Sniper Hunt, A Collection
Zach Czaia

 

Sniper Hunt

Chapter 1

 

Ernie Teriwig was an old man. He liked his toast plain, smoked Marlboro's since the company's inception, and he never missed St. Basil's 10 A.M. bimonthly Saturday Penance service. He'd been a staunch Roman Catholic for nearly fifty years, and at 70, his faith was as sturdy as a welder's pipe.

On this crisp, autumn morning, Ernie pulled his shiny 1965 Ford Mustang into the urban lot located in the heart of Chicago and made the walk into the incense-filled, old-school, church.

He took his customary seat, two rows from the altar on the left side. He settled in and checked his watch. Five minutes early.

Moments later, a middle-aged man of the cloth slowly ambled toward his self-contained confessional, a model which essentially hadn't changed since the middle ages. He entered the room and closed the door. The brass nameplate read "Fr. Joshua Carpagio".

Ernie rose from his seat and was about to enter the aisle when a noise from the back of the church drew his attention. A man wearing sunglasses and a New York Knicks baseball cap jogged through the aisle and into his side of the confessional. Ernie noticed he had a distinctive "S" tattoo on his left bicep.

"I guess I'll just have to wait," Ernie muttered to himself.

After five minutes, the man exited the confessional, picked up his hat and left. Ernie made the sign of the cross and entered the confessional the man had just departed from. He began.

"Bless me father for I have sinned, it has been two weeks since my last confession..."

Precisely two minutes later, Ernie finished and waited. Another minute passed, and Ernie still didn't hear anything. He checked his hearing aid. It was firmly in place.

"Was I that bad, Father?"

He rapped the side of the confessional and upon doing so noticed a small, circular hole he'd never seen before. Ernie's mind swam with possibilities as he searched the dark confessional for a clue. He picked up a palm-sized handgun just as the blaring of sirens reverberated in his ears.

 

 

Chapter 2

The last cinnamon streusel in the box looked really good to Frank Severson, and judging by his ever expanding waistline, he wasn't a man accustomed to saying no. At 29, Frank was entering the prime of his police career, but he was beginning to have second thoughts about his career choice, though it had its perks. He was washing down the last pastry with a gulp of decaf when he felt the rhythmic buzz of his trusty police issue beeper.

"Damn. Another 690?"

Code 690 meant emergency staff meeting, and that was something that was really wearing on Frank Severson.

By the time all the official Chicago Style police issue coffee and donuts had been passed around, it was 12:30. Captain James Mortensen, a trim and graying 60 year-old former Army Drill Sergeant, began the meeting with a loud clearance of his throat and explanation for the curious Saturday meeting, which only two of the eighteen Precinct #9 cops failed to attend.

"I'm sorry to call you away from the luxury of your family or weekend entertainment , but something big has come up. At approximately 8 A.M. this morning, our guys, Newton and Hornswig, received a 911 dispatch from St. Basil's downtown."

This piqued Frank's interest. He'd been an altar boy for St. Basil's from kindergarten through his high-school years, and then, after getting married, his fervor for the parish died. Captain Mortensen continued, "A Roman Catholic priest was found dead, with a single bullet entry at the temple inside his confessional. Our guys testified that the only person at the scene was an elderly parishioner by the name of Ernie Teriwig. He was holding the gun when we--"

"What!?" Frank interrupted, "I know the man. I went to his Church for ten years."

"Well, perhaps you'd like to look into this case then, Frank. A knowledge of parishioners might prove valuable."

 

 

 

Chapter 3

Ernie sat in stunned silence in a nine by nine holding cell that smelled faintly of every bodily fluid imaginable. He had been sitting there on this late Saturday evening for the last four hours.

"Mr. Teriwig. You have a visitor."

Ernie jolted up in his seat as the door swung open. His face lit up.

"Frank! It's good to see a familiar face today."

The two men bear-hugged, then reminisced about old times. Frank had played on Ernie's parochial school baseball team in grades seven and eight and was the shortstop for two championship clubs. In fact, St. Basil's was one of the Catholic Athletic Association's most illustrious teams in the state, and coach Ernie Teriwig was legendary for his coaching tactics. Not once did he ever raise his voice in anger in the presence of the youths, either at a practice or a game. Rather, he placed a firm emphasis on "fundamental baseball", and relied on famous former graduates to hammer home his points. He had resigned from his coaching post five years ago at the age of sixty five.

Frank knew his precinct loved to close cases. In the 1970's a string of cases came through the department that were never solved and heads started to roll. An unofficial memo from the district commissioner conveyed a simple, yet corrupted message. "If the evidence isn't there, drum up a motive, but break the case at all costs."

That is why, at this very moment, five special "research" officers were combing through Ernie's past, desperate for a shred of a motive that would support the circumstantial evidence. They got that shred late Sunday night.

Authorities in the Department obtained his birth certificate, only to find that his name wasn't on it. Instead, the certificate, from St. John's Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, bore the name of Jonathan Mitchell. They traced Mitchell's criminal record and found an alarming number of crimes; car robberies, convenience store thefts and a varied assortment of other petty plunders. All of this caught up with him, though, because in 1951, his behavior earned him a one year stay in the New York State Penitentiary. It was at this time that his name was changed to Ernest James Teriwig.

