Thursday, September 19, 2013

Hole 12: The Native Andersons

Hole 12: The Native Andersons

From his vantage point up in the sprawling trunks of the sister willow trees, Bertie the Kid heard the commotion of countless, savage cries emanating from the circling forms flitting in and out below. While he could barely peg one figure at a time, he at least realized the result: he was trapped.

To make matters worse, the platform that held him, crudely attached to the trees, showed no sign of stashed golf balls.  Bertie the Kid felt sure he would find upon at least some golf balls when he ascended it only moments earlier.

In short, Bertie the Kid recognized that his foray into Anderson territory amounted to a complete failure.

Upon reviewing the situation, Bertie the Kid could not think of anything he would have done differently. He had hoped to avoid Anderson territory entirely. A couple of days before, Bertie met Kid Carson on the clubhouse patio and the senior creekboy warned him of the dangers laying on the south side of Hole 12. Bertie needed no further admonishing.

After an initial foray into the northern half of Hole 12’s bush, however, golf balls were unnaturally scarce. Furthermore, a little more investigating revealed tire tracks from a bike that had to belong to someone from the Anderson clan. While that helped Bertie to identify the reason behind the disappeared golf balls, he knew that Mr. Cassidy would not accept an empty bag and the excuse that the Hole 12 had been ravaged by the Andersons.

Mr. Cassidy was not usually overly passionate about creekboy issues, but the Anderson boys’ flagrant refusal to recognize the boundaries of Hole 12 always served as an immense irritation for him. The day before, as Bertie the Kid wrapped up work on Hole 11, Mr. Cassidy made him aware that on Hole 12 he might expect a run-in with the Anderson boys. Mr. Cassidy’s breath got short as he instructed Bertie that if such an event occurred, to let the delinquents know, “in no uncertain terms, that if they did not desist in traversing and building forts on golf course property, then he would be forced to take legal procedures against them.”

Bertie the Kid almost laughed at the thought of trying to negotiate with the intimidating figures below. What would “legal procedures” mean to these boys, who flitted in and out of golf course boundaries at whim? The only thing Bertie the Kid could now think about in terms of the Anderson boys was how to get out of this situation in one piece.

One advantage Bertie the Kid had against the Jesse James brothers was knowing them well enough to anticipate their limits and abilities. With the Anderson boys, however, no one knew much of anything about them. In fact, most of the information that Bertie the Kid could get about the Anderson boys came from what he did not know. For example: no one knew how long the Anderson family had lived at that house next to the Burnt Creek Golf Course. Most assumed that the decrepit building with peeling white-paint and loose slabs of siding had been there long before the course had been made. Otherwise how could they have afforded such a pristine spot next to the course?

Another unknown was exactly how many Anderson boys there were. Most were pretty sure they numbered under a dozen. Usually, if kids started listing off boys, they would reach eight before being uncertain. The consensus seemed to be that there were only two girls (unconfirmed), but the actual amount of boys managed to be a strong topic of debate.

No one had ever seen the Anderson boys’ father. It was said that he was a truck driver, and on occasion a big rig would be seen parked in that neighborhood. But whether they really had a father and who he was remained a mystery.

All these unknowns about the Anderson boys culminated into a single known: they were terrifying.

One tale from Bertie’s neighborhood told about a kid who moved from a gang-infested inner-city back East. The kid claimed to have been a gang member and proved it by wearing chains and baggy pants. Propped by his stories of gang fights coupled with vulgar words (which, admittedly, no one knew the meaning of), he instantly became the dominant male of the fourth grade. His notorious popularity lasted until halfway through the year when, biking past the front of Anderson territory, he made a disparaging remark about one of the Anderson boys--John--who was a full two grades beneath him. John wasted no time in knocking the boy off his bike and mercilessly pounding him into the dirt, leaving him to limp home in shame.

Such an act might have seemed heroic if done by someone else. To most who heard the story, however, it was almost chilling how routinely John put no thought into so overwhelmingly dominating a fight, and then walking away as if he had just finished a daily chore. If anything, the Andersons were even more terrifying after the incident.

And that is who Bertie the Kid had beneath him. That is who he would face the minute he left the fort platform.

