Thursday, October 17, 2013

Hole 16: The Sally Moon Stand

Hole 16: The Sally Moon Stand

An hour before noon, Bertie the Kid dismounted Silver and entered the curtains of the weeping willow tree sitting at the edge of the Hole 16 green. His step was slow and ponderous. While riding through Hole 16, he could not help but notice how bare the rough was of lost golf balls. This confirmed his fear that the golf ball poaching extended beyond just Hole 15 into other areas of the Back Nine. Bertie wheeled his gray bike to the willow’s trunk and left Silver leaning against the tree. Then he turned to the drooping branches of the opposite side of the tree and paused for a moment.

Bertie the Kid had hoped to avoid the Sally Moon Stand. In his opinion--something gleaned from Kid Carson in a conversation a couple weeks ago--only creekboys shirking work went to the popular hangout beyond Hole 16. Thanks to the intercepted message he received the day before, however, all of the sudden the Sally Moon Stand became his business. After tightening his cap lower on his head, then placing a hand reassuringly on the Returner at his hip, Bertie the Kid reached his hands out and parted the veil of leaves separating him from the Sally Moon Stand.

The shade of the willow tree gave way to a mid-morning swell of air and light as Bertie the Kid took in the scene before him. The Moon family property, which came right up to the edge of both Hole 16, and the tee for Hole 17--even bordering the rough on the other side of Hole 13--boasted an impressive estate. The house stood far enough back so as to be safe from errant drives towards the Hole 16 green, leaving stretches of beautiful lawn between the two realms, most of it meticulously landscaped with some wild patches still clinging to the edges.

The section of land right before Hole 16 was still in the wild stage as Mr. Moon attempted to clear out a view of the golf course by removing several towering pine trees on his property. In the process, however, he discovered that the obtrusive weeping willow stood just outside of his domain, and that the Burnt Creek Golf Course refused to cut it down. So with some pines trees left to remove, and the stumps of the rest remaining, Mr. Moon momentarily gave up on landscaping that portion of his property.

That is not to say that his work proved fruitless. Mr. Moon made his fortune through his work as a shrewd businessman, and his daughter, Sally Moon, had inherited his canny financial abilities. Instead of seeing a bunch of discarded stumps on a grassy knoll at the tail end of a difficult Back Nine, Sally Moon saw a business opportunity. The young teenager gathered up some old milk crates and placed them around the tree stumps. She also found an unused wooden chest in her garage for both storing materials and acting as a countertop when closed. Finally, she made a large sign that stretched between two poles and rose above the box: The Sally Moon Stand.

Sally convinced her parents to include a bunch of lemons and a couple of bags of sugar in their weekly shopping trips, and she took care of the rest. With a little sign on the edge of the Hole 16 green directing thirsty golfers through the weeping willow, Sally Moon’s freshly squeezed lemonade soon gained a reputation, just as Sally gained a (juvenile) fortune.

After a couple of seasons as the premier place for thirsty golfers, the Sally Moon Stand even attracted customer from outside of the Burnt Creek Golf Course. Neighborhood kids would ride their bikes far out of their way--coming to the Sally Moon Stand through her side yard--to spend an afternoon drinking Sally’s lemonade and playing cards on the stumps that now served as tables, with the milk crates as seats. Sally Moon only encouraged these actions. The more visitors, and the longer they stayed, the more lemonade they consumed.

When Bertie the Kid entered, however, the Sally Moon Stand had just opened. The only people there were Sally Moon herself and the Hang Loose Man. The aged surfer found that the Sally Moon stand was a “bodacious” place to come “chillax” after a “grueling” run of the driving range. After ordering himself a lemonade, he would sit on a milk crate to the side of the stand, sip from his cup, and then pull out his guitar and twang music that reminded him of his surfing days. Sally Moon usually allowed the near-blind Hang Loose Man one free drink, since she thought that the music was a nice touch to the place’s “ambience,” as she adroitly called it.

Bertie the Kid strolled past a couple of stumps with milk crates around them and found himself standing in front of Sally Moon’s stand. Sally Moon was engaged with wiping out some of her glass cups. Her policy was that lemonade tasted better in glass cups. She watched Bertie enter her stand, but now she kept her eyes on the cup as she polished it. “Bertie the Kid,” the fifteen-year-old’s chic, boxy glasses reflected some sunlight in his direction as she spoke. “I wondered when you were going to show up.”