 

 

Chapter 4

Some other, more important, events occurred during Ernie's stay at the New York State Penitentiary that the Department conveniently ignored. Ernie found God there in that run-down, sorry excuse for a prison, and later he would say he even heard His voice speaking through a messenger in the cloth. That messenger was Father Roberto Castille.

Father Robbie commanded respect wherever he went. Standing at a hulking 6'6", 275 pounds and with rumored, unproven ties to the Mafia, it was no small wonder why. Yet he had a way of speaking that made everyone listen to the words he said. First, he'd study an inmate's personal biography, then he'd sit down and have a man-to-man chat with the prisoner. It was during Ernie's chat with Father Robbie that he converted to the Roman Catholic faith and began a lifelong friendship with the priest. Years down the road, Ernie would bring Father Robbie back for inspirational speeches before big games, and the tactic never seemed to fail. St. Basil's was 13-0 when he gave the pre-game pep-talk.

On December 22, 1997, Father Robbie was gunned down while saying Mass in his Queens, New York parish. He was a vocal constituent of New York's fight against gang warfare, so parishioners and investigators speculated it was a gang kill, though they had no idea who. There was evidence that contradicted that assertion, however. First of all, the fact that no killer was found is very suspicious. Most gangs like to claim a kill as their own, not single someone out with a sniper. Secondly, no gangs in the New York area have ever used silencers to kill, but no gunshot was heard in Father Robbie's cavernous church.

Investigators concluded from the entrance of the bullet and its trajectory that the gunman shot from the choir loft, and because it was a low Mass there were no witnesses to the shooter. The whirlwind year began January 2, 1998 for Ernie Teriwig as he wept for one of his closest friends. Today, he wept again.

 

Chapter 5

Frank went home to his south side apartment after his chat with Ernie, and he slept fitfully. He woke up late Sunday morning, nearly 11:00, and remembered Ernie. Frank went to Mass that morning, the first time in a year. Since St. Basil's was closed, he attended a small French church a few minutes from his apartment.

When he got back, he flipped on the television to watch the Bears game, but it was half-time, and network went to local news. Frank went to the fridge to fix a smoked ham sandwich; he picked up the mayonnaise and stopped to listen:

"...in the murder of Father Joshua Carpagio, we have a break in the case. Investigators have been working around the clock on this one, and they believe they may have the evidence to arrest Ernie Teriwig as the killer. Steps have been made to convict Teriwig, a famous neighborhood baseball coach, and a trial is expected within the month. Next in sports..."

The dull thud of a mayonnaise jar cracking on thick linoleum echoed throughout Frank's apartment.

On the opposite side of the city, in a small but well-kept two-bedroom flat, a young man with a thousand names watched the same news broadcast. A slow smile crept onto his face, and he cracked open a bottle of champagne.

 

 

Chapter 6

Frank Severson was on a mission. He knew the Department wouldn't think twice about wrapping this case up like a late Christmas present. The fingerprints were on the gun, the criminal record was there, and only a weak motive, embarrassment, prevented this from being a slam dunk. He had to find the real killer.

He raced to the library on foot, arriving in five minutes. Sweat-drenched, but no worse for the wear, Frank zoned in on his purpose. Who would want to kill Father Joshua Carpagio and why?

He checked in the library's newspaper file on-line and found two articles concerning the ill-fated St. Basil's pastor. The first article was dated six years ago, and was really only a short blurb mentioning his presence at a Pro-Life Rally in front of an abortion clinic. The second article grabbed his attention.

Every Sunday, the Chicago Tribune included a special religion section, and this section showed how local religious leaders were impacting their community. This particular issue, dated three weeks prior to his death, detailed his aggressive anti-gang stance, and how he combated street violence and drugs. He had an activity center built right across from the church, complete with a gymnasium, pool table, and pinball machine. Frank was more interested in his quotes. This one was highlighted under his picture in the paper:

"We've found through talking with the kids that some of these gangs are not just run by young hoodlums, but some are even affiliated with big-name companies. That's scary to me, and I think all of us should take a hard look at local corporations."

Frank suddenly remembered a case, four years back. The Department had arrested one of the prominent young gangsters from DeathMob, a huge inner city dynasty that attracted many youths for its open access to hard core drugs. They'd found some drugs on this guy, and so they ran them through a narcotics lab to see what they'd find.

The lab tests yielded some interesting results. The four substances, which were found sealed in a ziploc bag, were unlike any street narcotic the lab had ever seen. Precisely refined opiates, incredibly strong heroin, the purest cocaine, and a very potent strain of marijuana were all found in the bag. There was no doubt about it: these drugs had to have come from a professionally-run laboratory.

Suddenly he remembered the company: Sisko Incorporated. That company was dirty from the day of its inception, and now it was time for a little reckoning day.

 

Chapter 7

In a sprawling Champaign, Illinois suburb within the confines of William Searcy's palacial estate, the Sniper negotiated.

"The game's up, Willie. It's time to pack our bags and go, because the business is getting too risky. Those two priests...they're just the tip of the iceberg. If we hit the wrong precinct, our careers will be on thin ice."

