Thursday, November 7, 2013

Showdown at the Burnt Creek Café

Showdown at the Burnt Creek Café

Though it hurt to open his eye, still throbbing from his crash on Hole 18, Bertie the Kid forced the swelling eyelid to raise to a slit in order to better gauge the distance between himself and Kid Carson. Even had his eye been uninjured, visibility would have been limited.

The dark-tiled floor adjacent to the back door of Mr. Cassidy’s office, and in the corner of the Burnt Creek Café, was usually lit by sunlight from the large windows facing the back patio. On this overcast day the heavy clouds siphoned out streams of light, and the corner of the café where they stood lingered in shadows.

Whatever light could seep through the clouds, however, came from behind Bertie the Kid. This put Kid Carson at a disadvantage, since it showed him only the small creekboy’s silhouette disguised among those of the chairs and tables, giving little sense of the position of his hands and the expression on his face.

Slowly, Kid Carson slid a foot across the tile towards the windows. His shoe stopped about half a golf club’s length to the side and then his other foot shuffled up next to it. Bertie the Kid did the same in the other direction, maintaining the distance between them and taking advantage of the opportunity to slide closer to Mr. Cassidy’s office. Kid Carson continued his shuffling movement and Bertie the Kid reciprocated until both of them stood in a line parallel to the office door, having rotated in a quarter circle, 90 degrees from their original stance. Kid Carson stopped when enough of the minimal light from the windows reflected equally off half of their tensed bodies.

For a long moment, the two creekboys of the Burnt Creek Golf Course stared each other down. Because it was not yet past noon, and certainly due to the discouraging weather, clientele at the course was limited, and the café was empty. The only sounds they heard to indicate the presence of another person came from some distant murmuring of the café’s cook and cashier chatting in the back of the kitchen. Otherwise, it was so quiet that Kid Carson and Bertie the Kid could distinguish the sound of each other breathing, both of them channeling in air greedily after racing to arrive at this point.

Surrounding the creekboys on three sides sat several empty chairs around equally empty tables, save one next to Kid Carson, which had a couple clear plastic cups half-filled with water and a crumpled napkin that someone had left behind. The wall to the office, which displayed a drab landscape painting above a small cactus plant sitting next to the door, completed the box containing the boys.

“So,” Kid Carson finally spoke, “what’s the game from here?”

Bertie the Kid tweaked his head curiously. “Is this a game for you?”

Kid Carson allowed himself an ironic smirk. “We’re the two kids of the course, aren’t we? Kids play games. And this is our final game together. It ends when you ride off the Burnt Creek property for the last time.”

“I see,” Bertie the Kid replied. “Except that I say that it ends when you give back my golf balls so I can make things right with Mr. Cassidy.”

Kid Carson’s fingers tapped playfully on the top of his Returner. “Then that’s the game. You try to get these golf balls, and I try to keep them.”

“How are you going to do that?” Bertie the Kid asked, his fingers now resting on top of his own Returner.

“The same way you plan to take them,” Kid Carson answered, “You’ll use your Returner to try to grab the bag off my shoulder, and I’ll use my Returner to disarm you.”

“Or you could just do what we both know is right and give me the golf balls,” Bertie the Kid appended.

“What’s right,” Kid Carson echoed, shaking his head slowly. “That’s a fluid thing on this course, I’ve found.” The elder creekboy tried to look into Bertie’s eyes but could only find the good one. “Is it right that Mr. Cassidy has complete control over how much we are paid and how much work we do?”

Surprised by the question, Bertie answered quickly, “Yes. It’s his property. We’re lucky he lets us come. Of course he can control what happens on it.”

Kid Carson followed up by saying, “Is that what you would tell your friends, the Andersons?”

“That’s different,” Bertie responded, though the analogy had him flummoxed. Clearly, Bertie the Kid had sided with the Andersons and not Mr. Cassidy in their dispute. “Their situation is more complicated.”

