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|Publisher:||Grand Central Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.06(d)|
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Murder in the RoughOriginal Tales of Bad Shots, Terrible Lies, and Other Deadly Handicaps from Today's Great Writers
By Otto Penzler
MYSTERIOUS PRESSCopyright © 2006 Otto Penzler
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWELCOME TO THE REAL WORLD
Kramer liked routine.
Always had. He'd worked at Taggart & Leeds for thirty-five years, relieved to settle in there after spending his twenties hopping from one job to another. His duties from day to day were interesting enough to keep him engaged, but in a sense they were the same thing-or the same several things-over and over, and that was fine with him.
His wife made him the same breakfast every weekday morning for those thirty-five years. Breakfast, he had learned, was the one meal where most people preferred the same thing every time, and he was no exception. A small glass of orange juice, three scrambled eggs, two strips of bacon, one slice of buttered toast, a cup of coffee-that did him just fine.
These days, of course, he prepared it himself. He hadn't needed to learn how-he'd always made breakfast for both of them on Saturdays-and now the time he spent whisking eggs in a bowl and turning rashers with a fork was a time for him to think of her and regret her passing.
So sudden it had been. He'd retired, and she'd said, in mock consternation, "Now what am I going to do with you? Am Igoing to have you underfoot all day every day?" And he established a routine that got him out of the house five days a week, and they both settled gratefully into that routine, and then she felt a pain and experienced a shortness of breath and went to the doctor, and a month later she was dead.
He had his routine, and it was clear to him that he owed his life to it. He got up each morning, he made his breakfast, he washed the dishes by hand, he read the paper along with a second cup of coffee, and he got out of the house. Whatever day it was, he had something to do, and his salvation lay in doing it.
If it was Monday, he walked to his gym. He changed from his street clothes to a pair of running shorts and a singlet, both of them a triumph of technology, made of some miracle fiber that wicked moisture away from the skin and sent it off somewhere to evaporate. He put his heavy street shoes in his locker and laced up his running shoes. Then he went out on the floor, where he warmed up for ten minutes on the elliptical trainer before moving to the treadmill. He set the pace at twelve-minute miles, set the time at sixty minutes, and got to it.
Kramer, who'd always been physically active and never made a habit of overeating, had put on no more than five pounds in the course of his thirty-five years at Taggart & Leeds. He'd added another couple of pounds since then, but at the same time had lost an inch in the waistline. He had lost some fat and gained a little muscle, which was the point, or part of it. The other part, perhaps the greater part, was having something enjoyable and purposeful to do on Mondays.
On Tuesdays he turned in the other direction when he left his apartment, and walked three-quarters of a mile to the Bat Cave, which was not where you would find Batman and Robin, as the name might lead you to expect, but instead was a recreational facility for baseball enthusiasts. Each of two dozen batting cages sported a pitching machine the standard sixty feet from home plate, where the participant dug in and took his cuts for a predetermined period of time.
They supplied bats, of course, but Kramer brought his own, a Louisville Slugger he'd picked out of an extensive display at a sporting goods store on Broadway. It was a little heavier than average, and he liked the way it was balanced. It just felt right in his hands. Also, there was something to be said for having the same bat every time. You didn't have to adjust to a new piece of lumber.
He brought along cleated baseball shoes, too, which made it easier to establish his stance in the batter's box. The boat-necked shirt and sweatpants he wore didn't sport any team logo, which would have struck him as ridiculous, but they were otherwise not unlike what the pros wore, for the freedom of movement they afforded.
Kramer wore a baseball cap, too; he'd found it in the back of his closet, had no idea where it came from, and recognized the embroidered logo as that of an advertising agency that had gone out of business some fifteen years ago. It must have come into his possession as some sort of corporate party favor, and he must have tossed it in his closet instead of tossing it in the trash, and now it had turned out to be useful.
You could set the speed of the pitching machine, and Kramer set it at Slow at the beginning of each Tuesday session, turned it to Medium about halfway through, and finished with a few minutes of Fast pitching. He was, not surprisingly, better at getting his bat on the slower pitches. A fastball, even when you knew it was coming, was hard for a man his age to connect with. Still, he hit most of the medium-speed pitches-some solidly, some less so. And he always got some wood on some of the fastballs, and every once in a while he'd meet a high-speed pitch solidly, his body turning into the ball just right, and the satisfaction of seeing the horsehide sphere leap from his bat was enough to cast a warm glow over the entire morning's work. His best efforts, he realized, were line drives a major-league center fielder would gather in without breaking a sweat, but so what? He wasn't having fantasies of showing up in Sarasota during spring training, aiming for a tryout. He was a sixty-eight-year-old retired businessman keeping in shape and filling his hours, and when he got ahold of one, well, it felt damned good.
