Seven Iron (a short story)
The Call came in at 9:06 p.m., PST. Charlie Jacobs had just sat down for a late dinner in his hotel room. He ordered a fifteen-dollar hamburger with a seven-dollar salad, no dressing. He wanted the dressing on the side and the kitchen said they would have to charge him an extra fifty cents. After a long day on the links in the regional USGA qualifying round for the U.S. Open, he decided that he needed a $22 hamburger and salad, but that they could choke on the blue cheese. No matter, though. Charlie had a good day, despite the numbing headache that was growing in the back of his head. He barely made the cut for the U.S. Open. Two strokes more and he would have been watching it on television again for the fifth year in a row.
Early in his career, Charlie had been a prodigy of a sort. Since he was old enough to swing a golf club, his father had been training him. He pushed Charlie hard and the two of them toured the states, his dad barking at audiences like Charlie was some kind of circus geek. At the age of six, Charlie appeared on Good Morning America, sinking every putt that David Hartman set up. In high school, Charlie was state champion four years in a row. While in college at the University of Florida, a journey his dad thought was a waste of his talent, but something that his mother insisted on, he managed to break every NCAA record. Charlie’s records still stands to this day.
“Hello?” Charlie said, cradling the phone between his shoulder and cheek.
“Mr. Jacobs?” the voice on the other end of the phone said.
“I have someone that wants to talk to you.”
“Okay,” Charlie took a bite of his hamburger.
“Charlie?” It was his wife Sarah.
“Hey, what’s up?” Charlie asked. “Who was that?”
“Do as they say, Charlie.”
Charlie took a bite from his salad and stopped in mid-chew.
He heard her pass the phone off to someone else.
“The U.S. Open is next week,” the man’s voice said. “Congratulations on making it finally. We hope it is a new beginning to a prosperous career again.”
Charlie’s throat tightened as he forced the salad down.
“What’s going on?”
“Listen very carefully, Mr. Jacobs. You do not want any misunderstandings. We are very serious about the stakes.”
“Put my wife back on the phone.”
“You are to win the U.S. Open or she’s dead.”
“This isn‘t funny. Let me talk to Sarah.”
“All you have to do is win. Call the cops and she’s dead. Tell the press. Dead. Tell anyone–”
“Who are you?”
“Do we have an understanding?”
Charlie’s mind was aching, racing with thoughts of his wife tied up or something; thoughts of her crying, afraid, this somebody hanging over her like a kind of angel of death. What if he was torturing her? He shook off the thought. He felt helpless.
The phone cut off. Charlie held on to it, listening to the hiss of the telephone line, trying to process what just happened. The phone broke into a harsh pulsating tone and Charlie quickly pushed it away. He returned it to its cradle then rubbed his temples. The headache had grown worse. He dialed Sarah’s cell phone. The number was no longer in service. He then called the house. It was 1:00 a.m. back at their Florida home on the Gulf Coast. It, too, was no longer in service. Maybe I should call the cops, he thought. No. No cops. They said no cops. He dialed the airline instead and got the next flight out to Tampa.
Charlie had to go through the garage to get inside. He forgot his house key, or lost it; he did not know. Luckily, for him, he had not forgotten the code to the garage door. He never got around to programming it, so it remained the default sequence of four zeros. Sarah was always getting at him to program it, but living in a gated community somehow made it less urgent. For once, his lazy nature served him well. On the other hand, the kidnappers could have used the garage, too.
As he ran through every room of their Mediterranean style villa, Charlie yelled for Sarah. He had been on the road so long that the house looked only vaguely familiar. Sarah must have been in one of her remodeling moods. It was a big home, yet still somehow modest compared to the other mini-mansions in the St. Petersburg neighborhood. He and Sarah were planning on it being their retirement home when the time came and she was always tweaking something, trying to make it perfect. Charlie hurried into the media room, the last room to check. He sat down on a leather recliner in the center. Sarah was nowhere. Of course, he knew that. Charlie knew that he wouldn’t find her here, but he was hoping for a sign that she was here at one time, but the house was empty: no note, no sign of a struggle, just emptiness and darkness.
