Thursday, October 3, 2013

Hole 14: Quickdraw McSwans

Hole 14: Quickdraw McSwans

Bertie the Kid navigated through the Burnt Creek Café and arrived at Mr. Cassidy’s office. He had just finished a good morning’s work where he wrapped up a final sweep of Hole 13. The minute he entered the back door to the office, Mr. Cassidy’s visor-shadowed face relaxed in relief. “Ah, here is the boy I was telling you about.”

Bertie the Kid immediately looked beyond Mr. Cassidy’s desk and saw a younger-looking man sitting there. The young man regarded Bertie with clear, deep eyes, while Bertie noticed his darker complexion, meticulously-trimmed black hair, and fancy clothing. Even for a golf course used to high end patrons, Bertie could tell that this man came from an even higher echelon than Burnt Creek’s most prestigious golfers. Why Mr. Cassidy would be talking to such an important person about a ten-year-old golf ball gatherer was beyond Bertie the Kid.

“Bertie the Kid,” Mr. Cassidy waved his hand over to the young man, “I’d like you to meet José David Castillo Andino. He is the son of the Ambassador from the Republic of Bolombia. We are very fortunate that he has chosen to come golfing at the Burnt Creek Golf Course while doing some diplomatic work for his father.”

Mr. Cassidy’s lofty introduction only confused Bertie the Kid more. The prestigious man nodded at Bertie and said, “Bertie the Kid?” Bertie noticed a slight accent, though the man’s language was clearly refined.

“Oh, it’s … uh … it’s a nickname he has. His actual name is Bert--”

“‘Bertie the Kid’ is fine,” the man nodded while looking over Bertie’s rudimentary garb. “And you tell me that he will be able to help me?”

Mr. Cassidy nodded. “He is just the boy for the job.”

José David Castillo Andino glanced at his watch, a watch that must have cost more than all the golf balls Bertie could gather in a lifetime. The Bolombian then said, “Well, I will reward the golf course handsomely if you can fix this unfortunate incident.” He then stood up, his every movement evoking a sense of dignity. “I am to meet with some officials to the south of your area this afternoon, but I will be back tomorrow at noon. I hope I am not disappointed.” With a sweeping movement, he vacated the office, gliding through the lobby of the Burnt Creek clubhouse and into the parking lot.

Mr. Cassidy watched José David Castillo Andino leave and then released a breath of air. “Well, Bertie the Kid, you’ve always been a natural, but now I’m going to need the very best you have to offer.”

Bertie slowly set down the bag of golf balls he had gathered for the day, and Mr. Cassidy finally took his eyes off the office door. “Mr. Andino is a huge fan of golfing but doesn’t have a lot of golfing options in Bolombia, so he occasionally has his father set up some diplomatic trips to places where he can test out different courses.”

Bertie the Kid was not used to seeing Mr. Cassidy worked up, but he could tell that the golf course manager placed a lot of importance on this issue. He motioned for Bertie the Kid to follow him. The two walked out of the office while Mr. Cassidy spoke, “Mr. Andino’s trip took him to some of the bigger cities to the south of here, but he heard about Burnt Creek and decided to come check it out. I went with him, and he was quite enjoying the experience until we hit Hole 14.”

Hole 14 was the next hole in Bertie’s sweeping of the Back Nine, and though he had not spent time there yet, the word he picked up from golfers passing by as he gathered balls in the rough was that it was a difficult hole.

“He lost a golf ball,” Mr. Cassidy conceded. By now the two had walked outside into the brilliant afternoon sun. “And apparently it wasn’t just any golf ball. It was a golf ball that had been given to him by one of our nation’s highest elected officials, specially made to commemorate a golfing match they shared together.”

“You want me to find the golf ball?” Bertie the Kid finally began to realize what part he played in all of this.

“I need you to,” Mr. Cassidy amended, directing Bertie towards a golf cart set to the side of the clubhouse. “The reputation of our course with this powerful man rests on your ability to find it and have it here by noon tomorrow.”