Searcy adjusted his monogrammed cuff links and coughed. The chief executive officer for Sisko Incorporated spoke with a cultured British accent.

"So you've gone yellow on me, eh Sniper? Fine, but you owe me one last deal."

Sniper returned Searcy's glare.

"It had better pay well."

Sniper had played clean with the drug money for the first two years, but lately he'd sold the drugs for higher prices and taken the extra for himself. This had caught up with the operation, however, because higher prices meant more attention from authorities and fewer buyers. Even though Searcy paid him well, Sniper needed a little more money before he'd be able to leave the country and start a new, very rich life.

Searcy outlined the mission.

"I've a friend down in Colombia who literally has a mill full of cocaine. You bring the product to me, I refine it and you sell it, only to proven customers for our pre-agreed prices. Understand?"

Searcy handed him a sheet of paper with numbers of grams, prices of the original purchase, customers, and then the marked-up prices.

"Return all the money to me, and you will be richly rewarded."

"What's DeathMob's take?"

Sniper would be leaving the gang, but he wanted to make sure his friends would be okay.

"If all is sold, one quarter of a million dollars."

 

 

Chapter 8

 

Ernie was worried. How come with this huge police force working the case, they still weren't able to find the real murderer?

"When are they going to let me free?" he wondered aloud.

"Soon enough, Ernie. We'll set you free."

Ernie brightened when he heard Frank's familiar voice.

"We're almost sure we know who the killer is, but he's very dangerous and very much on the loose, so it would be safer for everyone if you stayed put."

"Well, if you say so. But what's taking them so long?"

"Well, Ernie, you're the only one who saw him. We need your help. Describe him again, and don't leave out any details."

Ernie looked angry and frustrated.

"I'll tell you what I told the cops five times already! The guy had an average build. About 6', maybe 175 pounds. He had a Knicks cap and a tattoo. That's it. That's all I know."

"What did the tattoo look like?" Frank asked.

"I think it was in the shape of an 'S'."

Frank smiled. He pulled out a mug shot of the then eighteen year old "Sniper". He pointed to the tattoo on the skinny arm.

"Was it like that?"

"Exactly like that. Who is that guy, anyway?"

Frank filled him in on the sad details of this man of many names, and how he may have killed Father Robbie as well. Ernie nodded to him. Frank returned the nod and left to catch the killer in his own lair.

 

Frank decided that the best course of action would be to find the location of the base of operations for the alleged "DeathMob" gang. It would prove to be a lot easier than they expected.

Frank searched police records for any gang member arrested in the past month.

"Bingo! That's our man."

The Illinois State Penitentiary, capacity 10,000, located minutes from the station, held in cell 33D, the hulking frame of one Tobias D. Boozer, a prolific DeathMob enforcer. At 6'4" 290 pounds, "T.B." was known for cracking necks with frightening regularity and he was in the pen for a particularly disturbing "regulation" he had administered. After one of the younger members had spoken badly of the gang's leaders in public, and when T.B. paid a visit to "extract" an apology, and when wasn't forthcoming, T.B. threw the twenty year old member out of the twenty second floor of his apartment.

But Frank wasn't fazed. He went into the cell weaponless and got to the point quickly. He spoke loudly with his best attempt at toughness:

"Mr. Boozer, we'd like a little help. As an enforcer for DeathMob, we think you would know the location of their base of operations. Would you be so kind to volunteer that information?"

The vaunted enforcer looked Greg in the eyes and stared. Then he started laughing. Minutes later, Boozer was still on the ground, rolling with laughter.

"Mr. Boozer, if you don't cooperate, I can assure you we have other, more painful ways to obtain the information."

Frank clicked open the suitcase containing his "truth" serum that he'd whipped up this morning. The syringe inside contained a lethal mix of water and Icy Breeze Koolaid Mix.

Boozer finally calmed down. He was still smiling broadly.

"You actually want to know where the base is? You must be either stupid or crazy, because no one walks in there and comes out alive, unless you're a member. But if you two want to give it a shot, be my guest. Good luck finding any other cop who wants to go, though; we got them turning the other way a long time back. Here's the map right here."

With a fierce jerk of his shoulders, Boozer ripped the stagnant prison issue uniform in half to reveal a tattoo-stained upper body. He pointed to his left pectoral.

"Everything you need is right there."

Frank took out a pencil, jotted down the address, sketched the surrounding streets, and thanked Boozer. He chuckled.

"No problem. Rest in Peace."

 

 

Chapter 9

Frank knew it would be suicide to attempt to find Sniper at his DeathMob base. He figured his best move would be to go to Sisko Incorporated and get some dirt right away.

Frank had an idea, but he'd need the help of an old friend. He called up Greg Cox, an old codgy veteran of the force who'd been transferred a few years back. He explained the situation, then his idea.

"What if we went to Sisko, forged some i.d.'s, got some drugs and then delivered them to the gang headquarters. Chances are Sniper would be heading up transactions."

Cox disagreed.

"Don't you think DeathMob deals with pretty specific people. You can't just waltz on in there flashing Sisko i.d.'s and some drugs, and expect to find the killer."

"But if we find the names and faces of the people who are dirty, we'll have some evidence for the Department, and we could set up a sting with lookalikes."

