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San Diego had been a lucky place for me. From the start, everything had gone well. Generous employers, rewarding work, perfect weather. No delays, no disasters. The course was completed bang on schedule. I had reason to be very grateful to the city. There was a cordless telephone at my elbow. When it rang, I picked it up to discover that San Diego had blessed me with even more good fortune.
"Al?" said a familiar voice. "Is that you?"
"The very same," I replied, delighted to hear from him. "And that sounds like my old sparring partner."
"Donald Dukelow—at your service!"
"In that case, I'll have another glass of wine, please." We shared a laugh. "How did you know where to find me?"
"I have my spies."
"They must be well trained," I said. "I'm only here for a few days."
"That's why I rang. I read in the golf press that you'd designed a new course down in San Diego so I figured you had to be there for the opening. Congratulations, Al!"
"Save them for my partner, Peter Fullard. He's the real course architect. I just ride shotgun with him. Peter's a genius when it comes to landscaping and he knows more about grass than anyone still on the healthy side of it. He does all the fancy stuff. I just chip in with my name and my know-how."
"Don't be so modest," he chided with his easy drawl. "What you give is hands-on experience and there's no substitute for that. We had a vacation in Bermuda earlier this year. I played one of your courses."
"The Blue Dolphin?"
"Yeah. It had Alan Saxon written all over it."
"Is that good or bad?"
I was touched. Donald Dukelow was one of the best golfers I'd ever come up against in my long and erratic career. To have his seal of approval was nothing short of an honor. My work at the Blue Dolphin Hotel was not only my first venture into the mysterious world of golf architecture, it was very nearly my last. Someone did all they could to sabotage our efforts. The dead body found hanging from a cedar was not in our original specifications, nor was the attempt on my life and all the other perils that we had to survive. Pushed to the limit, Peter Fullard, a neurotic man at best, came close to having three simultaneous heart attacks and a complete mental breakdown. Bermuda had been a continuous nightmare. San Diego was the antidote.
"Bring back memories, Al?" asked Donald.
"Being so close to La Jolla again."
A hollow laugh. "I try to suppress that particular memory."
"But you were on great form at Torrey Pines that day."
"I know," I said, ruefully. "That's what made it so maddening. The trouble was that you were on even better form. During the play-off, you did everything but get a hole in one."
"I guess that Lady Luck smiled on me."
"She only stuck out her tongue in my direction. I tell you this, Donald. From that day on, I've never been able to listen to an Andy Williams record."
"Why not?" he teased, gently. "You were—Almost There."
It was a private joke. Fifteen years after the event, it still rankled. I was so convinced that I was going to win the Andy Williams Open on that occasion that I was rehearsing my acceptance speech as I walked down the 18th fairway after the sweetest drive of the day. It was in the bag, I foolishly thought. Then I heard the explosion of delight from another part of the course and realized that I had competition. Seven strokes behind me at the start of the final round, Donald Dukelow had crept up slowly on me and his brilliant eagle was cheered to the echo. When he matched my birdie at the last hole, we tied for the lead. In a sudden death play-off, there would only be one winner. It was his domain. Donald was the Prince of the Play-offs and it gave him an enormous psychological advantage. I lost the chance to win and Andy Williams lost a hitherto faithful fan. A mention of one of his most famous recordings—"Almost There"—only served to rub salt into my wounds.
"It's not like you to gloat," I complained.
"You were unbeatable that day. End of story."
"So where are you speaking from?"
"Rochester, New York."
"Oh, no," I said, bracing myself. "I hope that you haven't rung to remind me of the time you trounced me in that play- off at Oak Hill. My one opportunity to sneak the PGA Championship and you ruined it."
"Did I?" he asked, feigning surprise. "Forgot all about it."
"I appreciate your discretion."
"To be honest, Rochester is not a place that inspires any golfing memories at the moment. It's winter here and there's six inches of snow on the ground."
"So what are you doing there? Building an igloo?"
"Staying with my mother for a few days."
"How is she?"
"Still angry with me."
"I'm coming to that, Al."
There was a long pause. He took a drink of something at the other end of the line. I had another sip of wine. Being called out of the blue by Donald Dukelow was a real treat. He was a very private man, not given to idle chatter on the telephone, preferring the company of a select few rather than the legion of fans he had built up over the years. I counted myself fortunate to be part of his inner circle. Beyond the game of golf, we had little in common yet we somehow hit it off. Notwithstanding his tendency to rob me of title after title on the American circuit, I liked and admired the man. He was a true friend. I sensed that he wanted something from me.
