TomBlakesley stabbed a pink tee into the soft earth at hole number one, otherwise known as the Hooker. He surveyed the vast expanse of firs, pines and flawless stripes of green grass before him, illumined almost artificially by a brilliant mid-day sun. Blakesley was dressed in white saddle shoes, white pants and a bright pink shirt that billowed over a green belt featuring an assortment of mallards in flight. He turned and looked at the three men standing near the golf carts parked to the side of the tee and he grinned. It was a grin that you see from time to time, usually on the faces of convicted white-collar felons at trial and small-time hucksters out to make a buck on the street. It was a post-verdict grin that said, above all else, gotcha.
Matthew Conover, a newly-appointed attorney at Blakesley's firm, Blue Point Capital, watched from the shade of his golf cart and checked his watch. It was hot, miserably hot, and his thoughts were elsewhere-elsewhere being his wife and the hundred-and-twenty-thousand-dollar kitchen renovation she was spearheading at his expense. Conover didn't like to leave her alone with the contractors. In his absence they had already up-sold her Spanish tiling from Majorca for the kitchen floor and walls. He feared for their budget. He checked his watch a second time and regarded the two men to his right. The club had a weekend foursome policy and he and Blakesley were forced to pair up with these two. One appeared to be dead on his feet save for the occasional twitch in his eye. The other, much younger, might play quickly, he thought, but it only took one man to slow up a foursome and the old-timer was sure to do that. Conover guessed it'd be a five hour round, home by six, just in time to assess an afternoon's damage to his savings account.
Blakesley stepped up to the ball and centered his address squarely, his powerful shoulders stretching at the fabric of his cotton shirt. In his pre-swing adjustments and constitutional there was a twinge of the homoerotic: the pants fitting just so snugly in the seat, his tongue moistening his upper lip in a lascivious flash, the quick tug at his crotch, and of course the sweat: Tom Blakesley could go nowhere, could lift nothing so light as a fork, without breaking into a sub-tropical sheen of slick sweat. To combat the condition he carried a monogrammed handkerchief that he used to mop himself, a complicated ritual in itself.
With his feet set and the head of his oversized driver lined up behind the bright white Titleist, Blakesley drew the club back. It was a swift, athletic movement and for the slightest moment the shaft lay suspended above him, a perfect titanium horizon, Blakesley himself a tightly coiled sinewy mass of potential energy captured in a frozen pose, perverse and impressive. Then a flourish, a pink-white explosion and as if discharged from a gun the ball was gone, the tee back-flipping against the blue sky, Blakesley now reverse-coiled with the club drawn heroically over his left shoulder. A cadre of forty-something bejeweled women -- the FEW's (Future Ex-Wives), as they were referred to, generally, by some at the club -- had gathered to the side of the three men who watched as Blakesley's ball landed thirty yards beyond the three other balls in the fairway.
"Ya know baws," he said in a booming Memphis drawl, "If this day had a pussy, I'd fuck it." He picked up his tee and tossed it into the corner of his mouth. Conover glanced sideways at the women. "Ladies," Blakesley added.
The Eastport Country Club was established in 1899 and boasted the longest waiting list for full membership in Connecticut, and perhaps all of New England. The 405 member roster featured politicians, bankers, lawyers, doctors, widows and self-made men of irrefutable power, evidenced by the busy helicopter landing pad beyond the shooting gallery on the north lawn.
Prospective members gained entrance only through nomination by a current member in-good-standing with the club. This required no little politicking as it was frowned upon for any one member to stack the club, or hand out multiple "votes," as they are called, in one year. Once a prospective member received a nomination, his name was placed on the list and he waits, usually for three to five years. Admission to the club then required an initiation fee which increased from year to year, typically no more than three or four percent, and could generally be said to equal the cost of an Ivy League undergraduate education.
