Because did it really make any difference which of these golfers he killed? Wasn’t one as good as the other?
That’s just your mind talking, he told himself sternly. It’s crazy, and the good news is you don’t need to listen to it.
The eighth hole, another par four, was the reverse of the seventh, with its fairway running along the other side of the wooded stretch. Keller took a shortcut through the woods while the three duffers headed for the green, and he’d found a good spot for himself by the time they turned up on the eighth tee.
This time Wheeler had the honors, and Keller braced himself, willing the man to hit a slice. Once again the woods were on the players’ right, and once again Wheeler failed to cooperate. He missed the fairway, but not by much, his ball rolling until it came to a stop in the light rough on the far side, away from Keller.
The next man up, whose name Keller hadn’t caught, hooked his tee shot, and wound up a little deeper in the left rough than Wheeler. And then Eddie hit a perfect slice into the woods on the right, the ball coming to rest mere steps from Keller’s place of concealment.
It was almost as if the guy wanted Keller to kill him. Almost as if that was what Keller was supposed to do.
Keller backed off, trying not to make any noise. In the movies, someone in his position always wound up stepping on a twig, and all ears perked up at the sound. Keller stepped on a lot of twigs, it was impossible to do otherwise, but no one noticed a thing.
Eddie found his ball with no trouble this time, and had the sense to play a safe shot back onto the fairway. Keller got out the course map and tried to figure out what to do next.
The ninth hole was a par three, and the trick was to get on the green without going in the water hazard. That was no place for Keller to lurk, not without scuba gear. He could see from the map that the tenth hole was similarly devoid of suitable cover, so he made his way directly to number eleven, and got there in time to watch another colorfully dressed group of aging businessmen find various ways to misplay the hole.
He waited, and the next team off the tee was another foursome. What would he do, he wondered, if Wheeler and his pals decided to skip the back nine?
And they might. For all he knew they were in the clubhouse right now, bandying friendly insults back and forth, reliving nine holes of golf you’d think they’d be delighted to forget. Knocking back a couple of rounds of drinks at the bar, chatting with other club members, and networking just enough to keep their club memberships tax deductible.
How long, he wondered, before he could conclude that he’d missed his chance? And if he had, what would he do next?
He reviewed the possible courses of action open to him, and couldn’t find any he liked. He reached a point where he was plotting long-range schemes that would keep him in Oregon for a couple of weeks. Then he glanced over at the tee and he’d never been so happy to see a pair of purple pants and a vivid yellow shirt.
Eddie went first, having evidently found some way to win the preceding hole. He sent his tee shot straight down the middle of the fairway, and so did the next man, whom the others seemed to be calling Rich. And so, maddeningly, did Wheeler, whose drive never came anywhere near Keller’s stand.
When he had the chance, he moved on to the next hole.
Deep rough edged both sides of the twelfth fairway. Keller had to guess, and guessed wrong. Poor golfers hit more slices than hooks, he reasoned, so he chose the woods to the golfers’ right, and Rich and Eddie did hit slices, Eddie’s ball just reaching the woods. Wheeler, maddeningly, hooked his drive well into the woods on the opposite side. He was all alone there, searching for his ball among the trees, but Keller was stranded on the other side of the fairway.
On thirteen, the rough on both sides was fairly deep, but there was no tree cover available. The only trees involved were about a hundred and twenty yards out from the tee, a stand of mixed hardwoods stretching for twenty or thirty yards across the fairway. From the tee, you had two choices; you could try to clear the trees on the fly, or you could play it safe and skirt the hazard on the right.
Keller watched from the trees. Rich and Eddie both took the safe route, laying up alongside the trees on the right. Wheeler sent his ball straight down the middle of the fairway, and it looked for a moment as though it was going to sail right over the trees. But it fell short, hit a tree, and dropped like a stone into the middle of the hazard.
Keller waited, positioning himself where he couldn’t be seen, holding his breath, as if the sound of air going in and out of his lungs might be audible over the engines of the carts. He balanced his weight on the balls of his feet, felt the comforting pressure of the revolver in the small of his back, and watched helplessly as Wheeler drove straight up to where his ball had landed, with both of his companions, Rich and Eddie, putt-putting along on either side of him. All three carts parked together, and all three men climbed down and joined in the search for Wheeler’s ball.
Well, why not take out all three of them? Make it a real front-page story, “Three Business Leaders Gunned Down at Rose Hill.” And how hard could it be? He could walk right up to them without arousing anybody’s suspicions, and if he ran out of bullets before he’d finished the job, well, a five iron would do to wrap things up.
But all he did was stand there while Wheeler found his ball and took three more strokes to get it through the patch of woods.
