Thursday, October 24, 2013

Hole 17: Foley's Gold

Hole 17: Foley’s Gold

The silence in Mr. Cassidy’s office was stifling. Bertie the Kid waited out the emptiness without a movement on his exterior, but his insides tumbled in a savage boil.

“How do you know this?” Mr. Cassidy asked, his visored face darkened.

This was the moment Bertie the Kid dreaded. He wanted Mr. Cassidy to simply take him at his word. It seemed like something the golf course manager would have done several holes ago without thinking. Back at Hole 14, Bertie was definitely in Mr. Cassidy’s good graces, but now after a few weeks of fewer and fewer golf balls, the man vacillated. Bertie sighed. “Because some boys are selling golf balls.”

Mr. Cassidy nodded slowly. “Who?” His question sounded less inquisitive than it interrogative.

“Russell Brands,” Bertie the Kid winced inside. He had already talked for longer than he was comfortable talking, and now he was ratting someone out. All he wanted to do was turn in his golf balls for the day and go home, but after another day of handing over so few golf balls, Mr. Cassidy finally confronted him.

The golf course manager frowned. “Russell Brands? Bertie, I know that boy. He sells nightcrawlers on the road up to the golf course. Nightcrawlers, not golf balls.”

In Bertie’s mind, he rehearsed his rebuttal: Russell Brands knows your schedule and what your car looks like. Before you come around the bend, he switches his sign! But as true as the statement would be, the more Bertie the Kid saw Mr. Cassidy’s skeptical face, the more pathetic Bertie knew it would sound. He tried a new course. “Sally Moon sells them at her lemonade stand.”

Mr. Cassidy’s eyebrows lifted underneath his visor. “I’ve been to the Sally Moon Stand many times over the past couple of weeks. I’ve never seen them.”

Bertie the Kid sighed. “They are in her box. She probably doesn’t want you to know about them.”

“So Sally Moon has been sneaking onto the golf course to steal golf balls?”

Bertie did not feel like this conversation was heading in the right direction. He kept his head down as he answered. “No. She gets them from Don R. and his party.”

Mr. Cassidy let loose a guffaw. “Don R.? The nephew of one of our biggest clients and an original investor to the Burnt Creek Golf Course? It’s difficult to believe that he would be in such dire financial straits as to try to sell golf balls to make a buck.”

Bertie the Kid had an answer for that, of course. When Don R. told Bertie that it gave him financial independence, it made complete sense. Yet now, with Mr. Cassidy right there, Bertie knew it would sound unbelievable and contrived. He refrained from even making an attempt, regretting that he had even tried to tell Mr. Cassidy anything at all.

Mr. Cassidy watched Bertie just long enough to allow the discomfort to seep into his nerves. Finally, Mr. Cassidy shook his head. “What I see is someone who found other things more important than being a creekboy and is making excuses for not doing the work he should. I won’t say that being a creekboy is the most important thing you’ll ever do, but if you’d rather spend your time doing other things, then you of all people should know, Bertie, that there are plenty of other kids who would love your job. I’m pretty tolerant of many things when it comes to creekboys, but laziness is one thing I won’t stand.”

If Bertie the Kid had been flogged with a whip, it would have hurt him less. His face burned at the lecture Mr. Cassidy gave him. The golf course manager observed Bertie’s silence for a moment and it softened him. “I’m saddened by this, of course. You had such great promise--you truly have natural talent. I put myself out there for you in letting you participate so young, but maybe I was being too kind. Maybe younger kids aren’t ready for the work intensity of being a creekboy.”

Though Mr. Cassidy now affixed some blame to himself, Bertie felt this sting even sharper. To be condescended to, and treated like he was not mature enough for the job that was his passion, worked into Bertie the Kid like a burrowing stab.

Mr. Cassidy considered saying something else but then stopped. He tapped his fingers on his desk. “Bertie, you need to produce golf balls, starting today. I’ll give you the afternoon to return to the course and gather golf balls. If that doesn’t work for you or you can’t produce something in that time, well, I’ll have no choice but to find someone to replace you.”

Bertie could hardly believe what he was hearing. Replacing a creekboy against his will was unprecedented, and the fact that it was even a remote possibility for him--Bertie the Kid, the one with such a heart-felt passion for the creekboy job--defied everything that Bertie could have expected. This visit worsened with each passing moment.

Bertie knew that sticking around any longer could not help the situation. He stood up and started heading for the back door to Mr. Cassidy’s office. “Oh, Bertie,” Mr. Cassidy lifted up a finger, “I almost forgot.” Bertie halted, but found it difficult to look his employer in the face. “Mr. Linus Foley has asked for a creekboy to go see him today.”

“Who is Linus Foley?” Bertie the Kid asked.

Mr. Cassidy sighed. “Someone I hired a month ago to put an automatic sprinkler system for some of the upper portion of the Back Nine. We’ve always done it manually and got by well enough, but he approached me with a really good deal …” Mr. Cassidy shook his head, “... but sometimes a really good deal isn’t really a good deal.” He suddenly realized that he was giving out information that Bertie did not need to hear. “Anyway, he’s on Hole 17--has been for the past four weeks--and he came to me asking for the help of one of the creekboys. Since he’s under your jurisdiction, I told him I’d send you up today.”

Bertie the Kid nodded. For a second, it appeared that Mr. Cassidy had softened again--even if momentarily. A part of him was tempted to try to reason with the golf course manager one more time. But Bertie held back. If Mr. Cassidy was going to be convinced, it would have to be through action, not words. As if to confirm this, Mr. Cassidy added, “Make sure you don’t spend too much time with Linus Foley. Remember, I need you to bring back some golf balls today.”

