The Fourth Link on the Back Nine

"The Fourth Link on the Back Nine" is a story of three men who play a round of golf, two of them planning to murder the third man while out on the links.

After Devlin belives that Jerry slept with his wife, Michaels sets his plan in motion to murder Jerry for the insurance money. But he doesn't count on what can happen during a game of golf...

Player beware!


First page

Here is the opening page of the story, coming soon in Buy Books as part of Trio 3, The Man in the Gray Tie and Other Crimes.

Have you ever tried to trick someone and find you're the one being played?

 

The Man in the Gray Tie


"The Fourth Link on the Back Nine"
 
“To find a man's true character, play golf with him.”

P. G. Wodehouse

T hey were separated from the world, but there was always the chance of being seen. It was the night of the supermoon, the blood moon eclipse, but not yet. Later, the moon would swell in its closest orbit to the earth, discolor and start to glow a soft copper sheen, its cratered face blushing, then be slowly eaten by the sun, a crocodile swallowing the moon as the Africans say. But not yet, not for several hours.

In the meantime, Devlin and Michaels met at their local golf haunt—the Majestik of Baton Rouge—for their regular Wednesday routine, waiting for Jerry. It was four fifteen, both having slipped out of work early, Devlin and Jerry from the local high school where Devlin was an art teacher and Michaels the music department chair. Jerry always had to head home first to check on his twin boys, Sherlock and Moriarty, giving them about fifteen minutes lag time.

“They don’t take dogs, dear,” she called, still ten paces away. He wound his window down (wishing he was winding it up). “They will not take dogs inside.”

Without speaking a word, Sidney popped the catch on the boot and the hatchback rear end of his Austin Rover levitated. The dog—a beefy-looking overfed grumpy Pekinese—leapt inside and curled up on its rug, happier to be escaping the cold. The mutt popped his head over the back seat and let his presence be known.

“Shut it please,” Sidney said through a crack in his driver’s window. “The boot, I mean, dear.”

Cherie Holton (née DeBoer) narrowed her eyes and did as she was bid. She wrapped her neck scarf tighter, partly for emotional comfort, partly feigned self-strangulation. “Don’t wait up,” she added, without looking at Sidney. “I’ll be an hour maybe. They’re probably closed, but it’s worth a shot.”

For an answer, Sidney popped his spectacles on his forehead and filled in a number ‘6’ in the Sudoku, smiling as he completed the line. Only when sure Cherie was out of earshot did he mumble to Rutger-Boy, her beloved Pekinese: “Where would I be without that woman?” Faithful to Cherie, the dog ignored him.

Sidney fake smiled, then couldn’t resist watching Cherie wobble across the car park and enter the double doors. All week she’d wanted to visit this miniature chocolate factory and bring Rutger-Boy, naturally, only to find the dumb mutt beast was barred. “Too bad, too bad,” he tut-tutted, but really didn’t think so. The jaunt out had afforded him the opportunity of another auction visit in the countryside, a short drive from Saffron Walden. Here no doubt were a few gullible Essex punters.

For a former chiropractor, Sidney ‘Normal Norman’ (as the secretaries called him at work) had developed a particular love of his retirement hobby. Sixty was too early to retire, Cherie had always said (not that she did anything with her life), but the wife couldn’t have been more wrong. A new passion had overtaken Sidney, a strange one for his careful non-addictive personality, and it was like his first days on his medical residency when he’d been released on the wards. Do no harm was the first rule of doctoring. But in those first days with real patients, the thrill of making mistakes was gone: you had to be professional.

Now he just wanted to walk the line between winning and losing in a safe environment. Who said gambling was a young man’s game? Weren’t auctions just casinos for retirees? Surely no one was in a better position than he was—retired, studious, goal-oriented—to mix a cocktail of chance without any mortal risk. Danger had preoccupied him his whole working life. He had been a social person, surely, devoting his life to ‘the greater good.’ Here was the time to tiptoe on the wilder side. Wasn’t that where everyone was having fun?

What was it the Americans said? Damn right. Time to look after number one.

The drizzle had stopped: he was ready for the next adventure. For a couple of months now, Sidney had enjoyed his pleasurable weekend drives, solo. His new ‘auctioneering’ pastime was a private indulgence, maybe a story for old friends at New Year’s in the comfort of his house, not for run-of-the-mill sharing down the pub. This was a one-man-operation. Oh plus the wife, yes, and damn it, the dog.

Ruminating, Sidney slid his pen over the top pocket of his suit and pursed his lips with satisfaction: even Friday’s Sudoku in The Telegraph was no match for his patience. He stepped out of his Rover and grimaced, remembering Rutger-Boy couldn’t be stranded in the car alone. As he opened the boot, the beast bounded out with surprising energy, tongue crazy-flapping.

