In the Rough


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Merrilee Denning's hand shook as she set the white porcelain cup on the saucer and tea sloshed down the side. 

"Now look what you've done, sloppy," the old woman who sat in bed across the rollaway table said. "You must be more careful."

Giving her knit top an impatient yank down over the waistband of her green skirt, Merrilee said, "Gran, they're digging up that old golf course." She wanted to shake her grandmother. "Don't you know what it means?  They'll find..."

She wondered for the millionth time if she was crazy for half-believing the old woman's story. Whether it was true or not, she was worried.

"Let them find the men. I don't care any more.  It was a long time ago, you know." The old woman clutched her mug with both hands.  Their palsied movement sent the contents roiling near the rim. 

Merrilee reached to steady the cup for her and helped it to her lips. "Gran, I don't understand.  I thought there were only two, the golf course owner and that one golfer who ran over your dog."

The old woman swallowed the strong tea and smiled a smile that was a grimace.  The stroke had paralyzed the left side of her mouth and left a permanent turn down on the corner of her mouth.

"No. There's lots of 'em.  I don't remember how many."

"Gran, the police investigated only two disappearances. How could you have killed more than that and nobody know?"

The old woman grinned. "That was the easy part.  I didn't have to bury all of 'em myself.  Your Pa, Lord bless him, helped me with most of 'em."

Merrilee stared. "Pa?"

"Sure. He is a good son to me." The old woman lowered the cup to the table.

She looked out the window of the nursing home, her faded blue eyes sad.  "You remember when I come here? It was spring and the grass was just coming out. Such a pretty time of year." She shook her head.  "Now they're digging all that grass up. All the prettiness--gone."

"Gran, what do you want me to do?" Merrilee asked. "Do you want me to ask Pa to come back from Hawaii?"

The old woman shook her head.  "No, darlin'.  Don't bother your Pa about this.  There ain't much the law can do to me about them dead men.  All I did was get rid of a bunch of jerks the world never missed. Never even looked for 'em."

"What should I do?" The girl looked out the window too, in her mind seeing the heavy machinery sinking its yellow teeth into the rich red earth.  It gave her the shudders to think what they might find. On the other hand, it might be one of Gran's fanciful stories like the one she told about being descended from an illegitimate son of Henry the Eighth of England.

"Why, child, don't worry about it.  It'll be all right."  The old woman leaned back on her pillows.  "I'm going to sleep now."

She seemed so relaxed that Merrilee shrugged off her fears.

"I'll go, Gran, but I'll be back as soon as I can.  Tomorrow I'll be at the courthouse all day. My boss is representing that awful Mr. Julkes in a lawsuit again.  I don't know why that old fool can't get along with his neighbors."

Her gradmother nodded, closed her eyes, and Merrilee left.

Sorrow filled her heart. It wouldn't be long before she lost Gran. She hoped the men digging up the golf course never found the place the old woman had buried those men. If they were there, they were somewhere on that low spot that was always wet from an underground spring. Gran said the digging was easiest there in the soft soil.

The drive back to the large old house where she'd spent her summers as a child wasn't long enough to reach a decision about calling her father.  If she called him, he'd be on the first plane back. Had he really helped bury those men?  Him? She couldn't accept that such a gentle man would do that. But what would he say if she told him she knew?

Should she just wait and see if they were found?

As she was about to put the key in the front door of the old house, a man approached from the golf course.  He hailed her.

She turned to look at him.  He was short, squat, with a fringe of white hair peeking from the bill of the cap that shaded his round, merry face. His blue eyes gleamed in the late afternoon sun.

"Sorry to bother you, Miss, but I wanted to find out about the lady that lived here," he said.  "Her last name was Larkin."

Merrilee nodded. "I'm her granddaughter.  She's living at St. Anselmo's now."

"The nursing home?" His eyebrows went up.

"Yes. She had a stroke and couldn't stay alone any more."

"I'm sorry to hear it.  I wanted to talk to her about buying the house." He made a sweeping gesture with his left hand. "I talked to Ed Price at Kent Real Estate and he told me it was for sale."

Merrilee nodded.

"Who's handling the sale for her?" he asked. "I'd like to buy it."

"James Carlson is Gran's lawyer," she said. "Would you tear the house down for more condos?" she asked, supposing he was the man putting the condos up on the old golf course.

"No. I'd live in it. I always liked the old place. I knew Carl Larken pretty well. We golfed together over there." He turned toward the golf course.

"Oh. Gramps passed on about seven years ago." She didn't want to think about him. He'd been a very unpleasant old man at the end.  Always cursing and throwing things. That was why he spent his last years in St. Anselmo's ward for difficult patients.  It was the wing where they housed the violent and insane.

"I know." the old man told her.  "I was in Arizona when my son wrote me that he was gone."

She nodded. No sense pretending any deep sorrow at this late date.

"My name's John Franklin. Be sure to give your grandmother my best. I'll see Carlson about the agent for the sale."  He headed back the way she came. 

The name Franklin was familiar, but she couldn't place where or when she'd heard it.  No recollection of her grandfather's friends came to her.  She and he had not been friends.

With a shrug she went inside and shut the world out.  The day had been long and she was tired.  A quick supper, some T.V., then she'd turn in early.  It was a long drive back to her job in Clearton Falls.

Much later, though it seemed but minutes, the shrilling of the telephone roused her from sleep. She fumbled for the light and then the receiver. A glance at the clock showed the time to be three fifteen.

A frantic voice chased away the last of the sleep fog in her mind. "Miss Denning? This is Grace Hall at St. Anselmo's." The woman sounded frightened. "Have they gotten there yet?"