Bertie the Kid exited the back door of the office, weaved through the tables of the Burnt Creek Café and made his way to the outside patio overlooking Hole 10. It was hard for him to believe that at the beginning of the summer that was the scene where his name was being chanted and Mr. Cassidy smiled proudly at him. How changed things felt now, he thought, standing there so utterly alone.

Bertie the Kid next walked over to where Silver waited patiently for him. He mounted and was about to take off when he noticed another bike parked nearby. He recognized it as Kid Carson’s. Bertie realized that he had not seen Kid Carson for a few weeks now, and he missed his creekboy predecessor. A part of him yearned to search out Kid Carson so that he could talk to him, get his advice, ask for his help. If anyone would understand Bertie the Kid’s position and believe him, it would be Kid Carson.

Bertie realized that Kid Carson’s bike was probably parked there because he was seeing Mr. Cassidy as well. For the first time it occurred to Bertie the Kid that perhaps Kid Carson was also being affected by the golf ball poacher. Was it possible, Bertie worried, that Kid Carson was receiving the same lecture from Mr. Cassidy that he had just experienced? Was it possible that Kid Carson was also victim to someone poaching golf balls from the Front Nine? That thought convinced Bertie that he and Kid Carson needed to chat. After working at Hole 17, Bertie resolved to hunt down Kid Carson.

Tucked up into the Back Nine’s northeast corner, Hole 17 found itself bordered by a lot of rough wilderness and a bending Burnt Creek. Bertie the Kid wondered where along the pine-lined par three hole he might find the man named Linus Foley. As soon as he breached the green of the hole, he did not need to look any further.

On either side of the fairway of Hole 17, rich mounds of dark dirt piled up in labyrinthian lines. Standing on the east side, near the green, a man knelt down into one of the trenches. He was pushing at something and emphasizing each shove with a particularly descriptive curse.

Bertie the Kid rolled up to him and dismounted Silver. The man did not notice Bertie until the creekboy walked up to edge of the trench. Inside, the man was working with some sprinkler piping, trying to glue two stubborn pieces together. As he stopped to take a breath, he looked up, startled.

“Mr. Foley? Mr. Cassidy said you needed some help.” Bertie the Kid asked. If the creekboy had been asked to describe the man’s facial features later, he would have had a difficult time of it. His round-shaped head exploded with wispy gray hairs, both protruding from his face and on every other surface around it, effectively hiding the features underneath. The squinty, flint-like eyes remained the only exceptions to the furry face.

The bearded man regarded the boy in front of him for a moment. “Ah. You must be Bertie the Kid.” Bertie stood awkwardly for a moment as Linus Foley eyed him up and down. “You creekboys just keep gettin’ shorter and shorter, doncha?” His voice rasped with the sound of someone whose throat and lungs had processed too much smoke over their lifetime.

Bertie the Kid did not like frivolous conversations, so he tried to jump straight to the point. “What do you need?”

Mr. Foley nodded before pushing himself off of his feet, exerting plenty of energy in the process. His action prompted a harsh coughing that made Bertie wonder if the older man would need medical attention. Instead, once he reached the end of his hacking, Mr. Foley spat a large clump of phlegm into the trench and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Come with me, creekboy.”

Mr. Foley then led Bertie the Kid next to the only trench that broke into the fairway of Hole 17. The trench and its sprinkler pipe zigzagged strangely back and forth before making its way into the sand trap sitting directly in front of the green. There the trench suddenly deepened and widened to three times its previous size, with sand piled up on either side in huge mounds.

They stopped on the edge of one of the mounds where they could see a break in the sprinkler pipe down below. Bertie the Kid noticed that both edges of the white plastic sprinkler pipe were jagged with shards laying all around. Mr. Foley coughed briefly. “It was buried like that. Took me the whole morning to uncover it.”

Bertie the Kid was a bit confused by the scene. He threw out a guess. “Sabotaged?”

“Yep,” Mr. Foley answered. “This is the third time. Always at the sand trap. It’s like the little--” he paused, as if recognizing his audience, and adjusted his language, “--brat knew how hard it is for me to work in the sand.”

Bertie the Kid nodded. “Who?”

Mr. Foley shook his head. “That’s what you’re here for, creekboy. Find out who and stop him.”

Bertie did not particularly like the company he was with, and he certainly did not like being told what to do by someone he did not consider his boss. Besides, he needed to search for golf balls--though inside he knew they would be missing wherever he searched. “Why not just fix the pipe and bury it so the … uh … brat can’t break it again without having to dig it up.”

Mr. Foley shuffled and coughed. “Because,” he said, sizing up Bertie the Kid, “because I’m not ready to do that yet.”

Clearly, there was something Mr. Foley was not telling Bertie, but he knew that pushing for information would get him nowhere.

“I’m kind of busy,” Bertie said, testing the waters.

Mr. Foley eyed him shrewdly. He attempted a chuckle, but it just turned into another hacking fit. “Busy? Busy looking for golf balls that ain’t there?”

Taking his gaze off the sand trap, Bertie now looked over at Mr. Foley. “How do you know about that?”

Mr. Foley smiled weakly, revealing a gap in his teeth and another tooth shining with a gold finish. “Ah. Now you see that I do have somethin’ to offer you if you help me out a pinch.”

“Mr. Cassidy could have told you that I’m coming up short in golf balls,” Bertie the Kid followed up.

“True,” Mr. Foley nodded, suppressing a cough. “But only I coulda told Russell Brands that there would be a drop off of golf balls at the Hole 15 green every Thursday.”