Sally’s brown pony tail jerked to the side as she finally turned her head to face the creekboy. “What can I get for you?”

Bertie the Kid looked at the stand owner closely before nodding toward the cup in her hand. Sally Moon opened the box and placed a pitcher of water and a separate pitcher of pre-squeezed lemon juice on a small table next to it. “What do you like, sweet or sour?”

“Tart,” he replied

Sally Moon smiled, grabbed a bag of lemons and some sugar before closing the box. She poured lemon juice into the water before cutting and squeezing part of a lemon into it. As she prepared the drink, she spoke to Bertie the Kid. “So, creekboy, what brings you here? If you wanted the drinks, you would have come long before now.”

Bertie the Kid paused before speaking. “I’m hoping to run into someone.”

“And who might that be?” Sally Moon angled an eye toward her customer with a knowing glint. Sally sensed that information could be just as lucrative as lemonade.

“Don’t know yet. I’m hoping to find out.”

Sally Moon started stirring some sugar into the pitcher. As someone who guarded business information carefully, she respected a person being tight-lipped. She shrugged. “If you’re hoping to run into someone, this is your place, creekboy.”

The Hang Loose Man’s soft guitar notes filled the space between them for a moment, and Bertie the Kid considered saying something else. When Sally started pouring lemonade into a glass, he finally spoke, “It has something to do with the golf balls you got in that box of yours.”

Sally Moon stopped pouring for a second. She almost looked back at Bertie, then she resumed pouring until the glass was full. When she handed him the glass of lemonade, she smiled. “Pretty sharp eyes, creekboy.”

Bertie said nothing, just waited.

“Look, Bertie the Kid, I sell the golf balls, alright? I offer them up when golfers come to get a drink. Most of them are pretty willing to buy after trying to get past Mack Lake.” She paused. Bertie stayed quiet, so she continued. “It doesn’t much matter where I get them from--but I will say this, I’m not slithering around the Back Nine to pick them up.”

Bertie the Kid nodded. “Who does the Don R. party get them from?”

Sally raised her eyebrows. “You know more than I gave you credit for, creekboy, but that’s as much as I know.” Now Bertie the Kid raised his eyebrows. Sally Moon lifted her hands up. “In my business, it’s best that I be kept in the dark about that sort of information. I just sell the golf balls and take my cut.”

“When did you get these golf balls?” Bertie nodded towards the box.

Sally Moon squinted her eyes as she calculated. “It’s been a few days. Almost a week, I’d guess. I’m running low. I expect the Don R. party will be bringing around a fresh batch soon.”

Bertie the Kid eyed her for a moment and sensed that the stand-keeper had no reason to deceive him. He started fishing into his pockets, but Sally Moon stopped him, “Pay after. You might want another.”

Bertie the Kid took a gulp of the lemonade and let it course down his throat. “Thanks for the drink. Where is a quiet place I can finish it?”

Sally Moon looked at Bertie the Kid for a moment before nodding over to a far corner of her property. “There’s a little-used stump in the shade of that pine tree over there. It’ll keep you pretty well out of sight but give you a good view of everyone coming and going.”

Bertie the Kid tipped his cap towards Sally and worked his way around a couple of tree stumps before sitting down under the protective boughs of a pine tree on the edge Moon property. He set his lemonade on the stump under the tree and adjusted himself into a comfortable position on the upside-down milk crate. Then he waited.

By the time Bertie the Kid had sipped through half of his lemonade two groups of golfers stopped by for drinks. One of them asked about and bought some of the golf balls found in Sally’s box. Sally completed the transaction with an eye in Bertie the Kid’s direction. Bertie hated to see his golf balls distributed in such a way, but he knew that unless he wanted all of the Back Nine’s golf balls parsed out and sold off, he would need to let these ones go so that he could to catch the perpetrator.

Bertie looked up into the sky and noticed that the sun hung nearly at its apex, eating away most of the pine tree’s shade except the very edge where he sat. Noon had almost come.

It was with intense interest that Bertie the Kid then witnessed the arrival of the Jesse James brothers. They biked their way across the Moon’s side lawn before parking their rides behind the Hang Loose Man and pushing their way through two snowball bushes. With an easy familiarity, the brothers ordered a couple lemonades, then took a seat at one of the more conspicuous tables. They conversed in low tones as Sally Moon brought them their regular drinks. When she returned to her box, she watched Bertie with curiosity as the creekboy observed the brothers.