That fee covered initiation only. In Blakesley's words, it was the Pimp Fee: it got you in the door but you still had to wait in line to pay for the goods. The goods, in this case, was golf. Every member had a status and new members who wished to have rights to play golf were stamped WG, or Waiting for Golf. This waiting period could, depending on the mortality rate of current G (Golf) members, extend for seven to ten years. During that time WG members co-existed with NG (non-Golf, or those interested in participating in sports other than golf) members in a sort of back-of-the-bus Purgatory: they paid exorbitant premiums to use the golf course on Tuesdays before March 31st and after October 1st. Club dues ranged from four-thousand to seven-thousand- dollars per quarter. G members paid for every round they played. The greens fees and cart set them back a-hundred- and-twenty-dollars per round. A sleeve of three balls and three monogrammed tees in the pro shop cost twenty-dollars. The head pro, Winston Willis, critiqued his pupils' swings from a comfortably reclined position at the rate of just under one-hundred-dollars per half-hour. The club billed its members on the first of every month in thick, starched-white envelopes containing starched-white triple-weight cotton paper embossed with the club emblem. Payment was expected on a net 15 and for those who chose to pay on their own schedule a printed notice of delinquency awaited them on the News & Events billboard in the clubhouse foyer.
The club didn't make money-it printed it.
Blakesely and Conover watched the old man putt. It was his ninth shot on the fifteenth hole and he was ten feet from the cup. His last putt was from a distance of three feet.
"Matthew, did you see the flag today?" Blakesley asked.
"No, I didn't."
"Half-mast. Betty Krautz's mummified husband, Oliver, circa King Louis the Eighth, died yesterday. Waiting list is a spot up." Blakesely grinned. "This guy'll be lucky to finish sixteen and I don't know CPR. Maybe two spots'll open up."
"I know CPR."
Blakesley flipped the top open on a bottle of suntan lotion. He squirted a small amount in the palm of his hand and applied it in sweeping arcs to his opposite forearm. "I had to give CPR once. Had no clue what I was doing. Remember it like it was fifteen minutes ago. I was out front of my parents' house in Buckhead, sitting on the porch, waiting to take Mom to church. Wearing my Sunday finest. Reading the paper, you know, just a gorgeous morning to be alive. In the distance I hear a motor approaching which is actually an event cuz the street's a private drive, ya see. It's a highpitch motor, like a sports car. Turns out it's a motorcycle and I can see it through the elms about a hundred yards down the road, coming real fast. I can see the guy on the crotch rocket, can make out his face. He's smiling. No helmet, crazy sumbitch, I think at the time. When he reaches the turn past my parent's house he doesn't turn, just runs through a yard at eighty mph spittin' up dirt 'n turf and slams face first into the front door. Whole block shook like a bomb went off. I run over and the guy's face looks like a tv dinner somebody dropped on the floor, but I start to pound on his chest anyway." Blakesley looked at Conover and frowned. "He was deader than JFK when the medics arrived."
"Why didn't he turn?" Conover asked.
"He didn't want to turn. The house he hit was his father's place. Apparently the guy was a real asshole, pressured the kid nonstop in college then med school and on and on. Kid cracked, simple as that."
"Jesus. What an insensitive prick."
"You're telling me?" Blakesely's voice scaled an octave higher and his slate blue eyes seemed to open like a morning yawn. "His whack job son ruins my linen suit and the old man won't pay one cent to replace it." He snapped the cap shut on the lotion and put it away. Conover thought to ask him what the value of a suit compared to a human life was, but remained silent.
They watched the old man putt the ball in the hole. He had trouble bending to pluck it out. On the third attempt he retrieved it and the younger man replaced the flag stick.
"When I get that old, I want my kid to shoot me in the goddamn head," Blakesely muttered to himself, then jammed the accelerator and steered toward the next tee. They finished the round before six o'clock and Blakesely invited Conover into the clubhouse for a drink.
"I should really get back, Jill's waiting." Conover casually flipped open his cell phone. Nine unanswered messages. The small kernel of headache began to form behind his right eye.
"Right, of course, so let's make it double. Twice the booze, half the time."
The Men's Grille at Eastport was to masculinity what the interior of a Victoria's Secret store is to femininity. From the grooved and time-softened bar to the curved-back chairs and octagonal poker tables beneath floor-to-ceiling windows, oak dominated the room. The help wore white aprons and poured drinks in accordance with unwritten club policy: strong.
"Felix, two Maker's Mark doubles!"
Blakesley and Conover took a table by the window with a view of the first tee. A man was taking practice swings near his ball. Felix set down two marble coasters and placed their drinks on top. "Thank you Felix," Blakesley said. Felix nodded and left. "How bout a toast, hmm? To our round, I think. Any round escaping one-hundred and a lawsuit is a good round by me."
They clinked glasses. "Tom, thanks for the golf. I understand it's a hassle and a half to get a guest on this course."
Blakesley smiled and crossed his legs. "Don't mention it." He was quiet for a second and then he met Conover's glance eye-to-eye. "When are you applying?"