You told Russell about that?” Bertie the Kid’s eyes widened. For a brief moment he toyed with the idea that Mr. Foley might be the one stealing golf balls. Then he remembered the tracks he had seen, which all pointed to a boy on a bike. “So you’re the middleman. Who is it? Who’s been taking the golf balls?”

Mr. Foley laughed into another coughing fit. “Whoa there, pardner. First you find out what I want to know, then I tell you what you want to know.”

Bertie the Kid thought for a moment. He felt more and more desperate, and this seemed like the break he was looking for. If he could not bring golf balls to Mr. Cassidy, then maybe he could at least bring some hard evidence. “Fine.”

Bertie immediately began scouring the sand trap, looking for clues as to who kept coming to wreak havoc on Mr. Foley’s already messy work. As Bertie crouched and searched, Mr. Foley lurched down onto the bank of the sand trap by the green and reached into his back pocket. “Mind if I have a smoke?” The question was more a statement than a request.

“I do mind,” Bertie clipped, annoyed that Mr. Foley did not go back to his work and leave him to investigate on his own.

Mr. Foley had not expected an actual response to his rhetorical question. Yet Bertie the Kid’s bold reply actually caused him to consider it. He shrugged and left the pack in his back pocket. He watched Bertie kneel in the sand near the trench for a moment before sounding out about how the sand reminded him of a bunch of exotic places he used to travel to. He then proceeded to list off islands all over the world that he had been to, including details of people he met and things he did.

Bertie the Kid did not even feign interest in Mr. Foley’s tall tales, but he managed to completely shut out the man’s voice completely when he found the single line of what he guessed was a tire track in the sand. Sand was easy to make an impression in, but holding a definite form was nearly impossible in the shifting grains. Once he found the tire track, however, it enabled him to get a point of reference.

With the tire track located, Bertie the Kid managed to pinpoint the spot where the bike’s handlebar had rested. Then he found a longer dimple in the sand that must have belonged to a foot, then another one beyond that. He tracked them to the trench where they mingled with dozens of others of the same. Bertie calculated the size of his quarry by the gait of the footprints. He also estimated the time the tracks were left thanks to several golf club strokes swung through the tracks. He considered it unlikely that the tracks would have been made before this morning’s golfing parties seeing as how it would have to be under the nose of the nearby Mr. Foley. This, then, indicated that the time of entry and exit had to be the morning or early afternoon of the previous day, before the rush of golfers hit the links.

Bertie the Kid returned to the bike’s tire track. There he saw the final footprint near the bank of the sand trap as the saboteur must have pushed back onto his bike to make his getaway. The shallow sand held the track’s form a better than the deep sand could, and Bertie noticed the tiny dots of toes appended to the top of the footprint.

With a working theory, Bertie now placed himself at an angle to the sun so as to recognize where the bike had passed on the fairway grass. Just as he suspected, the faint trail led southwards. While the creekboy could have followed the trail as it led into the wild rough, he knew he did not need to. He checked the sun’s position and saw that the afternoon was progressing.

Turning around, Bertie the Kid interrupted Mr. Foley’s travelogue. “I know who is sabotaging your work.”

Mr. Foley stopped talking, the abruptness of the act forcing him into another bout of coughing. He looked at Bertie the Kid strangely. “Already?”

Bertie nodded. “What time do you usually finish up your day?”

Mr. Foley wheezed as checked his watch. “I always leave in exactly forty minutes. Gets me to the buffet restaurant in time for early dining.”

“Give me an hour, and I’ll make sure he doesn’t ever sabotage your work on Hole 17 again.”

Mr. Foley eyed Bertie skeptically. “An hour, eh?”

“I’ll need a couple things from you, though,” Bertie said. Mr. Foley nodded and Bertie the Kid continued, “I’ll need some bailing wire, then I’ll need you to repair that pipe in the sand, and finally, you’ll need to pack up your stuff for the day. I’ll meet you at the clubhouse in an hour.”

“That’ll be cuttin’ early dining close,” Mr. Foley looked Bertie the Kid up and down. “But I suppose it’s worth my while.”

Forty-five minutes later, Bertie the Kid watched the empty sand trap from his vantage point hidden in the trees on the rough of the east side of Hole 17. Though he saw several groups of golfers pass, the hole had remained otherwise quiet. He had been waiting for fifteen minutes already, and a part of him wondered if he had mistimed things, but then a movement in the foliage on the west side confirmed his guesswork.

Next, Bertie saw a figure emerge carefully into the clearing leading up to the sand trap. Bertie the Kid was comforted in knowing that he had not only correctly assumed the timing, but also the person. Pausing on his bicycle to check for any approaching golfers, Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap pumped his pedals so as to bring him up to the place of sabotage.

Bertie the Kid saw the young Anderson twin dismount his bike then lay it tellingly on its side. He watched as the boy worked his way towards the trench, his small gait and bare feet creating new marks next to his old ones. After peering into the trench, Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap grinned once he saw the repaired pipe line inside. He went to the edge of the sand trap and unearthed a large rock that he must have stashed there. The boy shuffled over to the trench again, took a good look at his target, then raised the rock above his head.

Bertie did not stay to witness the vandalism that occurred after that. Instead, he had slipped around the green and back to the trail that Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap took to arrive at Hole 17’s green. He located the two scrub maples he had meticulously chosen over a half an hour ago. He made some necessary adjustments and then rushed back to his spot on the far side of the green.