The headache was back, growing stronger by the minute. He had been getting them a lot over the past couple of months. The doctors said it was stress. Chasing the past can have that effect on you. The glory days never seemed to far off and always within grasp. For a second, he thought he smelled Sarah’s perfume in the dead air of the room. He imagined her standing in the spot in front of him only hours before some maniac took her away. Charlie slumped back into the chair and his head throbbed and the room closed in around him and a metallic taste filled his mouth then he was out.
An hour had passed before Charlie awoke. It took him a second to gather his bearings then he decided to make a phone call. He went to the kitchen and found a bottle of aspirin in the cupboard, took a handful, chewed them, and swallowed. They were bitter going down. Charlie turned on the faucet and sucked water from the stream, then took his cell phone out and dialed.
Amanda Warner had only been a sports agent for five years. She started out as an assistant for Bill Krist, the biggest name in sports representation. Krist was a bastard and a master manipulator. He always side stepped Amanda’s ambitions. It was her fault. No matter the job, she always made herself invaluable. Bill Krist could not live without her, but made sure she didn’t know it. Amanda started to feel used. Finally, after three years, she quit and created Warner Associates. Of course, she was the only associate.
Krist had mercy on her, so to speak. He cut one client for her to snatch up. Charlie Jacobs had not been a hot commodity in three years. Not that anyone blamed him, but Krist was in business to make money, not nurture poor souls. Amanda was ambitious and naïve. She soon learned, though, that you were only as successful as your clients allowed you to be.
She looked down at the caller I.D., seeing Charlie’s number pop up and she sighed.
“What are the odds for me winning the U.S. Open?”
“The odds, Mandy.” She hated when he called her Mandy. “What are the odds?”
“Uh, hello to you, too, Charlie,” Amanda said. “I’m doing well. You?’
“Just answer the damn question.”
Amanda clenched her jaw. She had spent the last two years trying to get Charlie Jacobs back on track by accomplishing anything. Phone call after phone call, meeting after meeting and Charlie never showed any signs of life. He was becoming reclusive by the day, scrapping by on less money by the month. Sponsors passed him by and at ten percent Amanda had to get aggressive in her client recruitments. Naturally, Charlie became less of a priority, but he did not seem to notice, nor did he seem to care. In a way, she did not blame Charlie, and she felt sorry for him.
“Odds aren’t in your favor. If you want to bank on those odds, then I suggest practicing.”
“You know the times you think I want to hear your opinion? This isn’t one of them.”
The phone went dead and Amanda replaced the receiver. Not only was he becoming more reclusive, he was becoming a loon, she thought.
“Jerk,” Amanda said. On the corner of her desk was a picture of her and Charlie the day he signed his contract with her. She was smiling; Charlie was not. Amanda let out a heavy sign and flipped the picture over so she did not have to look at it.
Charlie stood, leaning against the kitchen counter, not sure what to do or where to go. Calling Mandy was a mistake. She only managed to get his blood pressure up. He never asked her for anything; never called her; never burdened her with egocentric requests like other professional athletes he had heard so many stories about. She got a percentage of his earnings for doing nothing and she should be glad for it.
“Bitch,” Charlie said.
The sun was baking Florida already and it lit up the kitchen. Charlie noticed that the clock showed 11:00 a.m. on the nose. He had five days until the start of the U.S. Open. His cell phone rang.
“We thought we told you not to tell anyone.”
Charlie furrowed his brow. He went to the window and looked out. The street was empty.
He pressed his ear against the earpiece, listening, hearing only silence. How could they know about Mandy? Why do I keep saying they? Because they said we. Who is we?
“Hello?” Charlie said.
“Don’t get cute, Charlie,” the voice said. “We’re watching your every move. That’s right. We’re watching. We are everywhere you are.”
Charlie slammed the phone down and stepped back. The pain started in the back of his head and worked its way slowly to his eyes, throbbing along the way. The room rocked like the bow of a ship. The walls creaked and skewed. He grabbed the bottle of aspirin, poured several of the chalky pills in his mouth, and spilled the rest on the floor. Charlie chewed the tablets; the bitterness he ignored. The room closed in around him. It was too hot inside. He had to get out.