“Nothing is complicated. It is right or wrong. I say it’s wrong for him to harass the Andersons and it’s wrong for him to hoard all the golf balls for himself,” Kid Carson said.

Bertie the Kid did not have a good response to that. He believed strongly in right and wrong, but Kid Carson’s statement felt off. This made Bertie think more about the person making the assertion. Bertie shifted the course of dialogue. “Is it right to push an innocent worker like me out of a job by lying and manipulating?”

Kid Carson went quiet for a moment. “No. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You’re an amazing golf ball gatherer, Bertie the Kid. I could use your help. Once you are dismissed, I’m going to convince Mr. Cassidy that he has need for only one creekboy. Then on busy weeks you can sneak onto the course and gather golf balls with me and we’ll split the profits. I can promise that you’ll get more with me than with Mr. Cassidy.”

Bertie the Kid sensed the sincerity in Kid Carson’s deal, yet he could not help but snort. Kid Carson did not appreciate the note of derision. “What’s so funny?”

“Sorry, I thought I just heard you make a promise … as if you would actually keep it.”

“I keep all my promises … to those that I’m loyal to,” Kid Carson said with irritation in his voice.

“Like who?” Bertie the Kid replied, “The Marshall? The Jesse James brothers?”

Kid Carson smoldered. “I didn’t know about the Jesse James brothers until this morning when the Marshall brought them along. He figured we would need help catching you, and he was right.”

“Yeah, I doubt he or you would have been able to smash my face like this all by yourselves,” Bertie said, pointing towards his swollen eye with the hand not resting on the Returner.

“I never wanted anyone to hurt you,” Kid Carson said, his voice wavering with an emotion Bertie would not have suspected. “I never wanted to hurt you. This is just how things turned out.”

“So you haven’t been planning this all along? Why did you even start poaching golf balls to start out with?” Bertie the Kid asked.

“I needed more money,” Kid Carson responded.

“More money?” Bertie the Kid asked. It felt like a pathetic excuse, especially coming from someone like Kid Carson, who did not seem to be the money-hungry type.

Kid Carson sensed Bertie’s thought and explained, “I broke a neighbor’s window playing baseball a month ago. Our family isn’t well off, so my mom had to give up membership to a fitness place to pay for it. I felt bad and wanted to make more money so I could pay her back.”

The elder creekboy waited for Bertie to say something, but he did not. Kid Carson felt he needed to add more details. “First I spent longer days on the course, clearing out the holes faster than golf balls would pile up. That got me a bit more money from Mr. Cassidy, but not nearly enough. It would have taken me forever to pay my mom back that way.”

Kid Carson waited for Bertie to respond, but when he did not, the poacher searched for more explanations. “After that, I tried out the idea of selling golf balls on the side. I was running low on balls in the Front Nine, so I remembered that I never cleared out Hole 18 last year. I did that and then approached Mr. Foley. I’d heard he knew about the pawn shop, so I wondered if they would buy golf balls. Instead, he offered to set me up with Russell Brands. So I dropped off golf balls, Russell dropped off money. You can guess the rest.”

“How much more money until you pay off the window?” Bertie the Kid asked.

Kid Carson seemed surprised by the question. “Once the money started rolling in, it seemed silly to give some back to my mom when she never even expected me to pay it in the first place. Besides, I needed a new seat on my bike and some better shoes--my last ones had a bunch of holes in them.” The elder creekboy realized that he was starting to sound defensive. “The point is, there is some real money in golf ball gathering, and I’m not going to let Mr. Cassidy keep us from getting it.”

“Us?” Bertie the Kid asked.

“Why not?” Kid Carson followed up. “Even if you’re not coming everyday, you’ll still make triple what you could make as an official ‘creekboy.’ You’re not going to let pride over a silly title like ‘creekboy’ keep you from a great deal, are you?”