Greg agreed with this sentiment, and the two formulated a plan. Frank called the FDA, and he explained his suspicions about Sisko to one of the division's higher ups. Apparently, Greg and Frank weren't the only ones suspicious, because the man agreed to let the two operate undercover as FDA regulators. The man on the phone said they could pick up the necessary identification cards and uniforms as soon as they wanted at their downtown office.

Frank explained the plan to Greg, "I'm the computer whiz out of the two of us, and you're the better actor, so here's the deal: I'll hack into one of the databases and look for traces to the gang while you perform some kind of an efficiency test while looking for illicit drugs. Got it?"

Greg smiled, "Sure. Sounds like fun."

Sisko Incorporated's headquarters were situated in an open, prairie-like atmosphere just outside of Champaign. The building looked like a gigantic soda can, its cylindrical structure extending high into the air. The two FDA "regulators" nodded to each other and walked toward the building. They flashed their i.d.'s to the guard and entered the main lobby of the building. Six elevators lined the spacious lobby. A pretty young clerk approached them.

"Can I help you two gentleman with anything?"

Greg responded with his trademark smile, "Yes. We're with the FDA. We're here for a surprise inspection. Someone has tipped us off to some less-than-stellar practices that have been going on here at Sisko."

Her face fell. "Oh. I'm sorry to hear that. I'll buzz our corporate manager. He'll escort you during your inspection."

"Very good. Thank you, ma'am."

A minute later a plump, youthful looking man wearing a suit and tie got off one of the elevators and greeted them. Although he had the corporate look down pat, there was something vaguely familiar about him. It's like I've seen him in a lineup or something, Frank thought. The man introduced himself as Andrew Barthizal.

"Now what's all this 'inspection' jazz about? Sisko's proven they're clean a thousand times before. I personally resent these surprise investigations."

Frank piped up, "I don't know why you would unless you have something to hide. We've been tipped off by some very reliable sources that illegal drugs have been manufactured and purchased by this company, then sold to by gang drug dealers to the community."

The manager looked relieved by the accusation. Nothing new, he thought.

"These are the same things people have said about us for the last ten years. But you know what? There's no proof!"

Greg smiled again.

"Just the same, we'd like to check this place out. I'll be quizzing your employees to make sure they are competent manufacturers, and I'll expect honesty and complete cooperation. Frank here will handle computer records."

At the mention of the last point, the manager's face lost a lot of its former confidence and bluster.

"Computer records?" he stuttered out.

"That's right. Just to make sure that all of your buying and selling falls within legal parameters. Also, we sometimes like to look at personnel records to make sure you're not harboring any convicted felons or anything."

The manager looked nervous. "Of course. Any assistance you might need, don't hesitate to ask."

"Thank you."

 

 

Chapter 10

Frank chuckled to himself as Greg worked his magic on the stupefied medical associates. He asked for an antiseptic. They gave him a vial containing a dark red solution, and he held it up to the light, winked at me from across the room, and began questioning a nervous-looking young associate.

"Please state the name of this substance."

"Uh, that would be mercurochrome."

"Thank you. Please state the chemical formula."

"How should I know?"

"Do you mean to tell me you don't know the precise arrangement of atoms in this compound? That's outrageous! How can you know how to enhance products if you don't the composition of a simple antiseptic?"

Answering Greg's silent plea for smart-aleck remark, a cocky young fellow asked the question that Greg had rehearsed the answer to for the entire car ride to the corporation,

"What is the chemical formula for merchurochrome, then?"

Without blinking, Greg recited the memorized formula, "C20H8O6Na2Br2Hg, of course."

Greg wrote furiously in his notebook. From that point on, he could look at anything he wanted without question. Frank wanted to watch the show some more, but he had work to do.

The manager gave Frank a password to access the main terminal just down the hall, but he assumed he couldn't find the "dirty dealers" directly from that terminal. He had an idea on how to sniff them out.

He typed the password into the main terminal, and the black screen transformed into a pale blue color with the Sisko logo in the background. Three menu subheadings were at the top left-hand corner: Personnel, Products, and Transactions.

He knew this computer wouldn't show all the transactions Sisko had made with DeathMob, so he selected the Personnel option. The computer listed each member of the approximately 800 employees ranked according to their salary. He highlighted all the employees, then printed them out. He then went to the archives portion of the menu option and clicked on the year 1994, the time when this whole mess started. A list of about 300 employees popped up. Pausing for a moment, he printed that out as well, and then he looked for matches. He found three. He circled each of them and put the papers in his pocket. He beeped Greg on his pager. He has got to check this out, he thought.

The first name on both lists was William Searcy's. No surprise there; he was the CEO of the company. Then it got good. The second name was Frank Vanelli, but that was an obvious alias, because the picture in the personnel profile was Sniper's. The last name was just as interesting: Andrew Barthizal, the plump little division manager. His and Sniper's profiles mirrored each other. Both were hired from DeathMob as janitors, and then all of a sudden they were both promoted to division managers and a six figure salary in 1996. In that same year, all employees except for those two were released, and the company started completely fresh. It makes sense, Frank thought to himself, you wouldn't want to risk having people complain about the promotions.

"Unbelievable," Frank muttered to himself.

