Chapter VI

Billy-Rancher-1981-proof-11small—I think you’re up, Doc. You par’d out there on thirteen didn’t you?

Charley Ward looked over at his friend, Doc Granger. Charley had been Doc’s next-door neighbor for eighteen years. Their children had grown up together. His daughter, Corinne, was the same age as Denny Granger. And she had grown up with a huge crush on Denny’s older brother, Billy. Budding landscapers, the boys had built a nice, French-curved retaining wall in his back yard the previous summer.

Impeccably dressed, Charley wore a navy blue golf shirt and a sky-blue cardigan sweater, hanging, with his generous paunch, over the beltline of his tan slacks. Though the quartet had been meeting for their weekly golf outing at the Rose City course for many years, his white golf shoes were in perfect condition, as if they had never been worn. On his graying head of thick black hair, he sported a jaunty white duffer’s cap. Charley looked every bit the part of the gentleman golfer, though he rarely shot even in the lower nineties.

Charley and Pierce Granger gathered with Ron Raley, Pierce’s partner in their landscaping business, and with Ron’s friend Paul Messenger every Sunday morning at nine a.m. sharp. Rain or shine. Ron and Paul were competitive golfers—in the twelve-handicap range. But Pierce maintained a five handicap. Despite his back and neck injuries he managed to perfect a smooth, relaxed swing. Still, though accomplished with fairway drives, he was best at chipping and putting.

Pierce peered down the fairway of the thirteenth hole, a par five dog-leg to the right, which suited his fading slice on long drives.

—I’m up. Then Paul and Ron. And, you of course.

Pierce smirked at Charley, who, at that point in the life of the foursome, was readily familiar with being the butt of most of the group’s golf jokes. He didn’t mind the ridicule. He enjoyed the comaraderie and appreciated the fellowship his golf partners afforded him. As Pierce was lining up his drive, Charley inquired.

—Hey, Doc, Corinne tells me you got the boys guitars for their birthdays. Is it your garage where all that racket’s coming from?

Good-naturedly stepping away from the tee, Pierce replied.

—Y’know, Billy’s been pestering me for a guitar since last summer. He’s kind of lost interest in sports in the last couple of years. So I thought getting him a guitar would give him something to apply himself. He’s been floating pretty free the last couple of years.

Charley nodded.

—And you know how competitive Billy and Denny are. I couldn’t get Billy a guitar without getting one for Denny, too. So, with their birthdays only six weeks apart, I decided to get them each a guitar. They bought their own amps with some of the landscape money they earned last summer with their little enterprise. So it worked out real well, actually. They’ve sort of formed a little combo together with a couple of their friends. They’re not that bad. Has the noise been bothering you?

—Uh…No. No, Pierce. It’s fine. They’re not a bother or anything. And Corinne loves listening to them. They’re fine. Really.

Returning to his golf game, Pierce squared his shoulders, addressed the ball with athletic poise and smacked his tee shot smartly, about two hundred and fifty yards up the fairway. Predictably, the ball drifted slightly to the right. Ron cheered him on.

—Right where you want to be, Plowman. Looks like you’re on the green in three at the most. Good shot.

Pierce smiled and stepped back, allowing Paul to tee up. Paul sent his initial drive about one hundred and seventy-five yards straight up the middle of the fairway. Ron’s opening shot fell within a few yards of Paul’s. Charley hooked a line-drive near the trees on the left, short of Ron and Paul’s lie.

The four of them wheeled their carts in the direction of their individual drives. The sun was shining on a warm May morning. Crows dove and swam noisily across the lush green fairway, seeking any morsels of food that might appear in the dewy manicured grass.

Gathering at the center of the fairway Ron and Paul waited for Pierce to approach his next shot. Ron noticed Pierce slowing down before he had reached his ball. They saw Pierce drop to the ground with all his weight, making no effort whatsoever to catch himself or to break his fall. The two of them threw down their driving irons and rushed in Pierce’s direction. Noticing the commotion, Charley moved in the direction of the activity, suddenly worried.

—Doc. Doc!

