The sports department of the Rosehill Dispatch was located on the second floor of a former funeral home squeezed cheek-by-jowl between a pizza parlor and a video rental store on Market Street.
Fisher crumpled up the latest love letter from the utility company and tossed it across the room, banking it into the trash basket next to Tom Willis's desk. Willis, the Jimmy Olsen of the three man sports staff was at the desk of Claire Richardson, the department editor.
Claire called to Fisher, "You see this Fish?"
"The swastikas on his head. He tattooed them backwards. Come, come.
Fisher watched the replay of the videotape showing Mickey Salmanowitz, the all-Nassau County fullback from Rosehill High school, ripping off his helmet after scoring a touchdown. Fisher had covered the game Friday and seen Salmanowitz doing his victory dance revealing the markings on his shaved head.
“Look,” said Claire, “the Brainiac shaved them backwards.” She leaned her body against him with familiarity as she drew the the ¾ rectangles. “Can you believe it? Schmuck can't even get misery right.”
“They suspend him yet?”
“The Superintendent is making an announcement today.”
“Want me to go to the school?”
“Willis has got it.”
“I need you to cover the hole-in-one-arama.”
“Hole in what?”
“Three guys in the same foursome aced the seventeenth hole on the Black Course. First time in seventy-five years.”
“Jesus, Claire. I cover the Pilgrims all year for Christ's sake.
“Fish. Don't. Not today.”
“Are you listening to me? Not today!”
Knowing how much he owed Claire, Fisher stopped. “The Black Course?”
“Then I gotta borrow your car.
“What's wrong with yours?”
“It's in the shop,” he lied. Claire flipped him the keys to her Toyota.
The last face Fisher wanted to see was the acne-dappled puss on the sixteen-year-old cyclist riding circles in the parking lot.
“Mr. Fisher, you said...”
“Bucky, I know...”
“I covered the, you know, cross-country meet, and you said, like, when you didn't pay me for the soccer game at Pine Plains last week...”
“Bucky...” watching the kid circle was making Fisher dizzy. The thought of knocking Bucky off his bike with his shoe crossed his mind.
“I need the money, Mr. Fisher.”
“Right.” Fisher turned on the ignition.
“So, like when are you gonna...”
“Next week, Bucky.”
“But that's what you said...”
He knew couldn't hit the kid, plus the fact was the boy was right; Fisher had been using him to cover assignments.
“Bucky, I'll square it with you next week.”
Fisher smiled like he believed it. What could the boy do? Turn him in? Not today. Please God. He was still on the ropes. King's Chaos going away. All boats would have risen. It was one thing to back off a gut bet at post time and kick yourself downstairs for the second guess. But to have the bet nailed and be closed out cause of some titanic turd at the Mutual window? Beyond the pale and back. It had felt so good hitting that fat smiling prick, but now his hand ached like it was on fire. Let it go, let it go. Just do his job until his next paycheck. The track would still be there.
Fisher drove the Toyota cross county to the Rosehill Golf Club, a public links less than a mile from an industrial plant. On hot summer days, soot would occasionally drift from the factory smokestacks and fall down on the back nine like black snow. But in early autumn the wind changed and golfers no longer needed to cover their mouths with their shirts as they made the turn.
Fisher found two of the happy-acers drunkenly holding court at the bar overlooking the putting green. Martin, a large man with a beer guzzler's belly, was buying cocktails for all comers while Tomasini, a silver-haired semi-dwarf whose toupee looked as if a divot had landed on his head, stood on a stool re-creating his historic shot.
“So there I was,” Tomasini sang in a high pitched voice “...on the tee with my seven-iron.”
“Six,” corrected Martin.
“I hit the seven.”
“Seven-iron?” laughed Martin spraying the bar with beer. “Frankie, the hole is a hundred-and-seventy yards. Hitting downhill off a mountain with a hurricane behind you, you couldn't reach that green with a seven-iron.”
Outside, a duffer playing out of the bunker on the eighteenth hole, shanked a shot up against the clubhouse. “Incoming” the bartender shouted. Everyone laughed and ordered another round on Martin. Tomasini, meanwhile, was now explaining how he holed his shot with an eight-iron.
“Eight! Bullshit, Frankie!”
The only thing the pair agreed on was the name of the man who made the third ace; Jack Landy. Landy. Yeah, that was a name that rang a bell. Fisher recalled that Jack Landy was the highly ranked amateur who almost won the County Open last year. What the hell was a golfer of that caliber doing playing skins with these jokers?
“We know him from the Rotary,” said Martin. “He owns a restaurant out on the bay.”
“Hey Frankie, what's the name of Landy's Joint?”
“The clam and slam on East Bay. Place we went your wife was out of town.”
“We went where?”
“He's hopeless,” said Martin. “One time he put his golf shoes in the refrigerator. Let me see. Ed...something.”
“Edgar's!” Tomasini called with relish as if he expected a prize.
“Yeah, that's it. Edgar's. Out on Shore Drive.”
Shore Drive? Christ, thought, Fisher, this was going to take all day.
He drove back across the county and turned on the winding road that traversed the shoreline. Fisher couldn't remember if he'd ever been to Edgar's, but the shore haunts all looked the same, with the fake netting strung across the roof as if they expected to catch a mackerel sailing by. Ten-to-one the inside would look like the inside of of fish tank with sea paraphernalia hanging from the rafters and paintings of sailing ships behind the bar.
