No Runs, No Hits, No Errors

By Jane Greensmith
www.janegs.com

Copyright 2004.
 All rights reserved.

Chapter 16

 

Harry returned to the table alone. Kathleen couldn't remember when she had ever seen him look so tired. He slumped into his chair and sighed.

"Well?" Matthew asked.

"We're off the hook. Skip won't sue our socks off if I pay the late penalties." Harry took a long drink of water, then leaned back in his chair. "And," he rubbed his eyes, and then continued on doggedly, "...and if we get Lettie out of the picture, permanently. Skip needs a scapegoat."

"I can draw up the papers tomorrow if you want."

Harry sat quietly and studied the ice in his water glass. Finally he said, "I have no choice. Do it."

"But," Kathleen interjected, finally realizing why Harry and Skip Heidelberg had left the table after the main course. She knew now that Harry wanted Skip to be able to back out of the lawsuit without losing face, "Lettie told me she wants out of K-B-K..."

Harry grimaced slightly, "Lettie threatens to leave every six months or so. But this time we have to make sure she's out before she changes her mind."

"Oh."

There was nothing else to say. Harry looked so tired, Kathleen thought, tired and sad and sick of work. She wished Matthew would leave too so that they could be alone. There was so much she wanted to say to him. She wanted to hold his hand and tell him that he was doing the right thing, and that he was a good man even if he felt like a louse at the moment.  She wanted to assure him that it wasn't his fault that Lettie had screwed up; he had done what he had to do to save the contract and the company. She wanted to tell him that the people who worked for him would appreciate what he was doing, and Lettie would too, in the long run. She wanted to hold his hand and rub his back and smooth his hair. She wanted to cradle him in her arms until he felt strong again. She wanted to kiss away the sadness and replace it with light and love. She wanted to comfort him. She wanted to let him love her.

They sat in awkward silence as the waiter cleared the remaining plates and scraped the crumbs and brought coffee and dessert. Kathleen toyed with her dessert, nibbling on a few bites but mostly just crumbling it with her fork. Harry wasn't doing much better. Only Matthew was eating and drinking with his usual gusto. Finally the check arrived, and Harry signed for it. Now they could leave. Kathleen resolved to talk to Harry in the parking lot, regardless of anything and anybody. She was not going to let him drive away not knowing how she felt about him. She would invite him over to the house, she decided, to talk things through on the back deck under the stars. Matthew's annoying presence be damned.

Matthew was proving to be more than annoying, however. The threesome had reached the top of the stairs that led down to the parking lot when Matthew stopped, looked up at the sky, and chuckled.

"Full moon tonight, Harry. You want to play in the kingdom?"

Kathleen looked sharply at Matthew, puzzled by his question and disappointed that he seemed to be presenting Harry with an alternative to the sweet scenario she had in mind. She drew in her breath sharply as she recognized the steely glitter in Matthew's eyes, except this time Kathleen didn't sense that she was necessarily the prey. Something else was gearing him up, something she wasn't in on.

Harry peered around to the east where the moon was just cresting the trees behind the clubhouse. Then he turned and looked back at Matthew still standing on the top stair like a dark angel, silhouetted in the moonlight, crossed by the shadows of the porch's plantation pillars. Harry slowly smiled and Kathleen watched in dismay as his eyes began to spark like Matthew's as he replied, "Suits me."

Matthew bounded down the steps past Harry, calling over his shoulder, "Just the thing to get you back in the groove. We don't want you getting the yips over this business with Lettie. I'd hate to have to put you out to pasture."

"God forbid! But Matthew, Kathleen plays too."

"No way. Kathleen's a good girl, a by-the-book girl. She wouldn't want to play with a pair of rogues like us."

Kathleen couldn't tell whether Matthew was simply goading her again, or whether he really believed she wouldn't want to do whatever the heck they were discussing.

"Yes, she would." Harry insisted. "How about it, Kath? You up for a little night golf?"

Just shoot me now and put me out of my misery!

"A little night who?"

"Golf, dearest. Three holes. One to feel the swing, one to find gravity...one to score, " he growled.

Kathleen's pulse quickened embarrassingly. "I didn't know they had lights out on the golf course," she babbled, half-afraid of the glint in Harry's eyes and voice.

"Sshh. They don't. This is strictly on the QT."

By this time, Harry and Matthew were at the bottom of the stairs and were heading for their cars to get their clubs. Kathleen found herself trotting to keep up with Harry.

"But I've never played..."

"'Bout time you learned."

"I'm not dressed for golf."