"Isn't it, though?"

Frank spun around in his chair--right into the barrel of a Webley semi-automatic revolver. He recognized the tattooed forearm immediately, but had no time to think. Sniper jammed the butt of the gun into the back of Frank's vulnerable skull.

 

Chapter 11

Frank opened his eyes to complete darkness. It took him a few minutes to realize he was in a closet, maybe in DeathMob's headquarters. A painful realization hit him. He was going to die here, and if he didn't do something about it, Ernie Teriwig, the finest man he had ever known, would go to prison utterly disgraced. Where's the justice in that, he asked God. Ernie served God for sixty years and this is the thanks he gets. He spat bitterly, trying to rid his mouth of the iron taste of blood. Apparently, the blow to the head dislodged one of his molars.

His anger subsided when he heard voices entering the room, and he listened as two pairs of footsteps neared the closet door and he was thrust into a bright, airy room. His eyes were on fire for a moment, but he adjusted. A skylight thrust golden rays of sun into the room.

"Nice place." He spat his blood-red saliva onto an expensive looking rug, earning him a kick in the face from Sniper.

Searcy's cultured voice rang out angrily, "Behave yourself, or die now!"

Frank sneered at the two men. Their upbringings were complete contrasts, but both epitomized corruption.

"Let me level with you. I don't care anymore if I live or if I die, but you know what? I want to know why you've taken it upon yourself to ruin a man's reputation and have two men of God murdered while you sit back and pretend nothing's going on? Why?"

Sniper kicked him viciously in the neck, sending sparks up and down his spine.

"Shut up. We will ask the questions. If you don't answer them to our satisfaction, I will kill you. If you answer truthfully, you might live."

"Shoot, scum."

Searcy spoke first, "Who, beside yourself, knows all about this?" He pointed to the printouts he had made a few hours back.

Frank thought about Greg; could he have discovered the truth? He had paged him just before being taken, and chances are he'd have put two and two together. After a moment's hesitation, he answered, "No one else knows."

Sniper kicked him again, this time in the kidney.

"You lie!"

"Look who's playing Pope. It must take high morals to murder two priests! You bastard!"

Sniper delivered another kick, the hardest of the three, this time to the groin. He stared Frank in the eyes, his coal black pupils boring into Frank's skull. He pointed the gun at his face. His hoarse voice shook with rage, "I'm sick of playing games. Answer the question to our satisfaction or die."

"No."

Sniper cocked his pistol. There was another audible click, this from behind the adjoining door to the right. There were two doors, one on the right, one on the left. The right came from the front of the house, and left led deeper into the house, near the swimming pool.

The door on the right swung open. Greg stepped in, gun drawn.

"Give it up. The snipe-hunt's over, pal."

"It is over, for your friend Frank, if you don't let me and Searcy go."

Greg looked at Frank with a pained expression on his face.

"All right, go! But, I'm warning you: backup will be here in minutes."

Searcy smirked, "But we won't. Good-bye."

Searcy disappeared behind the door leading to the swimming pool, and Sniper backpedaled, with his gun trained on Greg. The sharpshooter took one last look at his foes before opening the door. "Adios."

Suddenly, the door burst open, and a hurtling body tackled Sniper at the knees. The wiry body was none other than Ernie Teriwig. Frank snatched up the loose Webley, and Ernie growled at the downed gunman, "You're not going anywhere, sonny."

 

 

Chapter 12

An hour later the three heroes nursed their wounds and their beers at a local tavern. Greg looked at Ernie in amazement.

"Ernie, after I gave the department the evidence to convict those guys, and they released you, how did you know how to go to Searcy's place?"

Ernie chuckled, "Son, I didn't have much to do in that little cell, so I decided to do some reading. I already knew about Sisko and Father Josh, he had told me as much in the confessional, but I didn't know where to go, so I just followed you from the station, using some old following tricks I learned in the Bronx."

Greg and Ernie talked it up that night, and Frank had time to think. He felt great about how the case went, but he felt as if something was missing. He remembered his daughter, his beautiful daughter, and he remembered something Ernie would always say, "Gentlemen, in your lives, you'll always be able to kick yourself when you're down. Do yourself a favor and have someone build you up. Talk to the Man Upstairs. He's right over there." And he'd point to St. Basil's from across the baseball diamond. That's where Frank went that night.

 

 

Seeing The Green

"Golf is a good walk spoiled." These memorable words
spoken by Mark Twain replayed in my head as I realized I
would be reporting on the one spectator sport I truly
loathed. I'm a pure-bred hoops fan, living and dying with
the fickle Yellow Jackets. But, as a twenty-two year old
greenhorn taking his first assignment with the Miami
Herald, I could hardly complain. I wasn't going off to some
hellhole to report on an obscure sport like cricket (like
an unfortunate friend of mine). The Senior Tour would
provide my first writing paycheck, and Fort Myers, Florida
was the tournament site.

I should introduce myself. My name is David McLemore, and
I just graduated from the University of Georgia. I enjoy
all sports, but as I said earlier, my passion is not golf.
Nevertheless, the events surrounding this year's Senior
Tour would provide more than enough copy for me to write my
200 line column for the Herald.