"When are you putting in an application?"
"I hadn't considered it."
"Aww shee-it. Rumor has it you've chummed up to Peggy and Phil Smith." He looked at Conover and took a hit of his drink. "You're courting a vote."
"Pffffshhh, don't be ridiculous," Conover said, flushed red with embarrassment. It was true. Last week alone he'd played tennis twice with Phil, and Jill had baked Peggy a cake for their thirtieth anniversary.
"I'm not," Blakesley said, as if the idea of him being ridiculous was about the most ridiculous thing in the world.
"Who told you I was talking to them?"
"Sources, nevuh you mind. How 'bout a little free advice, hmm? If you're gonna court a vote, court it from the living, not those corpses."
"Frankly, Tom, I'm not sure I could afford it. I've heard what it costs and the wait, especially and---"
Not listening, Blakesley hijacked the conversation. "--- Some people wait, Matthew, others play golf." He let that one settle. They watched the man tee off from the Hooker. He topped the ball badly and was gesturing for his partner to throw him another ball. For a brief moment, Conover saw himself on the first tee. He saw himself the way those who have achieved vast material wealth frequently see themselves: perfect. The imaginary tee shot sailed straight as an arrow for five hundred yards and landed in the cup on the fly. "See that guy in blue on the tee?" Blakesley continued, not listening, motioning with his highball glass. "Bill Evans, age thirty-five, G-member. You know who got him his vote?" Conover shrugged. "Old Tom, that's who."
Conover knew Bill Evans. He knew, too, that Evans was barely on the waiting list before he was a full member.
They finished their drinks. Blakesley ordered another. "One more?"
"Should get back, really Tom."
"Absolutely. Say hello to the wife for me, then."
"I will. Monday then?"
"See you Monday."
Conover walked to his car in the club parking lot. As he was putting his clubs in the trunk he heard a group of men talking a few cars down. He couldn't make out what they were saying, but he heard the words Tom Blakesley more than once.
Matthew Conover lived with his wife and child in a three- bedroom house in Eastport. He and Jill had moved to Eastport the previous winter from Ann Arbor where they both worked at a software company, he as corporate counsel, she in sales. When Conover and his wife joined the company -- Vertex Information Protocols -- fresh out of graduate programs, they were employees number 24 and 25. Seven years, several stock splits, one puppy and one baby later, they were wealthy. They had a nice house and nice cars. The little girl, Caley, was magnificently blonde and precocious at three-years-old.
Vertex laid off Conover and Jill on a Monday morning before lunch. Fortunately, they had seen it coming months before. The company's management, Conover included, organized "pod meetings" that day in which small (in Conover's words "riot-proof") groups were told to pack their bags and be gone "with all possible haste." One woman in Conover's group collapsed and had to be treated for stitches. Conover remembered later the sound of her head hitting the floor: it was a dull THWAP, like an over-ripe watermelon dropped on the sidewalk.
With the help of a Law School colleague and an opportune vacancy, three weeks later Conover was installed at Benson & Bridges. That same week they moved out of the Eastport Holiday Inn (a bivouac, in Conover's words) and into the leased house in Birch Run Developments. Birch Run was just the latest symptom of MSS, or Manhattan Sprawl Syndrome, as the generations-installed suburbanites termed it: cookie cutter upper-income houses of the Poltergeist-design plunked squarely onto a half-acre of Connecticut wetland. It was the sort of community where thirty-something soccer moms piled enormous garbage bags surfeited with non-biodegradable diapers into gas-mongering SUV's and piloted them to the dump to smoke an occasional joint in absentia of the humdrum nucularity of family life.
Jill was such a soccer mom. In her view, she had done her time: state school cum laude, graduate degree with honors, eighty-hour weeks kowtowing to the corporate system, W-2's her parents never dreamed of. Thirty-seven was the perfect age to trade all that in for the first retirement, an escape to the pleasures of assisted child-rearing where stress is defined by the absence of a gas station attendant to pump high-octane into the Rover off I-95. And why not? Jill loved the child, Caley, and she loved her husband. But unlike so many other women she knew or met from day to day, she wasn't burdened with the guilt that comes with helplessness, of being a recipient. At peak, Jill earned three times Conover's yearly salary. What a tasty cocktail party morsel that was!
Among Conover's in-laws, Jill's earning power was a frequent and favorite topic of conversation, often with Conover present. Two Christmases ago at dinner Jill's brother, Ed, figured that, without Jill's income, they would never be able to afford to send Caley to Princeton. Conover retorted by asking if anyone wanted seconds.