Mr. Cassidy had Bertie bring Silver over to the golf cart and then loaded the bike into the back. Once secured, they all traveled over to the tee of Hole 14. The tee told most of the story. After Hole 13 pivoted towards the center of the Burnt Creek Golf Course--deviating from Holes 10 through 12, which marked the southern boundary of the course--Hole 14 further extended inwards. This took golfers straight past Mack Lake.

The only standing body of water on the Back Nine, Mack Lake was the remnant of an old beaver pond. In designing the course, Catherine Williams’s grandfather chose to not just keep the beaver pond, but enhance it. The edges of the dam were strengthened and patched. Then, fed by a tributary of the Burnt Creek, the pond grew to a small, picturesque lake sitting in the center of the Back Nine.

While the lake certainly added to the visual beauty of the course, it also added to the frustration of the golfers, particularly those of Hole 14. Just past the halfway point of the fairway, Mack Lake sliced westwards right through the fairway and then bordered the fairway the rest of the way to the green. It worked almost like a magnet in snatching up even some of the most decent drives.

“I did warn him that Hole 14 could be tricky,” Mr. Cassidy shook his head, not even checking to see if Bertie the Kid listened or not, “but he has this thing about using that golf ball at least once on all the courses he plays on.”

Bertie the Kid finished fishing Silver out of the back of the golf cart. Then, once Mr. Cassidy had Bertie’s full attention, he pointed to the shore of Mack Lake closest to the green. “It was a beautiful hit. The man does not love the sport of golf for nothing. We both thought it would land him within chipping distance of the green, but when it dropped, it angled to the right--just enough to land somewhere along the shore.”

“Did you see a splash?” Bertie the Kid asked. He felt like a crime scene investigator.

“No splash, but all of those reeds along the shore made it difficult to see any splashes. If it went in the lake, it would be in the shallows.” Mr. Cassidy shook his head. “We obviously searched for the ball ourselves, but we really couldn’t get too far into the reeds so we gave up after too long. He was still really upset, so I assured him that I knew just the person who could retrieve it for him.”

Bertie the Kid tried to visualize the Bolombian’s drive while Mr. Cassidy went to gather something from the golf cart. When he got back, Bertie saw that it was a piece of paper with a flag printed on it. “This is the Bolombian flag. I printed it out while we waited for you to come to the office. The golf ball has this flag on one side and then our flag on the other.” He paused for a moment as Bertie captured the image of the flag in his memory. “I would really like to see this man return to our course in the future to play, perhaps bringing some of his friends or other politicians with him. That opportunity will be lost if he has a negative experience.”

Bertie the Kid nodded. “I’ll find the golf ball.”

Mr. Cassidy exhaled in relief. “Thank you, Bertie the Kid.” He started working his way over to his golf cart while Bertie mounted Silver. Before Bertie could take off down the fairway, Mr. Cassidy stopped him. “Oh, wait, I almost forgot!” He stuffed both of his hands to the back of the golf cart and removed two strange-looking devices. He seemed to take a minute to decide between them, then chose one and slipped the other one back into the golf cart. He carried the leftover one over to Bertie. The creekboy noticed that the device was a black, foot-and-a-half long pole with a three-pronged claw at one end and a handle on the other.

Bertie the Kid eyed the object with skepticism. He did not need to ask what it was, because Mr. Cassidy was more than eager to tell. “It’s a grabber … actually, the brand name is ‘Returner.’ I saw it in a magazine while flying on a business trip, and I thought this might be useful for grabbing golf balls in places like the shallows of Mack Lake or up in some bushes.”

Mr. Cassidy walked over to Bertie and presented the Returner to him. Bertie paused before allowing Mr. Cassidy to set it in his hand. The handle, he saw, had a trigger set into it. His fingers delicately touched the pole, which felt surprisingly sturdy. The prongs on the claw bent inward and close enough to cradle a golf ball, or even something smaller than that, if needed.

