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Oona Blackwell watched her ball soar off the third tee. About a hundred yards out, it began to describe a slow, lazy, irredeemable, and sickening arc. Out, out it went, rising over the tractor parked at the side of the fairway and above the trees to the right, carrying easily over the highest branches.
"Shit!" Oona repeated. Missing the trees was not a good thing. If it hit a tree, it might bounce back on land and be findable, even playable. But beyond the trees was Hooker's Creek. Water could cost you two strokes.
"That one's gone," Hermione Ingels told her, with ill-concealed glee. "Better hit a provisional."
But Oona already had a second ball on the tee and was taking a vicious cut at it.
This one went where it should, straight down the center, stopping short of where Hooker's Creek cut across the fairway twenty yards in front of the green.
"I'll take a quick look for the first one," Oona told the other three ladies.
"It's gone. It had to make the creek," Portia Vinaicre assured her.
"Just the same, if I can retrieve it, the water's a lateral hazard at this point. I can drop it no nearer for one stroke, not two."
"With the current running like it is?"
"The rain's got the creek all swollen."
"You'll never find it. It's lost. Stroke and distance." Sara Bentley nodded agreement.
"You go ahead. I'll just take a quick look around."
"You want a hand?" Sara sighed and asked at last.
"I'll be fine," Oona dismissed her brusquely.
The three women watched Oona disappear into the woods.
"One of us should have gone with her," Sara said. "She'll find theball for sure ... 'right at the edge,' I'll bet."
"You saw her reaction to your offer; she'd have been royally pissed off if one of us'd gone. Anyway, what's it matter? This is only the qualifying round." Hermione shrugged her dimpled fleshy shoulders. "Next week, though..."
"Sure." Portia also shrugged--her shoulders were all bones and sinews. "If she gets enough leeway from us, maybe she'll get casual about her cheating in the tournament. Then whoever is her partner'll have her by those tits she's so proud of."
"I suppose you're right," Sara agreed, shrugging her silky, olive-skinned shoulders. "We might as well play on."
The three ladies split and headed toward their separate balls on the third fairway of the Carleigh Falls Golf Club.
A myriad of unpleasant thoughts stomped through Oona Blackwell's mind as she strode through the trees, muttering "shit" each time her left foot struck the ground.
What was up with Sara offering to help? Was Sara trying to get Oona to let up on her? Small chance of that. No, it was probably just Sara being her usual unthinking self. The other two knew better than to offer to help her find her ball. And they'd say nothing when she did find it. Oona had too much on them for them to risk her anger. And Oona had every intention of finding her ball; they knew that, too.
After all, a stroke or two could mean the difference as to whether she played in the last threesome on opening day or not. The last threesome was bound to include Millie Rowley, the current Regional Champ, and that young upstart, Donna Carmichael, last year's winner of the Pownall-Ryerson tournament, who had already finished her qualifying round for next week's regionals with a one-under seventy-one. Oona wanted desperately to be the third person in that select group. With this year's Regional Tournament being held at Oona's home course of Carleigh Falls, this would be her best chance to unseat Millie and make Donna wait at least another year. And, if she could play in their threesome for the first round, she was sure she could put them so far off their game that day that she could play the second round blindfolded and still win.
She allowed herself a moment of gleeful daydreaming about how many people that win would make unhappy--probably everyone of any importance in Carleigh Falls and vicinity, she thought, with a gloating satisfaction ... particularly--no, forget him. Thinking about him right now was too distracting.
Oona forced her mind back to dealing with the problem at hand.
With only seven holes to play, that disastrous tee shot could have endangered all sorts of good things. Oona didn't understand what had happened. She seemed to have swung her normal swing; everything felt right, but she knew the moment she saw the ball take off that something was wrong.
Perhaps it had caught a tree at the last moment and...
No, it was in the creek ... and probably well out in the water ... lost. Shit. Shit. Shit. And this was a hole she could usually count on for a birdie.
She'd just have to save par four somehow. She had another marked Titleist in her skirt pocket that she could drop, right by the water's edge. In fact, she had two balls with her name on them, thanks to that silly boy on the second green. She'd just have to find a place where she could see the green. Then an iron to the green, and two putts ... or a lay-up, a chip and a putt, and she'd be all right.
As Oona moved cautiously along the bank of Hooker's Creek, alternately looking down at her footing and out through the trees for a line to the green, something in the fast-moving water caught the corner of her eye. Something white ... a ball. Her ball, she was sure.
It was rolling along the bottom in the current, in about a foot and a half of water, heading downstream toward the bend in the creek that crossed the fairway in front of the green. She actually was going to be lucky.
Par was possible.
With continued "luck," even her usual birdie was possible.
Oona tore off her golf shoes and socks, and using her ball retriever for balance, waded out into Hooker's Creek. It was deeper than she thought, over two feet, and her skirt was soaked to above the knee. Moreover, the summer had been unusually chilly and wet, so the water was numbingly cold. But it was going to be worth it. That ball was worth three bucks--and maybe the Regionals. Par at least, she thought again.
She lumbered out into still deeper water with the ball still rolling along the bottom, just out of her reach.
The current was stronger than she had imagined. It seemed to tug at her legs with surprising strength so that she almost lost her balance on the rocky footing.
There was nothing else for it--she would have to risk taking her eyes off the ball from time to time to check the bottom. She forged on through about three feet of icy water checking first for the present position of the ball. The current seemed almost to be grabbing at her bare ankles now.
Then she looked down at her feet.
And saw the pair of black-gloved hands clutching her ankles.
Hands which now yanked them backward, so that she fell face forward into Hooker's Creek.