Read an Excerpt
By William Campbell Gault
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1956 William Campbell Gault
All rights reserved.
No, you can't say any of us saw it coming. Not even me, who did some of the hating, nor the killer, who in his way knew love. And certainly not Judy, any more than the other girl, the one named Olive; neither of them foresaw murder, though maybe they should have. For both were pretty enough, seductive enough, bold enough in body as well as mind, to understand the violence of lust.
The trouble was that they, being women, could conceive of only one variety of lust. They could not comprehend, for instance, the lust of golfers—no, nor the possessive, protective lust of fatherhood.
Which brings me to my own Dad.
I guess it's fair to say he really had only three good years. Those were his three varsity years at SC. He was All-Conference for those three years and All-American his last year. Maybe it's unfair to say that Dad never got over being a halfback. And maybe there's nothing wrong with that, only it wasn't for me. I knew that when I started high school.
I'm not putting the rap on Dad, understand. He fed me and clothed me and never played the heavy father. Mom was handy with a needle and she had an eye for style, so she kept us going through those periods when Dad was "between jobs." He was between a lot of them.
I grew up in a community that begins where Sunset ends, a place the Post Office Department calls Pacific Palisades but which actually is just another piece of Los Angeles. In my early years, it was a lower middle-class haven overlooking the sea. And then Beverly Hills filled up and Brentwood and Bel Air and the money people came out to the Palisades—the studio people and the native-son rich people—and it got to be quite a mixed-up little town.
Dad wanted me to go out for football in high school, but I didn't. I caddied after school and through the summers and earned some money. And saved it. I hoped to save enough to send me to college.
I learned to hit a golf ball.
Don't ask me what's important about hitting a golf ball well; I can only say it became important to me. It wasn't the competitive nor the social angle that appealed to me; I preferred to play alone.
When I was thirteen, I won the Southern California Junior Championship.
And Willie Partridge, the pro at the Canyon Country Club, told me he thought I had a future in golf.
Well, I thought, my dad had probably been told he had a future in football, too. I didn't give it too much thought, at the time. Even at thirteen, I'd talked to enough pros to know that tournament golf was a highly speculative profession and being a club pro wasn't anything that would make a man rich.
If you think it's cynical for a thirteen-year-old to worry about money, you're right. Or you're rich.
At the tender age of sixteen, during my senior year in high school, I carved out a 66 on the Canyon layout, playing the championship tees.
That's only six under par but, with the back tees, the Canyon course is a test and the papers played it pretty big.
Dad bought all the papers.
And after dinner, while Mom was doing the dishes, Dad said, "Have you seriously thought of golf as a career, Denny?"
"Not seriously," I said.
"Why not?" he asked—too quietly, almost humbly. "Golf isn't football," he went on. "Hogan, Snead, Mangrum, they're all crowding forty. And still playing."
"They're great," I pointed out. "They're—giants."
He nodded. "I think you are, too."
I'd never felt closer to him. There had been admiration in his voice, and regret. The admiration was for me and the regret for him. That was as far as he'd ever been from the All-American halfback.
I took a deep breath and looked at the worn living-room carpeting. My eyes were misty, for some reason. I looked up at him and shrugged.
"I could have gone pro," he said. "I was the number-one pick of the Green Bay Packers. Don't blame football for what's happened to me, Denny."
Now, I was embarrassed. He had never talked like that before. I couldn't think of a damned thing to say.
He seemed a little embarrassed, himself. But his voice was even. "If you decide to make it your career, take a tip from one who didn't—play it cold and smart, boy. There's money in sports. But not for sentimentalists."
I'd followed a couple L.A. Opens at Canyon and I thought I knew what he meant. I said, "I noticed that. All the boys who are at the top seem to be—oh, cool and under control."
He shook his head. "That isn't what I meant. I didn't mean cool, I meant cold. Maybe you're too young to know what that means, yet."
I wasn't too young to remember it. Looking back on it from here, I like to think of it as a seed he planted. But that probably isn't honest. Maybe I'm just naturally a cold potato.
I stopped caddying when I enrolled at SC. Golfers don't get the ride football players do, but I got a few breaks. And Willie Partridge told me to consider the Canyon Country Club my club; I could play it any time I wanted to.
It was a pretty good time in my life. I captained the golf team my sophomore year and was the scratch man all the way. I played with the members at Canyon who liked to bet seriously and made out very well at it.
The day Jack Fleck beat Ben Hogan for the Open Championship, I graduated from SC. I was sorry to see Ben lose; he is my idea of the perfect approach to golf. And I was a little sorry to leave college; it had been a comfortable life.
Dad gave me a watch, a beautiful, expensive watch I knew he couldn't afford. And he asked me, "Now, what?"
"I don't know," I told him. "Willie Partridge could use me over in the pro shop at Canyon."
Dad nodded. "Sure, he could. For peanuts."
"A lot of wealthy people are members there," I said.
His smile was dim. "And you think it might rub off on you? It didn't on me."