Pride? Bertie the Kid wondered if that was true. He wondered if he was just being proud, keeping him from seeing things as they really were. Why was he so strongly defending Mr. Cassidy and the whole creekboy profession? It’s not like Mr. Cassidy really cared all that much about him, especially lately. Mr. Cassidy just started the whole creekboy business to keep unwanted kids off his course and maybe make a bit of money on the side.

Bertie then considered what would happen if he took Kid Carson up on the deal. He would sneak on the course when Kid Carson called on him and do the same thing that he had been doing. It would be no different than what he did today. He would be no different from the Andersons who are not really criminals or bad people, just kids harmlessly roaming the golf course.

Plus, Bertie the Kid realized, he would get more money. He glanced down at his shoes. The holes gaped up at him. He needed new shoes too. Perhaps he could even get some silver paint for his bike and make the color finally match the name. Bertie lost himself in these thoughts for a moment and felt increasingly comfortable with their implications.

All of the sudden, a current of air snaked across the floor, slipping through the holes in his shoes. Bertie the Kid looked up and saw that one of the windows facing out towards the patio was opened a crack and a violent blast of air squeezed its way into the Burnt Creek Café. The gust had enough life to ruffle the hair sticking out from under Bertie and Kid Carson’s caps. It pushed the crumpled napkin across the table by Kid Carson and dropped it to the ground, where the napkin tumbled across the floor between the two creekboys before stopping at the side of Mr. Cassidy’s office door.

The breeze brought with it a whiff from the Back Nine. Bertie’s keen sense of smell breathed in all the odors packed within that current of air. A part of the breeze carried the smell of the cattail-infested shore of Mack Lake. Another sniff revealed freshly cut fairway grass, tempered by the wild growth of the verdant rough. Immediately, Bertie was transported out of the restricted confines of the darkened Burnt Creek Café and allowed to wander in the memories of the past summer. This moment of reflection took him along his explorations through the little known nooks and corners of the Back Nine. He recalled the feel of Silver’s tires cruising along the dipping ground beneath, the mists lifting off the course in the early mornings.

All this led back to the day that Bertie participated in the Back Nine Rush, not the time that he won and became creekboy, but the time that he lost and became Bertie the Kid.
On that distant day, Bertie was all alone, with the world against him--even his own body rebelling and calling for him to give up. But he found a strength within himself that went beyond just a nine-year-old boy. Bertie found he could be strong on his own, that he could conquer his own self-doubts. Others could have helped him that day, but it would have robbed him of completing his own victory. So he did it on his own. And even though Bertie the Kid did not win the Back Nine Rush that time, he left the course feeling as if he had.

This memory prompted another from the following year’s Back Nine Rush, where he found himself a desperate victim to someone’s underhanded efforts to steal the victory. Then Wade Ernest offered Bertie his bag of golf balls. Even though Bertie could have justified accepting them to compensate for James Woodson’s cheating, Bertie the Kid knew that it was wrong. That year Bertie won the Back Nine Rush based off of his own efforts, becoming the creekboy that he was now.

Both memories showcased satisfaction, not from actual victory, but from knowing that what he did, he did on his own without compromising principles. When he climbed that hill alone or turned down Wade’s golf balls, it was not due to a sense of misplaced pride--it was a respect for his own self-worth, which his name and title reflected. And now, in front of the very person who once understood why it was so important for him to complete the Rush on his own, Bertie knew that resistance to Kid Carson’s proposal was not a matter of pride but of principle.

Whatever else surrounded the debate that Kid Carson tried to present, whatever explanations, justifications, financial incentives--no matter how valid, these things only complicated the issue. And however complicated it seemed to be, one thing was certain to Bertie the Kid. For him, choosing to be Bertie the Kid--the creekboy--was right. All these other things were wrong.

The wind died down. Bertie the Kid took a long breath, then turned from the window and faced his opponent once more. “Sorry, Kid Carson. I just want to be a creekboy. Hand over those golf balls.”