As soon as he settled back into his position, Bertie the Kid noticed that Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap now covered up his handiwork, shoving dunes of sand into the trench armfuls at a time. Just as Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap reached the point of smoothing out the surface, Bertie the Kid performed an incredible feat of acting. He hacked.

Trying to tap into the very depths of his lungs, Bertie coughed and wheezed in his most intense Linus Foley impression. While his young, healthy lungs could not compete with Mr. Foley’s deteriorated and well-practiced rasp, the mere volume of the coughing fit caused immediate action from Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap.

The young Anderson twin scampered to his feet and shot towards his bike. While he did glance back towards the sound of the noise, Bertie’s added touch of shaking some of the bush branches near his hiding spot was enough to convince Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap of the seriousness of the situation. With commendable speed, he managed to right his bicycle, mount it, and tear off, spitting up a rooster tail of sand in the process.

Bertie the Kid also mounted his bike and shot off after the fleeing Anderson. The chase did not last long. Just as Bertie entered the wild rough, he heard a thud and a grunt. Within seconds, he arrived on the scene, hopped off Silver, grabbed the un-biked Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap, and used some bailing wire in his pocket to bind the boy’s hands behind his back.

Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap looked around, dazed for a minute, before he started to put it all together. First, he saw Bertie the Kid. Then he saw his bike out in front of him. Looking just above him, Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap finally realized what happened to him once he recognized some bailing wire tightened between two scrub maples. The wire, the downed boy put together, clotheslined him off his bike and made him vulnerable to Bertie the Kid.

“Flying Tires,” Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap stated as he recovered, “you’re pretty handy with the bailing wire.”

“Thanks to you,” Bertie the Kid said. “You and Rides-His-Brakes taught me when you tried to dismount me with the same trick.”

Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap wriggled his hands uselessly for a moment before calling out, “What do you want, Flying Tires? I have no business with you.”

“I want you to leave the sprinklers of Mr. Foley alone.”

Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap laughed. “Mr. Cassidy needed his creekboy to do his dirty work, huh? Well, Flying Tires, I’ve no fight with you, but you ain’t keepin’ me from breaking up Linus Foley’s sprinklers.”

Bertie the Kid scrutinized Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap. “Why do you care? Mr. Foley isn’t even close to Hole 12. His sprinklers don’t touch Anderson territory.”

Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap snarled, “There is no Anderson territory, there is no Cassidy territory. The only territory is the one we set for ourselves.” The boy’s voice went quieter, but still held a bite to it. “I figure Foley’s workin’ my territory any time he digs a single shovel full on the Back Nine. Don’t matter what Mr. Cassidy says, or what Chet Eagle Shooter says, or what you say.”

Bertie the Kid was a bit taken back by Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap speaking disrespectfully of Chet Eagle Shooter. “I think Rough Rider wouldn’t like that way of thinking.”

“Rough Rider is soft,” Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap spat out. “Rough Rider hands over golf balls to creekboys. He would hand over our bikes if Mr. Cassidy asked for them.” Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap shook his head. “No. I won’t sit by and talk talk talk. I’m going to do something! If Linus Foley is setting up sprinklers, digging up the earth all around the fairway of Hole 17 while he looks for trinkets, it’s only a matter of time before he comes to the rough alongside Hole 12.”

“Looking for trinkets?” Bertie asked.

Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap lifted his eyebrows. “You don’t know about the deal between Foley and Mr. Cassidy, do you?”

“Mr. Cassidy didn’t seem happy about the deal, but he didn’t say what it was.”

“Didn’t you wonder why the trenches zigzag everywhere?” Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap asked. Instead of responding, Bertie waited patiently for the Anderson twin to continue. “Mr. Foley offered to put the sprinkler system in for free as long as he could keep anything he found in the ground.”

“What could the ground have that’s worth anything?” Bertie the Kid asked.

“Not much if you just dig straight trenches, but if you have a metal detector, you can know where to dig your trenches for finding things like lost jewelry.”

“How do you know about the deal?”

“One of my brothers overheard Foley talking about it in the pawn shop,” Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap responded.

Bertie the Kid nodded. “But I still don’t see why you come so far out of your way to sabotage Hole 17, even though it’s on the Back Nine. You can’t have much of a connection to here … it’s so far away from you. How often did you visit Hole 17 before you heard about Foley being here?”

Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap’s brow furrowed in anger, “Not very much. But my mom has seen this before. They build something far away and say it won’t affect you, then all of the sudden they take away your land.”

Bertie the Kid was about to dispute this, but Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap interrupted him, “Tell me, Flying Tires … tell me the last time these paper-land-owners stopped making what they call improvements. How many of these spacious mansions by the golf course have they demolished and turned back into trees and sagebrush? Mr. Cassidy may say it’s just for the upper part of the Back Nine, but we both know that unless someone does something, those sprinklers--and Linus Foley--will come to Hole 12.”

Bertie the Kid thought for a moment. “So you sabotage the sprinkler system and make Mr. Cassidy regret the deal.”

“The others can sit back and talk about not stirring up more trouble. But, Flying Tires, the trouble is coming, and if no one else will stop it ‘cause they are too chicken, then I’ll do it alone.”

Bertie the Kid went silent for a few long moments. Finally, he spoke, “I see your point, Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap, but if we just started breaking all the things we think will probably hurt us someday, we’d need to break an awful lot of things.”

Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap’s eyes narrowed, “You think I should lay back like Chet Eagle Shooter and Rough Rider and wait for my childhood memories to be ripped apart and dug up. This is survival, Flying Tires. Either Mr. Cassidy and his growing sphere around the golf course survive, or I do. As long as I’m able to, I’ll do something about it. It’s about time Mr. Cassidy knows what it feels like to have things you value destroyed.”

