About the Author
Rick Shefchik was born in Duluth, MN, and received his BA in English/Creative Writing from Dartmouth. He worked in public relations and as a full-time musician before beginning his career at the Duluth News Tribune in 1978. He moved to the St. Paul Pioneer Press in 1980 as a television critic, and later became a feature writer and columnist, writing a weekly syndicated parenting column for the Knight Ridder Newswire. He lives in Stillwater, MN, with his wife and two children. Amen Corner is his debut novel.
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By Rick Shefchik
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2007 Rick Shefchik
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSunday, April
Sam Skarda sat on the front porch of his South Minneapolis bungalow and waited for his cab to arrive. It was a cool morning in early April, but the sunshine felt warm on his face through the budding branches of the towering elm trees that lined the street. A pair of robins hopped across the mottled lawn.
Next to him on the porch was his golf bag, zipped into a travel cover, and his suitcase, packed with everything he thought he'd need, even in the unlikely event that he made the cut in the Masters: seven golf shirts, three of them new; five pairs of pressed cotton pants in assorted shades of khaki; two pairs of shorts and two t-shirts for lounging between rounds; a summer-weight suit, an oxford shirt, and a striped tie; enough socks and underwear for a week; three new golf gloves; a golf hat bearing the U.S. Publinx logo; two pairs of golf shoes—one that was almost new—and a polished pair of loafers; a rain jacket; a cotton sweater; his favorite pair of blue jeans; his overnight shaving kit; a 200-count bottle of ibuprofen; his shoulder holster and his .40 millimeter Glock handgun.
Sam wasn't an active-duty cop anymore, but he still had a permit to carry. After ten years on the force, he felt naked without his gun. He couldn't imagine why he'd need it at Augusta National, but packing it was a long-ingrained habit.
He took his invitation out of his jacket pocket and read it again:
The Board of Governors of the Augusta National Golf Club cordially invites you to participate in the Masters-Tournament to be held at Augusta, Georgia, the 10th, 11th, 12th, and 13th of April. David Porter, Chairman. RSVP
He'd earned the invitation by winning the previous summer's U.S. Public Links tournament, open to any low-handicap amateur with no private course affiliation. If it had been held anywhere else but at Rush Creek Golf Club, 20 minutes from his house, he never would have entered. But when he made it into the match play rounds and started beating the college hotshots, it occurred to him that he had as good a chance as anyone to win the tournament.
He'd been shot in the left knee while on duty as a Minneapolis police detective two years ago. The surgery had been complicated; he'd needed almost a year to rehab. His orthopedic surgeon ordered him to walk as much as possible. To Sam, that meant golf. He practiced and played every day until he could no longer stand, then got up the next morning, swallowed a handful of Advils, and did it all over again.
By the time the Publinx came to town, he was walking well and playing even better—much better than his days on the varsity at Dartmouth, when he'd actually harbored some thoughts about turning professional. But that had been a decade ago, before he chose law enforcement over the living-out-of-the-trunk-of-your-car lifestyle of an aspiring tour pro.
One guy on his college golf team had chosen to chase the dream, and made it happen. Shane Rockingham had been all-Ivy. He was also a case of squandered potential who would rather get drunk than go to bed the night before a big tournament, and a campus playboy who went through girlfriends the way he went through range balls. Sam had lost touch with him during Rockingham's years of scuffling on the Asian, Hooters, and Nationwide tours, but he was in all the papers and magazines now, a muscle-bound basher with good looks, a swollen bank account, and two divorces, with a third on the way.
Thanks to the pairings committee at Augusta National, Sam was going to reunite with Rockingham soon. They were scheduled to play their first two rounds together at the Masters.
He put the invitation back in his jacket pocket and pulled out the two badges he was carrying with him to Augusta: the laminated Masters participant badge that had been mailed to him several weeks earlier; and the silver Minneapolis Police Department badge that he rarely carried with him anymore.
The Masters badge had his picture on the front: short, sandy-blond hair, still kept at police trim; pale blue eyes that an old girlfriend had once described as the color of a lake on a cloudy day; a slight crook in the bridge of his nose from running into a fence in a high school baseball game; and a clean-shaven face that showed the hint of a golfer's tan, with the cheeks, nose, and chin darker than the forehead.