Kid Carson’s face hardened. “Last chance, Bertie the Kid. You turn this down now, there’s no crawling back to me and asking for permission later.”

“Asking you for permission, or asking your boss, the Marshall?” Bertie the Kid responded.

Kid Carson’s eyebrows furrowed. “I am my own boss.”

“Didn’t sound like that to me,” Bertie the Kid replied.

Kid Carson swept his hand dismissively. “The Marshall has been useful.”

“Whose idea was it to not get another creekboy once I was gone?” Bertie asked.

Kid Carson fidgeted. “Doesn’t matter. I would’ve thought of it with or without the Marshall.”

“How long do you think the Marshall will let you work the course before he turns on you and gets rid of creekboys altogether?” Bertie pressed. “You know that’s what he wants.”

“Garrett Marshall can’t get rid of me so easy,” Kid Carson countered.

“I would’ve thought the same thing about myself,” Bertie the Kid said.

Kid Carson paused, then followed with, “I used to think we were a lot alike, Bertie the Kid, but I guess I was wrong.”

Bertie the Kid sighed. Swollen eye and all, he felt as if he was the one seeing clearly and Kid Carson was the blind one. “I think we were a lot a like, but one of us has changed.”

Kid Carson did not seem to like the bite behind this statement. He tossed the comment aside and gripped his Returner, “If you’re not going to help me, then you best just leave this café right now.”

Bertie the Kid gripped his own Returner in response. After his realization prompted by the breeze, he felt calm but also firm. “I’m not leaving without those golf balls.”

Kid Carson’s unblinking eyes locked with Bertie’s one good eye. Neither of them released their Returners, but both twitched with every tremble of the other person’s fingers. Bertie tried keeping his bad eye open to maintain depth perception, but he knew it would not stay that way. Instead, Bertie managed a quick calibration of where Kid Carson stood, where his Returner hugged his hip, and the placement of the bag with the golf balls as it hung down from his shoulder on its single, faded strap. Then, Bertie’s eyelid snapped back shut.

Suddenly, Kid Carson’s steely gaze softened as if coming to a conclusion. His hands opened and lifted away from his body. “I remember hearing that you’re pretty quick with your Returner. That’s the word I gathered from your tussle at the Sally Moon Stand at least.”

A decorative grandfather clock standing in the hallway that separated the Burnt Creek Café from the front entrance began to chime out the hour. Bertie the Kid knew that his opponent was not about to surrender, but with hands away from his Returner, Kid Carson allowed Bertie to relax ever-so-slightly. Bertie’s tensed muscles eased up as he listened.

“You should know that I’m not too shabby myself,” Kid Carson followed. He watched Bertie the Kid’s reaction curiously as the clock in the hallway tallied the hours. “Still, though, I’m not one to leave things to chance.” Bertie noticed Kid Carson’s hand drifting, not towards his hips, but towards the table he stood next to.

Bertie wondered what Kid Carson was up to, though he took comfort in seeing Kid Carson’s hand away from his Returner. By the time the grandfather clock cried out its twelfth note, Bertie the Kid’s mind had pieced together Kid Carson’s plan. And he was too late.

The elder creekboy snatched the cup of water sitting on the table to his side and flung it towards Bertie the Kid. One of Bertie’s hands slapped away the cup in reaction, but he could not keep the water from splashing all over his face. As a result, the water forced his good eye to join his bad eye in closing, momentarily blinding him.

In that infinitesimal moment behind the darkness of his eyelids, Bertie the Kid recognized his immediate disadvantage. Kid Carson would now be drawing his Returner. Then, Bertie realized, Kid Carson would fire towards Bertie’s Returner. While he could not physically witness these things happening, Bertie the Kid saw them in his mind almost as clearly. Had he the time, he might have despaired, but Bertie the Kid only knew that he needed to act. He also instinctively knew that he was perfectly capable of using his Returner blindfolded.

