“What did you say?” the older guy asked Kazmir.
“I said I promise,” Kazmir said, rubbing his jaw.
“You promised already,” the older man said. “We went into business with you on the basis of that promise. And what happened? You broke your promise.”
“I got greedy, okay? I mean, it’s not like I hurt anybody, I just—”
“You did get greedy. And now they’re on to you. And if they find out what’s going on—”
“They won’t. I promise.”
The older man shook his head. “And here we are at promises again.”
Kazmir ran a hand through his hair. He looked a mess. Matt had never seen him look a mess before.
“Why can’t you just go away?” Kazmir said. “Go away and leave me alone.” He looked like he was about to cry.
The older man’s face tightened into anger as he took a step closer to Kazmir, who flinched and backed up. “That’s how I’m starting to feel about you. I’m wishing you would just go away.”
Some kind of deal gone bad, Matt realized. Something between Kazmir and the older guy. It was none of his business. He ought to just walk away. Kazmir was a jerk and probably whatever had gone wrong was his fault. Still…
Matt’s heart went out to the guy. He wondered if he could help him.
The older man said something under his breath, and Matt took a step forward, straining to hear.
He stepped on a branch. It cracked like a gunshot.
The older man’s head whipped around. So did Kazmir’s. And the bodybuilder’s.
“Who’s there?” the old man said, more an order than a question.
Matt froze where he stood.
The bodybuilder took a step toward him. He was even scarier looking from the front. He had no eyebrows. A big head. A round, squashed-in face. He looked like one of those wrestlers on TV. Craggy, exaggerated features. Matt knew what gave people that look: steroids.
They gave you muscles, too.
They also made you a little bit crazy.
All thoughts of doing something to help Kazmir flew out of Matt’s head. All he wanted was to get far, far away.
“Mr. Rawson,” the older man said, and the big guy took another step forward. A very quick step, heading toward Matt. The guy wasn’t just big, he was fast. Matt knew he would never be able to outrun him.
There was only one thing to do.
He took a deep breath and stepped forward, out of the woods.
The bodybuilder, halfway up the hill from the green, stopped and stared. So did the older guy on the green.
Matt smiled. “Hey, Bob,” he said, looking right at Kazmir. He pulled the flask from his back pocket and took a sip. “What’s up?”
“Thurman.” Kazmir shook his head. “What the hell are you doing here?”
Matt held up the driver. “Got my ball in the trees here, so I was—”
The older guy said, “And you are?”
“Matt Thurman, a caddy,” Kazmir said, in a tone that suggested caddies were the rough equivalent of pond scum. “Get out of here, Thurman. This is none of your business.”
“Okay,” he said. He screwed the cap back on the flask, put it back in his pocket, and turned to leave.
“One moment please,” the older man said. “Mr. Thurman, could you come here a moment?”
No, Matt wanted to say, but then he looked at the bodybuilder— Mr. Rawson—who stood poised about ten feet away, ready to strike.
Matt walked down the hill onto the green. Rawson followed.
The older man looked him up and down. “So you’re a caddy at The Pines?” he asked.
“And I take it you know my friend Bob Kazmir.”
“I do.” He and Kazmir peered at each other.
The older man smiled. “Would I be correct in assuming you don’t like each other very much? I sense there’s a history between you two.”
Matt was going to deny it, then said, “Yeah. Some.”
“A stroke of luck.” The man offered a smile that was more like a slash across his face. “Of course, I don’t really believe in luck, as it were. What people call luck is nothing more than preparation meeting opportunity. That’s how I got to where I am today. By learning to recognize opportunity. By preparing to take full advantage of it. It’s the same in golf. You practice, practice, practice, so that when the moment comes…”
The old man looked toward Matt expectantly.
“Right,” Matt said, after a few seconds of uncomfortable silence.
“Practice, practice, practice.”
“I play a bit myself, so I know how important time on the course is. Time at the tee.” The older man held out his hand. “Can I borrow your club for a moment?”
“Yes. Your driver. May I?”
Rawson, right behind Matt, took a step closer.
Matt held out the driver.
The older man took it.
Which was when Matt noticed that he was wearing gloves—a golf glove on each hand. Nobody wears two golf gloves.
“Thank you.” The man gripped the club handle, squeezing it. Took a step back from Matt, positioned himself, and took a practice swing.
“You see,” he said, “I haven’t had time to get on a course these last few weeks, and my swing has suffered. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Matt shrugged. It wasn’t so much the guy’s swing as his stance. His hips were too far apart, his arms not extended enough, his wrists…
The older man smiled. Though dusk had settled onto the course, Matt could see a hard glint in the man’s eyes that contradicted the smile. “Perhaps I need to hit first. Before you give me the benefit of your opinion.” He pulled a ball from his pocket, plopped it on the ground, and positioned the club. “Am I forgetting anything?”
Matt couldn’t muster a reply.
“Something you’re supposed to say before you swing?” The older guy looked to the bodybuilder.
“Fore,” the big man said.
The older man turned around and stared at Kazmir.
“Fore,” he said, and swung.
Not like Jack Nicklaus.
Like Barry Bonds.
He swung right at Kazmir. Hit him square in the side of the head.
Kazmir dropped to the ground without a sound.