"I wasn't thinking of it that way," I protested. "It's only that—well, I don't mind starting at the bottom, so long as it isn't too far down." I took a breath. "And there is somebody at the top keeping an eye on me."
He shook his head, saying nothing.
"What's wrong with that?" I demanded.
"Only one thing—it never works. Not unless you marry the boss's daughter. Denny, a man should do what he does the best and likes the most."
"That makes it golf," I said "and brings us back to the pro shop."
"Does it? Being servile and menial, careful not to offend the offensive members and not to get too familiar with the friendly ones? That's your idea of a living? And after Willie dies, you take his crummy job? Denny, boy, you're brighter than that."
I didn't say anything.
His voice was quieter. "And another thing—a college kid gambling with the members is one thing. But an employee taking money away from them on the course is another." His smile was bleak. "That would cut your income considerably, wouldn't it?"
Again, I said nothing.
He didn't look at me. "If you think I'm playing it heavy, remember that I rarely have with you. But this is important; don't want you to make the mistakes I made."
There wasn't any self-pity in his voice I could notice. I said, "You can't be sure you made any serious mistakes. Football is a hazardous business, too."
"But I was very, very good at it." Again, the bleak smile. "I've still got the clippings to prove it."
There was silence for a few seconds. And then I said, "I'll certainly think about what you've told me, Dad."
Dad had always been a salesman. He'd sold weather-stripping and cars and patio furniture and real estate and shrubbery and was now selling insurance. He'd been doing that for three years, a record for him. But he hadn't sold me on the tournament trail. I went to work in the pro shop for Willie Partridge.
And I learned that Dad was right. I was no longer Denny Burke, collegiate hot-shot. I was just Denny, the punk in the pro shop at the Canyon Country Club.
I lived with it. I took orders and smiled and gave the right answers and played with the right members—when invited to I made an extra dollar here and there.
And then, one cool and cloudy August day, Judy Faulkner walked into the pro shop.
The Faulkners were our wealthiest members and I had been their favorite caddy. But I hadn't seen Judy for a long, long time.
She looked wonderful. Her hair was dark and short and her figure was slim but not flat. She was tanned a beautiful mahogany brown.
"Dennis Burke!" she said, showing all her lovely white teeth.
"Miss Faulkner, how are you?" I said. "It's certainly been a long time."
"Don't Miss Faulkner me, Dennis Burke," she said. "I'll still want three strokes a side."
"Hello, Judy," I said. "Where have you been?"
"In Switzerland, going to school. Where have you been?"
"In California, going to school. You look—wonderful."
"So do you. You didn't get as big as I thought you would, though."
I am five-ten, and I weigh a hundred and sixty-five. I said, "I'm still big enough to give you three strokes a side."
"Right now," she said. "A ten-dollar Nassau. All you can lose is thirty dollars."
I looked over to where Willie was working on the handicap book. He smiled. "All right. I'll be here all afternoon."
I didn't lose thirty dollars. I won forty. She demanded a press on the back nine and I won that, too.
"Keep it," I told her. "Buy yourself a new three wood. There must be something wrong with that one you have."
"Don't patronize me, Dennis Burke," she said. "You're not that good."
"I'll give you five a side, next time," I told her. "Haven't they any golf courses in Switzerland?"
"Willie will straighten me out," she said. "I'll be playing you even by fall."
We went up the hill to the clubhouse, not talking, and I was aware of her, deeply and hot-bloodedly aware of her, and I hated myself for being poor.
At the clubhouse, she insisted on writing a check for what she'd lost and I bought her a drink and we talked about the old days and the year I won the Juniors'.
And then, as I was heading back to the pro shop, she said, "You're coming to the dance tonight, aren't you?"
I turned around. "I hadn't planned on it."
"I'll be there," she said. "I'll bet you can't dance as well as you play golf."
I didn't mention that employees weren't encouraged to come to the dances. I smiled at her and went back to work.
Of course, I was something a little more than the average employee; I'd had full membership privileges here when I was in college and they had never been withdrawn.
I went home at six-thirty. Mom was in the living room, pinning up a dress on Mrs. Sigmund. She said, around a mouth full of pins, "Your dinner's in the oven, Denny. I'll be through here in a minute."
In the kitchen, I had a glass of milk first. I stood there, drinking it slowly, and thinking about the afternoon. And about Dad, and his advice. And about Mom, with her mouth full of pins, fitting a dress to fat Mrs. Sigmund. Mom was so proud that the wealthy people liked her dressmaking. By wealthy people, she meant the ones with more than one bathroom.
Dennis Burke, college graduate, son of Michael (Scooter) Burke, college graduate, and Enid Ellis Burke, dressmaker to the upper middle class. Where did I go from here?
I heard the front door close and then a moment later Mom came into the kitchen.
"What's the matter, Denny?" she asked softly.
I glanced at her. "Nothing. Why?"
"You looked so—so bleak. Bad day?"
