Thursday, September 26, 2013

Hole 13: The Don R. Party and the Pinegineer

Hole 13: The Don R. Party and the Pinegineer

Accepting the position as a creekboy to the Burnt Creek Golf Course meant accepting to expect the unexpected. Yet even with this standard of the unpredictable, Bertie the Kid could never have prepared himself to be stranded on an island of the Burnt Creek with three rough looking teenagers from the Don R. Party--including the curly-haired, big-chinned Don R. himself.

Adding to this already uncomfortable situation was the torrential downpour roaring all around Bertie with a ferocity he had never before witnessed. At least he could console himself by the fact that he also stood next to the sweet-looking and soft-spoken golfing prodigy, Catherine Williams.

Two things detained Bertie the Kid from engaging in a conversation with Catherine: the downpour parading as rain, which pelted down at such a volume that he would need to scream to be heard; and secondly, he was getting cold feet--literally. As the surging creek water icily seeped through his hole-marked sneakers, his feet began to get soggy and numb.

Just a few minutes before, this spot of land had not been an island at all, just a low peninsula sticking out into the Burnt Creek. The pine tree at the center of the peninsula offered the best protection against the driving rain in the immediate vicinity. Because of this, it stood out as an obvious refuge, which is why it was not long after Bertie the Kid had gravitated here that Catherine joined him, and then, most recently, the thugs of the Don R. Party.

Bertie did not know a whole lot about the Don R. Party except for the little information that Kid Carson had given him a few days ago when they crossed paths dropping off their golf balls at the clubhouse. The main point Bertie took away from that conversation was to avoid them, something he had failed at accomplishing.

“If it isn’t Catherine, the pinegineer,” Don R. opened as soon as he and his party joined Bertie the Kid and Catherine. “Looks like these pine trees of your grandfather finally served a real purpose, besides blocking a perfectly fine view of a hole.” Don R. sneered while turning up his white polo shirt collar.

Catherine’s grandfather was the Burnt Creek Golf Course’s landscape engineer years ago when the golf course was first being designed. Catherine’s grandfather was hired by the young Mr. Cassidy to help with the design of the proposed course, and he submitted a course design that would go out of its way to preserve the native trees on the land. Several investors in the course--including Don R.’s uncle--wanted the Burnt Creek modeled after a particular golf course layout that had been popularly used in some of the bigger cities the investors often frequented. Using that approach would have required swathing the natural landscape and starting from scratch with new vegetation. Besides the draw of familiarity for some of the investors, the raw numbers showed that simply plowing the old plant life and replanting new ones in strategic areas would have been more economical than trying to meticulously work around the current landscape with specialized equipment.

After some deliberation, Mr. Cassidy eventually sided with Catherine’s grandfather. He liked the the idea that sticking more to the original landscape would make it unique enough to draw visitors from outside the region--not just offering something already available elsewhere. It did not hurt that the investors’ preferred approach also would have required Mr. Cassidy to file a lot more paperwork for the environmental impact report.

While all the investors still stuck to the project after Mr. Cassidy decided to retain most of the original growth in the area, there was enough animosity over the conflict from the plan’s detractors that Catherine’s grandfather was slapped with the nickname of “pinegineer”--as opposed to engineer. The opposing visions for the course were so strong that they lingered into following generations, which is why Don R. applied the title given to Catherine’s grandfather to her.

Don R.’s nickname derived from his uncle, an avid golfer and patron of the Burnt Creek Golf Course. When the younger Don began frequenting the course, the clubhouse needed to distinguish between the two. In order to avoid confusion, whenever the clubhouse announced tee times, they called the elder Don simply by his first name, and the nephew they announced as Don R. Because Don R. usually found himself with several other young, aspiring golf professionals, the clubhouse would append the word “party” at the end of his name--which is why, on the Burnt Creek Golf Course, the teenage boy and his followers became known as the Don R. Party.

Instead of diminishing with time, the burning disgust for the Williams’s pinegineering vision had percolated and grown stronger with the next generation. According to Don R., the main thing keeping him from being a competitive golfer was the cumbersome location of the course’s pre-existing pine trees. If those were torn out and replaced by fewer and more transparent deciduous trees, then Don R. felt certain that his game scores would improve enough to secure himself a spot in the higher echelon of the juvenile golfing leagues.

