A natural bog is the designated water trap of the thirteenth hole at British Hills Country Club in Wheeling. It’s a deep, mysterious body of water, and besides a few thousand golf balls that disappear annually in its muddy depths, nobody quite knows what the bog contains: perhaps bodies of dead golfers who’ve been known to disappear around these parts, perhaps even something tantamount to the Loch Ness monster. In any event, this bog, also known as Golfer’s Bog, is something of a tourist trap. It’s a golfer’s trap, too, of course, which is part of the reason hole thirteen is a par six, but every now and then you can see people who have no interest in golf whatsoever standing on the muddy banks of the bog, peering into its murky depths. They like to stand there and watch the huge, mammoth-sized resident carp roil to the surface in the afternoon sun, their small mouths making sucking sounds until evening when they sink back down to the fathomless depths like old rotted logs. These carp, it’s alleged, can swallow whole children, but they prefer the wayward golf balls that arrive, daily, from the sky. There are also mosquitoes and gnats and biting flies, and these pests keep the tourists busy slapping themselves. I know because I live in the bottom of that bog, or rather, I reside, with the rest of the decaying muck way down deep in the dark, dark bog. I’m no longer alive, of course, that’s because I’m dead, and this is the story about how I died, several years ago, more or less at this very spot.
Back then, I remember hearing the bog referred to by Country club members as the “G-Spot”. I remember too, that the Country Club itself was in dilapidated condition, due, not, as I was told by various club members, to a lack of funds, but rather to a misappropriation of those funds to the private accounts of the club’s managers. I remember how entrenched, Jack Taylor, the president of the Country Club was back then. He’d held his office for nearly a quarter of a century, and according to some would probably hold it until either he literally bankrupted the club, or just plain died. I’d often see him in the locker room, half naked, or in the sauna, completely naked. He never seemed to notice me, or if he did, he never let on that he did. I was just small fry to him. I was an insect, a mosquito. I was too petty for him to consider, and I was glad for it, because if the truth be told, he scared the hell out of me. He usually surrounded himself by a small group of influential friends. Two men in particular may as well have been permanently attached to him: Ed Rodgers and Burt Jones. Ed Rodgers was noted not only for openly carrying a gun—a nickel-plated .38—but also for the fact that, as handsome and rich as he was, he remained a chronic bachelor. This didn’t draw suspicion in the locker room, so much as curiosity. But when he spoke on something like his golf game, or tried to carry off a joke, he grew so stiff and self-conscious that his bachelorhood, or at least the reasons for it, became self-evident. Burt Jones, on the other hand, was a natural force, and like all natural forces, he was something to fear, to stand in awe of, and, in a small way, to envy. I’d see him in the Country Club dining room, cutting into steaks, mopping his face with a napkin, laughing absurdly like a hyena, and I couldn’t help but imagine the day when it was me underneath his knife and fork.
Each evening, after the locker room emptied out, Taylor, Rodgers and Jones would meet in the shower or the sauna and discuss misplaced funds, large investments, and meetings taking place here or there. Occasionally a club member’s name would be mentioned in anger, then there’d be long conspiratorial silences, broken only by more talk of money, women, and golf. I’d been caught, more than once, listening in on these locker room conferences. Frowning, Jack Taylor would tell me to get lost. “Get the hell outta here, kid,” he’d scream, his voice echoing in the steamy locker room. I’d flee the country club as fast as I could, worried that Burt Jones would grab and molest me, or that Rodgers, at Jack’s command, would suddenly, shoot me.