Walking home, carrying the bat and wearing the ball cap, with a pleasant ache in his lats and delts and triceps-well, that felt pretty good, too.
Wednesdays provided a very different sort of exercise. Physically, he probably got the most benefit from the walk there and back-a couple of miles from his door to the Murray Street premises of the Downtown Gun Club. The hour he devoted to rifle and pistol practice demanded no special wardrobe, and he wore whatever street clothes suited the season, along with a pair of ear protectors the club was happy to provide. As a member, he could also use one of the club's guns, but hardly anyone did; like his fellows, Kramer kept his own guns at the club, thus obviating him of the need to obtain a carry permit for them. The license to own a weapon and maintain it at a recognized marksmanship facility was pretty much a formality, and Kramer had obtained it with no difficulty. He owned three guns-a deer rifle, a .22-caliber target pistol, and a hefty .357 Magnum revolver.
Typically, he fired each gun for half an hour, pumping lead at (and occasionally into) a succession of paper targets. He could vary the distance of the targets, and naturally chose the greatest distance for the rifle, the least for the Magnum. But he would sometimes bring the targets in closer, for the satisfaction of grouping his shots closer, and would sometimes increase the distance, in order to give himself more of a challenge.
Except for basic training, some fifty years ago, he'd never had a gun in his hand, let alone fired one. He'd always thought it was something he might enjoy, and in retirement he'd proved the suspicion true. He liked squeezing off shots with the rifle, liked the balance and precision of the target pistol, and even liked the nasty kick of the big revolver and the sense of power that came with it. His eye was better some days than others, his hand steadier, but all in all it seemed to him that he was improving. Every Wednesday, on the long walk home, he felt he'd accomplished something. And, curiously, he felt empowered and invulnerable, as if he were actually carrying the Magnum on his hip.
Thursdays saw him returning to the gym, but he didn't warm up on the elliptical trainer, nor did he put in an hour on the treadmill. That was Monday. Thursday was for weights.
He did his circuit on the machines. Early on, he'd had a couple of sessions with a personal trainer, but only until he'd managed to establish a routine that he could perform without assistance. He kept a pocket notebook in his locker, jotting down the reps and poundages on each machine; when an exercise became too easy, he upped the weight. He was making slow but undeniable progress. He could see it in his notes, and, more graphically, he could see it in the mirror.
His gym gear made it easy to see, too. The shorts and singlet that served so well on Mondays were not right for Thursdays, when he donned instead a pair of black spandex bicycle shorts and a matching tank top. It made him look the part, but that was the least of it. The close fit seemed to help enlist his muscles to put maximum effort into each lift. His weight-lifting gloves, padded slightly in the palms for cushioning, and with the fingers ending at the first knuckle joint for a good grip, kept him from getting blisters or calluses, as well as telling the world that he was serious enough about what he was doing to get the right gear for it.
An hour with the weights left him with sore muscles, but ten minutes in the steam room and a cold shower set him right again, and he always felt good on the way home. And then, on Fridays, he got to play golf.
And that was always a pleasure. Until Bellerman, that interfering son of a bitch, came along and ruined the whole thing for him.
* * *
The driving range was at Chelsea Piers, and it was a remarkable facility. Kramer had made arrangements to keep a set of clubs there, and he picked them up along with his usual bucket of balls and headed for the tee. When he got there, he put on a pair of golf shoes, arguably an unnecessary refinement on the range's mats, but he felt they grounded his stance. And, like the thin leather gloves he kept in his bag, they put him more in the mood, as did the billed tam-o'-shanter cap he'd put on his head before leaving the house.
He teed up a ball, took his Big Bertha driver from the bag, settled himself, and took a swing. He met the ball solidly, but perhaps he'd dropped his shoulder, or perhaps he'd let his hands get out in front; in any event, he sliced the shot. It wasn't awful-it had some distance on it and wouldn't have wound up all that deep in the rough-but he could do better. And did so on the next shot, again meeting the ball solidly and sending it out there straight as a die.
He hit a dozen balls with Big Bertha, then returned her to the bag and got out his spoon. He liked the 3-wood, liked the balance of it, and he had to remind himself to stop after a dozen balls or he might have run all the way through the bag with that club. It was, he'd found, a very satisfying club to hit.
