I stared at the night sky, lounging in the bottom of the rowboat as the boat floated on the lake in the middle of the golf course at the Hoity Toity Golf and Monopoly Country Club in Tracy. I had a stressful day, and I was finally relaxed. I examined Ursa Major and Ursa Minor and Cassiopeia, or what I understood as the big and little dipper and the giant “M” in the sky. Everyone says it is a “W”, but their names are not “Mashie Niblick.” To me, it was his own private constellation.
As I studied the stars and became more relaxed, I slowly began to study the inside of my eyelids. You cannot see much of your eyelids; it gets too dark, especially at night. I drifted off to sleep. I started to have a bad dream, a dream that I had many times each year, dreaming of when my name wasn’t Mashie Niblick. It was a time that I would rather not remember.
As I was fighting remembered enemies, I felt a sudden weight press against my chest. It was heavy and strangely wet. Had my remembered enemy come back to do what he had failed to do the last time?
My instincts whipped into action. I ripped the weight from my chest and sat upright, before I realized that it was a dream. I looked around the lake. There was no one there, but my shirt was wet, soaked. Something had been here. As I searched for answers, my mind began to remember why I was sleeping in the middle of the lake. I saw movement under the water. There were a few bubbles. And then a familiar head popped out of the water using her nose as a rudder. Okay, that went a bit too far, just a bit.
If you read Mashie Niblick and the Old Bag, you would know who she was. It was Pauline. Other than her large nose and coke-bottle glasses, Pauline would be the woman on every magazine cover, every issue, every magazine. To me, she was perfect. After we fixed Doll’s problem with the lost bag, Pauline and I became an item around the club. She and I played golf around mid-afternoon, almost daily. She had a few college interruptions, but not many. She taught me how to avoid a slice on the water holes. I still lost a golf ball occasionally, but I could finally finish a round before losing all the balls that I had brought with me. We dined in the greenkeeper’s office, with the cook staff slipping us an extra meal. After all, I did not have a job, and I was trying to be as much “off-the-grid” as I could. I traded work for the greenkeeper in exchange for free rounds of golf, and I slept in the locker room at night. I had a hammock.
Pauline hefted a large mesh bag filled with golf balls into the boat and then with the grace of a gazelle, she rolled into the boat across from me.
She started to laugh. “I apologize for dumping the bag of golf balls on you, but you were supposed to be keeping watch. When I caught you snoring, I tossed the golf balls on your chest. That’s when you went all ‘Kung Fu’ on me. You tossed the bag back into the lake and I dived for it. When I saw you try to fight the monster on your chest, I didn’t know if I should laugh or swim for cover.” She finally figured out which option to choose now. She rocked back and forth laughing. I liked her laugh.
She asked, “Mashie, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing. I’m the same old Mashie. You just frightened me a bit,” I replied.
She smiled, “I doubt that. You are the bravest man that I know, except when it comes to making a commitment with a lady.”
“What?” I sputtered. “I am not dating anyone at the present time except for you. I think that is quite a commitment.”
Pauline laughed even harder. “You are not dating me now! We dine on food that the cook brings over from the restaurant, knowing that the hoity-toities would never miss it. We’ve never been to the movies. We have never been on a scenic tour of anything other than the woods next to the fairways of this golf course, looking for your lost golf balls. And by the way, about a third of the balls in the bag are yours. I will let you keep them but remember that I get paid by the club for every hundred balls that I find. You are cutting into my profits.”
“Then ask your dear old Sugar Daddy for more money.”
She growled, “Doll’s father is not my Sugar Daddy. He just funds my research at the University, which affects the golf club here. You benefit from it. I cannot ask him for more money unless the funds are needed for the research. And you have still not made me an honest woman. What say you, Sir?”
“What do you mean? You are as honest as the day is long, and all we do is eat together, play golf together, and I row the boat while you look for lost golf balls at the bottom of the lake. You do know that I don’t get paid. What more do you want?”