Fourteen, fifteen, sixteen. It was one damn thing after another, and Keller figured the seventeenth hole was his last chance. The eighteenth hole had sand traps for hazards, and no trees in a position to help him out. So either he got lucky on seventeen or his only shot was to follow Wheeler into the locker room and drown him in the shower.
Or he could just forget the whole thing.
And was that such a bad idea? It wasn’t as though he had to punch Wheeler’s ticket in order to get his reward. There was no client on this job, no advance to be refunded if he failed, no final payment to be collected for a job well done. This was for him and Dot, this was a matter of revenge, this was evening the score.
But did the score need to be evened?
He didn’t know Ben Wheeler and Wheeler didn’t know him, wouldn’t recognize him, probably wouldn’t remember his name, if he’d ever known it in the first place. Wheeler had made use of him in a way that had taken Keller’s whole life away from him, or at least it had looked that way at the time. But now Dot was alive again, and Keller was a millionaire again, and he even had his stamps back — or would as soon as he went to Albany and collected them. His apartment was gone, his life in New York was over, and he could never again use the name he’d been born with, but he could live with that, couldn’t he?
Why, he was living with it already, and living comfortably, too. He liked New Orleans as well as he’d liked New York, and he had work he enjoyed, work that was easier to live with than running around the country killing people. Not once, after a day of installing tongue-and-groove flooring, say, had he felt the need to shrink the image of the day’s work in his mind, graying it down, lightening its burden on his memory. He had a woman who was at once exciting to be with and easy to live with, and all he had to do was walk away from all of this purposeless vengeance and he could be back with her, being Nicholas Edwards, living his new life.
Wheeler had won the last hole, and led off. Keller was waiting in the woods on the right, and Wheeler actually hit the ball in his direction. But it wasn’t a terribly wicked slice, and wound up in the rough a good dozen yards short of where the trees and dense shrubbery began.
Rich hit his tee shot, and really got hold of it. It went high in the air and took off down the left side of the fairway, carrying almost to the first pair of bunkers. All three of the men at the tee watched its flight, but not Keller, who picked that moment to dart out, sprint to Wheeler’s ball, pick it up, and scamper back into the trees again.
He stopped, leaning against a tree trunk while he caught his breath. Any of them could have seen him, all they’d have had to do was glance in his direction, but if they did he’d have heard an outcry. He chanced a look, and they were still on the tee, with Eddie putting one club back in his bag and taking out another, then going through his usual ritual of practice swings before he finally stepped up to the ball. Keller begged him silently not to slice it, and he didn’t, knocking a no-harm grounder down the middle of the fairway.
All three men went to Eddie’s ball, and waited while he sent it another hundred yards or so toward the pin. Then he and Rich headed for their respective balls, while Wheeler drove straight to where he’d seen his own ball land.
It wasn’t there, and Wheeler walked around in circles, the picture of total confusion. You’d think it might occur to the guy to try the woods, but he’d seen where it landed, dammit, and that’s where he was going to look for it.
Keeping his voice down, Keller said, “Hey, buddy. This what you’re looking for?”
Wheeler looked up, and Keller motioned him over. Could the others see him? It didn’t matter, they were looking in another direction, but he moved to his left to put a tree between him and them, just to be on the safe side.
He said, “Thing hit a rock, took a leap like a scared rabbit. Right this way.”
“Never would have looked way over here,” Wheeler said. “I owe you one.”
“Wait a minute,” Keller said. “Don’t I know you? Aren’t you Benjamin Wheeler?”
Wheeler smiled in acknowledgment. Then a frown creased his forehead. “You look familiar,” he said. “Do I know you?”
“Not exactly,” Keller said, reaching for him. “But you can call me Al.”
“Griqualand West,” Julia said, reading over his shoulder. “Is that a country?”
“It used to be,” he said. He reached for the catalog, found the right page. “Here we go. ‘Originally a territorial division of the Cape of Good Hope Colony, Griqualand West was declared a British Crown Colony in 1873 and together with Griqualand East was annexed to the Cape Colony in 1880.’”
“So that’s where? South Africa?” He nodded. “Do you have stamps from Griqualand East?”
“They didn’t issue stamps for Griqualand East.”
“Just Griqualand West.”
She studied the album page. “They all look pretty much the same,” she said.
“They’re all stamps from Cape of Good Hope,” he said, “over-printed with a G.”
“For Griqualand West.”
“I think that’s probably what they had in mind. Some of the overprints are red and some are black, and there are lots of different variations in the G.”
“And every variation is a different stamp to collect.”
“I guess it doesn’t make much sense.”
“It’s not supposed to make sense,” she said. “It’s a hobby, and you have to have rules, that’s all. Some of the G’s are upside down.”