Which was by no means the case with the 2-iron. It wasn't quite as difficult as the longest iron in his bag-there was a joke he'd heard, the punch line of which explained that not even God could hit the 1-iron-but it was difficult enough, and today his dozen attempts with the club yielded his usual share of hooks and slices and topped rollers. But among them he hit the ball solidly twice, resulting in shots that leaped from the tee, scoring high for distance and accuracy.
And therein lay the joy of the sport. One good shot invariably erased the memory of all the bad shots that preceded it, and even took the sting out of the bad shots yet to come.
Today was an even-irons day, so in turn he hit the 4-iron, the 6-iron, and the 8-iron. When he finished with the niblick (he liked the old names, called the 2-wood a brassie and the 3-wood a spoon, called the 5-iron a mashie, the 8 a niblick), he had four balls left of the seventy-five he'd started with. That suggested that he'd miscounted, which was certainly possible, but it was just as likely that they'd given him seventy-six instead of seventy-five, since they gave you what the bucket held instead of delegating some minion to count them. He hit the four balls with his wedge, not the most exciting club to hit off a practice tee, but you had to play the whole game, and the short game was vital. (He had a sand wedge in his bag, but until they added a sandpit to the tee, there was no way he could practice with it. So be it, he'd decided; life was compromise.)
He left the tee and went to the putting green, where he put in his usual half hour. His putter was an antique, an old wooden-shafted affair with some real collector value, his choice on even-iron Fridays. It seemed to him that his stroke was firmer and more accurate with the putter from his matched set, his odd-iron choice, but he just liked the feel of the old club, and something in him responded to the notion of using a putter that could have been used a century ago at St. Andrews. He didn't think it had, but it could have been, and that seemed to mean something to him.
His putting was erratic-it generally was-but he sank a couple of long ones and ended the half hour with a seven-footer that lipped the cup, poised on the brink, and at last had the decency to drop. Perfect! He went to the desk for his second bucket of balls and returned to the tee and his Big Bertha.
He'd worked his way down to the 6-iron when a voice said, "By God, you're good. Kramer, I had no idea."
He turned and recognized Bellerman. A coworker at Taggart & Leeds, until some competing firm had made him a better offer. But now, it turned out, Bellerman was retired himself, and improving the idle hour at the driving range.
"And you're serious," Bellerman went on. "I've been watching you. Most guys come out here and all they do is practice with the driver. Which they then get to use one time only on the long holes and not at all on the par 3s. But you work your way through the bag, don't you?"
Kramer found himself explaining about even- and odd-iron days.
"Remarkable. And you hit your share of good shots, I have to say that. Get some good distance with the long clubs, too. What's your handicap?"
"I don't have one."
Bellerman's eyes widened. "Jesus, you're a scratch golfer? Now I'm more impressed than ever."
"No," Kramer said. "I'm sure I would have a handicap, but I don't know what it would be. See, I don't actually play."
"What do you mean you don't play?"
"I just come here," Kramer said. "Once a week."
"Even-numbered irons one week, odd ones the next."
"You're kidding me," Bellerman said. "Right?"
"You practice more diligently than anybody I've ever seen. You even hit the fucking 1-iron every other Friday, and that's more than God does. You work on your short game, you use the wedge off the tee, and for what? So that you won't lose your edge for the following Friday? Kramer, when was the last time you actually got out on a course and played a real round of golf?"
"You have to understand my routine," Kramer said. "Golf is just one of my interests. Mondays I go to the gym and put in an hour on the treadmill. Tuesdays I go to the batting cage and work my way up to fastballs. Wednesdays ..." He made his way through his week, trying not to be thrown off stride by the expression of incredulity on Bellerman's face.
"That's quite a system," Bellerman said. "And it sounds fine for the first four days, but golf ... Man, you're practicing when you could be playing! Golf's an amazing game, Kramer, and there's more to it than swinging the club. You're out in the fresh air-"
"The air's good here."
"-feeling the sun on your skin and the wind in your hair. You're on a golf course, the kind of place that gives you an idea of what God would have done if he'd had the money. And every shot presents you with a different kind of challenge. You're not just trying to hit the ball straight and far. You're dealing with obstacles, you're pitting your ability against a particular aspect of terrain and course conditions. I asked you something earlier, and you never answered. When's the last time you played a round?"
Excerpted from Murder in the Rough by Otto Penzler Copyright © 2006 by Otto Penzler. Excerpted by permission.
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