Considering what he survived just to get to the heart of Anderson territory and up their treehouse, Bertie the Kid should have felt optimistic about his chances for escape. Once he reluctantly decided to enter Anderson territory in search for the confiscated golf balls, it took no more than thirty seconds before his first encounter with the Andersons. Two of the younger ones--the twins--Bertie imagined, flanked either side of him. Moments later, they shot off in front of him, disappearing into the foliage, leaving a nervous Bertie guiding Silver along an ancient path deeper into Anderson territory.

Had his anxiety not kept him alert, he would not have seen the bailing wire tautly drawn between the trunks of two scrub maples waiting for him around a bend. Bertie reacted at once. Stopping was the last thing Bertie wanted to do in Anderson territory, yet slamming into the bailing wire would have him unsaddled in a moment. So instead Bertie the Kid used his brakes to slide Silver’s back tire forward. This caused him to duck and slide straight underneath the wire. With no time to gloat, he immediately urged Silver off the ground and they resumed their previous pace.

An inhuman-sounding whoop indicated the boys’ communication to unseen threats ahead. Bertie the Kid threw his eyes forward, scanning for the next trap. It came almost immediately.

Flying out from a bush just as he passed it, a stout branch charged straight for Silver’s front tire, clearly aimed for the spokes. Having experienced the devastating results of such a trick back at his first Back Nine Rush, Bertie the Kid instinctively knew what to do. The creekboy popped Silver’s front tire in the air and turned it sharply to the left. This deft maneuver effectively removed the spokes as a target, and the branch sailed harmlessly to the other side of the path. Bertie straightened the wheel, landed, and continued on his headlong course--stress mounting with every new inch of land traversed.

What came next was less a trap than a full on attack. This time a complete bike and rider flew at Bertie and Silver from the side in an insane attempt to mangle both bikes and riders. Bertie the Kid used a root to get airborne, allowing the assailing bike and rider to hit Silver’s back tire. Bertie released his feet from the pedals, which allowed the back end to swing around, but he maintained Silver’s front end going forward.

This move helped him land going forward still, but before he could even pump his pedals again, three other bikes appeared on the scene: two to the side and one in front. Bertie the Kid hesitated for a brief second, first, because of this next onslaught of attackers; and second, because he saw the platform connecting the willow trunks. This meant that he had found their fort--the apparent resting spot of the missing golf balls.

Though encouraged by this discovery, the vacillation on his part caused two more bikes to catch up from behind and three or four more boys to show up in his periphery on their feet.

Despair began to creep into the edge of Bertie the Kid’s conscious as the circle around him tightened. Fueled by Silver’s unparalleled riding only a few days earlier, however, Bertie gave one last surge toward the fort.

As soon as Silver’s tires grated the earth, the conglomerated Anderson boys plunged forward. Bertie dodged one of the quicker bikes and then, swinging around and gathering momentum, Silver performed a magnificent feat.

Hopping off a low rock, Silver first landed on one of the angled willow trunks, with Bertie hitting the brakes so as to hold him there for a split second. Then Silver sprang up to the next closest trunk, also angled outward. Finally, in one last lurch and just as Silver’s momentum died, the bike and rider reached for the open side of the fort’s platform.

Bertie the Kid did the rest. With Silver resting on a forked branch below the platform, Bertie was able to grasp the side of the fort with one arm and swing himself up. His other arm held Silver and then hefted the gray bike on top of the platform once he had been secured. With that careful maneuvering, Bertie the Kid managed to get his mount and himself momentarily out of the reach of the swarming Anderson boys below.

It should have been a triumphant moment. Certainly, nothing less could cause the Anderson boys to stop in their tracks from astonishment. Yet one glance at the simple, and otherwise vacant platform told Bertie that this whole foray had been for naught. Wherever the golf balls were being stashed by the Andersons, they were not in the fort.

While his success at reaching the fort might have given other kids at least some confidence for an escape, Bertie felt that the only way he avoided capture up until that point had been his constant momentum. That momentum was now brought to a standstill. The Anderson boys were getting antsy below, he was out of tricks, and he had no golf balls to show for any of his work.

To make matters worse, the longer Bertie the Kid waited, the closer the Andersons weaved their circle around his temporary refuge. Whatever the results, he knew that he had to move before ending up treed like a rodent.