Ron called out to his unresponsive partner, who lay upon the ground, breathing rapid, shallow breaths. Pierce was in the midst of a seizure, his eyes rolled up deeply into his head. Ron quickly began to perform CPR upon his friend.

—Paul. Charley. Quick. Get back to the clubhouse and call nine-one-one. Pierce is in trouble. He’s really bad off.

Uncomprehendingly, Charley asked.

—What’s wrong with him, Ron?

—I think he’s having a stroke, Charley, and we don’t have much time if we’re going to save him. Go get help. Quick!

Charley and Paul rushed off in the direction of the clubhouse, some distance behind them, as Ron returned his attention to Pierce, who had stopped breathing. He was as pale as ashes.

Trudy didn’t mind that she wasn’t really Billy’s girlfriend. In some ways, she felt lucky just to have him in her life. With his charm and looks, he could pretty much have any girl he wanted. But he chose to be with her—most of the time. She made an effort to keep him keep him coming back. She gave him sex whenever he wanted it and acquiesced to his whims, without ever putting up much of a fight. She let him have his way.

It was late morning. Billy and Trudy sat in her apartment, making out on the couch. It was a nondescript studio apartment, located on the inner-eastside of Portland, in an old brick building, which faced Hawthorne Boulevard, just at the traffic light at 14th Avenue.

Billy had unbuttoned Trudy’s white blouse and was sensually moving his hands around her chest, preparing to unhook her bra, when the phone rang. Billy didn’t want to be interrupted.

—Let it ring, Trude. Whoever it is’ll call back later.

But Trudy felt compelled to get up from the couch and go to answer the phone, which rang impatiently on the kitchen countertop.

—Hello? Oh, hi, Denny. Yeah, he’s here. Do you want to talk to him?

With a look of concern on her face, she handed the phone to Billy.

—It’s Denny. He sounds upset.

Billy snatched the phone from Trudy’s hand.

—Hey, Denny. What’s up?

Denny’s voice seemed detached and emotionless.

—Billy, Dad’s dead.


Billy’s eyes widened in disbelief.

—What did you say?

Stone cold on the other end of the line, Denny repeated.

—-I said Dad’s dead. I guess he had, like, a stroke or somethin’, playin’ golf with Charley and he died. They couldn’t save him. He died.

—But, Denny. He was fine last night. He was laughin’ and jokin’, about what a terrible golfer Charley is. How could he be dead?

—Billy. He’s dead. He died. I know he was okay last night, but he died about a half hour ago. He collapsed out on the course and Ron was with him and gave him CPR and all that, but by the time the ambulance got him to the hospital, he was gone. He’s dead, Billy.

Billy stared blankly out the window of Trudy’s apartment. From her fourth floor perch he could see cars maneuvering up Hawthorne. His brain could not process the words his brother had just spoken.

—Are you sure, Denny? Are you sure?

—Billy, Mom’s over here at the house and she’s hysterical and Elaine’s on her way and friends have been callin’ and sayin’ they’re comin’ over, and everyone’s all upset. He’s dead, Billy. He’s dead.

—OK. I’ll be home as fast as I can get there.

Billy dropped the phone onto the receiver. Trudy looked at him sympathetically.

—What happened, Billy? Is something wrong?

—Denny says my dad died this morning out on the golf course. I can’t believe it. He was fine last night.

—What happened, Billy? Was it a heart attack?

—No, Denny said it was a stroke. I don’t even know what a stroke is. Do you know what a stroke is?

Billy turned toward Trudy, his face, screwed up into a clenched ball, as chalky white as milk. He looked at her with question mark eyes.

—I’m not sure. I think it’s like a vein or something breaking inside your brain. I’ve never known anyone who had a stroke, so I don’t know. I know it’s serious. Is there anything I can do?

Billy just stared at her, his hands at his side, his body quivering in small intense spasms.

—No, Trude. There’s nothin’ you can do. There’s nothin’ anybody can do, I guess. He’s gone and nothin’s gonna bring him back. I don’t believe it.

He collapsed onto the couch and put his face in his hands, mournfully shaking his head.

—I don’t believe it. I just don’t believe it.

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