Harry looked up from his trunk, where he was retrieving his golf shoes. He placed a hand on her shoulder for balance as he quickly changed shoes, "A dress is perfect for night golf. It'll keep you from getting your head too much in the game. You'll be so distracted by being dressed inappropriately that you'll probably outplay the both of us."

"You're crazy."

Matthew hollered over that he would take Kathleen, with a three-stroke handicap. Harry replied that Kathleen was his, and no handicap was necessary. Matthew laughed and complimented Harry on his bravado. Then he observed that Kathleen's dress would prove sufficient handicap anyway. Kathleen told them both that they were acting like adolescents. Harry told Kathleen to pick a club. Each team got two clubs, and he had already selected his nine-iron as one of them.

Kathleen peered into the golf bag that Harry was holding up for her. She had never actually played golf, except for the idiotic putt-putt tournaments that Jack and Colleen occasionally organized as part of K-B-K 's team-building exercises and which she invariably managed to duck in short order. Harry's big wooden clubs looked too heavy. The putter looked too feeble. Harry's chosen club, the nine-iron had a distinct almost sexy curve to it, clean and angular. She glanced at the two clubs Matthew was holding--a putter and one of the irons, but one with barely any curve at all.

"What's that?" Kathleen asked, lightly touching one of Harry's irons, curved at the head but not as much as the one Harry had. It had a feminine quality that appealed to her sensibilities.

"That's a five-iron."

"Well, five is my lucky number. I'll take that one."

The men rolled their eyes and smirked. Matthew reiterated his offer that Kathleen could be on his team...with a three-stroke handicap if she insisted on playing with the five-iron. Harry held fast--"Kathleen's logic may be incomprehensible to anyone who actually knows anything about golf, but on some level it's valid and that's good enough for me. Remember, this is the kingdom we're talking about..."

"The kingdom?" Kathleen was as baffled by the arcane chit-chat between Harry and Matthew as she was by Harry's ability to bounce out of gloom at the merest suggestion of a sporting activity. If Harry and Matthew found her incomprehensible, she certainly returned the favor.

"There's this book, Golf in the Kingdom," Harry began as they walked to the back nine. Since the club didn't allow night play, they needed to play the holes furthest from the clubhouse. They followed a wide paved road that looped up and around the clubhouse and then straddled the wide, tree-lined fairways of the front nine. "It's kind of like Zen and the art of golf, only it's about a guy, Michael Murphy to be exact, who finds out about the arc of the swing and the whiteness of the ball and gravity and wind and the role of the rough and the deadly lure of sand traps while playing night golf in Scotland with a ghost called Seamus McDuff. I read it awhile ago, after my dad died. I found it in his library while we were going through his things. I never knew he read philosophy much less golfed, but it was dog-eared and falling apart. Just like me. Just like me and Jack both. You were pretty young back then, but Matthew and this book kept the two of us from going off the deep end. Without them, I doubt they'd be a K-B-K today."

Kathleen listened, fascinated. She had no idea that Harry had ever struggled to keep his life together. He always seemed like such a rock. She slipped her hand into his, and felt a frisson of pleasure as his fingers pressed into her palm. Showing him that she loved him might be better than telling him after all.

He glanced at her and smiled warmly. Then he squeezed her hand again and continued, "Anyway I read the book and started playing golf as if my life depended on it. Which, I guess, in a way it did. I got Matthew and Jack to read it too..."

"Made us read it, as I recall," Matthew added.

"...And that's when we started playing night golf. Coming out to the club during the full moon and drinking single malt scotch and talking the most profane philosophical garbage you can imagine."

"Pure gibberish," Matthew interjected. "But what could I do, they were good clients."

"Clients?" Harry snorted. "I've seen how you treat clients, Matthew. You saved my soul, you rotten, good for nothing, conniving, old coot, and you know it."

He turned his attention back to Kathleen, "I honestly think I would have gone crazy packing up my father's life if Matthew hadn't come by every so often to take me out onto the links to shoot white balls into the darkness. Jack and I both needed to get outside of ourselves and play a couple of rounds with the ghosts of dead Scotsmen. You see..." He paused, struggling with what he was just starting to understand himself. "...that's the trouble with Lettie. She never crossed over and acted crazy, so instead she's slowly going crazy from the inside out. She's made herself crazy by going down the same path over and over until she finally tripped and now she's lying face down in the dirt, with no idea how she got there and no idea how to get up."

"So Lettie should have taken up night golf?"

"She should have found some way to howl at the moon."