Bertie the Kid looked to the back of the fort. A low bannister blocked off access to a willow trunk that tucked up under the platform’s opposite end and moved out horizontally. Bertie’s eyes followed the trunk and saw that it curved around and lowered almost like a waterslide. Thinking of the tree that Silver mounted only one day before to get out of the Burnt Creek, he felt that he could manage the same on the dry trunk before him. Bertie gripped Silver’s handlebars and hefted the bike over the back bannister. Once the bike was set, Bertie joined Silver, sitting down in the seat and finding the pedals.

After a deep breath, the bike and rider eased cautiously forward, braving the willow trunk path before them. Bertie kept his eyes straight on the bark just ahead of Silver’s front tire instead of the ground nearly ten feet below. Progress went slow at first, but as the trunk curved and angled more towards the ground, they sped up.

Instead of holding Silver back, however, Bertie the Kid opened up, freeing Silver from any brakes. The two gained speed as they sped down and held tight to the curve of the trunk before Bertie tugged up on the handlebars just before reaching the bottom. As soon as the two hit land again, Bertie steered Silver for the fringe of the Anderson siege, hoping that his newfound speed just might create a break in the circle.

This time, the Andersons were ready. Instead of being awed by Bertie the Kid’s peculiar descent, the Anderson boys waited for Bertie to land on the ground and then their circle caved in.

Bertie was not exactly sure what happened next, since it all seemed a blur, but he thought he recalled one bike recklessly sliding beneath him, taking out Silver and unsaddling him. The minute he was separated from his mount, at least three or four bodies pounded on top of him. Before Bertie could even think about how to fight back or who to start with, he lay completely immobilized.

The oldest Anderson boy, well into high school at this point, strode a deliberate circle around Bertie the Kid, who sprawled face forward in the dirt. Then the Anderson boy sat down on the ground in front of Bertie and eyed him curiously. As soon as he sat down, the other Andersons removed themselves from Bertie and sat down warily all around him.

Bertie the Kid struggled to his knees, but found it a slow act since one of the Anderson boys used bailing wire to bind his hands behind his back. When Bertie finally worked to his knees and faced the eldest Anderson, the boy spoke to him. His speaking was not loud or threatening. Though he spoke with measured slowness, he linked his words together so that his dialogue sounded like one, long, slow-moving train.

“Who are you and what are you doing in Anderson territory?”

Bertie the Kid, resigned to a thorough beating, gave clear and quick answers. “My name is Bert Gardner.”

The boy in front of him smiled. “Creekboy, eh? You’re the one they call Bertie the Kid.”

Bertie made no reply, though the boy watched him as closely as if this long moment of silence gave intriguing information.

“My name is Chet Anderson. But I have a nickname too, Bertie the Kid. In fact, all of us Anderson boys do. I am called ‘Chet Eagle Shooter.’” Another pause. “I know how Bertie the Kid got his nickname, would you like to hear how I got mine?”

Bertie the Kid merely returned Chet Eagle Shooter’s gaze, saying nothing.

“Hole 12 has been on our property for so long, with people trespassing everyday, that I decided to see what all the fuss was about. So I found an old, bent golf club, then I found a lost golf ball--you know how many of those there can be--and then I played Hole 12 as many times as I could. It’s a Par 5, you know, and after a week’s practice, I made it in that silly little hole in three strokes. That’s two under par, which in your golfer terms is called--”

“An eagle. I got it. That is why you are called Chet Eagle Shooter,” Bertie broke his silence; he could not help but finish for the Anderson boy.

“I could probably mention that your nickname is for only one shot below par, not two,” Chet Eagle Shooter did not seem perturbed by Bertie’s interruption, “but I don’t think your nickname does you justice. I have never seen someone ride a bike with such skills. Therefore, among the Anderson family you will hereby be known as Flying Tires.”

Bertie the Kid could not be sure if Chet Eagle Shooter offered a sincere compliment or not, so instead of saying anything, he gave a cautious nod.

“Flying Tires, I’d like you to meet some of my brothers,” Chet Eagle Shooter then pointed out some of the prominent Anderson boys in the circle: “This is Josh, who we call Squirrel Catcher; and this is John, Talks-With-His-Fists; over here is Jeremy, Rough Rider; and then the twins, Chad, Sits-In-The-Sand-Trap, and Derek, Rides-His-Brakes.”

Bertie could only imagine the stories that went behind each nickname, but he did not have much time to speculate. Immediately after introductions, Chet Eagle Shooter followed by saying, “Now that you’ve been introduced, Flying Tires, you owe all of us an explanation for why you were trespassing on Anderson land.”