The next customer to arrive came from the golf course, even though the person was not a golfer. Bertie the Kid saw one of the Anderson boys brashly part the willow tree curtain and stroll up to the Sally Moon Stand. Bertie recalled Chet Eagle Shooter’s identifying of the Anderson clan and realized that this was one of the twins: Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap. Other than his time with Rough Rider, Bertie had never seen a solitary Anderson, but Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap was alone, without even his twin. Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap simply strutted up to Sally Moon and ordered a lemonade with a confidence that suggested he had done it before. Then the Anderson boy turned around and placed himself on a seat with the Jesse James brothers. With mounting intrigue, Bertie the Kid was surprised to see that the brothers did not object to Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap’s presence.

Next, a couple of girls from the Moon neighborhood pushed through the snowball bushes. Bertie the Kid did not know them by name, though they looked familiar. Shortly afterward, Bertie saw Wade Ernest park his bike and slide through the snowball bushes himself. The fifteen-year-old ally looked a little bit awkward as he ordered his drink, and soon Bertie saw why.

When Wade had his lemonade in hand, he approached the stump with the recently arrived girls. Bertie could not hear what he said, but he did notice that Wade appeared to be asking if he could sit down. By the manner in which Wade avoided eye contact with one of the girls, it seemed pretty obvious to Bertie the Kid that he was infatuated with her. Unfortunately, after a moment’s consideration, the other girl shook her head and gave what must have been a poor consolation excuse. Wade nodded nervously and plopped down at a different table by himself. If Bertie was not worried about bringing attention to himself, he would have invited the poor guy to sit with him.

The Sally Moon Stand was now really filling up. The low-speaking voices mingled softly with the light guitar sounds from the Hang Loose Man to create a social hub-bub. Bertie scrutinized each customer, hoping to see some sign that would indicate whether the person might be the one meeting with the Don R. party and Russell Brands.

Just as Bertie the Kid completed another sweep of the stand, he finally felt that he was going to get some answers. Russell Brands stepped impatiently through the snowball bushes and went straight to the stand. He nodded at Sally Moon and she nodded back before wordlessly making his drink. Russell looked around the stand before checking his watch. Then he eyed the willow tree.

Not a minute later, a party of golfers accompanied by their golf clubs slid through the screen of willow branches, Don R. at the lead. Don R. nodded toward Russell Brands, who nodded right back at him. Following his fellow conspirator’s lead, Don R. checked his watch while waiting for his lemonade from Sally Moon. When Sally offered him his drink, Don R. asked her something, his large chin pointing toward her box. Sally managed an evasive glance toward Bertie the Kid before responding. Don R. missed the glance, but nodded as he took a sip of his lemonade and scanned the people at the stand.

Russell Brands then made a suggestion to Don R. First they strolled over to the Jesse James brothers and Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap. Bertie the Kid watched the convergence of forces intensely. Don R. did the talking, with Russell Brands hovering next to him. The Jesse James brothers listened patiently for a moment, and when Don R. was finished speaking, Jesse and James looked at each other before Jesse shook his head and took a swig of his lemonade. Russell Brands followed up by asking something specifically to Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap. The young Anderson twin chortled before shaking his head.

The two boys stood silently for a moment after this exchange. Finally they stepped away and consulted with each other some more. They looked confused, which made Bertie even more confused than them. Were they the poachers, but they just didn’t bring any golf balls? It seemed unlikely that they would laugh that off. Were they asking if the boys had seen a specific person? It seemed to Bertie that they would just as well get that information from Sally Moon.

Russell Brands nodded over to the lonely Wade Ernest and Don R. shrugged. They approached Wade, and Russell made an inquiry. Wade, distracted, took a moment to process the question before quickly shaking his head and then looking at the boys curiously. Don R. seemed to make a follow up warning before he and Russell regrouped.

The two seemed about to consider the girls that Wade followed into the Sally Moon Stand, but that’s when Russell Brands caught a glint of sunlight reflecting off of Bertie the Kid’s lemonade glass. Noontime slid Bertie’s table out of the shade entirely, and the glint caused Russell Brands to squint into the shadows that still held onto Bertie’s seat. Russell shoved Don R. with his elbow before nodding over towards Bertie the Kid. The creekboy had been discovered.

What happened next, however, was something he did not expect.