Catherine Williams herself provided compelling evidence against Don R.’s theory. The landscape engineer’s granddaughter happened to be the best juvenile golfer at the Burnt Creek Golf Course, regardless of gender. She also managed to place first in competitions throughout the region, regardless of the layout of the golf course in the competition. And Don R. could never forgive her for that.

“Who you got here with you, Pinegineer? A tree-hugging caddy?” The closeness of the group huddled underneath the tree made it difficult to point, so Don R. just nodded his big chin towards Bertie the Kid.

“I suppose even you savages have heard of Bertie the Kid,” Catherine Williams clipped, loud enough to be heard over the pelting rain. Bertie looked up at Catherine, surprised that she knew who he was.

Don R. gazed over to Bertie anew. “Really? Huh. The famous creekboy, Bertie the Kid. I kind of expected you to be taller in real life.”

Bertie refused to bite at Don R.’s goadings, first because he knew that nothing good can come from unnecessarily confronting three sixteen-year-old boys; and second because he was more intent on watching the Burnt Creek tumble in an ever-increasing amount across the path they had taken to get under the tree.

After a constant deluge over the previous night, the creek was already swollen from its usual low, summer base flow. A break in the weather that morning deceived people into going back to the course, but an unexpected turn in the storm system brought a hammering that bested anything the Burnt Creek had seen yet. Now, the water-soaked ground refused to absorb any more moisture, and all excess water plummeted down the Burnt Creek, expanding higher and higher with each passing raindrop.

In spite of its antagonistic nature, the group huddled closer together, embracing the security of the pine tree’s solid trunk. With water coursing off the tip of his nose, Don R. gauged the situation carefully. He saw, as well as the others, that the path they took to reach this point had transformed from a muddy channel, to a running tributary, and then a dangerously fast-moving rapid.

Don R. also saw the reduced and further decreasing standing space around the pine tree. He tried to peek up through the pine branches to see if the storm had any chance of relenting, but his only reward was getting his face splashed by the giant water droplets that merged on their tracks down pine needles. After surveying all of this, Don R. finally spoke, grunting loudly.

“Well, Pinegineer, looks like we’re running out of room. It’s time for you to head back to Hole 13.”

Catherine Williams looked back at Don R. in disbelief, but before she could even ask whether he was serious, his arm came out and started shoving her towards the creek. “Go on,” he prodded, “We’ll take good care of your tree.”

The statement was intended as one from a cavalier bully, but Don R.’s eyes reflected the growing panic which mirrored the rising creek. So when Catherine hesitated, Don R. reached out once more to enact a more forceful shove.

His arm never got there. Instead, a slender but determined hand arrested it. Don R. saw, with annoyance, that the hand belonged to Bertie the Kid. He tried to shake the hand off his arm, but it clung ferociously. Don R. decided to revert to his original method. “Fine with me, creekboy. You can join the pinegineer and leave even more room for the rest of us.”

If Don R. hoped for wavering from Bertie the Kid, he was disappointed. Bertie simply reaffirmed his grip on Don R.’s arm in a way that spelled out his determination more than any words could. Don R. paused, looked at Bertie--a mere, scrappy ten year old, and he a burly sixteen year old--then at Catherine, then Bertie again. He drew his arm back and huddled with his party.

With a sulking demeanor and building dismay, Don R. monitored the rising creek again. By this time, everyone’s feet were submerged in the encompassing flow of the creek, and Don R. looked like a cat being held over a bathtub. In desperation, he glanced upward again and saw a branch, fragile and dead, that extended out from the trunk just out of arm’s reach. The dead branch led to another, more solid branch farther up. Don R. pointed upwards while nudging the other two in his party, “Give me a boost up, boys, then I’ll pull you up.”

They weathered the raindrops to look up, then one of them said, “How about you give us a boost up, and then we’ll help you.”