Bertie the Kid felt troubled by Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap’s viewpoint. A large part of Bertie could not refute his strong, reasoned statements. Something about them, though, made him uneasy, though he was not sure what. Either way, he realized that he had been talked off topic. He shook his head. “If that’s the world you live in, Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap, then fine; we’ll talk survival. For me, survival means telling you to stop breaking Mr. Foley’s sprinkler system.”

“No,” Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap stated simply.

“Fine,” Bertie the Kid replied, “I’ll just turn you into Garrett Marshall. I’ll bet he takes you to Mr. Cassidy, who’ll call the police. Is that survival for you, Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap, the cops?”

Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap considered this statement sullenly. By his facial expression it was easy to see that he did not like the implications. His demeanor changed. “Flying Tires, you’re not one of them. You understand us Andersons. You would not hand me over to them. Not the Marshall, please.”

Bertie the Kid shrugged. “Sorry, Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap. You’re right. I need to look out for myself now. You breaking sprinkler pipes will hurt me in the future, so I’m going to do something about it now.” Bertie grabbed underneath Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap’s armpits and started to tug him to his feet.

“Wait,” the Anderson boy said.

Bertie stopped, listening patiently. Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap continued. “I’ll leave Linus Foley alone.”

“Your word?” Bertie the Kid asked.

“What is someone’s word anymore? Paper-land-owners make promises all the time, but they never keep them,” Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap scowled bitterly.

“But neither of us are paper-land-owners. I’m a creekboy, you’re an Anderson. Give me your word and I let you go.”

Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap finally stated, “You have my word.”

Bertie the Kid nodded, satisfied, and then undid the Anderson boy’s knots. Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap pondered something for a moment, but then he went to his bike. “I am an Anderson, Flying Tires, and I will keep my word,” he said as he mounted his bike. “But I think you over-praise creekboys.”

Bertie the Kid stared after the retreating Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap, confused by this last statement. Furthermore, his thinking was thrown off by a golden glint he saw coming from the Anderson boy’s ankle as it lifted up to push the pedal down. Bertie stood staring at nothing for a few minutes, mulling over the scene that just occurred, but eventually he knew that his hour was just about up. He joined Silver and the two galloped off towards the clubhouse.

They pulled up to the east side of the clubhouse, just catching Mr. Foley reaching for his back pocket. Mr. Foley withdrew his hand at the sight of Bertie the Kid and waved him over. “Well?” the man spouted, “Where is he?”

“Taken care of,” Bertie the Kid replied as he stepped off his bike.

“Who was it?” Mr. Foley asked.

“I’ve done my job. Your sprinklers will stay untouched. Tell me who has been taking the golf balls.”

Mr. Foley squinted at Bertie the Kid. He took a moment to think before responding, “Well, a few weeks back, I was just finishing up digging one of my first trenches. This boy comes up to me and asks if I’m the one that goes to the pawn shop. I told him that I do go there once in a while. So he asks me if they would sell golf balls at the pawn shop and if I wanted to regularly buy used golf balls from him.”

Bertie the Kid shuffled impatiently. He did not want a conversation, he wanted a name.

Mr. Foley, however, seemed oblivious to Bertie’s growing unrest. The man rubbed at his stubbled beard and continued, “I told the boy that I don’t take no interest in something unless it glitters. He looked disappointed, so I told him that I’d seen a boy selling nightcrawlers on the road up the golf course and that he might try him. The kid with the golf balls didn’t seem too keen on approaching someone else. I told him on my way out that day I could tell the nightcrawler boy about the deal if he wanted. The golf ball boy told me about Hole 15 and the drop off time, settled on a price, and then we parted. That’s it.”

Bertie the Kid looked up at Mr. Foley expectantly. “What about his name?”

“Not sure he mentioned one,” Mr. Foley quipped, eyeing Bertie carefully as he did so.

“You mean you didn’t know who it was this whole time?” It was all Bertie could do to control the mounting anger in his voice.

“Look, I needed some help, and I knew you could give it.”

Bertie the Kid almost took off right then, but he was desperate. “At least tell me what he looked like. Or come in to Mr. Cassidy with me right now so that you can tell him.”

“Here’s the thing, Bertie the Kid. Tomorrow, I’m going to do a bit more digging in that sand trap, and if things don’t turn out there, I’ll be heading to Hole 16. I’m not sure what I’ll run into there, so I think I’ll hold off on a description of the boy or ratting anyone out until after I’m settled and sure I don’t need your help anymore,” Mr. Foley wheezed for a moment after this statement.

Bertie the Kid looked on, incredulous. “If you can’t tell me that boy’s name right now, then I won’t be a creekboy here any longer. Then you’ll definitely be on your own.”

Mr. Foley smiled. “If I tell you now, I’ll be on my own. Don’t worry about not being a creekboy, Bertie the Kid. You’re a survivor, you’ll be around, somehow. In fact, maybe tomorrow I’ll find what I’m looking for, then I’ll be happy to help you out.”

Bertie the Kid was a survivor, but for some reason he did not like Mr. Foley labeling him as such. He felt the man’s definition of survivor was different than his own. Worst of all, Bertie had just run into another dead end. In his frustration, something occurred to him. “Why do you keep digging in that sand trap?”

“Nothing for you to worry about,” Mr. Foley replied quickly.

“I know you dig up jewelry, Mr. Foley.”

Linus Foley coughed. “You do, huh?” He sized up the ten-year-old. “Well, Mr. Cassidy ain’t ignorant to it. Finders keepers, that’s our deal. Won’t do much good to go to Mr. Cassidy about it.”