"No," I said. "No, it was a sort of nice day. I played golf with Judy Faulkner."
Silence, while she studied me. Then, "She's back from Switzerland, is she?"
I smiled. "No. I played her over there."
She came over to pat my face gently. "Fried chicken in the oven. You're a handsome man, Dennis Burke. And a fine, thoughtful son."
"Sure I am. Where's Dad?"
"He had a date with a prospect at seven, way over in Glendale. You know, I think he's really going to make something of this insurance. He's never worked harder." She bent over to open the oven door.
"You sure love him, don't you?" I asked her.
"Always," she said. "He's a warm-hearted, sensitive man." She brought out a huge, covered frying pan. "You love him, too, don't you, Denny?"
"We—I—we were never real close."
"He's a fine man," she said. "Come on, everything's hot."
She sat with me and had a cup of coffee while I ate. She didn't talk and I didn't talk. I ate my chicken and creamed cauliflower and baked potato while she sipped her coffee and stared through the window at the back yard.
When I got up to pour my coffee, she said, "Maybe it isn't the best thing in the world to work around wealthy people all the time, Denny."
"I don't," I said. "Canyon isn't a very exclusive club."
"The Faulkners are wealthy," she said. "They're millionaires, aren't they?"
"I guess. Just about. There aren't too many at Canyon like the Faulkners. What made you think of them?"
I said, "Maybe I won't be staying around the Club much longer."
She looked up with interest. "I didn't even know you'd been looking for another job."
"I haven't. I was thinking of going out on the tournament trail."
"Oh?" She looked puzzled. "You mean—traveling around and appearing in these—contests?"
I laughed. "That's about it."
She frowned. "Who pays you? Is there money in that?"
"Prize money," I said. "Whatever a man can earn in prizes."
She was still frowning. "But what if you don't win?"
"Then I come home again," I said. "I've got about nine hundred put away. That'll carry me for a while if I live cheaply."
She sighed and looked out the window again. "Isn't that a rather—precarious way to make a living?"
"It's worse than that," I said. "It's almost impossible."
She turned to look at me. "Then—why?"
"Because," I said carefully, "there is a jackpot, if you can hit it. How many jobs have jackpots?"
"It's like gambling?" she asked quietly.
I nodded. "That's it." I took a breath. "Gambling helped to put me through college, Mom."
"You mean that little betting you used to do on the golf, course?"
"It wasn't always so little, Mom. I'm pretty good under pressure. That's one of the reasons I want to try tournament golf."
Her smile was sad. "You're a big boy now. If that's your decision, I won't argue with it."
I went to the stove to get another cup of coffee.
When I sat down again, she said, "It certainly can't hurt you to travel and see the country. And as long as you're single, money isn't too important, is it?"
"Not right away," I said. "Not the first week."
Her voice was low. "You've worked hard for a long, long me. You could use a trip, Denny. I'm beginning to think it's a splendid idea."
I took a shower and read the sports page and drank a can of beer and it was only eight o'clock. There was a big, empty evening staring at me. I put on my new gray flannel suit and went over to the club.
All the gin rummy players had been forced into the locker room; the big bar and grill had been converted to the pleasure of the dancers. At Canyon, there are three kinds of members—the golfers and the dancers and the gamblers. The dancers were in command tonight.
Which isn't to say there weren't some low handicap players on the dance floor. There were a number of them, but they'd never win any cups for their dancing.
With one exception, a gentleman named Roger (Bud) Venier. Bud was a pretty good man on the dance floor and he carried a handicap of two. He had also been a fair second-string tackle at Stanford and his family had almost as much money as the Faulkners.
Bud was dancing with Judy and the chances were he had brought her to the dance. Bud and Judy had been a twosome for years.
He looked a little drunk.
Judy was wearing a strapless dress of white, ribbed cotton and a patient expression. Bud swung her around in a rather showy flourish and for a moment she was looking directly at me.
She waved almost imperceptibly with the hand which was resting on his shoulder and her smile looked a little beseeching.
Well, the man seemed drunk and I knew he was belligerent and just under two hundred pounds of solid meat. But it was a night to live dangerously.
I went over to cut in.
I tapped him on the shoulder, and said, "If I may?" and he stopped dancing to look at me.
I smiled and said, "Please?"
He stared at me for another couple of seconds, and then he nodded very coolly and walked off the floor.
I took Judy in my arms and said, "Maybe this was a mistake. I mustn't forget I'm an employee here."
"You're more than that," she said, "and you know it. You're our golden boy. Your deeds add lustre to the fair name of Canyon."
"You've been drinking," I said.
"Not much. With Bud, it helps to drink a little." She smiled up at me. "He can be so dull."
Her body next to mine, her perfume in my nostrils, the band playing a number with my kind of beat. We danced, and talked no more about Bud Venier.
The number ended, and there was no Bud in sight. I asked, "Shall I go look for him?"
Excerpted from Fair Prey by William Campbell Gault. Copyright © 1956 William Campbell Gault. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.