Don R. clearly did not like this small breach of his authority. With a sidelong glance at Bertie the Kid, Don R. wondered if it was the result of the creekboy’s recent insolence. Regardless, Don R. was getting desperate. Determined to address it later, Don R. now pushed one of his party towards the tree and the other party member helped heft the boy to the first branch. The dead branch bowed but held, and the party member scrambled up to the sturdy branch beyond. Don R.’s other companion was next, and with significantly more effort, Don R. hoisted him to the lowest branch. The branch groaned under the strain, but the boy successfully clambered onto the higher branch.

Immediately, Don R. protested. “Wait! You have to stay on the first branch so that you can help me up.” His arms grasped upward but clearly fell short of the dead branch.

“I don’t think so, Don R.,” his friend muttered pathetically, hair plastered against his forehead. “That branch almost broke with me on it. If I try to help you up, it’ll break and we’ll both go rolling down the creek.”

The stomping of Don R.’s foot created a splash that emphasized his frustration. “You can’t leave me down here!” He got no response. “This water is up to my shins! You can’t leave me here!”

The members of his party had already stopped looking down, effectively ignoring him. Don R. swivelled frantically. He was surrounded by water and the only other people in the vicinity were those he had just managed to insult. His eyes flew back to the drenched boys above. “I need to get to that branch. You get me there, or so help me, I’ll tell my uncle, and he’ll see to it that neither of you set foot on this golf course again. In fact, he might even get his lawyers to--”

One of the boys turned back to look at Don R. “You want to get to the branch, Loudmouth? How about we send the branch to you instead?” The boy reached his foot down, put pressure on the branch and then kicked. The branch cracked and plummeted with a splash into the rising waters below. “See?” the party member concluded, “No way it coulda held me and you. You’re on your own, Don R.”

The moment the branch broke, so did Don R. He tried to kick the fallen branch before flinging himself into the tree trunk. There, he scraped his hands on the pine’s trunk in a desperate attempt to climb up. After a couple failed undertakings, Don R. hid his face and shivered, though it was hard to say whether he shivered due to the cold or fear.

With the Don R. Party show ending, the snapped branch seemed to revive Catherine into action. She snatched the piece of wood out of the water then looked to Bertie the Kid. “Come on, creekboy. We’re getting out of here.”

Bertie the Kid eyed the rapid separating them from solid ground. “Um, I don’t think I can get across.” He had to raise his voice to uncomfortable volumes just to be heard.

Catherine smiled. “Not until you grow up another half foot, but I think I’m tall enough. Besides, I can use this branch to brace myself in the crossing.”

Bertie the Kid acknowledged that the sixteen-year-old girl had enough height to put her knees above the rapid, which would give her a fighting chance. He nodded. “Go for it.”

Catherine pivoted so her back faced Bertie the Kid, then she scrunched down. “Hop on,” she called out.

Bertie then realized that Catherine Williams was offering to carry him on her back. He quickly shook his head, though she could not even see the gesture, and yelled through the rain, “It’ll be hard enough on your own. Go ahead and cross. I’ll be fine here.”

Catherine first looked up at the dripping rats in the tree, then at the quivering Don R. pasted to the trunk. “In this company? The Don R. Party may work that way, but I guess I’ve still got to teach you something about how us pinegineers treat others.” She waved her hand toward her back. “Now, hop on.”

Reluctant, but also not about to start an argument with the great Catherine Williams, Bertie the Kid sloshed over to her and sealed himself to her back. Bertie’s weight and the uncertain footing in the water caused Catherine to stumble as she lifted him off the ground. The misstep caused Bertie to slip in a comment about how it might be better if he stayed behind.

Catherine stopped him before he he could finish. “One more word from you, creekboy, and I’ll tell Mr. Cassidy that you ride your bike on the green.”

Bertie the Kid smiled at her effective threat. He kept his mouth shut.

Wielding the pine branch in front of her to search for stable footing, Catherine planted the branch onto the upstream side and then leaned fully into it while splashing forward. After a couple of slow steps, Bertie the Kid recognized that they stood just in front of the carnivorous rapid, which seemed to call out eagerly at their approach. He felt the heave of Catherine Williams’s body as she took a deep breath before reaching forward with the pine branch and penetrating the most shallow part of the rapid, where the water seemed to rush backwards in an effort to surge into the great wave.