And so, with Conover freshly installed at the firm and Caley installed in private preschool Jill had time to explore the limits of her new retirement and their bank account.
"I don't know, Hon," was about all Conover could muster when he gazed through the kitchen doors.
"Three months and this is what we've got?" Thinking, no water, no appliances, no floor and no wallpaper but seventy-five percent up front. Fuck me.
"Vincenzo says we're nearly halfway done."
"I don't trust that guy. He never shaves, for one thing, but he never grows a beard. Explain that to me."
"Who cares? He's the best contractor in the area and impossible to book. The Walshes have been trying to book him for an add-on for two years." The add-on, Conover recently learned, was for their twenty-five-year-old son, Tony, newly rehabilitated from a two-year acid-induced coma.
"There's no running water! Look at that hole!" Conover pointed to an inexplicable black void in the center of the kitchen floor. His pulse raced and he tried to imagine velvet waves lapping at a distant shore, but it was no use.
"What the fuck is that?" Conover blurted. He practically never swore.
"What's with the language Mr. Potty Mouth?" Jill said.
Conover slumped his clubs in the doorway and picked his nose.
"You're spending too much time with Tom Blakesley, I think. He's got the worst mouth I ever heard," Jill said.
"Right. And he wants us to join the club." Conover studied her face for a change. And there it was: the eyebrows raised, one corner of the mouth inched upwards. "I know! LeeLee called while you two were playing. She says Tom hasn't committed to giving a vote this year and she wants it to be for us. In fact, she told him to give us the vote. Isn't that exciting? God, what I'd give to get out of this house and swim or play golf once in a while."
"You've never played golf in your life!"
"Nevermind. LeeLee also invited us to little Lindsay's birthday party Wednesday. It seems they're really accepting us as friends, Matthew. I can't tell you how much that means, Matthew? Matthew!"
Conover wasn't listening. He wasn't even hearing. His eyes were fixated on a curious tableau through the kitchen's far French doors that gave onto the parlor. Regal, their four- year-old beagle, was furiously dry-humping the arm of a leather couch. Behind him, Caley was watching intently as she licked an ice-cream cone that dripped onto the floor. "I'm getting that dog fixed." Conover said.
"What? Are you listening to me? Get that finger out of your nose!"
On Monday morning, David Dorkowitz, D.V.M., answered the private line at Eastport Animal Clinic with his usual lilting, effeminately affectionate tone.
"Dr. Dave here! How can I help, you!"
Dr. Dave wasn't used to unexpected calls on this line. Typically, his wife called him here or his daughter from college. Occasionally, though, a caller slipped past the switchboard and got to him directly. He enjoyed these calls and was nothing if not helpful.
"Hi there, Doc. Got jus a real quick question for you," said the voice. Dr. Dave couldn't place it, but he thought he recognized the southern accent. "Y'all, uh. Not sure how to ask this. Heh heh. Ya see, I got a dog and it's real sick like and needs to be put down. You guys handle that there?"
"Are you a client of this clinic? I'd like to know the dog's condition and look up the file."
"Nope, sorry, just asking. Heh heh. Never been by the clinic. Heh heh. From out of town, actually. Heh Haaaaaaah!"
"Well, what's wrong with the animal that you believe it needs to be euthanised?"
"Youth? What? Speak up! Are you a vet?" said the voice.
"Yes, I am, Sir. What's wrong with the dog?"
"Oh, he's blind," said the voice mater-of-factly.
"Blind? I'm not certain I fully understand you."
"His eyes don't work too good and he can't see."
"And you want to put him to sleep for that?"
"No shee-it I do. The bastard is incompetent and pisses all over the house!"
"I can tell you frankly we'd never approve of that here! In my eighteen years of practicing veterinary medicine in Eastport I have never once, Sir, put down an animal in that condition." said Dr. Dave, in his most assertive voice. The very thought of executing a blind but otherwise healthy animal nearly tipped the delicate scales of his morning neurotransmitter pep talk. He reached for the little orange bottle by his notepad.
"Right, that's what I expected. So where can I get this done?"
"Sir," Dr. Dave sputtered, bobbling two little white pills. "I refuse to advise you on this matter since you clearly have no regard for your animal's well being. Good-bye!" Bang.
Two miles apart, Dr. Dave and Tom Blakesley both uttered the word Asshole in unison.