Mr. Cassidy noted Bertie’s careful examination, and with thinly disguised excitement, he said, “If you pull the pole back towards the handle a little bit, it sets the claw open, ready to grab. Then, when you pull the trigger on the handle, the pole springs out and the prongs close in.” Mr. Cassidy looked at Bertie. He must have detected doubt on the boy’s face, because the golf course manager pulled a golf ball out of his pocket and dropped it onto the ground. “Go ahead. Give the Returner a shot.”

Bertie the Kid pulled back the pole and heard a click. The claw suddenly sat open. Bertie pointed the claw towards the ball on the ground. For a second, he thought of how silly this whole thing was. It would be easier and faster to bend over and pick the ball up. Still, his boss found some inexplicable fascination with it, so Bertie squeezed the trigger.

The surprising power behind the Returner kicked his hand back as the pole shot forward, extending past its original length by virtue of a couple other poles sheathed within the outside pole. Then, by the time it had extended fully, the claw snapped together.

Bertie had completely missed the golf ball, grabbing a grass clod a foot away from it instead.

Mr. Cassidy grinned. “Goes farther than you’d think, doesn’t it? Why don’t you give it another try? Just click the trigger again and the poles retract to their original position.”

Bertie the Kid clicked the trigger and the Returner slid back into its place. The dirt clod still clung to the claw and would not be removed until Bertie cocked the Returner, causing the claw to open and the grass to plop down to the ground.

It took two more shots with the Returner before Bertie successfully nabbed the golf ball. Mr. Cassidy mentioned how Bertie would soon be a natural, and showed him how he could attach it to his pants by a clip on the side of the handle. Bertie nodded, deftly avoiding to give the thanks that he was sure Mr. Cassidy sought to hear. Mr. Cassidy paused for a moment, then shrugged and scaled into his golf cart. Moments later, he was gone.

While a little perturbed that he would now have to remember to attach the silly little tool onto his pants before he turned in his golf balls at the end of the day, Bertie the Kid was at least happy to be back on the course, alone, doing what he loved. He remounted Silver and ignored the soft tapping of the Returner on his hip with the movement.

Silver carried Bertie down the fairway, around the finger of Mack Lake and over to the area where Mr. Cassidy showed Bertie that the golf ball had landed. Bertie immediately knew where to go. When Mr. Cassidy pointed out the general area where the golf ball would have landed, there was only one spot where the reeds would have hidden a golf ball splash from the angle of the tee.

Bertie the Kid could tell by the numerous golf shoe tracks in the vicinity that the Bolombian and Mr. Cassidy had been thorough in their search. The men had trampled all through the smaller snake grass reeds, reaching to Bertie’s knees, and even dabbled into the several large stands of green and yellow cattail reeds, which stretched beyond his own height. They must not have ventured past the waterline, however, because those cattails remained untouched. One thing Bertie the Kid did see by their tracks was that they walked all around the most telling object of the whole situation without realizing its importance.

Bertie kneeled before a rock the size of his head embedded in the fairway just up from the snake grass reeds. What could make a seemingly decent drive go so far errant? Bertie the Kid imagined what would happen if a golf ball dropped straight down onto this rock. His eyes traced the invisible ball’s path, noting that the rock face was at just the right angle that the ball would smack into it and then ricochet out towards the lake. The ricochet would be at a low enough angle, Bertie realized, that the cattails would block the vision of it from the tee. Bertie swiveled his position on his knee towards the lake.

The cattails, grouped together like groves of trees, parted just where Bertie imagined the ball would have rebounded. Then, just ten yards or so beyond the shoreline, a substantial stand of cattails formed a last stand of vegetation until the lake extended, uninterrupted over to its northeastern and eastern shores. Bertie’s eyes stuck on the island. He replayed the drive in his mind: he saw it drop, he saw it ricochet, and then he saw it sail straight into that island of cattails.