Nearing the end of the road he saw a wooden sign saying "Edgar's" with a red arrow pointing left. He pulled into a sand parking lot fronting a brown shingled building with a neon swordfish blinking in the window. A walkway of crushed sea-shells lead to the front door. Nice touch, thought Fisher. Someone had put some care into the place.
Fisher opened the door and walked past a wall sized mural of fierce looking fish. Jim Lauderdale was blasting from the sound system singing "You'd be surprised by what you don't know." But the place empty except for Sarah, a blonde bartender whose shirt was unbuttoned at least two past the legal limit.
Fisher sat on a stool and ordered a beer.
Sarah, nodding her head to the list on the blackboard underneath a painting of a bare-breasted mermaid she seemed intent on emulating, said “We've got ten of them.”
“Ah,” she teased him. “An adventurer.” There was a tiny white drop of white spittle on her nose from trying to get high on the gas from canned whip-cream.
“Jack Landy in?”
She opened the beer. “Uhn-uh. He left for Florida.”
“Florida! How long?”
Sarah shrugged. “He goes, he comes.” She smiled knowing exactly how suggestive everything she said sounded. “He comes, he goes.”
“I'm with the Rosehill Dispatch. I'm doing a story about his golf. Anyone here shed a little light?”
“There's his wife. She runs the place.”
“Is she here?”
The tendress pressed a button on an intercom. “Guy here to see you. Says he's with the newspapers.” Fisher heard a muffled reply. “She's coming...right up.” The girl ought to have her own cable porn show, thought Fisher. Sarah filled a bowl with pretzel circles and slid it in front of Fisher.
Sarah took a pretzel from the bowl and put it around her eye like a monocle. “If you want to write about someone...”
“Oh, yeah? What do you do?”
Sarah laughed, twirling the pretzel around her finger. “Where,” she said, “do I start?”
From the doorway on the top of the stairs, Jo checked Fisher out. This was the second time she'd been able to watch him unnoticed. Sarah spotted her and dropped the pretzel.
“You stocked the beer yet?” Jo said.
“Getting it,” said Sarah, now all business, as she headed downstairs. Fisher caught the smell of flowers even before he turned.
“I'm Jo Landy.”
God damn, he thought. God damn. “David Fisher. Rosehill Dispatch. I saw you at the meeting and the...”
“Track.” She looked straight at him. “Gonna give me a lecture.?”
A lecture? No. He wanted to bury his face in her... “No. No. Your hair was down.”
“And now it's up.” Yeah, he liked it better when it was down. It softened the life lines on her face. “Sarah said you were with the papers?”
“Yes. It's about your husband's golf. But the bartender said he'd left for Florida.”
“That's not news.”
“He shot a hole-in-one. He and these two Rhodes Scholars he was playing with.”
“Suppose to be funny?”
“Only if you met them.”
She was tough. But she wasn't going anywhere. At least not yet, as long as he could keep the ball in play. “Yeah, all three of them playing together, they aced the same hole. First time in seventy-five years.”
“I'm sorry. I don't really keep up with his golf.”
“How long is he going to be in Florida?”
“I really have no idea”
He was losing her. Damn. Clearly she couldn't care less if her husband had won the U.S. Open, the Masters and the P.G.A. He scratched his head with his bandaged paw.
“What happened to your hand?”
“Writer's cramp,” said Fisher.
“But you're right handed.”
“Sympathy pains.” Jo smiled. Only for an instant. But it was as if she had reached across and touched his face. “Got a phone number?”
Now it was Fisher's turn to smile. He was being completely innocent. “In Florida. Where I can reach him.”
“No. I'm sorry.” Her eyes met his, again with the questioning dare. He stood still, waiting for direction, for a map, for a sign from heaven, hell, or the Man in the Moon.
A grunt from behind. Sarah emerged from the stairs carrying a case of beer. Fisher couldn't even spell “spell” after it was broken.
“O.K.,” he said. “Thanks.” Eloquent. A Pulitzer for that one. Jo nodded and walked down to her office without looking back. Fisher exhaled and headed for the door.
“Hey, Squire?” Sarah called from the bar. “That's three-fifty for the beer.”
Fisher drove from the shore back past the strip malls to the center of the town.
If there were ever hills in Rosehill, they were gone long before the WalMarts, Burger Kings, discount mattress stores, drive-thru banks, donut shops and gas stations had leveled the vista all the way to East Bay. As for roses? They had always grown in the crevices between the smallest patches of want. All he could think about was Jo, about her face, about her small tight body, about her incredible hair up or down, about the peek behind the “I don't give a shit” she had given him with that almost smile.
There was something there, right? Inquiring about his hand? She asked unprovoked. He didn't wave it in her face saying “Look at me, I injured myself fighting for peace, justice and the American Way.” What he should've said was, “Your hair is like, like, like...” If he could touch it, then he would know, then he could write sonnets, sing songs, dance on top of the bar.
Rush hour traffic was backing up. Fisher switched lanes only to be stuck behind a bus full of soccer players from Pine Plains High School.
A married woman. Risky, he thought. He'd done that kind of thing before. He subconsciously stroked his jaw in memory of a bedroom brawl. No matter how you played it, someone always socks somebody. My emotional life is like the bankbook of a child, thought Fisher.
People taking dives into empty pools. I'm a stranger, he said to himself.
A boy in the bus pulled down his pants and pressed his ass against the back window. I'm a stranger.