Dr. Dave took consolation in the fact that his first surgery that day wasn't until Two. The assistants could handle the morning visits and he might sneak away to the club for a little practice. Maybe Winston would have time for a quick brush-up lesson. His grip was moving west, he could feel it, and he suspected that was what accounted for the nasty hook that paralyzed his game last season.
In the midst of these thoughts the private line rang a second time. With a trembling hand, Dr. Dave picked up the receiver.
"Dr. Dave here."
"Dr. Dorkowitz, it's Matthew Conover. Would like to make an appointment for spading. Or neutering. Can never get those two straight."
Lindsay Blakesley didn't like the way her gingham dress rubbed her sides. It was too tight. She informed Luke Graham, Eastport Country Club's head tennis pro, of this situation by hurling her tennis racquet across the court, nearly braining three other children. The racquet spun to rest on the soft clay of the next court.
"Gee Lindsay, better hold onto that racquet tighter," Luke cooed, shuffling three balls in one hand. Luke was fully certified by the USPTA as a teaching professional. This degree was useless. His real talent fell into three disciplines: 1) Babysitting children, 2) Babysitting their parents, 3) Looking good in white shorts.
"This game is gay where's my mom I want to go home!"
The three other children on the court studied her with looks of inscrutable fear. Tears appeared like synchronized bicoastal monsoons at the corners of Lindsay's eyes. Twenty minutes into the Monday afternoon group clinic, the meltdown had arrived.
"Lewis, Anna, Wesley. Here are the balls, why don't you practice your serves. Lindsay and I will be right back." Luke dropped his racquet in the basket and walked over to the pro shop. He didn't need to look up the Blakesley's home phone number. He knew most of the eighty-some tennis family numbers by heart. Mrs. Blakesley never answered the phone, Luke knew, and so when Anna answered he asked if she was there.
"No, she's out. Try her mobile number." Luke scribbled it down.
The mobile number barely rang once when a voice whispered conspiratorially, "Dr. Ohlmeyer, sorry we got cut off. Five-hundred-dollars for the latest phone and look where it gets me? I'm sorry, I'm emotional. Problems at home with the Goober. Where were we?"
"Ahh," Luke blubbered, dumbstruck.
"Oh yes, the yeast infection. The scrip you wrote me for the last one didn't---"
Luke slammed the phone down. He waited a moment and then dialed the mobile number again. This time, it rang four times before LeeLee Blakesley picked up.
"Yes," she said.
"Hi, Mrs. Blakesley, Luke here at the pro shop. Ahh, I think Lindsay's had enough sun for one day. She says she wants to go home."
"Thank you, Luke. You're really too kind for calling." Luke heard a snarling noise in the background that sounded like an angry dog. "I'll be over in two shakes. Be a sweetheart and have her waiting at the curb, will you? Oh, there's my other line, gotta go, see you Sunday for the private." The snarling turned to a loud, bronchial bark at which point the connection cut out.
Luke hung up the phone and walked back to the court. Lindsay had unclipped the center strap of the net and was whipping Lewis with it. "Bad boy, bad bad boy!" she was saying.
At 4:30 Matthew Conover's office phone rang. He picked it up, "Conover."
"Matthew, what a fucking day. Locusts everywhere, biblical, and where the rubber meets the road I have no idea. What's going on there?"
"I don't know. One of those days where I feel like a bomb's hanging over my head. Sherman's on his way, torching every last craphouse standing. Have we fired anyone lately? I'm a little concerned about retaliation."
"Not that I recall," Matthew said.
"Brilliant. Just two things. First, birthday Thursday for Lindsay, all the kids'll be there. Fucking nightmare if you ask me, should tell child she was never actually born. Would alleviate so much parent-child stress." Brief pause. "Hmm."
"I don't think that would work."
"Right, so, I want you and, you and,"
"Right, Jill and,"
"Yes! Caley, superbahh. She's about Lindsay's age, right?"
"Likes video games, things like that?"
"Only four years apart then. Doesn't matter at that age anyway. Dynamite. Second, I have a favor to ask of you. Is your door closed?"
Since Conover had started at Blue Stone seven months earlier, he had had surprisingly little contact with Blakesley in the office. Part of the reason for this was due, in large part, to the fact that Blakesley was rarely in the building. Nevertheless, he maintained the largest office with views of the Sound and full wet bar. And although Blakesley was the one who hired him, he never once inquired about his progress on this project or that, never questioned his need to take a day off here or there. Nor had he asked him for a favor.
