ve played.
“Can I borrow your sand wedge? I can’t find mine.”
Freddi hands it to her. “You haven’t been in a trap today. Were you practicing before we started? Maybe left it by the practice green?”
“I don’t think so. Maybe.”
She takes a few practice swings with the strange club.
“A bit lighter than mine.” She digs her feet into the sand and waggles the club above the ball a few times, then takes an easy swing.
The ball flies out of the trap in a splash of sand and stops about twelve feet short of the flag.
“Nice shot,” Freddi says. “Especially with a strange club.”
“Thank you.” Sasha hands it back and returns to her own bag for her putter. Freddi wishes she’d lost her putter instead of her sand wedge. When the pressure is on, Sasha can roll putts in as if the cup is the size of a bath tub. Sure enough, her putt looks good as soon as she hits it. It disappears into the cup. Freddi takes two putts and her lead drops by one stroke.
On the next hole, Sasha hits her best drive of the day, and Freddi concentrates on keeping her own shot in the fairway. The men pull their carts to the left of the green, near the seventeenth tee, and one of them starts back toward the pond. He has what looks like a ball retriever with an expanding handle in his hand.
“Ha,” Freddi says. “One of them caught the water. My prayer has been answered.”
From where she is, she can’t reach the green. With the flag on the upper left corner, she decides to aim to the right. That way she can hit her third shot past the corner of the pond instead of risking dumping her shot into the water like the guy ahead of them has apparently done.
Sasha watches the men intently. Her own shot is a long way from the green, but she might be able to reach it if the pond didn’t block her direct line.
Through the split rail fence that signifies out of bounds, Freddi sees Sasha and Chuck’s Dutch colonial. The patio facing the green has a table with a big red umbrella above it, and a Weber grille nestles in the corner near the garage.
Blue shirt moves to his right and stops. He stands up straight and says something to the others. They all hustle to the edge of the pond and look where he’s pointing. The skinny guy takes off his shoes and socks and rolls up his pants before he wades into the water, waving his arms to keep his balance. He bends over and disappears from sight.
When he stands again, Freddi can hear his voice halfway down the fairway.
One of the other men extends a golf club for him to grab and they pull him back to
dry land. They toss him a towel and he wipes off his feet while one of the other men dashes back to the cart.
“Something’s going on,” Freddi says. She takes a few steps toward the men, the four-iron forgotten in her hand.
“You think?” Sasha doesn’t move. The man at the golf cart picks up his phone and dials so quickly Freddi knows he must have called 911. He looks around the course and at the houses beyond the fence, then back at the pond, where the other men still squat and stare into the water.
“Um…” Freddi looks at her ball, then at the men. “What do you think we should do?
We can’t very well hit our next shots with those guys right there.”
“They almost hit me half an hour ago,” Sasha points out. But she leaves her cart next to her ball and joins Freddi. The caller tucks his phone back into his pocket and joins his friends. They remind Freddi of little kids who’ve found a dead mouse in a field.
“Let’s see what’s going on.” Freddi slides her club back into her cart and walks toward the men. Sasha speeds up until they’re walking together. The men’s voices carry toward them, but they can’t make out words yet.
When they’re almost at the edge of the pond, the man in the blue shirt holds up his hand.
“I don’t think you want to come over here, ladies.”
“What’s wrong?” Freddi asks. The men look even more like kids, eyes wide and tongues moving across their lips.
“There’s a dead body in the pond.” The man’s bare feet look white and wrinkled and his rolled-up pants legs drip water all around them. “I found it when I was looking for Irv’s ball.”
“You mean a person?” Sasha says. “Not a squirrel or a bird or something? A skunk?”
“It’s a man. His face is all smashed to hell. It’s pretty gross.”
“A man.” Freddi feels her knees weakening.
“Yeah. We called the police. They can trace where we are with the GPS in my phone. I don’t know if they’ll follow the holes to get here or stop on the streets outside. I don’t know the streets around here so I couldn’t give them an address.”
Sasha opens her mouth, then closes it again. The longer grass between the green and the fence is packed down from golf carts, but Freddi sees two parallel grooves leading from the fence. She walks over and sights across it at Sasha’s and Chuck’s grille. She takes a deep breath before rejoining the crowd.
Another foursome has teed off and approaches the women’s carts in the middle of the fairway.
“I don’t think we’re gonna be playing any more golf today,” Blue shirt says. “Why don’t you ladies play through.”
“Actually,” the man with the phone says, “you shouldn’t stay around here. We’ve probably already trampled any prints the police might have found, but you’d just make it worse. Why don’t you just pick up and go on to the next hole.”
Sasha looks at the pond. “I suppose that is a good idea. There are already people coming up behind us.”
“Right, that’s what I’m thinking.”
Sasha starts down the fairway to her cart and Freddi hurries to catch up. They pick up their balls and pull their carts to the left of the fairway, passing the men’s cart and stopping at the seventeenth tee. Freddi sinks to the bench and takes deep breaths until her stomach settles.
Sasha points to the fairway. “You won the last hole. It’s your shot.”
Even with her hands shaking, Freddi manages to balance a ball on the tee. She grips her driver and takes a hard practice swing. That’s better. Holding onto the club steadies her. She forces her eyes to look down the fairway at the red flag fluttering three hundred seventy yards away.
She hits into the rough on the right. Not long, but farther away from that pond and that dead man. Sasha swings and Freddi hears the sharp crack. The ball might still be rising as it sails beyond her own shot, hooking slightly at the end and bounding down the left center of the fairway. It stops almost eighty yards beyond Freddi’s.
Freddi finds her ball in the rough, nowhere near as thick as where Sasha lost hers on the twelfth. She hits into the middle of the fairway where she has an easy shot to the green. She looks back at the sixteenth and sees two uniformed police climb through the split rail fence in Sasha’s and Chuck’s back yard. Blue shirt trots over to them, pointing back at the pond where the other men still huddle together and look into the water. The group behind them has caught up, so now eight men and four carts crowd the site.
Sasha’s second shot hits a few feet short of the green and rolls onto the putting surface. Freddi forces her mind back to the game, but it’s hard. She almost flubs her shot, but it rolls onto the very front of the green. She’s still farther from the hole than Sasha is.
They line up their putts. Freddi’s club feels heavy and clumsy in her hands and she can’t see the path to the hole clearly. She steps back, then addresses the ball again and taps it toward the hole. It’s a foot short. She looks toward Sasha.
Freddi tucks the ball into her pocket. Sasha squints at the hole. There’s something different in her face now. She steps up to her ball and plants her feet, then lays the head of the putter behind the ball and looks toward the hole.
Freddi can’t stop herself from speaking.
“Is your sand wedge in the water, too?”
Sasha strokes her ball and it rolls gently toward the hole. It slows down gradually and disappears into the cup. They both hear it rattle like bones.
Sasha picks her ball out of the cup and looks at Freddi.
“Please do not talk when I’m putting.”