Merrilee couldn't get a grasp on what the woman was saying. "Slow down, please. I don't understand."

"Your grandmother... I called the police the moment we found out."

Chills swept over Merrilee. "Are you calling because my grandmother is dead?" She tried to cut through the confusion.

"No. No. She's gone! I thought the police would have come to see you right away."

Merrilee was fully alert. "My grandmother is gone?" She couldn't believe her ears. "What do you mean she's gone?" The phone shook in her hand.

She's not in her bed. Her chair is there." Grace spoke rapidly as if afraid someone would stop her. "Nessa stopped in to make a nightly check on her and she wasn't there. She checked the bathroom, closet, the halls and then alerted security.  They found the fire door was open. Mr. Elmont in the room across the hall is always going out that way.  He said your grandmother asked him how he did it.  He jams the lock with paper." She took a breath and concluded. "It looks like she left that way."

"But Gran can't walk." Merrilee protested in tears. That damned place...Mrs. Hall had promised they'd be installing alarms on the doors in case of break-ins.

"She took her walker." Grace said. "We know she couldn't get far, and we're looking for her. Do you know any place she might go?"

"Not off hand, but she might be headed here." Merrilee tried to hold onto the hope.

Grace sighed audibly.  She'd done her duty, Merrilee thought and was letting others take the responsibility.

How could Gran get away from St. Anselmo's?  She could barely stand up without help.

Shaking her head, she hung up and turned on the porch light to look outside.  Why haven't the police come yet if they were on their way? 

Deciding it would be better to be dressed if they did come, she went upstairs.  She grabbed up a pair of green slacks and tan pullover.  If she had to go out, she wanted to be dressed for the cool night air. 

A knock came as she returned downstairs. 

She opened the door to find a uniformed officer in dark blue standing beside a man in a dark suit.  "I've been expecting you," she said.  Holding the door, she stood aside to let them in.

They showed her their identification. The taller man was Private Duncan and the shorter one with dark eyes was Detective Roman. "Do you have any idea when she left the home or if she had help? Is there any place she liked to visit?"  Roman asked.

Merrilee shook her head, but even as she did so, a nagging thought took hold.  She tried to repress the idea.  Surely, Gran wouldn't go there.  She'd never make it. But it had been on her mind a lot lately.

"Something's bothering you, Miss Denning. What is it?" Private Duncan asked.

There was no help for it. Gran was in trouble and maybe they'd think she was just senile. She told them the story of the bodies buried on the golf course. 

The two men were stunned.  "Bodies?" Roman regained his composure.  "How could a little old lady do something like that and no one know?"

"Gran told me how she killed the golf course owner and a golfer who ran over her dog. And she said she killed a lot of other golfers too.  Always the same type.  The ones who tromped through her flowerbeds after their golf balls or would dent her car with their balls. She said she'd had three broken windows too from that place and no one ever offered to pay to fix them."

"Did she give you any names?" the officer asked.

"No. She didn't know their names."

"How did she kill them?"

"I don't know. She'd never tell me. Just said that was the easy part." She looked at him. "I'm not sure I believe any of it, but she seemed so sure."

Detective Roman grunted and ran his hand over his eyes. "Is it possible she went there?"

"It's six blocks from St. Anselmo's to the golf course.  I don't see how she could possibly make it unless someone drove her. She'd have to have a flashlight too to find her way around the course. It's all torn up now. You can see it from here." She gestured to the land across the road.

"Where would she be likely to go?" Private Duncan asked, looking into the dark toward the golf course.

"Probably where the pond used to be.  It's all silted in now, but the underground spring keeps the ground soft. She said that's where she buried them."

"I'll get a flashlight." Duncan said and headed outside to the car.

Merrilee was certain this was all a waste of time. But what if Gran did go there? Why would she?  Was she that senile?

"I wonder..." she muttered to herself and started around the side of the house. "Surely, I would have heard..."

The two policemen followed.

She stopped at the little garden shed that sat by the entrance to the rear garden. The door was open. 

"Why did you come back here?" Detective Roman asked.

"I just wondered if she might have come here. She kept a spade in the shed."

He flashed his light over the contents of the shed. "No spade here now."

Merrilee felt a sudden cold flow over her. "She couldn't be planning to dig them up." She looked at the policemen. "She said there are so many of them. The strain would kill her. She isn't very strong."

They stared at her. "Can you show us where?" Roman asked.

"I never went over there.  The people were always yelling and Gran said most of them were drunks like Grandfather. She hated golfers."

They crossed the street and made their way around parked trucks and equipment that littered the land. They followed a dirt road cut into the old sod.

Merrilee pointed.  "I think it's over that way. Toward the club house."

They left the road and picked their way across the brushy ground.  On reaching a rise, they saw the remains of the clubhouse. It's burned timbers lay like the bones of some monstrous being in the light cast by their flashlights.  Below it was the low spot that had once been a pond.

A beam of dim light shown dimly at the bottom of the hollow.  The men plunged down the slope toward it. 

Merrilee followed as quickly as she could over the rough ground.  Her eyes locked on a pale figure that lay at the edge of the faint light.  "Gran!" She cried.

The men reached the figure first.  Officer Duncan took her wrist and, after a moment, shook his head.  "She's gone, Miss," he sid. "I'm sorry."

Merrilee knelt at her grandmother's side and wept.

The detective flashed his light around as he radioed in that they'd found the missing woman.  Her walker lay partially jammed into a freshly dug hole where the shovel stood at attention. Clutched in the dead woman's hand was a long white bone.

The End.