In spite of the lateness of his day, Bertie the Kid smiled past his fatigue. He rolled up the legs of his old jeans past his knees, removed his socks and shoes, and then struck out into Mack Lake. Immediately, he noticed golf balls everywhere within the shallows of the lake. Only by subduing his intense creekboy instinct could he walk past them and assure himself that he would have a full week to fish out the balls after he finished with the task at hand.

As Bertie navigated past the golf balls, it reminded him of Kid Carson’s explanation for how the lake got its name. The elder creekboy met Bertie the Kid only the day before as they both were coming and going at the clubhouse. When Kid Carson found out Bertie was going to Hole 14 next, he told him that when the course was originally created, everyone simply referred to it as Beaver Lake. However, during a charity golf tournament not long after Burnt Creek opened, a participant named John Mack lost a dozen golf balls in the lake in just three holes. For the awards ceremony after the tournament, the organizers jokingly gave him a certificate saying that they renamed Beaver Lake to Mack Lake, in his honor. Though offered in jest, the name stuck.

Now, Bertie the Kid found himself up to his knees in Mack Lake, approaching the island of cattails. He noted some rippling on the lake surface and wondered if it was one of the fish often seen in the lake. Before he could find out for certain, however, he found his feet slopping into the mud at the roots of the cattails. The water stayed up to his shins, but he at least felt like he was out of the lake and onto more solid, albeit slimy, ground. He carefully pushed aside stalks until he found himself surrounded by them with only a patch of sky peeking past the bobbing cattail heads.

Bertie’s eyes scanned into the murky water between the cattails, searching for any sign of his destined golf ball. He found it with the next shuffling of the tall plants.

As he swept aside the curtain of stalks, a small clearing of land appeared. The cattails circled loosely around the open spot, with Mack Lake seeping out beyond. On the ground, Bertie noticed a mound of hard mud, covered with fallen stalks, twigs, and feathers. The elusive golf ball with two flags on either side rested calmly on the mound between two downed cattail stalks.

As elated as Bertie the Kid should have been to find the golf ball, one thing checked an immediate reaction. Sitting only inches from the ball was a magnificent specimen: a swan.

Bertie froze. The impressive water fowl’s head was up and alert. Though its body faced towards the lake, the swan angled its eyes to the side enough to give it a view behind. Bertie saw its brilliant white feathers contrasting starkly with the muddy brown of the ground and dark green of the cattails. As the swan shifted a bit in a nest of arranged cattail stalks, sticks and feathers, Bertie caught a glimpse of a dull-white egg. The swan was nesting.

Though Bertie the Kid was not shocked at finding a swan on Mack Lake, he certainly did not expect to be standing only a few feet behind one. Most people knew about the two, mating mute swans that made their home on the local golf course. In fact, they were well known enough to earn a title as the McSwans, an abbreviation of the Mack Lake swans.

The magnificent specimen before Bertie at this moment must have been Mrs. McSwan, Bertie realized. If she was nesting, he sensed that he must not be a very welcome visitor. Yet he knew that he could not retreat now, not with the prize in sight. Bertie figured that he had faced the Jesse James brothers, the Andersons, a snarling Bison, and the Don R. Party--certainly he could muster the courage to take a few steps forward and reach down to grab a simple little golf ball.

After hoarding a large breath of air, Bertie the Kid ventured one foot forward, then two, then a third. Mrs. McSwan’s head wavered a bit but remained angled to the side. Then Bertie began to bend over, the golf ball only a few feet from his hand. He did not even see the attack coming.

The first thing he heard before the beak got to him was a horrifying hiss that sounded like it came from all around him. Then Mrs. McSwan’s mouth found the flesh of his leg, and Bertie the Kid thought for sure that she had somehow become a carnivore.

In spite of the fire on his calf, Bertie’s hands were free and the ball still within reach. He stretched out both hands and immediately had one of them picked up and flung backwards. A split second later, his next hand froze where it was as the lightning fast Mrs. McSwan managed to nip it.