"Door's closed," Conover said when he was back in his chair.
"Cutting to the fat, here, so bear with me. A little complex." Conover grabbed a pen and legal pad from his desk and clicked the pen open, in preparation to take notes. "Lee and I have a dog, Zoot, you know, and Linds is boffo about it." Conover put the pen down. "Problem is, I can't fucking stand the mutt. I mean, really can't stand it, borderline wrecking my life, you know. LeeLee's with me on this one. We've tried training, tried videos. No use. Still shits and pisses like we're feedin' it Ex Lax. Ruined two oriental rugs and only chews the best leather in the house. Real classy bitch. On top of that, it's mean. Bastard goes for my balls every chance it gets."
"Whoa," Conover said, twirling his pen.
"Lee's called a few of these hippie dog farms upstate but it's no use, nobody wants the damn thing."
"Except Lindsay. Well, why don't you give the dog over to the Humane Society?"
"Can't. Two reasons. Jeb White's wife Bonnie works there. She'd see the paperwork, stink it up at the club like a chili fart in August."
"Second, unless there's a record of the dog biting somebody, you can't have it put to sleep. Lee tried to take it to some ghetto vet in New Haven today but they wouldn't put it down."
"Why New Haven?"
"You think she could take it to the Eastport guy? If that guy was the last man on the planet and the only other living being was a poodle, his pants'd be down faster'n flies on rice."
Conover pictured Dr. Dorkowitz mating with a poodle. "So you need anonymity?" he asked, shaking the image free.
"You live in this town as long as I have, there's no such thing."
"I'm beginning to see that. So where do I come in?" Conover asked, now a little wary as the possibilities of the favor began to take shape in his mind.
"Here's what I'm thinking."
When Conover hung up the phone he dialed Jill. He misdialed twice before dialing the number correctly. "We got the vote," Conover giggled. "Tom says we'll be full members at ECC by next summer."
Conover lay awake long after Jill had fallen asleep. He thought about the day and the week ahead of him. There were three things he was absolutely sure of. First off, he couldn't agree to Blakesley's method for executing the dog -- it was inhumane and, in the end, the dog might survive. Second, despite agreeing to kill Blakesley's dog himself, he'd have to delegate that task to someone else. And last, and most important, the delegate for a task like that would have to be almost completely dissociated from Eastport society. He understood this was the primary reason Blakesley had chosen him to perform the drop -- almost no one knew him. Still, he didn't want to take a chance. You never know who you might run into at a state park in the middle of Connecticut.
Even Luke would admit that for a summer tennis pro, he had it pretty good. He lived in a rented one-room garage apartment on the grounds of an Eastport member whose house was right off ECC's fourteenth hole. The apartment was private and came furnished: mostly kids stuff, race car posters, but there was a comfortable bed, a nice couch and a very large television with cable. He also had full use of the family's Jacuzzi, tennis court, weight room and, on occasion, their twenty-two-year-old daughter, Mirabelle.
During the past six summers, Luke had cultivated a number of friendships in Eastport. His friends were seasonal. They surfaced in May, when he started work, and drifted out of his life in August when they all returned to school. He met his friends at bar-b-q's and at bars on the shore. Sometimes he met people at parties Mirabelle threw for local friends in the backyard. It was at one of these parties -- a Grateful Dead pre-party -- that Luke had met Tony Walsh.
Mirabelle introduced them in the backyard, in front of the keg, where Tony was standing, pouring a beer. Despite the heat, he was dressed in corduroys and wore a blue jacket with the name Stan stitched on the breast in an oval. His black hair flopped in such a way it disguised his gaze. His handshake was firm, belying his pale skin and rail thin frame.
Conversations are organic and, like lives, they grow in unexpected shapes and directions. So is it surprising that, after discussing the virtues of American beers, Led Zeppelin's oeuvre, Mirabelle's tits and her mother's propensity to wear outfits three sizes too small, that they found themselves on the subject of LSD?
Tony dealt it and had a few tablets on him. He sold Luke two tabs and they dropped in the cool umbrage of an oak.
It was the first of a number of trips they took that summer and the summer after. Tony's supply never ran dry. Sometimes it was meth, sometimes, dope, sometimes mushrooms. The stuff was always quality, though, and it helped Luke occupy the endless weekend hours spent watching empty tennis courts in the baking heat of the summer sun. Once, high, Luke saw the courts change from red to blue and the white lines drifted up into the sky and spelled the word SOAP in huge letters.