My destination, Fort Myers, is located on the
southwestern shores of Florida, just south of Tampa. I
started in Atlanta, and then drove for five straight hours
south to Fort Myers, Florida. When I arrived late that
night at our newspaper's booked hotel, the Myers Royale, I
was dead tired. I slept late the next morning. Bad move.
The scheduled start of the famous Fort Myers Invitational
was 10:05. I had approximately 35 minutes to shower, get
dressed, brush my teeth, and drive the four mile expanse of
Florida highways to get to the course site.

The Herald had assigned me to follow an old (aren't they
all?) fellow named John Harkles, a happily retired British
insurance salesman who had never won a tournament of any
kind, but enjoyed the high caliber of golf and liked the
social aspect of hobnobbing with former PGA greats. I had
always been curious about how golfers trained for the
rigorous regime of putting and driving. So I asked him,
"John, do you do any cross training in the off-season?"

He winked at me roguishly, "Well, my personal trainer
Jack Daniels can be particularly hard on me, but I still
have my vices." He offered me a very expensive looking
cigar. I declined. He puffed away.

Harkles was ranked #112 on the official money list. The
purpose of my article was to compare the various clubs on
the market, and comment on the effect they had on golfers
such as John. The Senior Tour is much more lax with these
issues, which explains why golfers like Harkles are allowed
to use non-standard PGA equipment.

These thoughts went through my head as I suffered through
a late rush-hour surge to the golf course. I made it at
10:00, just in time to catch Mr. Harkles as he began to
move toward the first tee. I introduced myself to him. He
was a great guy to make small talk with, an endearing
fellow, but a man who just wouldn't shut up. "Why don't we
do lunch after the first 18, laddo!" We canned the small
talk as soon as he teed off the first hole, and I was
surprised at how far the ball flew.

I talked with a few of the beat writers, and found out
that Harkles was the first man on the Senior Tour to try
the new Cobra Club drivers and irons, which apparently
could add up to ninety yards to a drive. One of our own
golf writers, Jack Mayhead, had this to say, "Cobra Club
has a lot going for them. They're cheap and they seem to
add a little distance. Heck, I use 'em when I golf!" I
thanked Mayhead for his perceptive comments, and watched as
Harkles set to work on his approach shot to the green.

Harkles birdied that hole, and by the eighth hole, I was
reporting on the leader of the entire tournament. From
talking with John, I found out he always had a handle on
the short game. Now that he could drive great distances, he
was phenomenal. Stil, I couldn't handle the slow pace of
the game. I decided to search the crowd to find out more
about the various golf club companies.

I found the president of LeaderBoard Golf, Mark Westphal,
watching on the sidelines. "Mr. Westphal, I'm writing a
column for the Herald on the tournament. I was wondering if
you had any comment on the new driver that leader John
Harkles is using?" Westphal paused, then looked at me
quizzically, "Harkles is using new clubs?"

"Surely you must be aware that Mr. Harkles switched from
your company's clubs to an upstart brand called Cobra
Clubs." Silence echoed after that comment.

"Listen carefully," the slender, graying Westphal lisped
in a raspy voice, " I have no comment on this topic, and I
request that any further questions be directly in reference
to this tournament."

"No further questions, sir," I replied, thinking how much
fun it was watching someone like Westphal squirm.

By the 18th hole, I had found four major golf goods
presidents that were present at the tournament. It seemed
odd to me that every big-name president was assembled at
the same tournament, but I attributed their attendance to
the magnitude of the event. At the end of the first day of
the three day tournament, John Harkles was leading the
pack, with a -9 on the straight and narrow Fort Myers Golf
Course. Venturi was a close second with a -7.

Before going back to my hotel to eat, I did some asking
around, and found out that the president of Cobra Club was
an aspiring golfer himself, Clyde Stamen. He is a 36 year
old golfer, who received his major in chemistry and
constructed an alloy that is able to power the ball higher
and farther than any club has ever done. Combining ceramic
and titanium, he was able to make a club with a surface
harder than any others on the tour. He was unable to use
his invention on the PGA, but because of the less
competitive nature of the Senior Tour, any golfer could
choose to use Stamen's club. I found his phone number, a
local Florida one, and filed it away for later use.

That night, just before I went out for dinner, I called
up Stamen to ask him a few questions. "Hello, Clyde here,"
Stamen answered.

"Mr. Stamen, I'm covering the annual Fort Myers golf
tournament, and John Harkles, using your Cobra brand clubs,
is in first place. Any comment on this?"

After a brief pause, in which I could hear faint,
celebratory whoops in the background, Stamen replied
breathlessly, " Wow. I think I'll show up for the end of
the tourney. Thanks for the info."

I was on the golf course the next morning one half-hour
before the start. My friend John Harkles would be paired
with second place Lace Venturi. Before the start, I talked
with John about his situation and what he was feeling.

"Well Davy, I'm going to have to treat young Stamen to
rousing round of drinks, free of charge. Greenbacks can't
express my appreciation for the chap. I'm just an average
golfer who loves the old game," he said in his rolling,
hackneyed British. I asked him if he was feeling any
pressure as the leader going into day two. "Pressure?" he
asked, incredulous. "''Tis so great just being able to make
the day two cut. I'm just enjoying myself out there." I
thanked him for his time and wished him luck. He would need
all of it that day.