With lightening speed, Bertie the Kid whipped his hand to his Returner, flicked it off its clip and stepped to the side while firing exactly where he anticipated Kid Carson’s own Returner to be. Just as he heard the snapping of prongs in the air exactly where he had stood a split second earlier, he felt his own Returner grasp onto a solid surface. Bertie did not have to open his water-soaked eyes to know that he had Kid Carson’s Returner by the shaft just above the handle.

At that point, Bertie tried opening an eye, but the water still clinging to his face blurred it enough that he simply shut the eye again and trusted to his other senses. Bertie’s mind worked with the same swiftness as his draw as he realized he had a decision to make. Bertie could recoil in an attempt to disarm Kid Carson’s Returner, but surely he would resist. Even if Bertie could wring the Returner out of his opponent’s hands, Kid Carson would know his next move and have time to secure the bag of golf balls. Bertie remembered that back at Hole 11, the Jesse James brothers knew his next move, so the only way he could evade capture was to ride in a way that they were not prepared for. If he wanted the bag of golf balls from Kid Carson, Bertie knew he would have to act in a way that the elder creekboy was not prepared for. He would go for the bag of golf balls immediately.

Instead of recoiling, or even tugging back towards himself, Bertie shoved his extended Returner towards Kid Carson. This direction confused Kid Carson, who had been putting all his energy into resisting a pull against his own Returner. The elder creekboy tried to readjust his grip, but because of Bertie’s continued pressure, he momentarily lost his hold on his Returner.

Bertie the Kid pushed his advantage, literally. He kept the two Returners shoving back against Kid Carson’s body until the Kid stumbled backwards a bit and had to turn sideways to keep from being pushed over. As soon as the Returners slid past Kid Carson’s staggering body, Bertie the Kid felt the shoulder strap of the bag of golf balls touch the edge of his Returner’s shaft. That was the moment he had waited for--the moment his Returner penetrated the inside area of the shoulder strap as it hung from Kid Carson’s shoulder down to his waist.  Like a fisherman who senses a bite on his line, Bertie the Kid immediately yanked upward. The movement lifted the Returner’s shaft up to the top of the shoulder strap and then took the weight of the bag off Kid Carson’s shoulder.

One step behind each of Bertie’s surprising moves, Kid Carson grasped at the floating bag, but too late. As soon as Bertie felt the bag free from Kid Carson, he pressed the trigger again, recoiling his Returner with its load. The action zipped back Kid Carson’s Returner and the bag of golf balls, still dangling off the shaft of the weapon. Once completed, Bertie the Kid took the luxury of using his free hand to wipe the water off his face and open his good eye.

Kid Carson, Bertie could now see, was still piecing together how he had been bested. When it finally made sense to him, the elder creekboy instinctively put a foot forward and started reaching his hand towards the bag of golf balls. Bertie the Kid gripped the shoulder strap with one hand and widened his stance, showing his readiness to use whatever scrap of force he had to hold onto the bag of golf balls.

Kid Carson stopped. He saw Bertie’s body tensed and ready to fight. He saw his grip on the bag of golf balls. He saw the look in Bertie’s eye. It was a familiar look, one that Kid Carson recalled from Bertie’s original Back Nine Rush, where Kid Carson and Mr. Cassidy had both seen his sheer determination. Kid Carson recognized the same resolve that he and the golf course manager witnessed as the boy, bloody and limping, dragged his bike up the hill to the Burnt Creek Café’s patio. Over a year later and a couple dozen yards from that spot, Bertie’s face was bruised and swollen, he sucked in ragged breaths of fatigue, he was still short and vulnerable, but his face reflected a moral certainty that now filled Kid Carson with nagging jealousy and doubt.

Kid Carson’s hand dropped and his foot retreated. He seemed to want to say something, to try another explanation, to get angry and lash out. But all of these intentions died before they could manifest themselves. When Bertie saw his defeated foe speechless and inert, he cocked his Returner, releasing Kid Carson’s Returner and causing it to clatter to the ground. He kicked the confiscated weapon across the floor and past some tables towards the exit to the Burnt Creek Café.