Luke wondered about the mental health implications of those trips now as he stared at the form sitting on the couch across from him, dressed in full fly-fishing regalia. The left side of Tony Walsh's mouth was a little slack and he looked more like a mannequin in the outfit than a live person, let alone a fisherman.
"Shit man, what's with the outfit?"
Tony shifted in his seat. The tiny flies attached to his khaki hat and vest shimmered like rhinestones in the six o'clock sun. "Two words, man: fuckin' house arrest. I can't go nowhere, man, without Bill and Mary asking me what I'm doing, where I'm going, who I'm seeing. Shit." Tony lit a cigarette and looked around the room.
Luke nodded in a manner that conveyed simultaneous comprehension and utter perplexity. "So you dress up?"
"I tell 'em I'm going fishing." The working side of his mouth grinned. "I been fuckin' fishing everyday the last month. How else am I gonna move any of this shit?" Tony opened several flaps on his vest and produced baggies of pills, powders and fibrous cyan substances. He laid them on the coffee table in front of Luke who picked them up and sniffed the contents.
"What about the fish?"
"The fish. Don't your parents ask you what you caught?"
"Oh yeah, man. Fuckin'-A they do."
"I go to Stop & Shop on the way home. They've got these trout fillets vacu-sealed for freshness, man!. Look like they just come out of the lake this mornin'."
"You mean the river?"
"Ah, never mind. I'll take these three." Luke picked up the bags and put them on his lap. "How much?"
"I got a favor t'ask, man. I need your car for a few hours. Tomorrow afternoon."
Luke thought for a second. He gauged the drugs in his lap. Probably four-hundred dollars in hallucinogens alone. The Dodge Aries was worth five-hundred at most.
"You got it."
They shook hands and got up.
"Don't forget your pole," Luke said. Tony descended the stairs. Luke watched through a window as he crossed the lawn and hopped the fence. The sun was down, now, and there were no golfers on the course when a man in waders holding a fishing pole bisected the Eastport Country Club's fourteenth fairway.
Sitting in his leather armchair, cradling a whiskey sour, Tom Blakesley had it all figured out. The party was Thursday and d-day for the dog was tomorrow afternoon. Conover said he'd pick the beast up at Four. Blakesley decided that he would tell Lindsay that Zoot had a condition. What condition? He didn't care what it was so long as it sounded probable. And what was probable to a ten-year-old, anyway? By the time Thursday rolled around she'd have forgotten Zoot and, BAM!, the gorgeous mare Blakesley bought would be waiting for her at the Eastport Stables. For the first time in years, Blakesley would be able to enter the house without protecting his nuts. Things were looking up.
Wednesday, 2:45 pm
Conover shuffled the papers on his desk. He couldn't find the contract he was looking for which needed to be signed and faxed by Three. The phone rang.
"Hello Mr. Conover, this is Julie from Dr. Dorkowitz's office. Just a reminder that Regal is scheduled for his neutering today at Three. We'll need him in the office at Two- thirty sharp."
"Right," thinking instead, Fuck!
"See you then!"
Conover hung up and dialed home but there was no answer. He tried his wife's cell phone. No answer. He'd have to take Regal to the vet himself.
He found the contract and gave it a cursory once-over, then signed the back page and gave it to his secretary to fax. In two minutes he was in his car, dialing Blakesley's number on his cell phone.
"Tom, it's Matthew.
"What's happening at the office?"
"I need to pick up the package a little early. Is he ready?"
"Zoot's in the pen. Come over now."
On the way to Blakesley's he stopped at the house to get Regal. The contractors were in the front yard digging a massive hole in the grass using a pick and shovel. Conover didn't bother to ask questions.
At Blakesley's house, Conover backed his Land Cruiser up to the entrance to Zoot's pen which was the size of a medium-size zoo exhibit.
"Open your hatch!" Blakesley called.
The hatch popped open with a hydraulic whoosh. Conover got out and stood next to Blakesley who held a large chunk of red meat in his hand. They watched the foliage inside the pen. It moved like the leaves on a tree move in a heavy wind, but there was no wind at all. Matthew blinked and in the time it took for his eyelids to close over his eyes and then snap open again, the dog was on them: a giant gray monster, all fangs and whiskers.