Bertie the Kid took in the impassive faces surrounding him, then sighed. “Chet Eagle Shooter, I planned on treating everything on this side of the Hole 12 fairway as Anderson land, even though Mr. Cassidy told me not to, but you made it hard by not staying on your side of the fairway.”

Chet Eagle Shooter jumped in with a terse voice. “What do you know of our history, Flying Tires?”

Bertie the Kid shook his head. “I don’t know anything.”
“Then listen carefully. You are a great rider, Flying Tires; you know how to use the land to your advantage. This shows that you are not one of them--it shows that you will understand. At least, that is my hope.”

Chet Eagle Shooter relaxed as he found words to relay to Bertie. “Long ago, when my mom was a child in our house and could barely hold on to memories, there was no golf course here. All of this land was rolling hills of sagebrush, patches of woods, and the cut in the ground that is Burnt Creek. No one knew and played in this area more than my mom and her brothers and sisters. They did not own it, Flying Tires, but it was theirs.

“Then came along a very young and ambitious Mr. Cassidy and his associates. They bought up all the land and were determined to convert it into a golf course. They did not know the land like my mom did. They did not know about the fallen birch tree over the creek as it turns north. They did not know about the pheasant’s nest between the two short hills to the east. They did not know these things as my mom did, but they did have money, so a little piece of paper said that the land was theirs.

“Mr. Cassidy built his golf course, but he still didn’t know his land. If it weren’t for you creekboys, Flying Tires, no one associated with Mr. Cassidy would know anything beyond five feet past the fairway.

“Years later my mom grew up and inherited her parent’s home when they moved on from this life. Here we have grown up sharing the space where my mom spent her childhood. It was when I was quite young that Mr. Cassidy discovered that some major golfing league would not recognize his course unless it had one more par 5 hole. The most obvious choice was the par 4 Hole 12, where Mr. Cassidy only needed to extend the fairway another fifty yards south and he would complete the requirement, bringing in a lot of money with tournaments and prestige.”

Chet Eagle Shooter shook his head sadly. “Except that fifty yards took him onto actual Anderson land, even on paper this time. My mom, whose family has been on the land for generations, refused to allow Mr. Cassidy to purchase even a smidgen of territory. Mr. Cassidy thought she held out for more money, so he offered enough money for us to live comfortably for the rest of our lives.”

Chet Eagle Shooter’s voice softened as he said, “It was enough money, Flying Tires, that we could afford to fix up our house. Enough money that us boys could have new clothes every year instead of pants and shirts with stains and holes in them. Perhaps even enough money for other children at school to treat us like normal kids and make friends outside of our family. Perhaps.

“But my mom turned down the offer. No amount of money could take away even a slice of her family heritage. And us Anderson boys did not want to be accepted because we sold a part of who we are to receive it.

“Mr. Cassidy did not understand my mom’s insistence on holding onto this small, seemingly worthless piece of property. He thought she was being spiteful. So he gathered a group of lawyers and went to the city, arguing about my mom’s attempts to sabotage the success of the golf course over a measly fifty yard strip. He told them how a certified golf course would bring the city mounds of money in yearly revenue. My mom had no lawyers, no charts or studies. She had only her claim of family heritage, which offered no yearly revenue for the city. The city decided that for the good of the community, the majority of the Anderson backyard would be ceded to Mr. Cassidy and the golf course. And instead of being compensated in the amount of money Mr. Cassidy originally offered my mom, the city simply made a swap of land. They gave my mom an equal-sized bit of land across the town, right next to the landfill.”

Chet Eagle Shooter paused for a moment. He had been gazing past Bertie the Kid into the branches beyond, but now he refocused his eyes on his audience. “So, Flying Tires, Mr. Cassidy extended his fairway, brought money and golfers in great herds, and all that he left was this tiny strip of woods going right to the back of our home. Most of this land he still claims on paper, but once he extended his fairway, he needed rough on the other side to catch stray golf balls, so he left it untouched.

“Yet this does not stop him from trying to keep us from playing here. Many times he comes. Sometimes by himself, sometimes with his assistant, sometimes with the men in blue uniforms, but he can never catch us. Mr. Cassidy may own the land he robbed from us, but it will always be ours, because we know it. And out here, knowing means more than owning.”