Kid Carson pondered the Returner momentarily before he moved away from the area of the showdown and strode over to his Returner. The elder creekboy turned to face Bertie the Kid. “Take it. You want it more than me.” He kicked the Returner back. “You always have.”

Bertie the Kid did not move. The two stared at each other for another long moment. “Not always,” Bertie’s softly proclaimed, “We used to want it the same.”

Kid Carson swallowed this statement. He nodded. Then he swiveled towards the doors, walked out, and disappeared.

Bertie the Kid watched him go and then drew in a deep breath. He clipped both Returners on his hip, one on each side, readjusted his grip on the bag of golf balls, and then turned to Mr. Cassidy’s office door. He looked at it for a moment, realizing that he was going from one showdown to another. Bertie the Kid collected all of his mental capacities for the task at hand, then he stepped forward, grabbed the doorknob, and walked through the office entrance, closing the door behind him.

Mr. Cassidy’s office was lit only by a lamp on the desk and the modest light from the overcast skies seen in a large window on the east side of the room. Mr. Cassidy sat at his desk. Bertie the Kid saw that the man had heard him enter but kept his visored head down and a pen in hand over a piece of paper. The pen, Bertie noticed, did not move. The paper, an envelope, had no writing on it. Had Bertie not noticed a slight twitching from Mr. Cassidy when he entered the office, he might have thought it was a statue in the chair.

Regardless of Mr. Cassidy’s strange, motionless state, Bertie the Kid went ahead with his plan. He hefted the bag of golf balls onto Mr. Cassidy’s desk, allowing the sound of the balls inside to ploink melodiously as they settled down. “Here are my golf balls for the day. I’ll be back tomorrow to get more.”

Mr. Cassidy finally looked up from his desk. Bertie the Kid could not read the look in the older man’s face. The golf course manager regarded the bag of golf balls for a moment before turning to face Bertie. “I gave you pretty specific instructions yesterday.” He said nothing else.

Bertie the Kid nodded. “I remember you saying that you were worried about the image of creekboys being ruined. I chose a different way to fix that problem than what you thought of. But I did fix it.”

As Bertie spoke, Mr. Cassidy noticed the swollen area of Bertie’s face and he drew in his breath. “Are you okay, Bertie the Kid?” he said, his tone immediately switching from boss to concerned adult. He leaned forward and his hand lifted up. “What happened?”

Relief swept over the creekboy. Mr. Cassidy had betrayed his compassionate side by both showing his concern and--most importantly--using Bertie the Kid’s nickname in the process. Bertie suppressed a smile as he shook his head. “Part of the job. I’m okay.”

Mr. Cassidy leaned back in his chair and put one hand behind his head as if taking it all in. “Kid Carson?” he finally asked.

Bertie the Kid could not tell if Mr. Cassidy was asking how or where Kid Carson was or if Kid Carson had been the one to hurt Bertie. To answer, Bertie simply unclipped the elder creekboy’s Returner and placed it on the desk next to the bag of golf balls. “He’s okay. But he resigned.”

Mr. Cassidy nodded slowly. In the process, his face started to bunch up. His wavering voice said, “Bertie the Kid, I owe you an apology. I have been--”

“I just want you to have another Back Nine Rush soon,” Bertie interrupted him. Hearing his nickname spoken in such respect was all the apology that Bertie the Kid needed to hear.

This statement threw off Mr. Cassidy, who had worked himself into a humbling declaration of his faults. He considered Bertie’s request and converted to boss mode again. “If Kid Carson resigned, then that promotes you to being the Front Nine creekboy. So I guess we should have another Back Nine Rush.” He tapped his fingers on his desk. “Sounds as though the course has been swept pretty clean lately. Plus, school will start up in another week or so and I’ll only have you for Saturdays after that until the snow comes. Maybe we’ll just let you tidy up around the Back Nine until next Spring comes.”

