The first thing I remember about that morning was the dog. It was a mutt, a mangy mutt, and though my friend Danica would correct me and explain that mangy refers to mange, a skin disorder that did not afflict this particular dog, I stick by my description. It mixes alliteration and poetic license like a, well, like a mangy mutt.
Nothing else seemed amiss as I rolled into the caddie yard, and even a dog nosing at the door to the cart barn didn’t qualify as something amiss. I knew the dog. His name was Duke, and he belonged to Rick Gilbert, the club’s head greenskeeper, who lived in a cottage surrounded by a thick wall of arborvitae at the far end of the parking lot. Duke was nasty in the way that small dogs often are. In the afternoons, he would burst through the arborvitae and snarl at any golfer whose ball landed too close to his territory. But in the mornings, Duke was mellow, curled on the passenger seat of an electric cart while his master inspected the golf course. Cute, Danica might say. She sees the good in every mutt, mangy or not. Me? I’m immune to cute.
It was the last Tuesday morning in June. The sun glowed a buttery yellow behind a gray deck of early morning clouds. A thin mist hung between the oaks and maples that lined the dewy fairways. An earthy smell filled the air, a mix of turf and cut grass laced with the tangy aroma of fertilizer. In the distance, a lawn mower buzzed.
Tuesday was Ladies Day, which meant that the fifty- odd members of the Ladies Golf Association soon would arrive to play in the weekly shotgun tournament. I would be long gone by then, heading off to play in the sectional qualifying round for the U.S. Open. I shouldn’t have been here at all, except Charlie asked me to open the shop and pull out a couple of dozen electric carts from the barn. I refused initially, citing my elaborate pre- tournament rituals, until Charlie reminded me of his generosity in allowing me practice time. So here I was, working my day job when I should have been soaking my joints in a warm bath.
The cart barn, like the greenskeeper’s cottage, was a misnomer that evoked quaint but inaccurate images. The barn wasn’t a freestanding red barn with a silo and hayloft, but a long, architecturally bland garage attached to the pro shop. It was dank and dark, perpetually abuzz with electric chargers juicing hundreds of cart batteries. The front part of the barn was a new addition. It had cinder- block walls and a peaked roof and was big enough to hold twenty carts with flimsy fiberglass sunroofs attached to their frames.
The back part, the original barn, had plywood walls and a roof that sloped so low, I needed to duck.
Duke nosed along the bottom of the barn door, where a strip of rubber touched the blacktop.
"Hey, Duke," I said. "Hey, boy."
I wasn’t being friendly. I just didn’t want to startle the mutt into nipping at my ankle. I jingled my keys for good measure.
Duke didn’t react. He moved studiously along the bottom of the door, his nose leaving streaks of moisture on the rubber strip. Did a wet nose mean a dog was healthy or sick? I didn’t know. Duke’s breathing was loud and arrhythmic. A rasp here, a snort there. He reached the end of the door, whimpered, then sat back on his haunches and looked at me.
"What is it, boy?" I said. "Lose something?"
Danica must have been rubbing off on me. She spoke to dogs as if they were people, invested their every burp, twitch, and dumb expression with deep meaning. I felt ridiculous, not only asking Duke a question, but then staring into his rheumy eyes as if expecting an answer.
"Right," I muttered.
Opening the garage door was a two- handed job. I jammed the key into the lock and jiggled it with my right hand while twisting the door handle with my left. The handle resisted, gave a little, then resisted again before finally letting go.
"There," I said, feeling the thrill of a minor triumph. The door was made of hinged wooden panels attached by tiny metal wheels to two grooved tracks. I usually yanked it up waist high, then adjusted my position to press it over my head like a weight lifter. Today, it stuck at about knee level, allowing Duke to scoot underneath. I wondered what he was up to, but not with any strong sense of curiosity. My real concern was lifting the door without pulling a muscle or pinching a nerve. The bottom right wheel stuck at a kink in the metal track. Someone, probably a caddie, must have rammed it with an electric cart. These accidents happened occasionally, and the usual remedy was a bang or two from a hammer. Duke snorted as I jiggled the wheel through the kink and pushed the door overhead. He was sniffing at something I couldn’t quite make out in the dim middle of the barn. I slapped at the light switch and nearly choked.
Duke was sniffing at his master.
Rick Gilbert hung between two carts in a space created by a third cart pulled out of line. The rope—a clothesline tied in a typical hangman’s noose—hooked over a rafter and angled down to another cart, where it was tied to the bumper. Rick wore his customary dark green overalls and pale yellow T-shirt. His head lay against his right shoulder, his tongue bulging thickly between his lips. His face was flushed, a deep red, almost purplish tinge bleeding through his dark tan.