"You still there?" he wondered.
"No," I quipped. "I just popped out for a round of golf. Of course, I'm still here. This is the first time we've spoken in ages. I wouldn't let go of this phone if a tidal wave suddenly hit the hotel."
"Ah," he said, seizing his cue, "I'm glad you mentioned tidal waves. Do you, by any chance, surf?"
"Then you need some practice. I can arrange that."
"By inviting you to Hawaii for a week."
I goggled. "Are you joking?"
"Never more serious, Al. I want you to be there."
"I'm getting married," he announced.
"But you already are married, aren't you?"
"Not any more."
"You and Janine have split up?" I said in astonishment.
"Things didn't work out. I had to let her go."
"How on earth can you afford it? I only have one ex-wife but the financial implications of divorce were horrendous. Rosemary came out of it so much better than me. I pity you, Donald," I said with feeling. "You now have three ex- wives."
"No, Al. Just two. Heidi and Janine."
"What about the ravishing Esmeralda? You were hitched to her when I first met you—or has that skipped your mind?"
"We were never technically married," he admitted.
"You gave every indication of being so."
"That was Esmeralda's idea."
"I thought that you divorced her to marry Janine."
"We came to an amicable parting of the ways, that's all."
"I wish that I'd done that with Rosemary," I sighed. "Unfortunately, she wasn't very amicable. She preferred to have a ferocious legal battle with me. I still bear her tooth marks to this day—and her love-bites, for that matter. I treasure those. Anyway," I went on, "that was enough to put me off the whole idea of marriage. In a curious way, I still love Rosemary but I could never live as man and wife with her. Or tie the knot with any other woman. I think it takes a very brave man to walk down the aisle for the third time."
"Wait until you meet Zann."
"Short for Suzanne. That's her name," he said with undisguised affection. "Suzanne Kaheiki. She's the one, Al."
I was about to point out that he'd said exactly the same thing to me about both Esmeralda and Janine, but it didn't seem like the appropriate moment. When talking to a man who is deeply in love, never try to introduce cold reason into the conversation. It has absolutely no place there. My friend was getting married and it was my duty to feel happy for him.
"I'm sure that she is, Donald," I reassured him.
"She's looking forward to meeting you."
"Hey, hold on. I haven't agreed to come yet. I have plans. I can't just drop everything and shoot off to Hawaii."
"Yes, you can," he said, confidently. "Now that your commitments in San Diego have been fulfilled, you intended to some take time off in the sun. I'll meet you in Honolulu. Don't argue," he continued as I tried to disagree. "I took the liberty of ringing your pal, Clive Phelps. He's the one person who always knows where Alan Saxon is. Clive told me what your movements were. He's the real reason I was able to get through to you today." A note of pleading sounded. "You must be there, Al. I'm counting on it. Zann and I shifted the date of the wedding to accommodate you."
"Why? Am I the best man or something?"
"More of a key witness."
"In other words, you won't be getting married in a church."
"So where will the venue be?"
"In the sight of God."
Given the range of the Almighty's vision, it opened up all sorts of possibilities. I knew that he'd married his first wife on a golf course in South Carolina during an ill-timed thunderstorm and Janine, I recalled, had become Mrs. Donald Dukelow while cruising around the Alaskan fjords. What strange location did he have in mind for his third wedding? An extinct volcano? An abandoned lighthouse? The belly of a whale?
"I know," I said, triumphantly. "You're going to Waikiki Beach to get married on a surfboard built for two."
He chuckled. "That's not a bad idea."
"But you had a better one."
"More romantic, anyway. I'll let Zann tell you all about it."
"Don't rush me. I need time to consider your invitation."
"What is there to consider?"
"Whether or not I can make it."
"You have to make it, Al," he said with quiet authority. "The only thing you need to consider is how to get to the airport tomorrow. Your flight leaves at 11 a.m. There'll be a first class ticket waiting for you at the United desk. Our plane reaches Honolulu about half an hour earlier so we'll be there to give you a real Hawaiian welcome."
"Our plane. Are you traveling with Zann?"
"No. She's at home on the island. I'll be bringing Mom and Heidi."
I gulped. "Your first wife is coming to your wedding?"