Russell Brands and Don R. discussed Bertie’s presence for a minute with serious consideration. Russell Brands was obviously hostile to Bertie’s presence, but Don R. seemed to have some sort of epiphany. He managed to calm down Russell enough to get him to listen. Though reluctant to accept whatever it was that Don R. proposed, after the junior golfer swept his hand around the stand and then pointed at his watch, Russell gave a measured nod.

Don R. waved to the other members of his party and the whole crew walked over to the pine tree where Bertie the Kid sat. While they did not appear overtly hostile, they were definitely on edge, Russell Brands more so than the others. Bertie could not help but be on edge himself. His back was to a pine tree and he was being approached by four threatening teenagers. One hand rested on the Returner while his other hand brought the lemonade to his lips and he downed what was left of it.

“Bertie the Kid,” Don R. nodded as soon as the group stopped in front of his table.

The party leader seemed to be searching for some kind of sign from Bertie. The creekboy gave no such sign, only a reciprocated, “Don R.”

A silence intruded the space between them, until Russell Brands could take it no longer. “You got something you wanna say to us, Bertie the Kid?” It was less a request than a threat.

Bertie the Kid fingered his empty glass nonchalantly. “Nope.”

More and more annoyed, Russell Brands spat out, “Well, I got something I want to say to you, creekboy! I’m thinking you should--”

“Wanna play some cards?” Don R. jumped in, waving off Russell’s heated display.

Bertie the Kid did not want to play cards, but he welcomed the attempt to settle down Russell Brands. Besides, he was also looking for information, and if this was the way to get it, so be it. He nodded.

Don R. and the members of his party set the stands on their golf bags and stood them on the grass next to their seats, then sat down. Because there were only four seats to a stump, Russell Brands grabbed a crate from another table and sat down next to Don R. This left the seating arrangement with Russell to the left of Bertie the Kid, then Don R., then the two members of the party rounding out the rest of the circle leading back to Bertie.

Don R. removed a deck of Uno cards from his golf bag and shuffled them, the whole time keeping an eye on Bertie the Kid. “So, Bertie the Kid, what brings you to the Sally Moon Stand? I haven’t seen you come here before.”

Bertie still kept one hand resting on the handle of his Returner. “Thirst.”

Russell Brands shook his head. His pent up anger still flaring through his nostrils. Don R. dealt out the cards and they sat arranging them in baited silence. Finally, Don R. spoke out. “About noon, isn’t it, creekboy?”

Bertie the Kid caught the reference to the meeting time, but he could not tell if he was being accused of anything yet. He simply nodded. One of the Don R. party members started off the game. They all placed down cards intermittently for a few minutes.

“You seem eager to drop off your cards,” Don R. said to Bertie.

Bertie the Kid thought about Don R.’s careful statement. “I’m more eager to make sure the cards stay where they rightfully belong.”

Don R. scrunched his eyebrows together at this statement, then looked at Russell Brands. Russell’s eyebrows lifted in an “I-told-you-so” manner. Russell Brands then placed down a card and accused, “When you hold all your cards together like that, I’m not sure how many cards you got left, Bertie the Kid.”

Bertie waited until Don R. put down his card before saying to Russell, “That sounds like a problem, Russell Brands. How about I just let you know when I have one left?”

Russell grew increasingly uncomfortable playing cards when he clearly had another agenda. He turned to Don R. and murmured, “You’re wrong.”

Don R. spoke back, ignoring that they did not include the others in their conversation. “Give him a minute.”

“But if that means he scares off the real one …” Russell’s face seemed threatening. His fists started to clench. “I say, we fix it by scaring him off.”

Bertie the Kid met Russell’s dangerous glare. The two exchanged burning looks for an awkward dozen seconds. “It’ll take more than loud talking to scare me,” Bertie broke the silence. Out of the corner of his eye, the creekboy noticed Russell Brands groping for one of Don R.’s clubs.

Don R. appeared increasingly uncomfortable with the tone between Russell Brands and Bertie. He tried to thaw the tension by saying, “My move,” then he laid down a skip card.

The member of the Don R. party that got skipped yelped in dismay, “Don, you really won’t let that pine branch thing go! I’ve told you before and I’ll tell you again that--”

“Uno!” the other member of the Don R. party zealously cried while pounding down a red six. Don R. and his associate both glanced at him, annoyed.