Bertie the Kid gave rapt attention for the duration of the narrative, and when Chet Eagle Shooter finally arrived at the end of his story, there were several long moments of silence. Finally, Bertie nodded. “That’s why you go to the other side of the fairway to take golf balls--as part of your revenge. After hearing your story, I understand that. But it seems that it hurts the creekboys--who haven’t done anything wrong--more than it affects Mr. Cassidy.” Bertie shook his head, “But my problems aren’t as big as yours. I made a mistake, and I’m sorry. You won’t find me in Anderson territory again.” Bertie the Kid then awaited his verdict.

Chet Eagle Shooter regarded Bertie the Kid for a moment in meditation, then spoke: “Your apology is unexpected, but happily accepted. However, the Andersons have no desire for golf balls or silly revenge. We only hope to be left alone. I don’t know why you believe we have been stealing golf balls, but we are not those you seek.”

Bertie the Kid frowned. “But there were tire tracks near the spot where the golf balls were missing. I thought that it had to be an Anderson boy.”

At this statement, Jeremy--dubbed by Chet Eagle Shooter as Rough Rider--suddenly spoke up. “How old were the tire tracks?”

Bertie the Kid sat dumbfounded before answering, “Um, I’m not quite sure. How can you tell how old they are?”

Rough Rider contained a glimmer of impatience and said, “Were there lines in the tracks? Cracks? Fissures?”

“Well,” Bertie the Kid responded, still confused, “actually, now that you bring it up, the tracks I saw did have cracks in them.”

“How big?”

Bertie closed his eyes in an effort to recall what the tracks looked like. “Um, well, they weren’t just hairline cracks. They were kind of wider than that.”

“Two days old, at least,” Rough Rider spoke out loud to no one in particular. “I did go to the creek to fish a couple days ago.” His head swivelled over to Chet Eagle Shooter. “Those tracks are probably mine, but I saw no golf balls.” Now Rough Rider turned back to Bertie the Kid. “What other tracks did you see?”

Bertie felt like he was playing catch up with the whole conversation. “I … I didn’t really see any … well, I just saw the tire tracks and thought you guys had the golf balls. I … uh … didn’t look too closely.”

Rough Rider stared at his elder brother Chet Eagle Shooter and their gazes held steady as a current of air swelled through the leaves above them. Chet Eagle Shooter then looked back at Bertie the Kid.

“It is clear, Flying Tires, that you made some foolish mistakes. But your actions have not been ill-intentioned, and we respect your ability on the bike. Rough Rider knows the territory to the north best of all of us. He is also our best tracker. Rough Rider will take you, Flying Tires. He will help you find your golf balls.”

One of the twins, following some sort of gesture from Chet Eagle Shooter, flicked out a pocket knife and slashed Bertie the Kid’s bands from his wrists. The other twin disentangled Silver from the pile of bikes and brought him to Bertie, who was relieved at the reunion. Rough Rider, during this interval, managed to mount his own bike and rest one foot on the pedal, prepared to leave.

Bertie the Kid could hardly believe how quickly the situation had reversed. He mounted Silver and was about to mutter his thanks to the still seated Chet Eagle Shooter, but the teenager interrupted him. “Just remember,” he said, “remember what you have learned here today, creekboy. That is the best thing you can do for all of us.”

Bertie the Kid--Flying Tires--nodded. Before he knew it, he and Silver jetted behind the swiftly moving forms of Rough Rider and his mount.

Once the two reached the edge of the fairway, they saw some golfers playing through the hole so they held back amid the fringe before crossing. For a while they sat watching in silence, then Bertie the Kid voiced, “It must make you mad when you see a golfer go past this spot--trespassing on your land.”

Rough Rider remained silent for some time after Bertie’s comment. “I used to be angry. But I am not angry now. These people do not mean any harm. They come for recreation. They don’t have any idea of the history laying under the ground they walk across. No, I am not angry with them.”

The golf cart lurched past them, but it still stopped close by, forcing Rough Rider to transition to a whisper. “Even now I hold no grudge against Mr. Cassidy. Even he, in his twisted way, felt we were being mean to him. I understand, I think, why he did what he did. It was not right. But I understand it.”

Bertie the Kid marvelled at that comment. “That’s amazing, Rough Rider. Knowing what I know now, if I were you, I think it would be hard--maybe impossible--to forgive Mr. Cassidy.”