The silver-plated police badge was heavier. An eagle spread its wings above the engraved words Minneapolis Police; his badge number was engraved below the seal of the city. He was still entitled to carry it, but he didn't know if he wanted to anymore. He'd discovered during his layoff that there was more to life than putting assholes in jail.
Sam had spent much of the previous year filling his 60-gig iPod with thousands of songs from his CD collection. He put each track into a playlist from the month and year the song was released, going all the way back to the '50s. He preferred older music—pure escapism into long-gone eras that seemed more innocent than they probably were—and he hated to listen to songs out of season. "Hot Fun in the Summertime" sounded as ridiculous to him in January as "The Christmas Song" did in July.
He put in his earbuds and dialed up the playlist for April, 1969, the month and year that George Archer won the Masters. The first song was "Will You Be Staying After Sunday" by the Peppermint Rainbow. Sam's goal this week was just to stay until Sunday.
A coffee-colored sedan accelerated up his block, too fast for the neighborhood; Sam was about to get up and yell at the driver to slow down when the car pulled to the curb in front of his house. It was an unmarked squad car, and Sam knew the driver: deputy chief Doug Stensrud, head of the investigations bureau.
"I'm glad I caught you before you left, Sam," Stensrud said as he got out of the car.
He was a broad-shouldered man with a dark moustache and thick, black hair that was turning white from the center of his forehead outward. He'd been Sam's partner for a couple of years after Sam was promoted to detective. Then Stensrud made deputy chief, and became his boss. There was still a bond between them, but the relentless paperwork and pressure from the chief, the city council, and the mayor had taken a toll on Stensrud's sociability.
"What's up, Doug?"
"I just wanted to wish you good luck at the Masters," Stensrud said, laboring up the concrete steps to the porch. He'd put on about thirty pounds since he and Sam had been partners.
"You could have sent flowers and balloons like everybody else."
Stensrud eased himself into the Adirondack chair next to Sam's and wiped his damp forehead with the sleeve of his sport coat.
"Weather's finally warming up," he said.
Sam knew what was on Stensrud's mind.
"Might as well spill it, Doug."
"Sam, it's been almost two years since you got shot and took medical leave. Don't you think that's long enough?"
"No," Sam said. "I still have things I want to do."
"Climb Mount Everest."
"You've had time," Stensrud said, looking at him out of the corner of his eye, without turning his shoulders. He returned his gaze to the sidewalk, where a mother pushed a stroller over the cracks in the concrete. "Look, we need you back. We've got eight unsolved homicides since the first of the year, and you know the gang killings are about to start piling up. Now, it's great that you're getting a chance to play in the Masters. We're all thrilled beyond words. But I gotta tell you, your odds of making it on the pro tour are between zero and dick."
Sam laughed. Nobody knew better than he did that this was not only his first major championship, but his last.
"I'm not turning pro, Doug."
"Then it's time for you to get serious about your job. I'd like you to come back to work after Augusta."
A passenger jet rumbled overhead, low to the South Minneapolis rooftops in its landing pattern. Sam waited till the noise abated. He wasn't sure if Stensrud was asking or ordering. Technically, his leave of absence was good for one year. The department could extend it if he asked, but they didn't have to.
"What if I don't?" he finally asked.
Stensrud now shifted around in his wooden chair to stare at Sam.
"We want you, but we need a body," Stensrud said. "You're one of the best detectives I've ever worked with, but you're useless to me if you're not working. I've got cases to clear. If you don't come in after next week, I'll hire somebody else. I've got a stack of resumes to choose from. Some of them look pretty good." Sam was surprised to feel a brief pang of concern. It was like seeing another guy dating the woman you broke up with.
"I'm not ready," Sam said.
"Sam, I know it sucks to get shot. I've become a fucking blimp since I took that one in the hip ten years ago. But I went back to the streets. I had to—I'm a cop. And cops get shot sometimes."