He took a walk downtown to clear his head and to come up with a plan. He stopped for a brief moment and stood in front of the St. Petersburg police headquarters, but he could not bring himself to go in. Charlie stopped for a drink at some seaside hole in the wall that sold t-shirts and postcards and bad margaritas. After walking for about two hours, Charlie found himself standing back on a street corner in his neighborhood. The balmy Gulf air had cleared his head, but all Charlie came up with as far as a plan was winning the U.S. Open. That was not his plan. That was their plan. Charlie turned the corner and saw two police cars parked in front of his house. He stopped and watched.
An officer walked out of the house. He paused and looked up at the sun then spoke into his shoulder mic before heading to his squad car. A second officer walked out next. He was not alone. A young couple followed him. They stopped outside of the door and talked. Charlie approached the house. The first officer spotted Charlie and recognized him.
“Hey, Charlie Jacobs!”
“What’s going on?”
“Break in. What brings you back around here?”
Charlie looked at the young couple talking to the officer at the front door.
“Who called the cops?” Charlie said.
“Owners did. Just got back from out of town. You okay, Mr. Jacobs?”
Owners? No I didn’t. Charlie started up the walkway. The couple’s look of concerned changed as they noticed Charlie approaching them and they smiled.
“Mr. Jacobs,” the young man said. “How are you?”
They were in their late twenties, very tan, and well to do, judging by the expensive shoes and the rock that the woman sported on her left ring finger. Charlie shot a look at the officer then back to the young couple. They were still smiling. They had rich white people teeth. Probably caps, Charlie thought. Their eyes were blue and their hair blonde.
“Officer, this is Charlie Jacobs,” the young man said, still smiling. “The pro golfer.”
“No kidding,” said the officer. “We were just talking about you.”
“About the break in?” Charlie asked.
Everything around Charlie felt fused to his nerves. He felt the air, the grass, the brick and mortar, the beating of hearts. He heard every air molecule screaming its way into his lungs as he took in a breath.
“Who-who are you?” Charlie asked the young couple.
The couple shared a look that Charlie did not like. They tried too hard to appear insulted for a moment then their capped tooth smiles returned.
“We’re the Connors,” the young woman said.
Charlie looked into her eyes. He saw himself in the reflection of her pupils. He was waving. She smiled at him and her eyebrows lifted up as she slightly bowed her head.
“You’re beautiful,” Charlie heard himself say.
“Why are you in my house?”
“What do you mean?” The young man said, putting his arm around the woman’s shoulder. “We bought this house from you…”
Charlie felt himself leaving his body. He smacked his lips together as he craved something sweet. Everything around him was breathing but him it seemed. Darkness started to close in around the young couple and the officer. Charlie thought he heard the young woman say something about Sarah just before he passed out.
When Charlie came to, he was flat on his back in a hospital bed. He had an IV in his arm and an awful case of cottonmouth. Charlie felt something rubbing against his leg and he reached down and grabbed a hold of a plastic tube that was warm to the touch.
“I wouldn’t pull on that if I were you.”
It was Amanda Warner. She was sitting in a chair near the window and she closed a paperback book.
“What is it?” Charlie asked.
“It’s a catheter. It’s probably best to leave the extraction up to the professionals.”
Charlie shifted his weight and looked around the room. He noticed a vase of flowers on the bedside table and a card with “Get Well Soon” written on it.
“You tell me, Charlie.”
He strained to remember. He had been walking. He remembered stopping for a drink. The heat was wearing him down and the air had been sticky. He walked an hour with no real destination in mind and decided to go home.
“Somebody broke into my house.”
“Here in Florida?”
Amanda shook her head and leaned forward in her chair.
“Charlie, I know you’ve been under a lot of strain. The last couple of years have been difficult, but you have to… Now is the time to move on.”
Charlie had been dealing with leaches his whole life and Amanda was no different: moving on meant making more money. He knew the code. He understood an agent’s motive. It was never in the best interest of the client, rather it was always in the best interest of the agency. Amanda Warner played the innocent sweetheart, but Charlie knew better. She was the same as the rest. Sarah was the only one that did not take him for ride. She was his gatekeeper. She was his rock.
“Book me a flight for the U.S. Open?”
Amanda was having a hard time keeping up. One minute he did not seem interested in his career and the next he was gung-ho about it. Charlie had been scatter brained in the past, but lately he had been behaving like a lunatic. She had her doubts about him.