Bertie the Kid was next and placed down a card, quietly appending, “Uno.” He looked at Russell Brands. “That means I got one card left.”

Russell’s eyes slitted. He shifted his cards and then placed down a reverse card. “I’ll give you a chance to finish this off, creekboy, but I don’t think you will. I put down the red reverse card. You wanna know why red?” His voice began to raise at this point. “Because I’m betting that you’re yellow!” Russell’s final emphasis on the last phrase was loud enough for everyone at the stand to hear. The Hang Loose Man halted his guitar picking and all eyes fell to the back stump where Bertie the Kid and Russell Brands were locked in an intense glare.

The Don R. party watched mesmerized, the silence between the two mounting as Bertie the Kid stared down the trembling-lip Russell. Don R. kept his hands on his deck, but the two other members of the party let their hands slide towards their clubs, sensing that a confrontation was imminent.

After a moment Bertie the Kid softly smiled. “Actually, Russell Brands,” he said, “I’m not yellow. I’m wild.” Bertie put down a black wild card. “Draw Four,” he concluded.

Russell’s eye twitched, then he nodded to the party member on the other side of Bertie. “You heard him, draw!”

The party member slid his 9-iron out of his golf bag and stood up, preparing to heft it back and swing. Before he could even wind up, the golf club flew out of his hands. Bertie the Kid had kicked back his crate and reeled in the 9-iron with the Returner. He released the club at his feet before anyone could figure out what had happened. After a moment’s realization, the second member of the party stood up, drawing his putter in the process. It fell easy prey to the lightning fast Returner.

Russell Brands was next. Having seen the results of the other two attackers, he made sure to quicken his approach. He stood up and snatched Don R.’s sand wedge, succeeding flinging the club into a swing. Mid-arc, however, the club changed course as the Returner intercepted it, plopping the weapon to the ground and then out of Russell’s hands.

Bertie the Kid next turned the Returner toward Don R., but the party leader only set his cards down on the stump and placed his hands up in the air. He was not interested in playing.

Bertie now kept the Returner in front of him as he swivelled back and forth among his attackers. “Well, that was only three,” he said, his heart still racing. “I believe I called for a ‘Draw Four.’ Who’ll take the last turn?”

Russell’s face puckered in hatred. Then, after a moment’s consideration, he came up with a plan. “I’ll call that bluff, creekboy. We’ll all draw!” He looked over to the other party members. “He can’t stop all of us if we go at once.”

If Bertie the Kid was dismayed by this plan, he did not show it. Instead, he kept the Returner focused on Russell while he allowed his eyes to travel over to the Don R. party members. “Ready,” Russell spoke. His face stayed set on Bertie while his fingers hovered over Don R.’s 3-wood. Bertie’s finger tensed on the Returner’s trigger. “Set,” Russell invoked, the boys across the table adopted his same posture. “Draw!”

Russell Brands released the 3-wood with a disturbing quickness, and the Don R. party members followed suit. As quick as Russell was, however, he could not compete with Bertie’s flashing Returner. Just as Russell tensed backward with the club, the Returner grabbed the weapon square in the middle and Bertie tore it from Russell’s grasp.

On Bertie’s other side, however, the Don R. party members were already starting their forward swings. Bertie the Kid would not be able to release Russell’s confiscated club in time to intercept one, let alone two, of the other boys’ clubs. So instead, he kept Russell’s club in the claw, with the Returner extended, and swung the whole apparatus into the path of the other attacking clubs. The swivelling clump of metal clashed with both of the other clubs and sent them scattering.

This time, Bertie the Kid did not wait to see what move they would think of next. He released Russell’s 3-wood and then fired at each golf bag, grabbing them by the straps and knocking them to the ground and out of immediate reach. Still in awe at his last maneuver, they could only watch bemused. When the dust settled, Bertie the Kid holstered the Returner. “Turn’s over.”

Russell Brands knew he had been beaten. Yet the injured pride swelling within him caused him to stubbornly refuse to let a ten-year-old best him, especially when Bertie the Kid could be no physical match for teenagers. Russell’s hands fisted up and he took a step towards the creekboy. “Here’s the new game. We pound you to a pulp and you show us how useless your tricks are against a sound beating!”