A restrained smile crept up Rough Rider’s face. He gazed across the fairway and responded, “Not all of us Andersons are as, er, enlightened as I am.” The word “enlightened” was spoked in an almost self-mocking tone. “If the twins had their way, they would ravage the whole golf course, every golfer, golf cart, anything and everything placed here that is man made. The only thing holding them back is Chet Eagle Shooter, who understands the consequences such actions would set in motion.”

Rough Rider now turned to Bertie the Kid and continued, “Even Chet will never forgive Mr. Cassidy. He was too close to the original offense to let it go. I was young, and the hatred never caught root in my shallow memories. I don’t blame my brothers for their anger anymore than I blame Mr. Cassidy for his abuse of our property.”

For a brief moment, Rough Rider allowed Bertie the Kid to capture the vision of this conflict, seeing both sides in its scope. He noted something bigger than his own, little world of gathering golf balls.

The moment was but a glimpse that disappeared only moments later. It was almost as if Rough Rider sensed the conversation had delved deeper than he intended. He brought it back to the present and threw out, “How do you think I got my nickname, Flying Tires?”

Bertie the Kid paused for a moment to consider the query. “Maybe from all the bike riding you do on the rough of Hole 12?”

Rough Rider smiled, “You are clever, Flying Tires. And you are mostly correct.”

Bertie about inquired further, but in a moment the golf cart whirred on towards the Hole 12 green, and Rough Rider swept through the shouting green grass of the fairway sitting before them. Silver kicked up in Rough Rider’s wake, and just like that Bertie found himself back in his own world: hunting golf balls until the early afternoon, after which he would return to his home and family, secure in their possessions and comfortable within their domain.

It took little time for Rough Rider to find the spot where Bertie the Kid noted the missing golf balls. A shallow depression at the base of a stand of cottonwoods displayed a weed-filled valley among the jutting roots of the trees. This was surrounded by low-lying bushes, reaching a height equal to the knees of the now dismounted Rough Rider and Bertie the Kid. The area sat conspicuously void of golf balls, which--even an amatuer golf ball gatherer would tell you--is immediately suspect. Besides the fact the the tall, reaching cottonwoods were perfectly oriented to catch a hooked shot at the bend in the fairway, there were dozens of faint indentations in the dirt at the base of the trees, showing that the spot had, very recently, boasted numerous golf balls.

Rough Rider, for a prolonged moment, simply surveyed the scene in silence. Bertie the Kid waited patiently for a moment, and then shuffled to the side and extended his arm. He pointed to a patch of dirt with some old tire tracks. “This is where I found the tire tracks running just past the trees. That’s why I thought--well--what I did.”

Rough Rider nodded, barely even turning his head to acknowledge the tracks. “Tawnee bike tire tracks. Mine. Two days old. But you’ll notice that they are continuous and straight. I did not stop here, but went directly to the creek. If you want the culprit that took your golf balls, you must look at the tracks leading in and out of the area where they were.”

Bertie the Kid strained his eyes from their position a few paces back. “You’re better at finding tracks than me because I only see where the golf balls were before someone picked them up. There are matted weeds and stuff … but I just … don’t see any tracks, like shoe prints or anything like that.”

“Tracks aren’t always on the ground,” Rough Rider watched Bertie the Kid. Bertie could tell that he had put himself in instructor mode … but the pupil still did not get it.

“I don’t see any in the air either,” Bertie waved his hands.

His companion broke a reserved smile. “Can someone pass through a bush without leaving a mark?”

Bertie the Kid finally caught on to what Rough Rider hinted at. Bertie stepped forward and investigated the shrub lining. At first it all looked the same, but he knew that Rough Rider would not accept such a response. He scrutinized more, and then he saw it.

It seemed so cliché, but there they were: broken twigs. The tiny branches revealed green shreds under their bark where resistance had snapped them, some even dangling by the slightest strings of bark. Once he recognized the first couple of aberrations in the bushes, it was as if his eyes had been given the answer key and he could see all the others there in front of his face, though he had not recognized them seconds earlier.

The exhilarating thing for Bertie was that he discovered them. Rough Rider, of course, prompted him, but he found it such a unique sensation to be looking at these small, obvious signs that someone had walked through at this exact point. In a way, the snapped twigs worked as a time machine, bringing Bertie back to the time when the bushes had been breached. As he observed the passage, he realized he could see exactly where the burglar entered and where he changed direction. By checking to see how much of the green wood under the bark had hardened into a lifeless brown, he could even surmise how long ago the passing occurred.