Bertie the Kid saw the wisdom behind Mr. Cassidy’s thoughts, but he had his reservations with only having a single creekboy on the course. “But there will be a Back Nine Rush first thing in the Spring, right?”

“Yes,” Mr. Cassidy nodded, but Bertie did not seem satisfied. Mr. Cassidy followed up. “You have my word.”

Bertie scrutinized Mr. Cassidy’s face while the golf course manager made this last statement. Whatever the creekboy saw in Mr. Cassidy’s eyes, he was appeased. Bertie the Kid then started to turn towards the door, but he stopped as he remembered something. “Oh, one more thing.”

Mr. Cassidy nodded preemptively, “I plan on increasing your cut of the golf ball sales. You are doing me a service by clearing out the course and keeping others from trespassing. You deserve to get all the profits from the golf balls.”

Bertie the Kid had not expected this response. He had to take a moment to process it. “I don’t care about the money,” he responded.

Mr. Cassidy adjusted his visor. “I thought that’s what you were going to ask for. But whether you care about it or not, that will be my new policy.” Bertie nodded distractedly, and Mr. Cassidy asked, “Now, what was your one more thing?”

Bertie took a breath, acknowledging the difficulty of his next proposition. “Leave the Anderson boys alone.”

Silence filled the office. Mr. Cassidy’s eyebrows lifted as he took in Bertie’s request. Bertie could not tell what Mr. Cassidy was thinking, but he saw a lot of processing going on in the golf course manager’s mind. Bertie the Kid half expected Mr. Cassidy to reverse on his previous position and tell Bertie to leave and never come back. After a long, drawn out moment, Bertie saw the golf course manager’s expression change.

“I’ll do you one better than that, Bertie the Kid,” Mr. Cassidy said, “I’ll return the Anderson land back to them.”

“What?” Bertie the Kid asked. “What do you mean?”

As Mr. Cassidy spoke he seemed to smile at the ridiculousness of his own plan. “I’ll return all of their original land to them.”

Bertie tried to process what this meant, “But … but wouldn’t that …?”

“It would make a good portion of the Hole 12 fairway, and all of the green, part of Anderson land again.” Mr. Cassidy nearly laughed. “I’ll ask them if they might still allow the Burnt Creek patrons to golf on it, but if the Andersons want to close it off completely, then I’ll leave that up to them.”

Bertie the Kid was floored. “But the golf course … if the Andersons didn’t allow access, then the golf course would be disqualified for some major golfing competitions and you would lose--”

Mr. Cassidy nodded. “I’ll worry about that when it happens. I’m a pretty smart guy. I can figure something out.” The golf course manager eyed his creekboy with pleasure for a moment. “The hardest part will be getting it past my lawyers, but I will say this, Bertie the Kid: you have my word that it’ll be done within a month of today.”

Bertie shook his head, incredulous. “Why?”

Mr. Cassidy smiled again. “Because I heard a voice of reason stand up for principle. And I wished that I could be more like that voice and simply do what was right. It left me wondering what I value. The thing I’m most proud of in my career has been this whole creekboy thing, since it connects me with the humble boys that are my neighbors in ways I wouldn’t experience otherwise.”

Mr. Cassidy nodded to himself, as he voiced his thoughts. “Then it made me wonder what kind of neighbor I had been back to them. Just after that, you brought up the Andersons. When I got their land, I felt completely justified--I had the city and the court on my side.” Mr. Cassidy shrugged. “But was it right? I want to do what’s right to my neighbors. So, Bertie the Kid, thanks to your voice, I’m going to give that land back to the Andersons and let the consequences take care of themselves.”

“My voice?” Bertie the Kid asked.