Bertie shuffled backwards a step. He had never used the Returner against people, and he did not like the idea of trying it out now. The other party members closed in on the other side and Bertie prepared for the first throw to come from Russell Brands. Right as Russell cocked his arm backward, however, something threw him off balance and he tumbled across the stump into the unsuspecting Don R. party members. They collapsed into a heap with lemonade spilling all over them and Uno cards flying everywhere. Bertie the Kid turned back to where Russell Brands had been standing moments earlier. There stood an indignant Wade Ernest.

“Game’s over, Russell. You lose. Again.”

Russell Brands awkwardly shifted around to face Wade. “How about you stay out of business that’s not yours, Ernest!”

Wade Ernest laughed derisively. “How about you stand up so you can tell that to my face?”

Russell Brands quickly shot up, leaping over the stump straight into the waiting Wade Ernest. He and Russell went rolling onto the ground. The other two downed card players pounced up, ready to join the fray. As they hopped over the stump, however, Bertie managed to trip up the first one, and the second stumbled across him.

All of the sudden, the Jesse James brothers--grins plastered across their mischievous faces--came crashing over to the scene, taking swings at anything within the vicinity of the brawl. The fray blurred vision enough that more than one of their punches landed on each other, but they appeared oblivious.

Finally, Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap released a whoop and jumped into the scene like a veteran of such tussles. Bertie the Kid was momentarily tugged in by groping hands, but after a couple of dodges and deft reactionary kicks, he managed to slip back to safety. He searched for Wade and found him still welded in a vicious scrum with Russell Brands. Bertie the Kid was pleased to note that the stout Wade was getting the best of him.

Just at that moment, someone cried out, “Bertie the Kid!” Bertie turned back to the stump where the whole thing had started and saw Don R. still there and calling for his attention. The big-chinned golfer pointed past the brawl to the willow tree. Bertie’s head immediately pivoted.

Reaching out of the curtain of leaves, Bertie saw two buckets extend from two hands. The buckets held golf balls. It was the drop off. Bertie’s eyes attempted to pierce the leaves but could not make out a face, only a shadow. After the buckets were placed on the ground, the hands withdrew and the shadow disappeared.

Bertie the Kid did not waste time. He charged forward as fast as his legs could carry him. Leaping past the buckets and through the screen of branches, he caught a glimpse of someone tearing into the trees and undergrowth. The shadows under the trees only offered him a silhouette, and of the back of the body no less, but he did see that it was someone on a bike. Because he found himself already sprinting forward, he kept going, pursuing the bike and rider through some back trails on foot.

Seconds later, he regretted not stopping to hop onto Silver. Though he did catch a couple more fleeting images of the back of a bike and rider, within a minute his feet could not match the speed of the retreating steed. Going from the bright area of the Sally Moon stand and plunging into the shadows of the trees limited his visibility so much that details of the retreating form were scant. Adding to the obstacle of identifying the person was the hunched body, which hid the head and disguised the size. Still, though, Bertie the Kid gathered from his brief glimpses that the person was definitely a teenager, probably a younger one.

Bertie stopped and kicked at a fallen branch while trying to catch his breath. He looked down and saw the bike tracks, noting that they had the same tread as the tracks he had found all over Holes 15 and 16. This only made him more frustrated. After channeling enough air into his lungs for a decent recovery, he worked his way back towards the Sally Moon Stand.

By the time he made it back to the willow tree, it sounded like the rumbling noises of the fight had drawn to an end. Bertie parted the branches and looked down. The two buckets of golf balls were gone. Bertie the Kid immediately looked up. Standing in front of him was Don R.

“When I yelled, everyone stopped to see what the fuss was. We all saw the buckets, and as soon as you took off for the poacher, Russell slipped away from the brawl, grabbed the buckets and ran.”

Bertie the Kid’s eyes searched the horizon. Cresting a hill just before the road leading away from the Moon property, Russell Brands made good his escape on a cruising bike, balancing the buckets by their handles from each of his bike’s handlebars. Bertie sighed as he absorbed the loss. Then, he turned to Don R., who likewise observed Russell’s run. “Why are you helping me?” Bertie asked, realizing that Don R. was the one that both held Russell at bay during the card game and pointed out the drop off.

“Well, you stretched out a good polo shirt of mine, but I still owe you one, creekboy,” Don R. smiled wryly.

Bertie the Kid nodded. They were both consigned to their own thoughts for a moment before Don R. spoke again. “At first I wondered if maybe you were the one doing the dropping off.”

Bertie’s eyes narrowed. “What do you mean?”

