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Most members will tell you that the sixth hole on the west course at Holcomb Woods County Club outside Boston is tougher than it looks. The green is only 387 yards from the members' tees, but the hole runs straight uphill into the prevailing wind to a severely elevated plateau made all the more treacherous by a downright sadistic design that slopes the green sharply from back to front. Two bunkers bracket the entrance. You cannot hold back on your tee shot. No matter how well you hit your drive it's a rare second shot that doesn't call for a long iron, sometimes even a fairway wood to get you up that hill, over the traps, and safely home.
If you hit the front of the green your ball may roll whence it came, down and off the putting surface. Overshoot the green and you'll probably wind up out-of-bounds, on the wrong side of a low fence that marks the western edge of the club's property. Your ball will lose itself in the dense, fifteen-foot deep thicket of old oaks that separate the fence from a narrow outside road curving gently away from the course at just that point.
Christopher Hopman, Chairman of the Board of Alliance Inc., inhaled the sharp, early morning fragrance, bent from the waist, and pushed his wooden tee into soft grass still wet with miniature worlds of dew. On its tiny platform he placed a brand new Titlest ProVI high compression ball. He'd been playing golf forty years and still felt the adrenaline whenever he opened a sleeve of new golf balls to put one in play. The son of a New England Catholic banker, Hopman proudly typified the upper reaches of American management. After a parochial school and undergraduate education he went to Wharton for his MBA and continued on at the Law School of the University of Pennsylvania. He was nearly twenty-eight before taking his first real job. His business career was blessed by swift, untroubled advances.
Four years before, he'd replaced the CEO who brought him into the company a few years earlier. He promptly turned a medium-sized, cash-rich manufacturing outfit into a voracious, often hostile buyer of companies. He hunted in many fields, from textiles to auto parts, hard-money lending to publishing, processed foods to minor professional sports, even timber and windmills. And he succeeded dramatically most of the time. A childless widower, Christopher Hopman worked long hours day after day, for months on end. When he did relax it was with a new friend in a Ritz Carlton suite, or an old friend on the golf course.
He once stood six-four and played college hoops with his shoulders and elbows. At fifty-seven, he prided himself on being able to see his dick without bending forward. Hopman had his clothes custom made and did not check the prices. Today he wore dark gray slacks with a red pullover. His four-hundred-dollar golf shoes matched the sweater. He looked and felt impressive.
Hovering over his golf ball he dug both feet into the ground, swaying from his hips, moving his lower body side to side for maximum traction. His fingers gripped the Calloway Big Bertha driver. Its oversized titanium head barely touched the close-cut grass behind the ball. He breathed deeply through his nose to clear his mind of all thoughts. He glanced toward the distant green. His teeth touched as he centered his energy on the swing. "Smooooth," he whispered to himself. His hands and arms took the club back in an easy motion. His shoulders turned to shift weight to his right side. He kept his left arm as straight as possible, locking the club at its zenith, pointing straight ahead nearly perpendicular to the ground.
At that instant his body jerked backward and both feet left the ground. He had, in fact, been cut almost in half at the waist. Bloody pieces splattered his playing partners, who were behind him and off to the side. Two froze. One sprinted. Later, none could recall seeing anything or hearing anything unusual. Perhaps, one told the police, there might have been a popping sound, like the noise of a beer can being squashed far away.
Christopher Hopman didn't hear that sound or feel the bullet that entered the left side of his body to explode his upper chest and most of his back. He died instantly, torso flung backward and sideways, as if a very large, strong person had smacked him with two hands at once, on both shoulders. His lower body seemed to have died a death of its own, the pelvis and legs impossibly twisted, one foot turned into the ground, the other toward the fairway. Hopman's ball still rested on its tee, now impertinently bright in a darkening scarlet sea. Moments later, the silky whisper of a car engine could have been heard from beyond the fence and the oak trees, in the distance, beyond the green.