For all the tracks taught him, though, Bertie the Kid suddenly realized something. “Well, I’ve found where the person came through to steal the golf balls, but how do we find them now?”

“How do you know, Flying Tires, that this was a person,” Rough Rider said.

Bertie the Kid stopped, wondering if Rough Rider could be serious. “How do you know, Rough Rider, that it was not a person?”

“When you walk through bushes, do you spread your legs wide so that you push the branches far to the side?”

Bertie the Kid returned his eyes to the path through the low, tough shrubs. The small trail of destruction spanned a width wider than the gait of most human legs. The more he thought about it, the more he realized that he, and probably any other person, would simply lift their legs out of the bushes, glide their foot forward, and then step back into the bushes again. He would repeat this until being free of the bushes and reaching the base of the trees.

“Are you saying,” Bertie the Kid processed this new information, “that an animal took the golf balls?” It sounded ridiculous.

Rough Rider lifted his eyebrows. “I’m not saying anything, the tracks are doing the speaking.” Rough Rider’s eyes then fell to the ground outside of the bushes. They hovered for a moment before locking into something. Slowly, he walked back towards the fairway, though at a different angle than the way they came. He stopped and turned towards Flying Tires. “Not only is it an animal, but I think I know exactly which one.”

Bertie the Kid hurried next to Rough Rider, soaking in an unspoken lesson as the two crouched along what, only hours earlier, Bertie would have thought an invisible trail of matted grass. Now, Bertie recognized two things: the rounded indentations looked more and more like the paws of an animal, and they appeared to show multiple passages. This animal did not get all of the golf balls at once.

Though the trail meandered slightly, it ultimately pointed southwest. They crossed the fairway, where the trail had seemingly disappeared until Rough Rider demonstrated how leaning back and letting the sunlight shine at a different angle off the ground reflected a different sheen to the grass where the animal passed. Just after that moment, Bertie the Kid figured out where it led.

“The animal is a dog,” he said out loud, “the one that lives at that house.” He pointed to a home bordering Hole 12, west of the land belonging to the Andersons. The house, a large one with a spacious backyard, sat removed from the course. Almost as an afterthought, the dog kennel was plopped on the very edge of its backyard, screening the corner of the house’s property from Burnt Creek’s golf course boundary.

Rough Rider grinned. “The time has come for you to meet the beast of the neighborhood. His name is Bison, and he is apparently a fan of collecting golf balls.”

A minute later an enormous mutt of a dog snarled through a chain link fence at the two boys. Between growls and saliva, Bertie the Kid noted inconsistent, patchy tufts of white and brown fur covering a lumpy, grotesque body. Further inspection into the unkempt kennel revealed a couple straggling tufts of yellow grass in what was otherwise a paws-trampled dust field. At the far end, barely hanging in one piece, sat a tattered, tooth-marked doghouse. As his eyes dwelt on the back part of the kennel, Bertie saw two things: a small gap where mangled chain link had been worked up enough to allow the behemoth canine to sneak out, and--most importantly--a saliva-sheened dirt pile of golf balls.

“There they are,” Bertie the Kid pointed to the balls hiding under the eave of the doghouse.

Between Bison’s bloated barks, Rough Rider responded, “I may be able to find animal tracks, Flying Tires, but you truly have the creeekboy instinct for locating golf balls.” Rough Rider analyzed the situation for a moment before suggesting, “I’ll take care of Bison while you sneak around and nab those golf balls.”

Rough Rider grabbed a stick and rattled the fence enough to drive Bison insane with rage trying to snatch it. Bertie the Kid took the opportunity to slip around to the back. With barely a second thought, he shimmied under the mangled section of the fence and crawled to the confiscated golf balls. Shoving golf balls into his bag by the handful, Bertie did not dare even glance to where Rough Rider continued to drive Bison into a frenzy.

Then the noises stopped.

Bertie the Kid’s head gravitated towards the silence. He saw Bison staring him down, processing the bold act of another creature actually infiltrating his lair. Rough Rider intensified his efforts of distraction, but Bison lost all interest in everything outside of his den. Instead, he took one, last agonizing moment to understand his prey before shuffling his feet and then springing his whole mesh of muttiness towards Bertie the Kid.