Bertie the Kid had no place to go, so he voiced his thoughts, “Doesn’t seem like that great of a deal. I’ve found a lot of golf balls, but not much jewelry.”

Mr. Foley shrugged. “It gets lost below the previous year’s fallen leaves and such--buried over time. Still, you got a point. It’s not the best living …”

“Unless ...” Bertie suddenly realized something, “... unless, you knew about a valuable item lost--something worth spending time looking for. That’d explain why you made the deal with Mr. Cassidy.”

Mr. Foley’s eyes twitched. Bertie the Kid continued. “You think it’s in the sand trap, don’t you? That’s why you keep digging there, even after it gets sabotaged over and over again.”

Avoiding eye contact, Mr. Foley remarked, “Just another trench, that’s all.”

“The item wouldn’t happen to be a watch, would it?” Bertie the Kid probed, “A gold watch?” His mind replayed the glittering he saw on Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap’s ankle as the Anderson boy left the scene of his interrogation a dozen minutes earlier.

Mr. Foley’s eyes suddenly snapped onto Bertie the Kid. “You’ve seen it!” His lips trembled, then he said, “The person sabotaging ... he has it, doesn’t he?”

Bertie the Kid now shrugged. “Don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Mr. Foley wheezed in excitement, “Course you do! Diamond studded face, 24 carat gold band. Eureka! Who is the kid who took it? I need that watch.”

Bertie the Kid saw the sheer desperation in Mr. Foley’s face. He knew that he now had him right where he wanted him. All it would take to get Mr. Foley to report the poacher to Mr. Cassidy would be to leverage the gold seeker with the name of Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap. Bertie the Kid was five syllables away from figuring out the mystery.

“Come on,” Mr. Foley’s eyebrows lifted, expectantly, “who is it? When I get my hands on that little thief …” Mr. Foley’s fists clenched.

At that, Bertie the Kid released his breath. Bertie may have been a survivor, but he was not the kind of survivor that let other people get hurt to help himself. That was why Bertie knew that Mr. Foley would never hear Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap’s name from him. No matter what Sits-in-the-Sand-Trap said about creekboys, the Anderson kid would not find him betraying the Hole 12 clan.

Bertie the Kid shook his head.

Mr. Foley rocked back on his heels as if he had been slapped. “What do you mean you’re not going to tell me?” Bertie said nothing. Mr. Foley continued, “That gold watch is worth a fortune, and that boy has no right to take what’s rightfully mine!”

“Yours?” Bertie the Kid asked.

“Mine!” Mr. Foley’s eyes flared. He glanced around, as if looking for someone to support him. Without a response, however, he deflated in front of Bertie the Kid, losing any inhibitions on sharing secrets he previously had. “You see, I wasn’t always like this, Bertie the Kid. I used to be someone. I used to be one of the wealthiest men in the region ... big into risky investment stocks and high end real estate deals. I’d throw around money like it was confetti. I bought that watch on a whim, worth more than most people’s cars, and I wore it golfing at this course years and years ago.”

Mr. Foley suppressed a cough as he looked across Hole 18 towards Hole 17, which was hidden by a line of tree-filled rough. “It was one of the last golfing rounds of the season before they closed up with the first snows. I lost it. Wasn’t too concerned at the time--I figured I could always buy another. We came back and looked for it, but I had places to go. Next season came around and I had forgotten about it.”

Bertie the Kid stared at Mr. Foley, wondering if the man was delusional. Mr. Foley turned and saw the look in Bertie’s eyes. “Don’t believe me, do you? You don’t think a guy like me could ever live the lifestyle of the obscenely wealthy. Mr. Cassidy knew me back then. I think that’s the only reason he made the deal with me. He don’t need a sprinkler system. But he knew me when I was rich and felt pity for me when I came to him like this.” Mr. Foley’s hands swept down in a demonstration of his current state.

“So what happened?” Bertie the Kid questioned skeptically.

Mr. Foley continued. “I’d been extending myself further and further with risky trades, deals, and loans that made me some quick, insane amounts of cash--but when the economy tanked, I was the first to drop. Lost everything. Mansion. Wife. Cars. Even my nice clothing.” Mr. Foley’s eyes faltered. “Everything.”

Bertie the Kid felt like he should not be listening to the story at this point, almost like it was too personal. He was just a ten-year-old kid. This was none of his business. But Mr. Foley reached out and held onto Bertie’s shoulder. “I sunk pretty low for a good long time, hiding from my debt collectors for a while and getting into some bad habits,” he coughed, almost as a demonstration. “Then, after I hit rock bottom, I finally got a job doing yard work. Me. The king of the finance game, digging up other people’s dirt. Only a few years back, I coulda bought all their yards and burned ‘em, just for fun.”

Bertie backed away a bit. Mr. Foley’s intensity was making him uncomfortable, but the man kept on talking. “While digging in someone’s backyard, I found some kid’s lost watch. That’s when I remembered my own watch. It bored into my mind. I thought about it night and day. The more I replayed that day over and over in my mind, the more the details of it became clear. It’s almost like my actual days were dreams and that distant day my reality.”

As if to confirm this, Mr. Foley seemed to be lost in his memory as he spoke. “I remember checking my watch when I was by Mack Lake, so I figured that I had to have lost it on one of the last few holes. Then I remembered I had a bad time at Hole 17. The ball went into the deep grass a few times, then it went into the sand trap and didn’t come out for a couple strokes. I had a little fit each time, throwing my arms around. The more I thought about it, the more certain I was that the watch had landed somewhere in the rough or in the sand.”