They walked on in silence. They had left the golf cart path now and were walking along a darker, narrower trail that wound through an aspen grove. Where the trees thinned, the moonlight shimmered on the quaking leaves, sending showers of quivering shadows onto the path in front them. But mostly they walked in darkness, just able to differentiate the darker outline of the path from the pitch of the grove. Kathleen felt unnerved, vulnerable. She moved closer to Harry, letting her forearm rest on his, eager to absorb his warmth and strength in the cooling night air. Harry, the rock--her steady, pragmatic safe harbor... talking about philosophy and acting crazy and howling at the moon and playing golf with ghosts? She stifled a shudder and forced herself to look down the path, to see whether she could differentiate one tree from the next as the path bent and curved with the contour of the land. She watched Matthew's long legs, striding in front of her and Harry. She wondered whether she should be dropping crumbs so that they could find their way out, come daylight.

They climbed a little incline and then they were out of the trees and on a flat-topped mound. The moon illuminated a little sign that proclaimed that they were standing on the tenth-hole tee. Matthew put down his clubs and licked a fingertip and felt the wind. Then he dug in his pocket for a quarter. Harry called heads and lost.

Matthew silently jabbed a tee into the ground, placed a golf ball on top, planted his feet, wriggled into position, and then, with the cleanest, sharpest, purest sound Kathleen could ever remember hearing, hit the ball into oblivion. She watched it as its whiteness faded to black midway in its arc.

"Did I hook it?" Matthew asked Harry.

He shook his head. "She was true. Straight down the middle. At least two-fifty, maybe more."

Harry handed a tee to Kathleen. "You go first."

Her round eyes, almost entirely blackened by her dilated pupils, told him that she preferred to go after him, but he didn't flinch so she gamely took the tee and pressed the wooden splinter into the soft grass. Harry handed her a golf ball. She leaned over to place it on the tee, remembered in time that she was wearing a dress, and awkwardly plunked the ball onto the tee. It bobbled off.

"That's one," Harry and Matthew chortled in unison.

She glared at them as she stooped to pick it up. "I thought you said we weren't keeping score yet."

The ball back on the tee, Kathleen gripped her club and stepped up to the ball. She turned and looked coyly at Harry. "Shouldn't you show me how to stand and hold the club? And I'm sure you're supposed to tell me to keep my arms straight and my head down."

"You're doing just fine. This hole is to feel the swing. Just think of circles. The circles that make up the ball, the circle of the swing, the semi-circle of the ball as it cuts through the air."

Kathleen closed her eyes and took a breath. Then she opened them and focused on the little white ball, reflecting the light from the moon, which was reflecting the light from the sun. She thought that if she wound up far enough she might have enough energy to send that little white ball the whole way around until it ran smack dab into the sun itself. Then she swung the club down and felt it hit the ball. It wasn't as clean or sharp or pure a sound as the one Matthew had produced, but it was still a satisfying crack, followed by a volley of ricochets as the ball made its way through some pine trees and settled in the rough.

Kathleen apologized to Harry, who would have none of it.

"Don't be sorry, Kathleen. That was beautiful. It just went a little off course. But you did great." He headed down the fairway and nodded his head to her to follow. "Now we just have to find it."

Kathleen and Matthew followed Harry, who was walking confidently off the fairway and into the dark brush. Matthew took a small flask from his pocket, unscrewed the lid, and took a swig. "It felt good too, didn't it?" he said, handing the flask to Kathleen.

She sniffed the flask and wrinkled her nose. "What's this?"

"A wee dram of the malt. Take a taste."

"It's smoky."

"The smell of peat smoldering in the damp. The essence of golf."

Kathleen stopped walking. She stoppered the end of the flask with a finger and then she turned her wrist quickly. She put the drops of whiskey on her tongue, as if dabbing perfume. They were tasteless--only the smokiness lingered as 'the essence of golf' evaporated on her tongue. She handed Matthew his flask and started walking again when he grabbed her arm and nodded that Harry was ready to hit their ball out of the brush.

"I can't believe he found it in the dark," Kathleen exclaimed.

"He's a bloodhound."

Kathleen heard the crack of Harry's club against the whiteness of the ball and looked up to see it arc by, like a comet, before it was swallowed into the night.

"Did you hear it land?" Harry asked Matthew as he joined them on the fairway.

"No splash. No thud. I'll wager she's hiding in soft grass. But first I get to send my little beauty to the green."