Bertie’s mind flashed with possibilities as his hand automatically stuffed the last golf ball into his bag.  Yet, he instinctively knew that, caged as he was, he had nowhere to run. The only real option lay in escaping the same way he entered. Seeing the charging Bison, however, showed that such an option would not be quick enough. He would be caught trying to work under the fence with his legs vulnerable to Bison’s merciless fangs.

Defenseless, Bertie the Kid’s thoughts ran into a dead end as the beast barrelled towards him. Bertie wondered, in a detached sort of way, where Bison would first attack and how much pain it would inflict. The pounding of Bison’s monster paws assured the Kid that he would soon find out.

Then, Bertie noticed a blur in his periphery. Something adeptly scaled the fence, then launched itself over the top. The blur, which Bertie the Kid now recognized as Rough Rider, smashed down on top of Bison, slamming him to the ground in a detonation of dust. The action brought the beast to a skidding stop. Rough Rider quickly adjusted his position and locked his arms around Bison’s neck. In that split second, he managed to grunt at Bertie, “Go Flying Tires. Get out, now!”

Though bereft of his tires, Bertie the Kid flew all the same. As he turned to make good his escape, he saw Bison retaliate from his first blow, charging upwards and rearing his head, intent on sinking teeth into his assailant.

Bertie the Kid missed what followed for a moment as he scrambled through the exit point of the cage. When he turned back, he could only assume that he would be witnessing the demise of his rescuer. Incredibly, Rough Rider maintained a vice-like grip on the rollicking beast in such a way that Bison’s straining mouth could not catch the flesh that sat only inches away from it. The beast only increased his efforts, and in a shocking display of wild flailing, the giant dog did everything in its power to wrest the wiry form on top of him into an attackable position.

Bertie the Kid thought for sure that Rough Rider would be flung to the ground at any moment. Yet, though his legs whipped all around without control, Rough Rider still gripped Bison as if they had melded together at the necks.

Eventually, Bison’s struggles slowed, then--like a wind up toy reaching the last of its turns--the mammoth animal dropped in  a heap of sweat, saliva, and fur to the dusty ground. Rough Rider held tight, as if expecting a ruse, but after half a minute, he was satisfied.

Stepping off Bison’s heaving-with-fatigue body, Rough Rider turned to look into the panting animal’s hazy eyes. His hand fearlessly sailed past the mouth, and he scrubbed Bison respectfully between the ears. Then, with a noticeably wobbly turn, Rough Rider made his way to the fence and--as quickly as he had entered it--he exited Bison’s lair.

Immediately, he began walking back towards the golf course, where they had left their steeds. But Bertie the Kid could not so casually walk away after what he had just witnessed. He tugged at Rough Rider’s loose shirt. Rough Rider stopped and looked at the creekboy.

“Thanks for saving me,” Bertie the Kid muttered, “Bison would have ripped me to pieces if you … thank you.”

Rough Rider paused for a moment before nodding. He about spoke, and then hesitated, searching for the right words. “I would not have done it for just anyone, Flying Tires.”

This time Bertie the Kid nodded, grasping the depth of the compliment coming from someone who had been taught his whole life to distrust outsiders. The two walked on in silence until they arrived back at Burnt Creek properties.

As they traversed the rough before the fairway, a realization hit Bertie. “Rough Rider … the way you handled Bison. It’s like you’ve done it before.”

Rough Rider smiled wide. “You haven’t seen the Anderson dog, have you?”

Bertie the Kid shook his head and Rough Rider continued, “Someday I’ll have to introduce you.” He paused. “His name is Grizzly.”

This time Bertie the Kid smiled back. “And that is the other reason you have the name ‘Rough Rider,’ isn’t it?”

“You are clever, Flying Tires. And you are completely correct.” Rough Rider then slapped Bertie the Kid on the back. “Now, come, Flying Tires. We need to find you a golf ball washer so we can get those Bison-slobbered golf balls in presentable shape!”


When Bertie the Kid handed over the golf balls to Mr. Cassidy a short time later, the golf course manager eyed Bertie searchingly. “So, did you have any run-ins with those trespassing Anderson kids today at Hole 12?”

Bertie the Kid thought over Mr. Cassidy’s question, taking careful consideration of the specific wording. Then, he shook his head and answered honestly, “No.”

©2013 Marty Reeder