I was a caddie then. I’d been a caddie for nearly two years. Actually, I was a pretty good caddie, or so I was told. More than anything I was reliable—that is I knew how to do two very basic caddie things well: 1) I knew how to drive and park the golf cart so that it never became an issue; and 2) I knew how to mix drinks. At the time, I was too young to legally mix drinks, but the country club, like all country clubs, wasn’t part of this world. It was its own make-believe kingdom and quite a bit of effort had been put into maintaining this illusion: from the hills of British Hills that had been bulldozed by landscape artists, to the clubhouse, modeled on a Louisiana-style plantation home, and built entirely from antebellum bricks, not a detail was missing. It had its own rules and regulations, its internal politics, and committees, even its own holidays. It also had its twelve year old caddies who mixed drinks: Harvey Wallbangers, Whiskey Sours, Martinis, and Gimlets, these drinks were the call of the day. I knew how to mix them. And I mixed them well. I had a talent, an instinct for booze. Unfortunately I didn’t have a talent for staying out of trouble.
“Get over here kid,” I heard Jack Taylor say. The three men had been alone in the shower for nearly half an hour, when Jack Taylor stepped unexpectedly into the locker room. “Well, boy,” he said, dripping wet. “What the hell we going to do about this problem?”
Rodgers and Burt Jones quickly flanked him. All three men were naked, pink, and slick as seals. I also believe they were beyond embarrassment. “Well,’ he asked. “Do you have an answer for me, or do I have to wrangle one out of you?” The word “wrangle” sent Burt Jones into a tailspin of laughter. Suddenly the world, or at least the world composed of these six rows of red painted lockers, and the dozen worn wooden benches smelling of Ben-Gay, came to a halt. Ed Rodgers, Jack Taylor, and I turned and watched in astonishment as Burt Jones shook uncontrollably. There was something fundamentally shocking about his laughter: it reverberated at such a low register that it didn’t seem capable of expressing any emotion other than a sort of hellish distaste for things. When it subsided, the three men turned to face me. I think they were as intent, as I was scared. It was like a standoff in the Wild West. I found a towel lying on the floor, picked it up and tried to hide behind it.
“That’s my towel, Adam,” Jack Taylor said. “Why don’t you give it back.” I was so terrified I couldn’t let go. He reached out and snatched it from me, then he dried himself off, and wrapped the towel around his waist.
“Well,” he said, when he was through.
“I was just mopping up, sir,” I said, as calmly as my fear would let me.
“He was just mopping up, sir,” I heard Rodgers say under his breadth.
“If he was just mopping up, like he said he was, let him go,” Burt Jones said.
“All right kid,” Jack Taylor said. “Go ahead, get out of here.’
I stood transfixed, and couldn’t take my eyes from Rodgers or Burt Jones, who, naked as shaved lambs and veiled in the hot steam of the showers, stood smirking at me. Finally Jack Taylor pursed his lips, and quite matter-of-factly said: “Dismissed.” That’s when I turned and ran, fast as I could.
The word “dismissed” shot through me like a terminal illness. It occurred to me then and there that they would probably kill me. All of a sudden I remember feeling like I’d been almost instantly transformed from the twelve-year-old boy, which I was, into an old man. “I’ve reached the end of my rope,” I remember saying to myself as I let the doors of the Country Club slam behind me. That night, as I ran home down the streets towards my house, I began to see my future cast into a series of negatives: no more joy, no more motherly love, no more happiness, nor life, nor nothing. I remember, most of all, running past some friends of mine who were playing ball in the street. I remember what I felt as I passed by them: I felt like the Angel I was certain to become any moment, observing these simple daily events with longing in my heart. It made me sad to know that soon, very soon, these ballplaying sounds sent riding upon the air by children just like me, would, any moment, cease to be sounds. Then I started to wonder about Jack Taylor. Was he going to shoot me, or stab me, strangle me, suffocate me, burn me, or beat me for doing nothing more than overhearing things that I, a twelve-year-old boy, couldn’t possibly use against him? Alas, he was merely going to run me over.
Running home that night, I saw out the corner of my eye the long black ’69 Cadillac Limo that Mr. Taylor liked to drive around in. I was running fast when he caught up with me. I was only three blocks from home.