Matthew strode ahead to find his ball, leaving Harry and Kathleen to stroll up the fairway. She was surprised to find herself thinking that the setting was extraordinarily romantic. It was almost like a kingdom, or at least another world. The grass on the fairway was dark and damp and cool, spreading before them like a royal carpet. Tall, elegant pines and wide, graceful cottonwoods lined the verdant avenue. The moon cast a holy glow over the landscape, trading light for shadow, softening the rough, hiding the traps.

Matthew had made his shot by the time they reached him, and they all walked on together, sharing the flask, Kathleen a drop at a time, until Harry led Kathleen to where he had driven the ball. Matthew was right--it was half buried in grass, on the lip of a sand bunker.

Harry explained that Kathleen needed a nice round swing that was more up than flat to get the ball out of the grass and the angle of the swing had to be high enough to clear the trap. She couldn't swing the way she had swung at the tee. She needed to aim for the moon, he told her. She needed to sweet talk the ball into flying.

"Should I think about circles again?" she asked, knowing how inane she sounded.

Before Harry could answer, Matthew said, "Think about sugar. Spoon sugar into something sour like, I don't know, a pot of bubbling rhubarb."

Kathleen tried to but the thought of Matthew Dixon teaching her how to golf by way of cooking analogies got the best of her. Just as she was about to swing, she started to giggle. Matthew and Harry waited patiently while she calmed herself down, bit her lip, closed her eyes briefly, swung the club back, and then collapsed once more in a fit of giggling.

"I think she's hysterical," Matthew commented dryly.

"I think she's drunk," Harry declared.

"On three drops of whiskey?"

"On moonshine."

"You want me to ground her?"

Harry cocked an eyebrow.

Matthew asked, "Does Harry know what I know about you and Phil?"

Kathleen froze. She had swung back her club high over and behind her head, with her left arm just grazing her chin, her left knee flexed and turned, as she had seen Matthew do it, coiled, ready to spoon sugar with vigor. The urge to bring the club down on Matthew's head was as real as any urge she had ever acknowledged. All humor was gone. She swung the club, aiming for the moon, now high in the sky and despite her anger felt a rush of pleasure as the ball skudded over the sand and just reached the grassy lip on the other side of the trap. But alas, the ball wasn't seated firmly enough and it slid out of the grass and back down into the bunker.

"Stay out of my life," she spat at Matthew as she walked away from the two men and up the little slope to the green, leaving Harry to hit the ball out of the sand.

Kathleen felt her eyes smarting with tears and anger. Matthew, with his whiskey flask and camaraderie, had lulled her into forgetting that he was into messing with her mind. Now she had to decide what to do--she desperately wanted Harry to know that she was not now nor had ever been in love with Phil and that she was his for the taking, but she had promised Phil and Joanna that she wouldn't blow their cover. Keeping that stupid promise was going to hurt Harry, and deeply. He might never forgive her for lying to him, but she couldn't tell him the truth in front of Matthew. He might never trust her with his heart if she deceived him, but she could see that Matthew was fully capable of destroying Joanna and Phil if he felt he needed to. Was this the way the game was played? Kathleen had always hated playing games anyway, and with good reason, if this was the kind of behavior they taught. Conning and cheating and tricking your friends just so you could beat them. Win, lose, she hated it all!

While Kathleen fumed, Harry hit what Matthew proclaimed to be a perfect shot out of the sand, sending the ball to within a foot of the pin. Matthew finished the hole and then informed Kathleen that she was up. She just needed to putt out. He had taken the pin out and he and Harry were waiting for Kathleen to complete the hole.

Kathleen turned away from the hole, her hands folded protectively across her stomach, her mouth hard and determined.  Her mind raced through the alternatives. She could quit the game and walk back to her car and drive home. She could corner Harry and explain everything. Or she could knock that stupid little white ball into that stupid little round hole and then figure out what to do.

She walked over to the ball, drew an imaginary line from the ball to hole, hunkered over her five-iron, and tapped the ball so that it traced the line she had drawn with her mind. It fell into the hole with a satisfying clunk.

She looked up at the two men, who were eyeing her tentatively, unsure whether she would pout, bolt, or scream. She hated to admit it, but despite everything, it felt awfully good to make the shot. Harry caught the look and read it right, "Go ahead and howl," he said quietly. "You've earned the right."

Kathleen could scarcely believe what she did next. She actually leaned back her head, stretched out her arms, and mouthed a howl, jiggling her head until her lips formed a perfect circle of mute energy.

Matthew laughed at her, "Someday you may actually make a sound."

Harry grabbed her hand, "Let's go play with gravity on the eleventh tee. You can tell me about you and Phil later."

 

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