All of the sudden, the silence in the office was broken by a sound coming from the Burnt Creek Café. “Hey, I thought you said you cleared all the tables. Look, there’s a cup here and another one on the floor with water spilled.” Bertie heard someone else reply, “Sorry, I must have missed it. I’ll get a rag and clean it up.”

Bertie the Kid realized how easily sound carried through Mr. Cassidy’s back office door. The golf course manager must have heard the whole showdown. He thought of everything he and Kid Carson said to each other, neither of them realizing that their whole conversation included a third party--Mr. Cassidy.

Without words to say, Bertie the Kid simply brought his hand to his cap and tipped it towards his boss. He turned once again towards the door when Mr. Cassidy stopped him. “Oh, Bertie, I almost forgot. I got a letter today from José David Castillo Andino, the son of the Bolombian ambassador. He thanked me again for our services. Included in the letter were two one-hundred dollar bills. I was writing a letter to send the money to you, since I never expected to see you on the course again. Now that you are here, though, I can give it straight to you. You earned every penny, and more.” Mr. Cassidy held out the envelope that he had been poised to write on when Bertie the Kid first entered the office.

Bertie did not immediately reach out for it. After a long moment’s consideration, however, he finally allowed the envelope to drop into his open hand. Once again, Bertie turned for the door. Once again, Mr. Cassidy held him up.

“Bertie the Kid,” Mr. Cassidy said. Bertie waited for another profound pronouncement. Instead, Mr. Cassidy only shifted his jaw thoughtfully and said, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Bertie the Kid smiled and nodded. Then he left.

When the creekboy emerged onto the patio of the Burnt Creek Café, he found a familiar feeling. The setting differed vastly from the Back Nine Rush at the beginning of the summer. The overcast day smothered light from the sky and occasional fits of wind slid across the course. Yet Bertie recognized within himself the upswelling thrill of things to come connecting the two experiences together.

“Flying Tires,” a voice called out behind him.

“Rough Rider,” Bertie the Kid exclaimed before he even turned around. When he pivoted towards the voice, he saw the Anderson boy standing with his bike next to Silver. Judging from the flat tire still on Rough Rider’s bike, he had walked it down from Hole 18 to the patio.

“You look like a creekboy still, Flying Tires.”

Bertie the Kid could not contain a brief laugh. “I’m still a creekboy. Thanks to the help of the Andersons.”

Rough Rider smiled. He put down the kickstand on his bike and walked over to Bertie. “You can always count on the Andersons, Flying Tire. You are our brother.” He placed his hand firmly on Bertie the Kid’s shoulder.

The two shared a quiet moment. Though Bertie was bursting to talk to Rough Rider, he respected the silence between them. Finally, Rough Rider removed his hand and stepped back. “What is that letter you are carrying?”

Bertie the Kid looked down to the envelope in his hand. “Oh, this? It’s some money I was going to take to Kid Carson.”

Rough Rider’s eyebrows rose. “The traitor?”

Bertie shrugged. “He needs to pay someone back. I thought I’d help out.”

The Anderson boy went quiet until he found the right words to voice his admiration. “I have taught you to read the story of the land, Flying Tires. But you have taught me to read the story of life.”

Rough Rider allowed the compliment to sink in before he spoke again, “Well, we’ll have to fix switch our front wheels back and fix your flat tire before we go to Kid Carson’s house. Come with me, Flying Tires. We’ll go to Anderson territory to fix it and then head out together in search of Kid Carson.”

Bertie the Kid nodded and they returned to their bikes. Bertie picked up the softly glowing Silver off the ground and Rough Rider corralled his own bike. The two then walked their steeds down the slope towards the Hole 10 tee. “Anderson territory,” Bertie said comfortably. “That reminds me of something I wanted to tell you.”

Rain began to patter onto the lush and growing green grass under their bike tires. The running water in the Burnt Creek sang as the two boys strolled past it. Amidst these sounds on the Burnt Creek Golf Course, the brothers spoke.

©2013 Marty Reeder