Bertie the Kid knew when he had been beat. He jumped backwards and made his retreat through the dense trail he used to arrive there. In a whir of feathers and hissing, Mrs. McSwan pursued him, nipping at his arms, his calves, his neck--anywhere she could find that was vulnerable. Finally, as Bertie the Kid smashed through the last wall of the cattail island and into the shallows beyond, Mrs. McSwan must have felt that she had ventured too far from her nest. She took her vice-like beak and disappeared. Bertie breathed a sigh of relief--one that would only last a second.

The hit Bertie then received must have been the equivalent to getting slammed by a bus. The creekboy went from standing knee deep in Mack Lake one second to being completely submerged in it the next. Reeling, he popped out of the lake and swiped water away from his face only to be smashed again. This time he managed to keep his head out of the water, but still flew several feet back.

Bertie’s attacker was Mr. McSwan. The stately waterfowl towered above him in a terrifying display of power and beauty. His wings flashed open as he descended on Bertie the Kid for attack after attack, shoving him down and throwing in searing pinches with his beak for good measure. After a furious barrage, Bertie managed to get on his knees, cover his head with his arms, and race for the shore as quickly as his legs could lift out of the water.

After what seemed to be a lifetime of buffetings from the McSwans, Bertie the Kid finally crawled back onto the fairway of Hole 14. His arms and legs burned red with the vicious bites of the bird pair, his back ached where he had been pinched through his shirt on his retreat, and he was soaked from the lake water. Mr. McSwan calmly drifted in the water towards the middle of the lake, appearing as if nothing had just occurred.

Bertie sat and stared at the island of cattails in front of him for a long while, his body pulsing in pain as he did so. Somehow, he needed to avoid Mr. McSwan, sneak up on Mrs. McSwan and reach that golf ball--all before she could turn around and nibble his flesh to purple pieces. After some long moments of meditating possible ways around his predicament, he shifted in his seat and his solution awkwardly pushed against his hip.

Bertie the Kid wheezed in amusement as he pulled out the Returner and gazed it over. Such a silly little device with its open prongs, thick handle connected to a long skinny shaft, capped by an earnest trigger. Only an adult mind like Mr. Cassidy’s would think of using the Returner to save his back from constant up and down movements. Yet, in this circumstance, Bertie knew that the Returner could save his back--not from bending over to pick stuff up, but from ruthless swan attacks.

Remembering his first experience with the Returner, Bertie felt quite certain that he would not have multiple chances to capture the golf ball on his next venture into McSwan domain. One mistake and they would have the pleasure of adding bruises on top of bruises. Bertie knew he would need to practice. With the resolve of a new plan, Bertie the Kid stood up. The aching from his welt-riddled body as he stood emphasized the need to practice a lot.


The next day, the first thing that Bertie the Kid accomplished before entering Mack Lake was attracting Mr. McSwan’s attention. This turned out to be a disturbing task, considering what the violent bird did to him the day before. But Bertie knew that if he wanted to have any chance at being successful, he would need to know that there would only be one of the McSwans to deal with.

So, by tossing pieces of bread into the lake, Bertie the Kid convinced Mr. McSwan to edge off the water. When Mr. McSwan finally took to the shore, Bertie tossed his remaining pieces of bread up the shoreline, towards a trail of bread crumbs that he had carefully scattered minutes earlier. If all went well, Mr. McSwan would gobble up the trail of bread, leading him away from the lake and granting Bertie enough time to make it to the island, snatch the Bolombian’s golf ball, and return.

With his pant legs pre-rolled to the knees, Bertie had only to check his side for the Returner. The machine that he scorned a little less than twenty-four hours earlier now hung loosely from his hip in familiar comfort. Without even touching it, he could feel the contours of the handle in his palm, he could sense the weight of it as the clip released from his waist. His mind rehearsed the repeated practices of extending his arm, sighting down the shaft, aiming and shooting. He knew, as second nature now, the need to allow for the pole to shoot a little below the mark. His index finger knew just the right amount of pressure to place on the trigger before the spring kicked in and the Returner exploded forward. Almost as quickly as it shot forward, Bertie could visualize the recoil of the pole as he pressed the trigger again. He could hear the click of the Returner as he cocked it and reopened the claw.