"Sure. It was the only way to get my mother there."
"I take it that she doesn't approve of your new bride."
"Mom can be ornery," he confessed. "Real ornery. She didn't approve of Esmeralda either and she sure as hell had no time for Janine. If it were left to Mom, I'd still be married to Heidi. In fact, in her eyes—my mother's, that is—I still am. She's got this crazy idea that, when I run out of alternatives, I'll get back together with Heidi."
"How does your first wife feel about all this?"
"Oh, she takes it in her stride."
"Won't she mind seeing you get married to someone else?"
"Not at all. Heidi will be the first to congratulate us."
"I don't think my ex-wife would do that," I said. "Rosemary would be more likely to ruin the whole event out of jealousy. She'd be the Specter at the Feast. In the most exquisitely polite way, of course."
Everything that Rosemary did was exquisitely polite. That's what made her so impossible as a wife. She'd always polish the knife to a high sheen before she slipped it between my ribs. Yet we'd been so happy at first, and I still had fond memories of that time. Heidi was clearly cut from very different cloth. Compared to my ex-wife, she sounded like a saint. But even saints have sexual urges.
"Did Heidi never get married again?" I asked.
"No, she preferred to stay single."
"What about significant others?"
"They come and go," he said, casually. "Heidi just makes sure that none of them are in sight when she's around my mother. Mom would take a dim view of that. She prefers to think that Heidi's carrying a torch for me." He chortled to himself. "Heidi would sooner carry my golf bag. That's how we met, as it happens. She caddied for me."
"A wife as caddie. Sounds like an ideal arrangement."
"It was for a while," he said, wistfully. "But that's all water under the bridge now. Anyway, it's one more reason why I want you there, Al—to keep an eye on Heidi for me. She's no mean golfer and you used to be one of her idols."
"Used to be?" I echoed. "I'm not a museum piece yet, Donald."
"I know. Neither am I."
"We're both still well short of the Seniors Tour."
"We always will be." He suddenly became tentative. "So what do you say? Will you be on that flight tomorrow?"
"Do I have any choice?"
"Nobody's holding a gun to your head."
"Then why do I feel cold steel against my temple? I just wish you'd given me a little more time to take it all in."
"Yeah, I'm sorry that it's such short notice. Truth is we only decided to get married a fortnight ago. Been something of a whirlwind relationship. Then I discovered that you were in San Diego. That has to be more than a coincidence, Al. I call it Destiny."
"Who else is coming from the golfing fraternity?"
"Nobody. This is the original quiet wedding."
"That rules out Clive Phelps then. Nothing is quiet if he's involved. Be warned though," I added. "Clive's got a journalist's intuition. He knows that you wouldn't try to track me down on a whim. He'll pester the daylights out of me until he gets a blow-by-blow account of the Secret Marriage of Donald Dukelow."
"Fine by me. When it's all over, the whole world can know."
"It's a very private affair. Keep it to yourself."
"That's it, then? You'll come?"
"On one condition."
"Just tell me what it is."
"If you so much as mention Andy Williams, I'm on the next plane out of there. Agreed?"
"It's a deal," he promised. "I'll make sure that his songs are banned from the airwaves during your stay on the island. The only entertainer whose name will pass my lips is Bob Hope. Say," he went on, artlessly, "don't I remember you once winning the Bob Hope Classic by a margin of five clear strokes?"
"See you in Honolulu," I said, luxuriating in a cherished memory of a tournament in which I actually beat him. "You've talked me into it."
For any golfer with red blood in his veins, going to Hawaii is akin to a true believer making a pilgrimage to Mecca. The islands are replete with the most wonderful courses imaginable. They're almost too beautiful to play on, full of stunning vistas and sensual contours and greens that have been manicured to perfection. If I had been returning to the Waialae Country Club in Honolulu to play in the Sony Open, then I'd be tingling with excitement. Instead, I was assailed by doubts and troubled by guilt. On the strength of a single phone call, I'd cancelled my arrangements without a second thought. Peter Fullard and I had worked together for over a year on designing the new course. Now that our brainchild had been successfully launched, he was entitled to celebrate with me. Peter had a right to my time. So did the friends in San Francisco whom I'd warned of my arrival. They deserved better than a short e-mail message to say that I'd had to unscramble my plans at the last moment.
Excerpted from Honolulu Play-off by Keith Miles Copyright © 2003 by Keith Miles. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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