“Charlie, the U.S. Open is tomorrow.”
Charlie shot up in bed then immediately fell back. The catheter tugged at his groin.
“Jeez, Charlie!” Amanda said. “What the hell are you doing?”
Charlie reached down and grabbed a hold of the plastic tube that was violating his bladder. He took a deep breath and strained to pull the catheter out. His face turned red and the veins on his head pulsated as he shook with pain. The tube pressed hard against his urethra and felt as if it scraped the inside. He felt it expanding and he cried out. The catheter made a slight popping sound as it cleared his urethra and he gritted his teeth, clenching a groan. Amanda cringed at the sight and sound.
Charlie gasped for breath then growled, “I’ve been here four days!”
“Yes, Charlie,” Amanda pleaded. “Don’t you remember?”
Charlie was up. He yanked open a drawer under the television stand and found his clothes folded inside.
“No, I don’t remember,” Charlie said as he slipped on his blue jeans.
“You just can’t leave.”
Charlie put on his shirt and dashed out of the room.
The flight to Detroit had seemed too long. It might had to do with him being in the back of the sold out plane packed full of tourists and their screaming kids in Mickey Mouse ears, souvenir t-shirts, and faded sunburns with dead peeling skin. He cooled things over with Amanda and she said she would fly up the next day. Amanda said that though she was happy that Charlie was enthusiastic about the U.S. Open, she did not want him to get his hopes up. Five years out of the rankings was a tough obstacle for anyone and Charlie Jacobs was no different. He, on the other hand, knew better. He would not be just playing for a championship; he would be playing for the life of his wife. The thought of her out of his life was too much. He had to do everything he could to stop it.
Amanda made him promise to get some help after the Open. She thought that Charlie talking to someone would give him a new perspective on his future. Though he did not see how therapy and golf went together, he agreed just to get her to shut up. Besides, it was hard to make an argument against therapy when you just ripped a catheter out of your penis in front of your wide-eyed agent.
The metro car stopped outside of Charlie’s condominium in Clarkston, Michigan. It was Sarah’s home before they married and they hung on to it because Charlie enjoyed the small town feel with the big city benefits. Charlie tipped the driver and headed for the front door. Newspapers were piled on the stoop. He unlocked the door and walked in.
Except for the need for a good cleaning, it was as he remembered it. Artwork from the countries they visited adorned the walls, oak furniture crowded the living room, and a grandfather clock ticked in the foyer. Mail was stacked on the dining room table, too. Charlie shuffled through the pile and stopped at a bill with a post date from last week. Forgetting to forward the mail to their home in St. Petersburg is one thing, but the mail finding its way into the condominium is another. Charlie doubted that the kidnappers had the courtesy to bring in the mail. Maybe Sarah escaped and she was on the run! But she would have called. Maybe she did try, but I was in the hospital. Anything could have happened in those four days. That’s why that couple was in the house. They’re after me now, because Sarah got away!
Charlie tossed the mail and went to the phone. Before he picked it up, it rang. He froze, glaring at it. He knew who it was. Charlie picked it up in mid-ring.
“Charlie, it’s Amanda.”
“Oh, that’s nice.”
Charlie gripped the phone. He was not in the mood for one of her righteous lectures.
“I wanted you to know that a car will pick you up at six in the morning. That should be plenty of time to get you to Oakland Hills for some practice on the driving range, don’t you think?”
“That’ll be fine.”
“Okay,” she said. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Charlie hung up the phone and leaned his head on the wall. He was tired and he could feel the beginning of another headache. The phone rang again. Charlie snatched it off the wall.
“One more thing, right?” Charlie said.
He spun around and pressed the phone tight against his ear. It was Sarah.
“Where are you? What’s happening?”
He breathed fast and hard, his head throbbing and humming. Damn these headaches!
“Charlie!” Sarah cried. “They’re com… you! …elp me!”
The phone went dead.
Charlie ran for the window. He pulled the curtain back and look out into the turn around in front of the condominium. A woman walked her dog. It looked like Mrs. Hunter. She always let her mutt piss in Sarah’s daisies, though this year Sarah did not plant any. There was no time. She was gone a lot. Life had its way of taking away the things you love sometimes. The woman stopped and the dog pissed in the empty flower bed. Charlie shook his head.