“Hey kid,” he said, pulling upside of me. “How about letting us drive you home.”
“How about it, li’l fella,” Burt Jones said from the back seat. “We know where you live.”
“It’s only three blocks,” I said.
“Hell,” Rodgers said. “Come on, you ain’t never been in a car like this one before.’
“Thank you,” I said. “But . . .”
“Listen, Adam,’ Jack Taylor said. “You don’t have to be scared of us, we ain’t going to bite you.”
“Shit,” Burt Jones said. “Why don’t you show those friends of yours back there what a big shot you are, and hop in.”
He opened the back door, and I felt the heat from the interior of the car rush out and grab hold of me like an old comfortable embrace, like death. Without saying another word, I turned and ran. To my surprise they didn’t come chasing after me. Instead, the three men let me run, keeping me in the glare of their headlight beams, watching as I bounded away like a scared rabbit. Just then, as I was making my escape, I heard a noise—the noise of doom, my own doom. It sounded like a sewing machine. I was too afraid to turn and see what it was, after all, I only had a block to go before I was safe and free at home, and if I ran fast enough—but the humming sound continued to grow louder, until I felt something like a warm breath on my neck. I turned to see what sort of hellhound they’d sent humming after me, breathing down my neck. When I turned to look, I saw it—it was the last thing I remember seeing as a living human being, and GM should be proud: it was the grill work of that ’69 Limo. My very last vision was of that gold Cadillac hood ornament blazing like a torch and thrusting ahead into a future I would no longer take part in. I saw it disappear as I got crunched beneath the wheels, and was left lying for dead with a broken skull. When it was all over, I remember thinking, a little regretfully, just how transient these vapors of life actually are: as quickly as I’d been conceived thirteen years or so ago, earlier, I’d been just as easily deconceived, erased. I don’t know, but it just seems like I shouldn’t have been so easy to kill.
After I was dead, and those three thugs made sure of it by kicking me several times for good measure, my next concern was about how they were going to dispose of my body. After I’d been thrown into their trunk, I sort of imagined that my fate would be to lie and rot in some nameless ditch alongside some nameless desolate road somewhere in the wastelands of northern Illinois. Just then, I saw my mom, in the doorway of our house, calling my name. “Adam, Adam.” For some reason that film, the film of my life after I had ceased living it, was in black and white. I remembered my mom in that black-and-white movie. She seemed older than she was, like a Depression-era dust bowl sufferer weary from crying. Then I heard my name turning up in her mouth, “Adam, Adam,” and suddenly the whole movie turned to color. I felt like calling out, like telling mom what had happened: that her baby, her baby boy had been killed. Then I thought of something else, it occurred to me that if I was tossed in some nameless ditch, alongside of some nameless country road, then it just might happen that my remains would be discovered, and she would be able to find out the true, unhappy fate of her son. As it turns out I was to suffer the much more ignominious disgrace of being buried by bog, or more specifically to be buried in Wheeling’s very own natural bog at the thirteenth hole of the British Hills Country Club, where not a soul would ever think to look for a lost young boy, dead or alive.
They jumped out of the car, picked me up, and cussing about all the blood, threw me in the trunk of the Limo.
“How am I going to get this blood out of here?” Jack Taylor screamed.
“Bleach,” Burt Jones blurted.
“Bleach,” Jack Taylor repeated. “This is the last goddamned time we’re going to do something like this, do you hear?”
They slammed the trunk shut, got back in the car, and turned the Limo around to go back to the country club. I remember driving past my friends who were playing ball in the street. This time I passed them as a bona fide Angel.
“Nice Car!” somebody yelled out.
“Damn,” my friend Steve said. “How’d you like a ride in a car like that!”
“The fuckin’ rich bastards!”