Sam had gone through all of that with the department psychologist that Stensrud had insisted he see. He'd told the doctor that he wasn't worried about getting shot again—although he also wanted to ask the condescending prick if he'd ever taken a bullet. He just didn't feel the same way about the job that he did when he first made detective. He was tired of chasing scumbags, tired of working for civil servant wages, and tired of taking shit from the good people of Minneapolis for doing the work they wanted done but were too lazy, scared, or morally superior to do themselves.
The months away from the job had been the most stress-free time he'd had since college. He wanted more of it. In fact, Sam wanted to tell Stensrud he would turn in his badge and his gun as soon as he got back from Augusta. But he couldn't do it. He'd gone through his savings and needed to start cashing paychecks again. Maybe it would have to be cop paychecks.
"I told you I'd make a decision after the Masters, Doug."
"I need your answer a week from Monday," Stensrud said. "I can't hold your job open any longer. I need a cop, whether it's you or somebody else. In or out, Sam—it's time to make a decision."
A maroon airport taxi pulled up next to Stensrud's squad car and sounded its horn.
"There's my limo," Sam said, getting up from his chair.
"Need a hand?" Stensrud asked.
"Think you can handle a golf bag?"
They walked down to the street as the cabbie opened the trunk for the bags.
"You'd make a good caddie," Sam said to the deputy chief, who easily slung the bag off his shoulder and into the trunk.
"I'm a cop," Stensrud said. "So are you. Call me as soon as you get back."
Chapter TwoLorraine Stanwick sat in front of the mirror in the bedroom of the Firestone Cabin and fiddled with the clasp of her pearl necklace for several minutes before deciding she had to ask her husband for help.
"Ralph, could you come in here a minute," she called toward the living room. "I can't get this fastened."
Ralph Stanwick was sitting in a padded armchair, alternately watching television and looking at the golf course through the living room window. He never got tired of the view of the 10th fairway, even during Masters Week when tens of thousands of ordinary golf fans traipsed up and down the hills, some within just a few feet of the cabin, leaving their footprints, their trash, and their common taint on his beloved Augusta National.
Stanwick got up from his chair with a muttered curse and walked into the bedroom. The one-story house with white wooden siding and a gray roof was located next door to the Jones cabin and just east of the clubhouse, facing the 10th tee. The central living room was decorated modestly with framed photos of the National's early years, and furnished with casual, comfortable arm chairs, a leather sofa, and a dining table off the kitchen. The bedrooms were located on either side of the living area. Due to their membership seniority and Ralph's position on the club's governing board, the Stanwicks had stayed in the Firestone Cabin during Masters Week for many years.
"What is it now?" Stanwick asked.
"This necklace," Lorraine said. "Can you do the clasp?"
She turned her back to her husband and held the two ends behind her neck.
"I need my glasses," said Stanwick, a tall, trim man who was mostly bald, with gray hair at the temples and eyebrows. His wife was five years younger, carried no extra weight, applied just the right amount of makeup to deal with her aging skin, and was wearing a tasteful Oscar de la Renta spring skirt and blouse combination. Stanwick thought his wife was shapeless, bland, and dressed like an old woman.
Stanwick returned to the living room to find his reading glasses, and stopped in front of the TV to watch a local news reporter talking about the annual influx of golf fans that would hit town Monday morning. The reporter mentioned—as reporters always did, because the club requested them to—that police would be looking for scalpers and counterfeiters along Washington Road all week.
"Richmond County Sheriff Leonard Garver said that his depart confiscates as many as a dozen bogus badges each year," the reporter said. "Augusta National won't comment, but sources say a four-day badge can sell for up to $10,000 on the street ..."
Stanwick couldn't help thinking back to the trial. He hadn't been there, of course, but he'd gotten the verdict he wanted—or so he thought. Sixteen years would have been just about enough. Enough for Lee Doggett to get killed by an inmate, or maybe kill one himself. Even if he did make it to the end of his original sentence, Stanwick would either have been dead or too old for Doggett to bother with.
But Stanwick didn't dare attempt to influence the Sentence Review Panel. As a resident of Connecticut, he knew no one on the panel, and didn't have enough pull with anyone who did. The new sentence—eight years—had not been long enough, and the eight years were up. Doggett was out now.
"Ralph?" his wife called from the bedroom. "Did you get lost?"