"Jesus, Tom, what the hell is that!" Conover said, a little shaken. The dog howled through the fence and dug furiously at the fence line with its massive paws.
"Fuck if I know, but I know what it ain't gonna be soon enough." Blakesley chuckled and dabbed his forehead with a kerchief. "Now, you got a divider in the back there? No? Your neck, man."
"Just keep an eye on him." Blakesley tossed the meat into the back of the Land Cruiser. Zoot looked up. "Get ready to close that hatch."
Conover waited and watched. Blakesley grabbed a stick from the ground and used it to push open the gate. Zoot jumped and gnashed at the stick, tearing it free from Blakesley's hand. Then, in an oddly graceful movement, it leaped into the back of the Land Cruiser and lay down next to the meat. As the hatch slammed shut, Blakesley waved his kerchief to the animal
"I'm taking the afternoon off. Oh, by the way, meeting with the Executive Committee later this week. Things should move quickly."
"Thank you, Tom."
"Thank you, Matthew."
Wednesday, 3:35 pm
Tony Walsh pulled the Dodge Aries into the Eastport Animal Clinic parking lot and looked for the Land Cruiser. Bingo! Right in front. He parked the Aries then reached into a vest pocket and retrieved two red pills. Better safe than sorry, he thought, and downed them.
The instructions given to him by Conover were clear. "The dog will be waiting in the car. I won't be there. Put the dog in your car and hit the road." Why they had to meet at a vet clinic Tony couldn't begin to fathom.
He circled the Land Cruiser. The hood seemed to protrude endlessly from the windshield and the side and back windows were darkly tinted, hiding the interior. It seemed like minutes before he made it all the way around to where he started.
He decided to try the hatch. The door opened smoothly and revealed not one dog but two. "Holy shit," Tony said aloud. He grabbed the dog that was still alive by the collar and hauled it over to the Aries.
Wednesday, 3:38 pm
Conover signed the receipt for the surgery and smiled falsely at the receptionist who ignored him.
"You can bring the dog in now. The doctor is ready to see him," she said, not looking at him.
He fumbled with his keys at the car, then remembered it wasn't locked. Regal wasn't inside. "Regal!" Conover called. He went around to the back and peered through the dark window. Zoot was gone and Regal was asleep on the carpet. He opened the hatch and saw immediately that Regal was not asleep.
Wednesday, 6:15 pm
Winnoahatchee State Park is renowned for its indigenous woodpeckers, its trails that date back to the early seventeenth-century settlers, and its secret apple orchards that lie in the center of the densely wooded park.
Tony parked the car near signs for the trails and retrieved the dog from the back seat. Despite the carnage in the Land Cruiser the dog was actually very docile. He brought his fishing pole just in case, though.
They walked side-by-side, he and the dog. The sun was setting behind a line of trees that marked the beginning of the woods. At the entrance, Tony heard a woodpecker hammering against a tree not far from them. The dog seemed to listen, too. They walked into the woods and when Tony let go of the dog's collar it continued by his side. He admired the dog's long strides and powerful shoulders that rose nearly to his waist. They walked on.
About a quarter of a mile into the park they stopped at an impasse. A stream with a rushing current blocked their path. Up the stream about seventy yards on their side Tony saw a man fishing. The man used a long rod like the one he carried and flicked the line back and forth across the water. The man stood on rocks and the water rushed over his boots.
Tony popped another red pill. He knelt to undue the dog's collar.
"Last stop, man," he said to the dog. He put the collar in his pocket and stepped forward towards the river, holding his pole steady in his left hand. When he was knee-deep in the current, he unclipped the fly from the bottom eyelet on the pole and let it fall into the water. It floated fast downstream and Tony let out more line. In the distance he saw a fish jump.
On the shore, the dog stood on the rocks and looked towards the sun where the other man was fishing. It raised its nose to the breeze and sniffed.
Wednesday, 7:04 pm
Tom Blakesley took it all in. The sunset, the crescents moon now forming low in the sky, the birds in flight above him. Fuck if a day like this didn't give him a boner. He cast his line over the river one more time and, sure enough, a trout hit it.
And fuck if this lake wasn't getting crowded. Some jackass was fishing downstream from him now. It appeared the guy didn't know shit from shinola about fly-fishing.
Blakesley took off his sunglasses and cleared the
sweat from his eyes. When he saw the dog coming towards
him, his first emotion was an oddly familiar one.
© 2001 c.k., all rights reserved
appears here by permission