Something between a groan and a cry escaped my lips and slowly faded into the background buzz of a single battery charger. The body suddenly started to rotate at the precise moment a seam opened in the clouds. Sunlight streamed into the yard and reflected an eerily milky glow into the barn. I broke toward the pro shop, flipped open my cell phone, and stabbed at 911.
"I’m at Harbor Terrace Country Club," I said. "A man’s hanging in the cart barn."
"From a noose," I said.
"Calm down, ma’am. What’s your exact location?"
I described where the pro shop was in relation to the large stone castle club house that was a town landmark.
"Wait right there. A patrol car is on the way."
I sat on one of the patio chairs and hugged myself as the dew chilled me through my golf shirt. In a split second, the pedestrian had changed into the surreal. I concentrated on the caddie yard: the metal rail embedded in three pillars of concrete where golfers leaned their bags; the stand of lilacs shading the benches where the caddies waited for their loops; the tin shack where Eddie- O kept the tee times and the cart keys and generally tried to impose order.
Beyond the lilacs, a stretch of parking lot narrowed to a tree- lined maintenance road that ran down to the lower holes near the water. The arborvitae wall began at the mouth of the road and circled the cottage where Rick Gilbert lived with his family. His wife and son were in the cottage now, sleeping most likely, unaware that Rick was hanging in the cart barn. Dead.
A loud bang startled me. Down below, a truck jounced off the first fairway and pulled itself onto the paved path climbing toward the yard. I quickly got up and ran to the barn. Studiously averting my eyes from Rick, I dragged down the door as far as the kink in the track just as the truck lumbered past. The driver, one of the greens crew I knew by sight but not by name, waved. A greens mower rattled in the truck bed.
I turned back to the patio. A short man dressed in kitchen whites stood by the table where I’d been sitting.
"Buenos días, Señora Jenny," he said.
"Hello, Reynaldo." I hurried back to the chair.
Reynaldo worked in the club house restaurant. I often saw him early in the morning, walking up from the apartments attached to the back of the cart barn.
"Is everything okay?" he said.
"Sure. Fine. No problem."
"Don’t you take carts out?" he said. He was short and neat, kind of handsome, really, with a bandito mustache that interfered with the pleasing combination of angles and planes that made up his face. He always waited our table at the Tuesday afternoon luncheon. The girls and I tipped him generously, more generously than the ser vice deserved, because we knew he sent every extra dollar back home to his family in Guatemala.
"I am. I will," I said. "Just not now."
"No, Reynaldo. Thanks. Don’t you have your own job?" His early morning routine was to haul in the bread delivery, fire up the ovens, and generally get the kitchen ready for the day.
In the distance, a siren wailed. Reynaldo shrugged, shoved his hands into his pockets, and headed up the hill. He reached the club house just as a patrol car rounded the circle and sped down. It stopped at the edge of the patio, its tires crunching a thin layer of sand spread on the blacktop.
The cop got out and ceremoniously fixed his hat on his head. He was tall and thin, with sharp features and a trimmed mustache.
"You call in the body?" he said, his eyelids narrowed into a squint barely wide enough to admit light. "Yes, I . . ." He walked past me and slowly circled the yard, jiggling
the pro shop’s doorknob, rapping his knuckles on the side of the tin shack, peering behind the lilacs. He came back and planted himself in front of me.
"Where is it?" he said.
He stood behind me as I lifted the barn door. I’d left on the lights, so there was no mistaking what was inside. The body now faced away from the door. Duke sat below, staring up as if waiting for his master’s voice.
"Whose dog?" said the cop.
"His," I said.
The cop crouched near Duke and extended his hand, palm down. Duke sniffed the hand, then settled back into his vigil. The cop stood up, pushed his hat back on his head, and slowly walked around the body. He unclipped a tiny radio from his epaulet. Static crackled.
"Hennigsen, post twelve, over," he said.
"Go ahead, twelve."
"No mistake here. Got a hanger. Dead, too. Better send
Donahue." "Ten four." Hennigsen clipped the radio and turned toward me. "You didn’t believe me," I said. "Ma’am?"
"What you just said. You really didn’t believe what I reported."
"Well, ma’am, it’s been my experience that lots of reports coming from lay people aren’t accurate."
"What was so wrong about this one?" I said. "I opened the door and found him."
"I accept that, ma’am." He spread his arms, shooing me back from the doorway. "You can tell your whole story to Detective Donahue."
"How long will that take? I have someplace I need to be."
"It’ll take as long as Detective Donahue thinks it should take, ma’am. He’ll be here in a few minutes. Meanwhile, I need to secure the area."
Excerpted from Where It Lies by K.J. Egan.
Copyright © 2009 by K.J. Egan.
Published in May 2009 by St. Martin’s Press.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.