Bertie the Kid had practiced these same steps the day before until they became a single motion to him. In fact, he refused to stop even past sunset, his aching body serving only as a reminder of how crucial it was for him to be absolutely confident of his abilities. Even at the point where he could barely discern what was in front of him, he continued. Finally, he realized that he might as well be shooting blindfolded … so he tried it. Gauging the distance and placement of the ball, he pushed his hat over his eyes. His arm was so used to the movement that the golf balls could not even escape him while blindfolded.

The mid-morning sun on a clear summer day promised Bertie the Kid quite a bit more visibility than being blindfolded. Yet this did not keep his heart from beating strongly as he waded over to McSwan Island. Before he knew it, the creekboy snaked silently through the cattails, doing everything he could to omit noises of any sort. Then he parted the last veil of cattails and revealed the McSwans’ nest.

Mrs. McSwan was waiting for him. Instead of sitting on the nest and looking out on the lake, she had turned her position to look towards the mainland. No matter how deft he made his approach to her position, he could not escape her glaring eyes. Bertie the Kid sighed. He had not prepared for this.

Because Mrs. McSwan had not yet attacked him, Bertie the Kid felt that if he chose to turn around at this point, he could return to shore unscathed. But even as he thought it, Bertie knew that he did not have it in him to give up. So even though his skin quivered at the prospect of re-encountering Mrs. McSwan’s beak, Bertie’s eyes searched for, then located, the elusive golf ball.

Bertie the Kid’s hand hovered above the Returner’s handle while Mrs. McSwan’s head bobbed dangerously. Bertie knew that as soon as he made a movement, she would strike. No matter how quickly he could get his shot off, he could not catch the ball and return it before her attack would land. The only way to avoid getting nipped would be to shoot and move at the same time.

With this realization Bertie the Kid almost laughed. Even with all of his practicing the day before, he had not prepared for shooting and moving. Bertie took a moment to close his eyes, despite his vulnerable position, so that he could imagine what such a move would look like. In his mind, he saw the ball, his arm move, his body move, his arm adjust … then he could not calibrate any further. Bertie breathed deeply. The only way to find out, would be to try it.

Bertie the Kid and Mrs. McSwan stared each other down for what seemed like ages. And then Bertie’s hand melded with the Returner. And then Mrs. McSwan’s head shot forward.

It only took the spring of the Returner for Bertie the Kid to realize that his fears of moving and shooting were unfounded. His hand swept laterally to compensate for his body’s side-step as naturally as stepping over a curb while walking. In a single shot, the Returner gripped the destitute, flag-emblazoned golf ball, and the flick of Bertie’s finger slid the extended arm of the Returner back to the handle.

While Bertie completed this dexterous single-motion, Mrs. McSwan’s open beak fired toward Bertie’s previous position with a horrifying hiss. So close was she to hitting her target, in spite of his movement, that she successfully clamped down on his trailing shirt, but the the worn edge of it simply gave way and ripped clean off. Before Mrs. McSwan could even determine that she had not actually penetrated flesh, Bertie the Kid pivoted back to the cattails and put several steps between him and his attacker.

By the time Mrs. McSwan made her pursuit, Bertie had crashed through most of the island’s cattails. Mrs. McSwan soon recognized that her nest was secure and the antagonist cleared out. She pulled up just as Bertie the Kid splashed off the island into Mack Lake.

Bertie lifted his legs in order to put a little more distance behind him and the island before accepting that Mrs. McSwan had genuinely returned to her nest. Only then did he stop and throw a hand on a knee to catch his breath. Once he caught his breath, he lifted up the Returner and smiled. One click of the weapon allowed the golf ball to release itself from the grip of the claw, plopping into his hand. He gazed at the prize for only a moment before pocketing it and trudging his way to the shore.