The auction house building loomed into view, sedate, warm-looking. Easy-pickings.

“No dogs allowed, sir,” the heavy-set Chinese man on the door said. “You can tie him up in the lobby.”

“I’m a regular.” 

“Same rules apply.”       

Mumbling under his breath—“Who do they think they are, Sotheby’s?”—Sidney showed his membership card and stepped over the threshold. Rutger-Boy was separated from him, looking plaintive, by a young woman in a blue pinafore.

“He’ll be here when you’re done. Just come to that window.”

Nodding, Sidney focused a beeline on the conference room. The auction was already in half swing; he could feel his limbs loosening in stride. A program was tucked under his elbow, the person who’d thrust it on him ignored since right now was Sidney’s ‘alone time.’ All was forgotten: Cherie, the dog, Sudoku, his treatment at the door, his muddy beat-up Austin Rover and the wet weather. Everyone deserves a thrill, ideally at the expense of one’s better judgment.

“The back row is mine,” Sidney told himself and covered his mouth with his hand, remembering Plan A to always Keep Calm and Keep Betting. So far he hadn’t needed to consult Plan B, nor was there one.

The bidding was already in progress, the current item an old coffee flask. It was too late to judge the room’s personalities, or the likelihood of a sudden flurry of bids, so like an old pro (pretending to learn a new game), Sidney sat tight. The auctioneer was a stout man with a squiggle of streaky white hair; he peered lasciviously over the podium, craning his neck at the elderly ladies in the first row. “No more bids, thank you, going…no…you sir, with the black cap…in for a penny, up to sixteen…I’m at sixteen thou.”

A lady in the corner of the auction room sprang up and shook her umbrella. “Seventeen…and a quarter.”

“Eighteen,” from a booming man’s call, the source unknown.

A weird silence prevailed. The auctioneer stuttered, trawled the room for nineteen just as Sidney glanced down at his program. He was fifteen minutes late—damn that business with Rutger-Boy not getting into the chocolate factory—but he hadn’t missed a big deal. A timeless Chinese vase, as ever; a scrap of lace worn by Egyptian tomb-digging slaves executed for their efforts (certain to entice higher bids); a pressed Victorian flower album. Junk, junk, junk.

Michaels was the odd one out, and their unofficial leader, as a regionally respected concert pianist, who never quite hit the big time despite living in New York City for seventeen years: he still carried the chip of having not made it there, and now possibly not making it anywhere. Money was Michaels’ raison d’être and he still didn’t have enough to push the equity half of his Baton Rouge duplex into outweighing the mortgage half. As for Devlin, give him a packet of fresh 2B pencils and a Swiss Army knife, and he was happy carving little matchstick men, and then making hazy line drawings of them going into battle recreating the Battle of Yorktown amongst other Revolutionary War favorites. If Michaels was a musical nerd, Devlin was an arts and crafts nut. And yet the hierarchy was never in question: Michaels was in charge.

It was late September and the clubhouse stoop already had pumpkins out. “Ridiculous,” Michaels murmured, again. They sat in a golf buggy waiting for Jerry, but this time the conversation was a little different. Mostly it revolved around beer, local gossip, the women Jerry was chasing.

“Who’s he nagging right now?”

“Some chick called Suzy,” Devlin said. “She’s a cleaner in the Arts and Sciences building. Married to one of the ground staff.”

“Ha, Jerry don’t care.” Michaels squinted through his glasses in approval. He wore old-fashioned round spectacles with a tint of green with the faintest upturned corners that would have made them horn-rimmed and fashionable in the sixties if worn by a female librarian. But there was nothing fashionable about Michaels: he carried himself upright, never slinking but uncoordinated like a jerky marionette, the strings invisible, and of course, nothing pulling them but his own nefarious instincts.

“Now you did plant the shovels?”

“Of course, Mr. Michaels.” They had known each other thirteen years, ever since Michaels had rescued Devlin from a downtown bar fight after he’d nudged someone’s beer. Michaels had stepped in, shook the bullies’ hands and introduced himself as Mr. Michaels. That’s all he needed to say, and Devlin had called him Mr. ever since.

 

To Be Continued


Read on

To learn more about (the three stories in) Trio 3, see Driving the Bully Home and Other Dreams.

For the opening page to Story 7 see "Driving the Bully Home."

For the opening page to Story 8, see "Obituary Girls."


Video

For the video to "The Fourth Link on the Back," see Video 9.


Buy

To buy Trio 3, Driving the Bully Home and Other Dreams, see Buy Books.