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«Final Round», William Bernhardt

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The Club wants no publicity except with respect to the Masters tournament. Our members wish to enjoy the seclusion of a private club and prefer their visits at the Club not to be publicized… It is expected that [members] shall actively discourage any form of publicity pertaining to the Club, about which they have advance knowledge, if it is unrelated to the tournament-and especially if it is to be commercial in form.

– from The Annual Report to Members

 

Acknowledgments

First, I want to thank my friend and literary agent Robert Gottlieb for suggesting a crime novel set at the Masters tournament. The research alone has made this book a personal favorite. And I want to give equal thanks to my friends at Ballantine, Gina Centrello and Joe Blades, for being receptive to this departure from the courtroom and all my usual stomping grounds. I want to thank my wife, Kirsten, for her always invaluable contributions, including her assistance with the considerable research necessary to steep this book in the history and ambience of the Masters tournament.

Finally, I must thank my golf experts, Richard T. McNeil and Frank Hurka, for reviewing an early draft of the manuscript and making many priceless suggestions. Any errors, however, are mine, not theirs, and they are similarly not responsible for the occasional dramatic license I have taken. I know, for instance, that the par-three tournament is usually played on a different course, but the allure of the legendary Masters course was so great I decided to let Conner and his friends play it out there. Similarly, I am aware that Conner makes some spectacularly long drives, and that the Masters players typically do not stay on the Augusta National Golf Club grounds, but I preferred to keep the suspects on the premises of that magnificent golf course whenever I could.

Readers are invited to e-mail me at: [email protected] You can also visit my Web site (www.williambernhardt.com) and learn more about this and my other novels.

Best of luck on the links.

Prologue. Tuesday Night

Death came so suddenly he didn’t even have a chance to scream. All at once, the lights were out-as if someone had thrown a switch inside his brain. Blood and bits of flesh burst from the side of his head. He was dead before he hit the ground.

The man standing over him swung his golf club in the darkness, smiling with satisfaction. Dead in one stroke-not bad at all. Almost like a hole in one, in a perverse sort of way.

Why hadn’t the man listened to him? he wondered. He swung the club angrily back and forth, chopping at the air. A boiling rage consumed him. Why, why, why? He hadn’t wanted it to happen this way. But what choice had the man left him? None, that’s what. None at all. He had tried to be reasonable. He had offered to be accommodating. But in the end, it had made no difference. In the end, he simply had no alternative.

Now there was the question of what to do with the corpse. It would have to be disposed of in some way or another. He peered down at the motionless body. Blood still poured out of the huge gash on the side of his head, seeping into the white sand, creating a sticky sanguine pool. Dark and… disturbing.

A thought occurred. Why do anything at all? He’d had no time to plan for body disposal, and anything he did now would create a risk that he would be seen. Why not just… leave it where it was? Sure, the body would be found in time, but that was inevitable in any case. The key was not whether it would be found-but when. And who would be around when it happened.

Yes, that was the solution. All he had to do was scrape the sand around in this unusually deep bunker until nothing was visible…

That worked perfectly. And how could anyone complain? They were called hazards, after all. His victim probably didn’t realize that meant it could be hazardous… to his health.

The man smiled, laughing to himself at his little joke. And there was a certain pride in having once again taken care of himself, once again protected himself from those who would bring him down. Those who fought him. Those who tried to deprive him of what was rightly his. Who wouldn’t take pride in that? He was a self-made man, after all. In every possible sense of the word…

Somewhere behind him, back on the fairway, he heard something. He froze. What was it? Was anyone out there? Was someone listening? Could someone see what he had done?

He whirled around, trying to look in every direction at once. He didn’t spot a soul. Perhaps it was a bird, perhaps just the rustling of the branches on that huge maple tree. Or nothing at all. But he couldn’t be sure. There could have been a witness.

He hoped not, though. Because if someone had seen, if someone had the slightest hint of what he had done…


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