As Bertie the Kid made his final stomps towards Hole 14’s fairway, he had already forgotten about the Bolombian’s golf ball, already considering where he would start his regular duties of clearing out of Hole 14’s less-prestigious stray golf balls. That was the main reason he did not see Mr. McSwan’s attack until the last second.

The suspicious swan, who must not have followed the bread trail much farther than where Bertie had had last seen him, surprise-attacked Bertie from among the cattails along the shore. The attack came in full fury, with Mr. McSwan’s wings extended, his beak gaping, and his head rearing. Cringing at the thought of the debilitating hit Bertie knew Mr. McSwan could deliver, his mind froze. Somehow, however, his body worked without his mind.

Bertie the Kid’s hand dropped to his hip, released the Returner from its resting spot, and then--in a feat of daunting calculations--he tracked the path of Mr. McSwan’s attacking beak and fired the claw towards the converging point.

The Returner stopped Mr. McSwan’s attack halfway, snapping down on the beak and clamping it shut. For a cool three seconds, Bertie the Kid and Mr. McSwan eyed each other down, both processing what just happened between them. Then, in a rage, Mr. McSwan reared backwards, wings pounding, head violently shaking. It was all Bertie could do to hang on to the Returner, which still tenaciously gripped Mr. McSwan’s beak.

Eventually even the Returner could not keep Mr. McSwan prisoner forever. The white waterfowl managed to slip his beak out of the claw and fumble backwards. Bertie made sure not to waste a second. He recoiled the Returner, then clicked it into attack position again. When Mr. McSwan besieged him again, he was ready.

Instead of going for a full-front assault, Mr. McSwan attempted to attack lower. Regardless of the direction, however, he could not catch Bertie off guard. The creekboy calmly tracked the swan head’s trajectory and fired. Once again, Mr. McSwan squirmed in outrage, but once again Bertie controlled the animal. Mr. McSwan’s flailings started to lose some of their frenzy, though he still managed to slip out of the claw.

Neither moved this time. Bertie the Kid and Mr. McSwan watched each other carefully. Bertie reloaded, his movements more measured than before. Mr. McSwan, exhausted, still hinted rebellion in his eyes. The passion in his eyes, however, could not be matched by his physical body. His next attack was so slow that Bertie barely needed to adjust for its movement. Mr. McSwan tugged hopelessly against the grip of the Returner as soon as it wrangled him, but he did not have the energy to break free.

After Mr. McSwan gave his listless, final pull, he sank down in defeat. Bertie the Kid scrutinized his foe skeptically for a few moments before finally bending down and looking directly into Mr. McSwan’s eyes. Any defiance that reflected from the proud bird before had since been broken, something reminiscent in the look of Bison’s eyes after Rough Rider bested him. Satisfied, Bertie the Kid retracted the Returner, which slid Mr. McSwan’s beak to within inches of Bertie’s hand. Then Bertie clicked to release the prongs on Mr. McSwan’s beak.

Though the bird’s dangerous beak sat free, within pinching distance of Bertie the Kid’s face, Mr. McSwan only watched Bertie callously. Bertie then turned his back to the subdued swan and--without looking back--strolled up to the fairway where Silver awaited him.


José David Castillo Andino entered the office first, followed by Mr. Cassidy. “I’m sure he’ll be here any moment. He assured me yesterday that he would find it.” Though Mr. Cassidy acted confident, the halt in his voice hinted at subdued doubt.

The prestigious Bolombian smiled. “It appears that Bertie the Kid is not one for words.” He went to Mr. Cassidy’s desk and his fingers delicately reclaimed the flag-spangled golf ball so significant to him.

Mr. Cassidy smiled back. “No. Bertie the Kid is a boy of actions, not words.”

A small piece of paper that Mr. Cassidy would find on his desk later would at least partially refute that assertion. The note had these simple words: “Thank you for the Returner.”

©2013 Marty Reeder