Mr. Foley breathed in sharply. “And I knew, I knew that if I could get that watch, then it would get me back on my feet. I still have some buddies with a couple investment opportunities that will pay off big if I could just get a large enough sum to throw into it. That watch is my ticket back to the big time, Bertie the Kid. It’s mine. And I want it back.”

Bertie scrunched his eyebrows. “Seems like if you just worked your job, you could make a decent living. Nothing like before, but you’d get by.”

A snort converting to a cough told Bertie how Mr. Foley felt about that. “What, creekboy, am I just going to pass by a fortune when it’s right within my grasp? That’s why I have to have that watch.” Mr. Foley’s intense eyes squinted, “I wondered if the little sabotage brat knew what I was looking for ... but the metal detector kept telling me something was there, so I just kept digging. He must have replaced it with a worthless metal object and buried it deep to keep me distracted in that sand trap for days on end.”

Mr. Foley now focused on Bertie. “But, Bertie the Kid, you know the truth now. You know the watch is mine. It’s mine. And I’ll have the name of that kid, and I’ll have that watch back. And I’ll remember you when I’m back in my place at the top of the world.” His voice served as both a desperate promise and a warning.

Bertie shook his head firmly.

It took a moment for Mr. Foley to register and respond. “I can give you all the information you want about the boy stealing golf balls. I’ll describe him, I’ll tell you his name! I know his name. We’ll go in and see Mr. Cassidy together right now!”

“You owe me his name,” Bertie the Kid said, “but I will never tell you who has that watch.”

Mr. Foley’s jaw set under his beard. “But it’s my watch. I paid for it. It’s mine.”

Bertie the Kid now turned and hopped onto Silver. “I believe you said it best earlier, Mr. Foley: finder’s keepers.” He turned Silver towards the course, then pivoted his head back. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some golf balls to find.”

Mr. Foley attempted to move after Bertie, tried to call out to him, but both actions were arrested by a heavy coughing fit that paralyzed him in his place.

Bertie the Kid rushed eastwards along Hole 18 on his way to search the rough past Mr. Foley’s labyrinthian sprinkler trenches. As he went he could not help but think of the fruitless actions of the day. He still had nothing to show for his day’s work, and furthermore, he did not even get the information he wanted out of Mr. Foley. Now he would return to a hole that he already knew to be razed over by his elusive golf ball poacher.

The more Bertie wallowed in these discouraging thoughts, the slower he and Silver rode. A strong headwind slammed down on the Burnt Creek Golf Course from the mountains above, and this added deterrent made it feel as if even the elements were combining against him. He finally found himself along the fringe of rough near the beginning of Hole 18, but his eagle eyes noted that even at Hole 18, there were no golf balls.

As Bertie the Kid slowed even more, his eyes caught vision of familiar bike tracks dried into a path heading into the rough. Like most of the tracks he had seen lately, these were old. This led Bertie to the realization that the tracks he had seen from the golf ball poacher were the most fresh when he first discovered that golf balls were missing, back at Hole 15. This meant that whoever had been stealing golf balls must have known that Bertie was still on the first half of the Back Nine and had deliberately worked backwards, starting with Hole 18. Again, Bertie wondered who could possibly be wreaking so much havoc in his world, who would do such a thing. He needed to talk to someone about this, he needed--

“Bertie the Kid.” Bertie swivelled his head and saw someone approaching on his bike: Kid Carson.

“Kid Carson,” Bertie could barely hide the relief in his voice. The elder Kid brought his bike through the same dirt path Bertie had just seen and then stopped next to Silver. Bertie the Kid noticed that dangling from his side was a black shaft. He eyed it. A Returner.

Bertie realized that he had not seen Kid Carson with a Returner yet. That meant that he had not spoken with Kid Carson since before Hole 14. “Been a long time,” Bertie the Kid stated.

Kid Carson nodded slowly. “Yep. Been doing afternoons more … My parents have been keeping me in the mornings to do chores.” Bertie the Kid nodded back. Kid Carson paused a moment to allow a harsh gust of wind press past them before he said, “I hear you’ve been having troubles.”

“Golf ball poacher,” Bertie the Kid stated. For some reason, he felt this conversation would go differently when he imagined it earlier. “Mr. Cassidy doesn’t believe me.” A silence fell between the two creekboys. “Someone been poaching your golf balls too?”

“I’ve been having my own challenges,” Kid Carson replied, looking down at his handlebars and gripping them tightly. The wind seemed to pick up speed at this point. “Look,” Kid Carson said, “I’ve been thinking that being a creekboy ain’t what it used to be …” Bertie the Kid was no strict grammarian, but he found it odd that Kid Carson would say something like “ain’t,” since he had not heard him use that kind of slang in previous conversations. “Mr. Cassidy,” Kid Carson continued, “he … well, he’s been getting grumpier and grumpier”--Bertie the Kid nodded, he could attest to that--“and more and more people seem to not want creekboys around. And you, Bertie the Kid, you’ve even been getting people stealing golf balls. Sometimes I wonder if we should just drop the whole thing, you know?” Kid Carson watched Bertie carefully as he dispensed his last line.

“Give up?” Bertie the Kid asked, surprised. Inside his mind wondered if the world had turned upside-down.

“I don’t know. Just not deal with it anymore, you know. I’m wondering how long Mr. Cassidy is going to keep us around anyway. Maybe the best thing to do is to ride off on our own terms.”