Right from the beginning Harkles's second day was doomed.
His specialty made Cobra Clubs were mysteriously absent,
and in their place, his old LeaderBoard clubs. "I must've
forgotten them at home," he joked to the reporters, but he
looked worried. On the first hole, a 433 yard par 4,
Harkles drove a paltry 198 yards off the tee, and he had to
hit a forty-five foot putt just to bogey.

It got worse. By the sixth hole, a 567 yard monster,
Harkles had fallen three behind Venturi. The sixth, dubbed
"WaterWorld" by the locals, proved even more troublesome
for Harkles. He shot a straight and true 200 yard drive...
right into the water hole. After dropping his ball and
taking a penalty stroke, Harkles deposited another ball in
yet another, farther water hole. He finished with a 10.

Things did get better on the back nine for Harkles,
however, and due to the shorter distances there he was able
to finish with an 89, seventeen over par. Still, at eight
over, John Harkles was twelve strokes behind leader Lace
Venturi with just one day left. Harkles's chances of
winning the tournament were almost none.

By the end of the day, I was seething. Determined to find
out who had taken John's clubs (he admitted to me that he
was sure someone had stolen them), I set out at once to the
Pro's Diner, a country club/restaurant where all the
golfing big shots hung out. At the diner, I saw Mark
Westphal and another president of a golf club company
seated in a booth near the very back of the restaurant. I
slipped into a booth right next to the the two men.

I ordered a cool daiquiris and settled down to the
business of eavesdropping. I slurped the thing really fast,
made sure the cup was completely empty, then silently slid
low in my seat and quietly placed the cup against the wall
adjoining our two booths.

I couldn't make out much at first, because they were
speaking in low tones, but I picked up on Westphal's lisp.

"...I've got three in on it now. All we have to do is
make sure that daffy Brit doesn't win."

The other voice piped in , "Don't worry about it boss.
Lace will wrap it up tomorrow, and if he doesn't, I'll find
someone else to make a timely plunder."

They smiled at each other, paid the tab, and left.

My first thought was to call Stamen to tell him what was
going on, but I thought better of it because I knew he
would be arriving shortly. I went to bed early that night,
because I wanted to wake up early next morning to break the
case open for Harkles and Stamen. I woke up at 6:30 the
next morning, and I decided I had to warn Mr. Stamen about
what might happen to his business. I found out he had
checked into the Fort Myers Royale, where all the golfers
were staying, late last night. I asked the female desk
clerk for his room number, explaining to her that I was a
friend of his with very important information. She gave me
the number.

Stamen groggily opened the door on the fourth series of
knocks. I introduced myself as the reporter who had told
him what had happened on the first day of the tournament.
He started to remember me, but he wondered what I wanted to
talk to him about. I explained to him how the clubs had
been stolen, and then I told him about the snatches of
conversation I had overheard in the country club.

He looked at me thoughtfully, "What you've told me is not
a huge surprise. I've been an outsider in this business
ever since I made this product."

"You're not just going to let him steal your idea?"

"My only hope right now is that Harkles can come back,
and make a run for first. I have another set of clubs ready
for him to use. If he can win, then I might have the
platform I need to tell everyone what happened to our
clubs."

The order in which the golfers golf on the final day goes
as follows: the last place golfer goes first, and the first
place golfer goes last. With this order, there is plenty of
suspense on the eighteenth hole for the two leaders. In
this tournament, Venturi had a -4 and was paired with
another fellow who had a -2. They would go last. My friend,
Mr. Harkles would be paired with another golfer who was +8
and would be going second in the order. Harkles would be on
the eighteenth hole when the leaders would be finishing the
ninth.

I was determined to write a fabulous piece on Harkles's
dogged determination after a tortuous collapse, but I was
able to write about something far better than that. John
teed off with the Cobra Clubs, and he seemed to be utterly
confident in everything he did. He started by launching a
295 yard drive straight down the fairway. He hit the
approach shot ten feet from the pin, and birdied the first
hole. It was only the beginning. Harkles hit every shot
with such a mastery of control, that even with my natural
revulsion toward golf, I could appreciate this man's skill.

Harkles was shooting an unheard of five under by the time
the infamous sixth hole had arrived. He had coaxed five
birdies out of his masterful putting, and it seemed he
could do no wrong. Now was the true test. Harkles stared
down the double water trap for a full 2 minutes, then
finally he swung. The stroke on the club was perfect. It
flew over the first water hole, kept flying, went over the
second water hole and then started rolling. It finally
stopped, about 125 yards short of the green.

The crowd following Harkles exploded into hysterical
cheers. John simply bowed, doffed his hat, and walked
toward his ball. On the approach shot, John used his
nine-iron to arc the ball perfectly toward the cup. It
ended up a short five feet from the pin. He finished with a
three, a course record for the hole.

Harkles kept up his blistering pace, and by the time the
ninth hole had ended, he was at -3 overall, just one stroke
behind Venturi, who was just beginning the round.

On the back nine, he wasn't quite as sensational, but he
took the lead from Venturi by finishing with an -8. He had
just finished shooting a 56 for eighteen holes, sixteen
under par. Now, he could only wait to see if Venturi would
take the title from him.