On the way back, I remember stopping at least once at a liquor store or service station for some booze. I remember hearing the car door slam shut, the heels of the men on the pavement. I remember hearing Burt Jones crack a joke, and the other two laugh. Then the sounds of the men disappeared for a while, as they stepped into the store, and the doors closed behind them. The sort of small talk they enjoyed outside the car seemed to confirm to me that they’d most certainly done this kind of thing before: they were expert killers. Suddenly there was the sound of their voices again, then the trunk opened and a bag of ice was tossed next to me. Burt Jones took out a baseball bat, clubbed me one more time for good measure, then slammed the trunk shut as we drove off. There I lay for quite some time feeling the bag of ice melt as I grew cold, colder than ice walking step by step along the road that lead me, irrevocably, to that big parade in the clouds.
When we pulled up to the golf course, the moon was high in the sky. The three men were drunk as hell. They struggled, pulling me out of the trunk. My foot got caught on something, and they dropped me on the ground.
“He’s so goddamned dead,” Jack Taylor said. “He’s stiff.”
They picked me up, and with their feet shuffling on the asphalt, carried me to their golf cart. They sat me up in the front passengers seat, folded my hands across my lap, and put a golf cap on my head. Rodgers went back to the Limo, and grabbed the bag of ice, but it had already been completely melted.
“He’s stiff,” Rodgers said. “Because we had him on ice.”
Jack Taylor and Burt Jones laughed.
“Just bring the Schnapps, would you, and let’s get going.” That’s when they started talking to me, as if I were still alive.
“You comfortable,” Jack Taylor asked sitting down next to me in the driver’s seat.
“Give him a glass would you Rodgers?”
Rodgers opened my hand, which had long since clenched up in rigor mortis, and placed a glass there. Then Burt Jones came over carrying a burlap bag, a stone, and a baseball bat.
“Move over fellas,” he said. “Let me try something here. Yoohoo,”
Burt Jones sang, bringing the baseball bat around and clobbering me in the jaw. “You’re not still alive, little fella, are you?” He clobbered me again for good measure, sending me tumbling out of the cart. “He forgot to wear his seat belt.” Burt Jones laughed. “Here, help me pick him up.”
Rodgers came to help. “Jesus he’s heavy.”
“That’s ’cause he’s stiff,” Burt Jones said. “I thought you said you’ve done this kind of thing before.”
They put me in the golf cart, set me up straight, placed the glass back in my hand, then they jumped in, and we were off, moving fast towards the thirteenth hole. As we tooled up and down the fairways in the moonlight, the men became festive. They started mixing drinks, and cracking jokes. Burt Jones, who seemed to sense in that remote reptilian brain of his the uncomfortable situation I was in, drank a few glasses of Peppermint Schnapps on my behalf and even had a toast: “To Adam,” he said, kissing me on the cheek.
“To Adam,” the others said, tipping their glasses.
“Deader than shit, but he’s reliable.”
When we came to the water bog, Jack Taylor pulled over.
“Fellas,” he said turning to Rodgers and Burt Jones. “Whad’ya say we go down to the bog and throw the boy in.”
“Whad’ya say,” Rodgers said.
“Sound like a good idea to you?” Jack said, laughing like a child.
“It’s either that, or throw him in a ditch somewhere,” Burt Jones said.
“Come on,” Jack said. Let’s go check it out.”
I watched the three men pull me out of the golf cart, and force my body into the burlap sack. Jack Taylor and Rodgers folded me up, Burt Jones snapped my back, breaking it, and pushed until I was completely in the sack. They threw the stone in for good measure, and stitched up the sack real nice so it wouldn’t open, not until the end of time. Then they walked, carrying me, to the banks of that foul-smelling, fly-infested bog. I suddenly remembered every rumor and fact that I’d heard about it and I didn’t forget that it was the trap at the thirteenth hole. Then I hoped in one brief act of wishing, that both rumor and fact would come alive and lash out at those three men, that every hell-sent nightmare I’d ever had about that six-acre body of water would rise from the mud and gobble them up. But when I saw the drunken men stumbling in the moonlight, when I came to see these fat, drunk, ungainly men for what they were, when I saw, most particularly, Jack Taylor, who probably pushed the scales to 350 pounds-plus, waddle down to the smelly bog bank, I grew dejected, for then I suddenly realized that he, drunken he, he and his two other friends, Rodgers and Burt Jones, were the nightmare, they were the monsters—they were the gobblers, and would probably always be the gobblers, whereas people like me, young dead me, with or without an instinct for self-preservation, would almost always probably be the gobbled.