The first step proved successful, giving Bertie and Catherine alike the confidence of success. The next step nearly ruined them.

In addition to the quick, relentless pull of the current, Catherine also had to deal with the slippery ground underneath. Her foot slid with the current and she crashed down on one knee, with the creek water immediately pounding up to her chest.

Bertie the Kid expected to be lost amid the frothing waters and washed hopelessly downstream. Amazed, however, he saw that Catherine--through some feat of strength--managed to cling to the pine branch, its pointed end anchored between rocks in the creekbed below. Catherine gripped the branch and threw her full weight into the crashing current, managing to barely fight back the chaos of the creek’s charging rapid.

Bertie the Kid had never felt so helpless. He wanted to do something to aid Catherine, but any movement on his part was sure to throw off her razor-thin equilibrium. So Bertie the Kid did nothing--the best thing he could have done.

Though water coursed over her like stampeding cords of snakes, Catherine managed to readjust her back foot. Then, still keeping a firm hold on the pine branch, she hefted herself upward, straining every muscle until she rose high enough to bring her other foot underneath her. Once accomplished, Catherine straightened back to her full height.

The pine branch relocated forward, and the odd pair inched farther along. Catherine’s foot slid again, but she was ready. She held herself up, replanted her foot, and then put her full weight on it. The whole process continued. Bertie the Kid could feel Catherine trembling underneath him from the constant pressure of balancing herself and her human luggage against the current.

Bertie the Kid wondered if Catherine could last even another step at that point. Catherine probably wondered the same. But then, she took another step, and the painstaking routine cycled--the doubt, the overwhelming exhaustion, the pine branch, the step, the follow through, then a moment of recovery followed by more doubt.

By the time Catherine’s foot slid up to the edge of the opposite side of the flooded creek, she could not find the strength to drag her back foot to join with the front. Instead, she collapsed forward. Bertie managed to maneuver himself to the side so that he dropped down next to her and they both lay on the bank.

Bertie the Kid patted Catherine’s hand as she breathed in heavy intervals. He felt like he should say something, but words seemed so useless. Finally, Catherine looked up at him, and patted his hand back.

Then Catherine looked back to the pine tree they had come from. There, the two party members huddled in their perch, looking drenched and miserable. Below them, still clinging to the trunk, and with water passing his knees, Don R. shot a look of hatred and envy over to Bertie the Kid and Catherine Williams.

Catherine forced herself back to her feet and re-gripped the pine branch. Then, to Bertie the Kid’s amazement, Catherine Williams stepped back into the roaring creek again. Before Bertie the Kid could even try to talk her out of it, she already balanced knee-deep in the rushing maelstrom.

The passage back should have been easier without the weight of Bertie, but considering the still-rising level of the creek waters and her fatigue, Catherine had to summon all her energy to blaze across the pass. After a minute of precarious shuffling, Catherine managed to plant herself in an awkward position near the trunk, her legs spread out with one hand grasping the branch positioned out in front of her.

Catherine steadied herself and reached her free arm out towards the miserable Don R. At first the sulky teenager appeared to soften, the fear of his current predicament overcoming hesitation. But just as his hand left the trunk, Don R. seemed to rethink the situation--realizing that submitting himself to her, even in this act of kindness, could be seen later on as a sign of weakness, and that the pinegineer would have something to hold over him.

Due to the raging creek and pounding rain drowning out soft sounds, Bertie the Kid could not be sure if Catherine said anything. But Don R. left no such question when he spouted, “I’m not taking help from no pinegineer!” Then, in a demonstration of his defiance, he swung his leg through the heavy water and managed to knock Catherine’s pine branch out of its anchorage.

His uncaring action forced two unintended consequences. While it was clear that he hoped to knock away the pine branch, Don R. genuinely did not expect Catherine to be affected. Without the support of the staff, however, she immediately stumbled into the creek. The other unintended consequence in bringing his leg around to kick the branch was that it allowed the current to sweep between him and the trunk that had, up until then, protected him. In a moment, Don R. was swallowed by the hungry creek waters.

