It’s winding up for the finale. Expect Part 10 soon.
Rick: Part 9
“What are the stakes?” Rick lost the first serious bet he had ever made. Until he was fifteen, most bets were simply extended dares. When he and his friends were too scared to jump off of a bridge into the pool of water below or to ride their bikes down a steep dirt hill, it became a bet. They wagered the only currency they had: candy, comics, and, once, a Beatles record. Rick won often, and he shamed the kid who didn’t, Charlie Bexlan.
In high school, however, he was taught how risk made men. The competition was a simple race around the track, four hundred yards, after a brazen remark in class about how fast he was. He wanted to impress a girl, and he was so close. The dread that filled his chest at the finish line was like the forest ground after a fire, blackened and desperately bearing traces of the heat that had ravished it. It was just a guitar, he told himself. Victor came by to pick it up later that afternoon, and Rick never played again.
“Twenty dollars,” Russ said.
“How about a hundred?” Bill, facing the others, his driver like a gentleman’s cane delicately propping him up, grinned. “I’ll even shoot first while you decide.” He turned and hovered over his ball. “You alright with that, Rick?”
The sound of the clubface striking the ball carried up the gulley and kept going well past where the ball landed in the middle of the fairway. Bill quietly, smugly, slid his driver into his bag and replaced the head cover.
Russ’s tee shot fell far short of Bill’s, and Hal sliced it into the water, prompting him to pull out his wallet.
Rick squared up to the ball and tried to concentrate. Hal and Russ whispered on the bench. A flock of birds squawked overhead. The wind blew softly and sunshine fell all around, casting a small shadow in front of him. He pulled back and swung, knowing as soon as he came down that he had topped the ball. It went about fifty feet, just past the ladies’ tee but still moving, and they all watched as it rolled through the rough and got lost in the rocks of the gully.
Bill threw back his head and laughed. “Oh man,” he cackled. “Whew.”
Russ joined in too, and Hal chuckled until he saw Rick’s expression.
“Sorry,” Bill said when his laughter flagged. “I know how that feels. Really I do. Still, play it as it lies, right?”
“I’ll take a drop.”
Rick got under his next shot, so it went high, landing thirty yards from where the first ball had rolled away. “Just can’t find my groove,” he said. “Story of my life.”
“You don’t have to pay me, you know,” Bill said when they were all on the green. “Buy me a beer at the clubhouse and we’ll call it even.”
Rick counted sixty-three dollars in his wallet. “I don’t make bets I can’t pay,” he said. “I’ll stop by my truck when we’re done..”
“Really, don’t worry about it. Buy me a beer.” Bill sank a fourteen-foot putt. He looked up at Rick with a sly glint in his eye. “Storm’s coming in tomorrow otherwise I’d ask you to wash my car.” He turned to Hal. “Remember when I won that bet, Hal?”
“Yeah. You won’t let me forget it.”
“He took it down to the Shine and Detail for me. I felt like a king for an entire week driving that shiny car around.”
“That’s not me,” Rick said.
“Like I said, I’ll get you your money.” Rick did not like the look of the fourth hole, a par three over the gully with bunkers on each side of the green, and he wanted a quiet minute of redemption before taking another shot. “Not going to buy you a beer though.”
“Listen, I’m offering you an out,” Bill said. “I don’t need the money.”
“But he does need a beer,” Russ said, pulling out three reserve beers from the depths of his bag. “Here,” he offered Bill, “still cold.”
“Terms are terms,” Rick said. “Unless you’re hoping me buying you a beer will turn into something more.”
“Is that where this is going, fellas?”
“What are you talking about?”
He wanted to hurt them all, even quiet, sweet Hal. “I’m rough and tumble,” he said. “I’ll drink you under the table and walk out of here tomorrow morning with a necklace of ears and your skin as a shirt.” He pointed at Bill. “Yours.”
Bill straightened up. “I’d like to see you try,” and he stared at Rick, his brows narrowed and his mouth taut. He did this for several long seconds as if waiting for Rick to act, and when he finally spoke again anger shook his voice even as he adopted the official tone of a man sheltered by two witnesses: “Go ahead and try something. Try it. Because if you lay a finger on me you’d be in court so fast your head would spin. I’ve done it before and I won. I always win.”
No more bets were made until the seventeenth hole.