His head felt like a jet engine. A car slowly drove by. A man, no a boy no more than twenty locked eyes with Charlie and nodded. Charlie slapped the curtain shut and turned away from the window. My God, that was one of them! We’re everywhere you are, Charlie! That’s what they said! Charlie slammed his palms against his ears and pressed the sides of his head.
At 5:45 a.m., Charlie heard the first knock. He had been awake since two; before that, he was not sure what happened. All he knew was that he woke up on the kitchen floor. The silverware drawer was open and everything from it was scattered all around him. Charlie walked to the door, grabbing an umbrella from the coat rack on the way. He looked through the peephole and saw a bearded man in a black suit checking his watch. The man rang the doorbell.
“Who is it?”
“Metro car, Mr. Jacobs,” the driver said. “Here to take you to Oakland Hills. Ms. Warner should have told you.”
Charlie searched his memory. “I’ll be out in a five minutes.”
When Charlie emerged from the condominium, he looked like he was only a few dollars away from being homeless. The stubble across his face had patches of gray, his eyes were narrow and bloodshot, and his clothes a wrinkled mess. The driver looked him up and down and opened the rear door for him.
“Do you have clubs, Mr. Jacobs?”
Charlie climbed into the car and snatched the door out of the driver’s hand, slamming it shut. The driver shook his head and chuckled then walked around to the driver’s side and climbed in. The half-hour drive took exactly an hour. Charlie had the driver make turns out of the way and he kept looking behind them. He asked if the driver knew if someone was following them and the driver responded with, “We always know.” Charlie did not say another word after that and he sat back keeping an uncomfortable eye on the driver. That was the last fifteen minutes of the trip.
The car pulled up to Oakland Hills Country Club. Charlie did not bother to wait for the driver to come around and open the door. He burst out of the car and headed straight for the clubhouse. The driver, expecting a tip at least, muttered to himself, got back in his car, and drove off. Charlie entered the swanky pro-shop then butted his way in front of an elderly man at the register. The clerk looked at him with surprise.
“Hey, aren’t you–”
“–Yeah, I need some clubs.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“No, I need clubs. Golf clubs.”
The old man tapped Charlie on the shoulder.
“It’s good to see you back in the game, Charlie.”
Charlie gave the old man an awkward smile then turned back to the clerk.
“Look, I know it’s weird, but it’s a long story. You got clubs or not?”
The clerk shrugged and said, “Uh, yeah, but they’re cheap garbage for guests.”
“Fine. How much?”
“Fifteen dollars. You want a hand cart, too?”
Charlie walked out of the pro-shop with a cheap nylon golf bag draped over his shoulder. Eleven clubs in all clanked around in the bag. He turned a corner and ran smack-dab into Amanda Warner.
“Charlie?” Amanda looked him over. “You look terrible!”
Charlie searched the crowd beyond her and gave Amanda an absent-minded nod.
Amanda grabbed Charlie by the arm to get his attention. Charlie stared at her for a moment.
“Amanda, Charlie. What’s with the bag?”
Charlie looked at the cheap clubs then back at Amanda.
“I’m playing golf.” He said with a patronizing smirk.
“Charlie, I have your clubs here…” She went on, but he did not hear her.
Charlie noticed a man, no a boy no more than twenty looking at him from across the room. He had seen him before. The boy nodded and smiled and Charlie knew.
Charlie gritted his teeth then looked down at his bag. The seven iron had always been a good club, he thought. He pulled it out and dropped the bag.
“Charlie, where are you going?” Amanda asked.
He felt everyone breathing around him and the headache… It never went away.
“To help Sarah.”
Charlie started to make his way through the crowd to the smiling boy.
“Sarah?” Amanda said. “Charlie, this is getting out of hand. I know it’s tough, but someone needs to say it. You can’t change the past. She’s dead, Charlie. Sarah is dead.”
Charlie stopped. He felt the blood moving through his veins. The room drowned in the beating of his heart. His face flushed and he turned toward Amanda and heard her say, “We all miss her, Charlie. But there was and still is nothing you can do to bring her back.”
The room closed in around Amanda. Charlie only heard the beating of his own heart and the last thing he saw before he blacked out was the seven iron splitting Amanda Warner’s head open just above her left eye.