Stanwick picked up his reading glasses and returned to the bedroom.
"You are so distracted lately," Lorraine said, turning her back to him again with the ends of the necklace in her hands. "Is something wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong," he said. He put on the glasses and began the aggravating task of trying to fasten the tiny clasp. He fumbled the little lever that opened the hook several times, and finally gave up in disgust.
"Wear something else," he said.
"We're having dinner with Harmon and Annabelle tonight, and I want to look nice," Lorraine said. "I'll bet you don't even remember when you bought this string for me."
He didn't. He knew it had probably been a gift some years back to cover up for something else he'd bought at their usual Manhattan jewelry store for one of his girlfriends. How could he be expected to remember which girlfriend, or when it was?
Stanwick returned to the living room and sat down again, his mind returning to the subject that had worried him ever since he and Lorraine had left Connecticut for their annual trip to the Masters. He had no doubt that Doggett knew he had been behind the planted drugs and the excessive sentence, and he had no doubt what Doggett would do to him if they were somehow to meet. He glanced at the date window on his watch. April 6. Doggett had been out for a full day. Where was he now? Would he dare come back to Augusta? Even if he did, could he somehow get inside the gates and find me? Not likely ... but not impossible. Masters Week, after all, was the one week of the year that the club opened its gates to the outside world. Stanwick was vulnerable—and the green jacket that members wore when they were on club grounds would make him that much easier to identify.
He didn't dare call the police. That might stir up old business that was best left forgotten. They'd want to know why he'd be afraid of a former groundskeeper who'd served his time. Best to just get through the week, be wary, and get out of town as soon as the Masters was over. Maybe Doggett wouldn't come back. By next year, things could be different. There were ways to have Doggett taken care of permanently.
Stanwick hated Lee Doggett for ruining springtime in Augusta—a time and a place he loved best in the world. More than winter in Palm Beach. More than summer in the Hamptons. More than autumn on Wall Street.
Excerpted from Amen Corner by Rick Shefchik Copyright © 2007 by Rick Shefchik. 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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Captivating from start to finish, Amen Corner takes you inside the ropes and into the private sanctions of the Augusta National membership and its golf tournament in progress. Revengeful murders keeps pace as the reader works to determine who will win the game of wits and stamina. Rick Shefchik weaves golf particulars, scenery, romance, and police work into this action-packed, fast pace first novel. Deceptively written with keen insight into the inner workings of the tournament host, its members, sports news reporting and politics. I'm looking forward to sequels featuring Sam Skarda, police detective, budding romance with Caroline Rockingham, in another PGA golf tour event.
On medical leave recovering from a gunshot to the knee two years ago that required surgery, Minneapolis Police Detective Sam Skarda played a lot of golf as rehab. Shockingly last summer he won the US Public Links tournament. Thus he receives an invitation to play at the Masters in Augusta, Georgia while his former partner Stensrud tells him to decide whether he is a cop or not. Also in Augusta is recently freed convict Lee Doggett, who as he stepped out of prison, had no one waiting for him because the only person, who cared, his mother, died while he was incarcerated. He blames his plight on his absentee biological father who never raised him. --- On the tenth hole someone burned the words ¿THIS IS THE LAST MASTERS¿ next to the murdered corpse of Rules Committee Chair Harmon Ashby. Doggett learns he killed the wrong person as his target is his father Ralph Stanwick. The media blame a women¿s protest group and the police look at club members. New Chair David Porter hires Sam to quietly uncover the culprit before anyone else is aced especially on Sunday when the world watches events unfold at AMEN CORNER. --- This sports mystery will be enjoyed more by golf aficionados than detective fans as the homage to the Masters is the prime theme of the eighteen holes. Readers know Doggett is the killer early on even before he confirms his identity when he watches CNN to learn he murdered the wrong balding sexagenarian white guy. Thus the suspense resides in the cat and mouse encounter between Doggett and Sam still a cop regardless of his doubts. This is an interesting thriller though cluttered with too many golfing and music references whether it is George Archer winning in 1969 paired with ¿Will You Be Staying After Sunday¿ or Billy Casper in 1970 teamed with ¿Bridge Over Troubled Waters¿, etc. --- Harriet Klausner