Something about this whole situation seemed too rehearsed to Bertie the Kid. A seed of something buried deep in his subconscious sprouted. Just as he started to get a grip on those thoughts, however, he was interrupted by a fierce gust that lifted his hat up and tossed it to the ground. It rolled in rapid cartwheels until stopping well into the trees of Hole 18’s rough. Bertie put his foot down on Silver’s pedal, prepared to go after it.

Kid Carson’s hand reached out, “I’ll get it.” The creekboy seemed to want Bertie to stay and think over his proposition. He took off towards the rough and Bertie watched him, bemused. Then, something in the the young creekboy’s mind sparked and he perked up. As he watched Kid Carson ride through the first line of trees, he realized he had seen that form before. It was the same form he had seen from behind at Hole 16 when he pursued the person who had dropped off the golf balls at the Sally Moon Stand.

The moment of realization compounded as his eyes swiftly dropped to the ground, to the patch of dirt Kid Carson had just traveled through. The tire tracks might have looked like any bike tracks to most kids, but not to Bertie the Kid. Those were the same tracks he had seen near every missing cache of golf balls for the past couple of weeks--and a direct match with the old tracks right next to them.

Bertie the Kid’s eyes returned to see Kid Carson stop on his bike, just above Bertie’s hat. Kid Carson then deftly released his Returner from his side and in a fluid motion used it to retrieve the hat from off the ground. A moment later, he returned to Bertie the Kid’s side and offered the hat to him.

The wind roared, leaves chattered, and all the world shook with life. But Bertie the Kid noticed none of it. “It was you,” he said, hardly believing it himself.

Kid Carson dropped Bertie the Kid’s hat to the ground and his facial expression suddenly hardened. There was a long pause as he seemed to consider his next move. Finally, he stated, “Mr. Cassidy wants to see you.” Then he turned on his bike and rode back towards the clubhouse ahead of Bertie.

Bertie the Kid watched Kid Carson go until his small figure parked his bike on the patio and disappeared. Without even looking, Bertie used his Returner to retrieve his hat and put it on, his mind distracted with the searing pain of betrayal. Eventually, he worked his way back to the clubhouse.

As he walked into the clubhouse, he saw Mr. Cassidy’s visor low on his head. The golf course manager’s eyes looked to Bertie the Kid’s bag, immediately noting its sagging emptiness. To the side of Mr. Cassidy, in the shadows of the office, stood Kid Carson.

“No golf balls, Bertie? I think my instructions were pretty clear.”

Bertie the Kid, still slammed into a state of shock, did not know how to respond.

Mr. Cassidy continued, “Kid Carson, here, he keeps trying to convince me that I should take it easy on you, being so young and all, but I think we both recognize the problem this is creating for the course. It’s ruining the whole image of creekboys and soon might even cause kids to ignore the rules and trespass like they used to.”

Bertie the Kid looked back to Kid Carson, who refused to make eye contact. He knew now that Kid Carson may make it seem like he defended Bertie the Kid, but in reality he was poisoning Mr. Cassidy against him. As Bertie thought it through, he realized that Kid Carson had been planting these seeds of doubt with Mr. Cassidy for the past couple of weeks. His confusion helped him to break the silence. “Kids are already breaking the rules,” Bertie said, “One kid especially: Kid Carson. He’s the one that’s been stealing the golf balls from the Back Nine.”

Mr. Cassidy’s eyebrows rose, but he did not look at Kid Carson at all. “That is a low accusation, Bertie. Your friend here, Kid Carson, has been nothing but nice to you, and you desperately blame him for your own laziness?” Bertie was not caught off guard by Mr. Cassidy’s response, but it did not make it hurt less. “I find this especially surprising after Kid Carson defended you from that Woodson boy when he claimed you were a cheater. Now, you would take the same route as James Woodson?”

Bertie the Kid fell silent. He had not realized how much influence Kid Carson had managed to wrangle over Mr. Cassidy, but now it was apparent that it was stronger than anything he could contest.

“Bertie,” Mr. Cassidy softened slightly, “you make this very difficult to do. I still have fond memories of you, but--”

“Mr. Cassidy,” Kid Carson interrupted. “Maybe we can figure out if Bertie is telling the truth--at least about someone stealing golf balls. Why don’t you let me try searching part of the Back Nine tomorrow? If I can’t find any golf balls, then he’s not making it up.”

Mr. Cassidy looked back to Kid Carson. “Even now you’ll defend him, after he accused you?”

Kid Carson eyed Bertie the Kid as he answered, “I see so much of him in me. I want to believe him, no matter how unlikely.”

Bertie shook his head in disbelief. The younger creekboy surmised that with this cunning last stroke, Kid Carson removed any future doubts Mr. Cassidy might have about Kid Carson’s innocence in the whole matter.

Mr. Cassidy nodded and turned back to Bertie the Kid.

“It’s settled. Bert Gardner,”--the blatant lack of nickname hurt more than the sentence that followed--“you are to stay off of the Burnt Creek Golf Course tomorrow. If you are found, you’ll be charged for trespassing. I will contact you if Kid Carson is unable to find any golf balls, but otherwise, you can consider this the last time you enter golf course property unless as a paying client.”

Bertie the Kid tried to hold back his tears, but they came anyway. Still, he refused to blink. Mr. Cassidy’s eyebrows scrunched together for a passing second of genuine concern, but he caught himself, his face hardening again.

Bertie the Kid stepped out of the office, navigated the Burnt Creek Café, and exited the clubhouse. He found Silver, though his vision was blurred by the unfalling tears, and the two swung around into the Badlands to commence their exile from the Burnt Creek Golf Course.

©2013 Marty Reeder