Don R. seemed surprised at Bertie the Kid’s reaction. “Well, how else would you have known about the drop off time and place unless you were actually the person who set up the …” Don R.’s eyes suddenly shot up to his golf bag by the stump. “You somehow got that driving range golf ball, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” Bertie the Kid drew the ball out of his bag. “But the message said ‘Bertie the Kid trailing me.’ It couldn’t have been me that wrote it.”

Don R. shrugged. “I figured you might’ve written that to throw us off your scent.”

Bertie the Kid could not help but stare at Don R., bemused. “Are you telling me that you’ve never known who you get the golf balls from?”

“Whoever it is has been very secretive.”

“Then how did you get into the whole business in the first place?” Bertie asked.

Don R.’s chin nodded in the direction of the now-gone Russell Brands. “Him. He was selling them on the road up to the golf course. When I stopped to buy some, he offered a deal. Because I had Burnt Creek membership, if I could find a way to sell them to golfers on the course while he continued to sell them to golfers outside of the course then we would split the profits.”

“So you worked a deal with Sally Moon,” Bertie suggested.

“Yep. Of course, Russell Brands wasn’t too pleased about that because he wouldn’t have needed a membership to make that arrangement. But by then I was in on the deal. I knew about the appointed drop off place over by the Hole 15 green, so we were business partners whether he liked it or not.”

“No offense, but it’s not like you need the money, Don R.,” Bertie pointed out.

Don R. shrugged. “Not on the surface. But if I want money I’ve got to ask for it from my parents or my uncle, and they pester me with questions. This little deal gives me some freedom from that.”

Bertie the Kid realized that as much as he learned about the culprit, he still did not know the most important thing. “So I’ve got to hunt down Russell to find out who it is that is poaching golf balls?”

Don R. shook his head. “Even Russell Brands doesn’t know. I’m not sure how he made the original connection, but if Russell knew who the person was, he never would have let me play cards with you to figure out if it was you or not.”

Bertie the Kid nodded, though his mind still juggled plenty of question marks. “Thanks Don R.,” he said.

“No problem, Bertie the Kid,” Don R. replied. He about left, but then he stopped. “And whatever you do, creekboy, be careful out there. There aren’t too many people on the Burnt Creek Golf Course that you can trust.” Don R. then went to gather up his clubs. The other members of his party sat up there waiting for him while nursing some scratches and forming bruises.

Bertie the Kid digested everything he just learned, then strolled forward. He walked past the stump where the Jesse James brothers had returned--the two of them raved with Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap about the blows they had dealt in the fight. Then Bertie stopped at the next table. Wade Ernest sat there humbly deflecting queries from the two girls he had attempted to talk to earlier. Conversation stopped when Bertie the Kid approached.

“Thanks, Wade. That’s twice I owe you,” Bertie the Kid patted him on the back.

One of Wade’s eyes was already swelling red, the start of a perfectly elegant black eye--but his grin said everything. “Oh believe me, Bertie the Kid,” Wade’s one good eye slid over to the girls across the stump, “it was my pleasure.”

Bertie smiled and then left Wade to his company before approaching Sally Moon. The Hang Loose Man had started up his music once more. Sally once again found a glass to polish just as Bertie the Kid arrived.

“Bertie the Kid,” she said flippantly, “I wondered if you were going to show up again.”

Bertie the Kid repressed a smile. “How much do I owe you?”

Sally Moon set the cup down and adjusted her glasses. “Let’s see. You had a glass of lemonade. You set the whole stand into an uproar by starting a brawl that left crates, cups, and cards in disarray. You took off without paying your bill and caused Russell Brands to do the same ...” Sally Moon pursed her lips. Bertie the Kid winced as he tabulated a bill that was fast exceeding the small amount he had in his pocket.

Sally continued, “I’d also say you were the cause of a ruckus that will be the talk of the golf course for a couple of weeks, generating plenty of word-of-mouth advertising. Besides that, there is the fact I’ve been selling golf balls that are rightfully yours for a couple weeks now. Shall we call it even?”

Bertie’s repressed smile finally escaped. “I’m not sure if that’s fair.”

Sally Moon smiled back. “Fine. If you’re going to push it, I’ll throw in another drink on the house. But don’t try your luck for anything more than that!”

Bertie the Kid paused a moment before nodding. “Deal. I could use another drink. Extra tart.”

©2013 Marty Reeder