Bertie the Kid immediately jolted forward, but then just as quickly realized that if he threw himself into the creek, there would be three victims instead of two. A second later he felt some relief as he recognized the familiar pine branch emerge out of the current. It was closely followed by the relentlessly gripping hand of Catherine Williams. The pinegineer stood up, swatted some water away from her face, and desperately cast her eyes around. Bertie knew that she hoped to find Don R.

They both saw him at the same time. Rolling downstream, Don R.’s arms flailed uselessly against the dominating current, his mouth only occasionally breaking the surface to grab gems of air mingled with mounds of choking creek water. Catherine, still fighting to maintain her balance, turned to Bertie the Kid. “Help him!” she appealed.

Bertie the Kid saw the bobbing form of Don R. tumble out of sight around a bend before the crashing force of the creek. He wondered what he could possibly do. He himself had been helpless until Catherine rescued him. If he were going to do anything, he could not do it alone. Instead of being a discouraging thought, however, it sparked an idea. Bertie the Kid suddenly knew what to do.

The ten-year-old creekboy sprinted up the bank and within seconds found Silver, sitting calmly in the pouring rain where he had left him a forty minutes ago. Bertie mounted, threw up the kickstand and murmured, “We’re going fishing, Silver.” Then they were off.

The pair shot towards the creek at such a rate that even if Bertie had wanted to change his mind, there was no way to stop. They reached the creek edge, then swerved parallel to it, barrelling along the creek bank while dodging shrubs and branches. So rapid was his chase that it was only out of the corner of his eye that he registered the fatigued form of Catherine Williams relentlessly plodding towards solid ground again. That image faded behind Bertie the Kid as his eyes shot forward to negotiate between sweeping the swirling chaos of the creek and checking Silver’s path along the creek’s edge.

After a dozen seconds of zipping along the creek bank’s edge, Bertie the Kid spotted the beleaguered Don R. The formerly proud teenager tumbled with the current in such a lethargic state that Bertie wondered if he had given up entirely. The only indication that he had not, came when Don R.’s head bobbed to the surface and Bertie saw him still writhing weakly for as much air as as his groping mouth could muster. From the looks of it, though, if Don R. did not get help soon, it just might be his last appeal to life.

Ahead, the frothing current rose to the point of only leaving a small gap between the creek and a fallen tree trunk spanning over a part of the creek’s path. Beyond that, all Bertie could see was a spraying white mist--a sure sign of a waterfall. Because he had only spent one day on Hole 13, Bertie the Kid did not know the landscape well enough to judge precisely, but he surmised that it had to be at least a five foot drop. If Bertie the Kid hoped to rescue Don R., he would need to do so before the rushing white water pinned the golfer to the rocks at the bottom of that drop.

Voicelessly, the tired Bertie the Kid urged Silver on, somehow finding the energy to churn his legs into furious circles and drive Silver towards the desperate limbs of Don R. The spilling water loomed nearer and nearer to Don R., but Silver charged forward fearlessly, closing the final distance separating them from Don R. just as the golfer whirred under the fallen tree trunk.

Bertie the Kid realized that as fast as he had arrived, he had no time to stop and find a way to leverage Don R. out of the creek before it would be too late. As a result, his next move occurred without thinking. Maintaining his momentum, Bertie the Kid swung Silver’s handlebars towards the churning creek waters, lifted up on his steed and the two sailed into the air before crashing into the frenzied Burnt Creek.

If Bertie the Kid thought the creek was vicious on the day he avoided the Jesse James brothers, then he revised expectations when compared with the beating the creek gave him on this entry. The Burnt Creek’s plunging current immediately slammed him and Silver sideways and down. As someone who had conquered the creek before, however, Bertie could not be so easily beaten. With a yank to the handlebars, Silver’s wheels turned and gave Bertie enough support to lift his head out of the water in time to see them charging underneath the tree trunk.
Bertie knew that the tree trunk was the last anchor to solid land before the waterfall, so his quick-thinking mind immediately enacted a three-fold action as they passed the tree. First, he wrapped his legs around Silver’s frame, then grabbed at the last, stray branch of the fallen tree with one hand, and finally, he desperately flung his other hand as far as he could in hopes of finding something of Don R. that he could secure.