“These flies,” I heard Rodgers say, swatting at a swarm of flies that rose up like an armed battalion and attacked him. At that point they set me down, and from the edge of the bog I watched the three men meet the muck, which like some strange progenitor seemed to have been the one that gave birth to them. It was almost a homecoming for Jack Taylor. There was nothing timid nor uncomfortable about the way he approached it. He quite simply jumped right into the soft, smelly mud. Rodgers followed, albeit a little more gingerly. When he stepped into the mud I heard some shrill complaint about how this was going to ruin his golf cleats, then I heard Burt Jones say, “I’ll buy you another pair, if we survive this.” Then of course everybody started laughing. Burt Jones was the last to go in. He threw the burlap bag over his shoulders, and with me riding on his back, attempted to step into the bog. I think he was a little scared of the quicksand mud, intimidated by the mosquitoes that swarmed about him; in the end, however, he must have been drunk enough to ignore all this, for after a little urging from his Captain, from Jack Taylor, the President of Wheeling’s British Hills Country Club, he too, waddled ankle deep into the mud.
“All right, give me a little room fellas,” Burt Jones said, swinging the sack with me in it off his shoulders. “Now let’s see how far I can throw him. I used to be a shot putter, you know. Now how to do this, Burt. Put one hand here, like this, put the other hand here, like this. All right, I’m ready. Now on the count of three, fellas. One. Two.”
Almost in slow motion, Burt Jones swung me like a pendulum: once, twice, and then with an inarticulate cry, hurled me and my dead body into the moonlit sky. I seemed to have flown quite a distance, that’s how I remember it at least. I also remember a growing sense of doom that seemed to be part of the fine summer night, part of my cascading destiny, that flew through the dark and beautiful starry sky, only to descend with a proverbial splash where I was at once swallowed up by the dark and gloomy bog.
“Hole in one.” Fat Burt cried, seeing me splash in the distance.
“Jesus,” Jack Taylor said, scratching a bug bite just beneath his eye. “Looks like you clobbered that thing with your driver.”
“Hey fellas,” Rodgers yelled as I bubbled deeply down to the bottom of the swamp. “How long we going to stay in this fly-infested swamp?”
“‘Till we’re sure he’s sunk.” Jack Taylor said, itching his scalp where a horsefly was trying to nestle.
“He’s worried about the Loch Ness monster,” Burt Jones said, swatting biting flies from the back of his neck.
“I’m worried about malaria,” Rodgers screamed, itching and scratching.
“Malaria?” Jack said. “How are we going to get that?”
“From these mosquitoes.”
Burt Jones started shaking and scratching like he was having a fit. “All right, fellas,” he said. “The kid’s sunk. I’m ready to go.”
“You think he’s sunk?” Jack Taylor asked.
“He’s sunk,” Rodgers said. “Now let’s go before we get malaria. Shit, I’m going on vacation next week.”
The three men pulled themselves from the quicksand mud, and stomped their feet on the grass of the golf green. I heard a little grunting and groaning, a little laughing, then the quiet hum of the golf cart, as the three men jumped in and drove slowly away, towards their homes, their wives, their futures. Meanwhile I spent the rest of the evening sinking into the fathomless depths of Wheeling’s by now famous bog. I sank into the zone of the forever dead, and there I lie, with one eye open, looking for you as you peer into the depths of Golfer’s Bog looking for me.