Venturi's game was more about power than anything else.
He had won three major PGA championships in his illustrious
career, and now as a senior tour player, there wasn't
anyone who could drive off the tee like he could.

Venturi had finished nine holes, and by looking at the
scoreboard could see that Harkles had taken the lead from
him. Venturi stood at six under with nine holes left.
Venturi immediately went to work, birdying the tenth and
eleventh holes. From there, he couldn't seem to pass
Harkles. He parred the next five holes, and by the
seventeenth, the tension was palpable.

On the 454 yard par 5, Venturi drove 311 yards. Then he
laid his approach shot twenty feet from the cup. Things
looked bad for Harkles. Venturi two putted to birdie the
hole, and with one more hole remaining, Venturi had grabbed
hold of the lead; Harkles was now behind by one stroke.

The last hole was meant to be a "breather" hole at the
end of a difficult course. It was a fairly straightforward,
285 yard, par 4. Venturi's partner went first; he was out
of the running by this time. He nailed down the par to
finish third with a -5.

Then came Lace Venturi. Venturi stepped to the tee and
pulled out his driver. Lace swung the club, and the ball
and club connected with a distinctly familiar CLAP. The
ball kept carrying until finally it stopped just in front
of the Country Club entrance.

After muttering a few choice words under his breath and
throwing the club into the fairway where I ran and picked
it up, Venturi was asked if he would like to pick up the
ball and take the penalty stroke or restart from the tee
with the penalty. Venturi started from the tee. Using his
three wood, Venturi hit the fringe of the green. Fifty feet
from the pin, Venturi was shooting for the win.

The hole was on a slight incline, so that if the shot was
hit too softly, the ball would roll on down. Venturi lined
up the putt, and followed through. The ball rolled right up
to the hole, and then it rolled right back down the hill.
It kept rolling for another thirty feet, and by the time it
had stopped, it had returned to nearly the same place it
had started from.

Venturi threw his hat on the ground, and stomped around
the green for a few minutes, then realizing he was making a
scene, he tried to regain his composure. Venturi, now
shooting for the tie, lined up the forty foot putt, swung,
and laced the ball perfectly up the hill. This time the
ball rolled up the hill and nestled right up to hole, only
centimeters away, where it would stay. Venturi, who looked
as if he would cry, absently putted in for the double bogey
and the second place finish.

The country club was abuzz with excitement for the
presentation of the trophy. Veteran sportscaster Burt
Sendoval would be the presenter. "Mr. Harkles, you've
succeeded in impressing the entire golf world with your
record breaking third day. Is there anything you'd like to
say?"

Burt handed Mr. Harkles the microphone. "I would just
like to thank Mr. John Stamen for letting me be the first
to use his wonderful new clubs." Then Harkles dropped a
bombshell , " I would also like to thank Mr. Venturi for
borrowing my clubs on the last hole. I figured it was the
least I could do to repay him for stealing my clubs on the
second day."

The gallery of reporters immediately launched a series of
questions at Harkles to which he responded to with honesty
and clarity. By the time the hubbub had died down, I
produced the stolen club, which had been thrown by Venturi,
and gave it to Harkles.

Following the huge win by Harkles in the Fort Myers Golf
Tournament, Cobra Club shot up to #1 in golf club sales. .
The four heads of the golf companies, including Westphal
and his vile henchman, all were charged with collusion and
were forced to pay their entire year's profit with Clyde's
company. My 200 line story for the Miami Herald was voted
as the National Sports Story of the Year in the annual
sportswriters poll. Oh, by the way, my opinion of golf; it
still hasn't changed.

 

 

The Man on the Ship

The light bouncing of overworn sneakers echoes, then re-echoes and cuts through the stillness of the night. He runs hard on that dock and it creaks at him, laughing, threatening to break beneath him. A fog horn blares close by, to his right. The ship is leaving, and his pace quickens.

The mast of the ship shines and he looks toward it longingly. Mere feet separate him from his goal, but deep waters lie below, and he dares not jump. Why doesn't it stop? He looks away and focuses on running. The rise and fall of his chest and the pleasant rhythmic skip of his feet entrance the man. For a time, he forgets the urgency of the situation. A drop of sweat gets in his eye, and it stings him back to the state of things.

A glance back to the right shocks the man. The ship has moved away from the dock! He squints at the deck and sees a familiar Face, who calls him, and tells him to jump. Is he mad? I'll die for certain! But there is something about the Face that calls him to keep looking. The ship is now further away, nearly thirty yards, but still he can see the Face clearly and hear His words: Jump. I will catch you.

The running man stops running for a moment and looks behind. He sees...nothing. Absolute blackness. I can't go back. I must continue. The Man on the Ship tells him to jump again. I am too tired. It's too far away. Now the ship is a speck in the distance, but he can still hear His voice. The man falters and trips. He gasps for breath. Should I stop or go? Die on the dock or in the water?

The man jumps, but does not land. He does not see the ship or the dock or the water, but he doesn't care. He sees Him.

 

 

Copyright 1999 Zach Czaia
Published on the World Wide Web by "www.storymania.com"