At first his groping hand felt nothing, but just as his fingertips started to withdraw, a soaked polo shirt brushed past them. That was all Bertie the Kid needed. His fist clamped shut and he immediately felt the tug of resistance telling him that he now held back Don R. from the precipice ahead.

Initially, a swell of relief piqued Bertie the Kid. The next second, he was overwhelmed. Don R.’s full weight magnified by the current suddenly yanked against Bertie’s tightened arm. Underneath, Silver tugged against his gripping legs. Both then teamed up to tear at the single arm anchoring them to the trunk. Immediately, water pounded across the back of Bertie the Kid’s head, and it was all he could do to find a second’s respite to snatch a single breath of air.

Between sweeping cascades of current, Bertie the Kid could at least be consoled that Don R. seemed to have found the surface and caught up on some desperately needed oxygen. Yet Bertie felt that such break could not last long. His ten-year-old arms, stretched to their limits, seemed capable of being torn from his body at any moment. His slippery wet fingers on the branch crept incrementally apart, dangerously affecting his grip.

Clearly, he was beyond his limits, but somehow he forced himself to ignore the searing pain in his shoulders. Somehow, he forced the joints in his fingers to freeze for just a little bit longer. And then, Bertie the Kid knew he had reached the point where his body refused to listen to him anymore.

Just as the creek tore Don R. from Bertie’s grasp, he saw a branch hover over his head and land directly in front of Don R. It was a pine branch, and Bertie saw that the other end of it belonged to a heaving Catherine Williams reaching from the solid bank.

This time Don R. did not scorn the help offered him--he did not even think about it. His hands flew up and snatched the branch just as Bertie’s grip on Don R.’s shirt gave in. Catherine lacked the energy to drag Don R. back towards her, but she did let the current help pivot him into the bank.

The release of tension from Don R.’s weight extended Bertie the Kid’s hold on the branch for a moment, but then, without warning, his aching fingers slipped off the trunk’s branch. The creek joyously swept him and Silver towards the waterfall edge, and Bertie wished that he could have given Catherine just a few more seconds.

But Catherine did not need a few more seconds. The pine branch zipped back, and Bertie the Kid’s hand shot out. Catherine Williams may have been exhausted, but there was nothing that could have kept her from then reeling Bertie and his bike to safety.

After a moment of tugging, Bertie the Kid’s foot hit solid ground. Then his other foot did. The next thing he knew, Bertie dragged Silver, with his deadened arms, up onto the bank of the Burnt Creek. For a moment all three forms flopped on the ground, inches from the rushing creek, regardless of the pounding rain streaming all over them. They greedily slurped in air like it would be taken away from them at any moment.

After a minute of this desperate recovery, Don R. stirred, then stood. Don R.’s polo shirt was stretched and soaked, his curled hair leaked water like a overloaded sponge. His eyes flitted towards the on-looking Catherine Williams and Bertie the Kid, then down to his feet, then back to his rescuers again. Clearly, Don R. wanted to say something, but instead he shuffled awkwardly before turning back towards Hole 13.

In his path lay the pine branch that he had so despised. He stopped before it, regarded it, then he stepped--delicately--over the branch and disappeared into the pine tree-littered rough that lined the creek edge.

Bertie the Kid swivelled his head to face Catherine Williams. The two smiled faintly at Don R.’s actions. Then Catherine pushed herself into a sitting position and Bertie followed suit. “Bertie the Kid,” she said, “you got a lot of grit.”

“Catherine Williams,” the ten-year-old responded naturally, “you got a lot of heart.”

“I guess, in the end,” Catherine breathed deeply, “you did learn a bit about how pinegineers treat others. And I learned the same about creekboys.”

The raging downpour abruptly stopped. The creekboy and pinegineer stood up to make their way back to Hole 13. They did not see a rainbow, but both seemed to have the unspoken feeling that there was one somewhere, above the protective reach of the interlacing pine trees.

©2013 Marty Reeder