“How about a real relationship for starters. We have been doing this for months, seeing each other every day. You haven’t even kissed me, you lummox!” She put her hands on her hips. “And you have monthly checks coming into your credit union account in another state. I saw your statement. It said something about VA disability. I thought you were a spy or something, not a soldier.”
“First, you weren’t supposed to be snooping. Second, they hide the disability payments through the veterans’ administration. I started in the military anyway. And you never heard that from me.”
“Oh, the first slip of the tongue. Can I get a little more about the adventures of Mashie Niblick tonight? There is no one around. No one would know except for me. If you cannot open up with me, then maybe Doll is right.”
“What is Doll telling you now?”
“She is telling me that I could land a number of the hoity-toity guys and be fixed for life. In other words, drop you, since you cannot take me on a date like I am a normal girlfriend. By the end of the week, I could be swimming in pearls.”
“Hey, you are not that kind of gal.”
“And I am not a gal either. I am a grown woman. Besides, you may one day soon be calling me, Dr. Gal., PhD.”
“You do know that there is another person who has suggested that you find another boyfriend.”
“Yeah, you! Now spill the beans. What were you dreaming about when I hit you with a bag of wet golf balls, or I will walk out on you. Right now!”
I retorted, “How can you walk out? We’re in the middle of the lake!” But I saw the daggers being emitted from her eyes. “Sit back. I will make it a short story, maybe a confession, but no details. I don’t know if any of this has been declassified.’
She slid over and lay beside me, curling up against me in her wet suit. Maybe if she got too comfortable, she’d fall asleep and I could tell her that she fell asleep during the good parts, but I was afraid that would not happen.
“You see, Pauline. You weren’t the first Pauline. The first one wasn’t named Pauline, but I called her that since I had come to her rescue a few times, preventing her from being in peril. I really liked the joke of the perils of Pauline, but it soon became something that wasn’t funny. You see, I was her handler. She was the spy. I had recruited her. We were in her country of origin, and she was feeding me information. Over the months of working together, we fell in love. I had been taught that was a mistake. Each time we kissed, I turned away, afraid to go any further. Bringing emotions into a thing like that was always a bad idea. You lost sharpness. You had to stay at a razor’s edge. One night, she was going for the mother lode of information. I told her that I would be there for her if she needed me, but I guess I was off my game. I started thinking that if she found what she thought she would find, we could quit the spy game and run off together and get married. I guess those thoughts made me lose my edge. She was captured before I could react. She was tortured. I called in the reserves and we pulled out every stop. It took us two weeks. It was two weeks of hell for her and two weeks of hell for me. I was wounded twice, but I kept searching once they patched me up. Three guys in the crew were killed, but we finally found her, still alive. My associates eliminated the people who had captured her and tortured her, and I carried her to the ambulance. She had passed out. But as she awoke in the back of the ambulance, she said, “You weren’t there.” Those were the last words she ever said to me.
Pauline asked, “You didn’t stay with her? Did she die?”
“No,” I shook my head. “She did not die, but she never said another word to me. She refused. She thought I could pull off miracles, as it seemed I had done in the past. She had trusted me, and maybe she got a little careless as a result, but her carelessness would have been no problem if I had been focused that night. She recovered. She was paid handsomely, and she married her therapist that brought her back from the brink. I guess he was there for her. I wasn’t. Throughout her months of therapy, I had my own therapy from my wounds. They diagnosed me with PTSD and some medical issues from the injuries. I was given the option of a desk job or medical retirement. I chose the retirement. And I chose to get lost, permanently. Our last mission had soured her toward me, refusing to talk, and my edge was totally dulled. All I could think of was who might be the next to die on my watch.”
“And that’s why you don’t want to have a legitimate date with me?”
“That and if I touch the money in the credit union, they might find out where I am.”
She burst out laughing again. “They know where you are. You are not that invisible. The FBI came by last week to ask me the standard battery of questions that they asked three months ago. I told them that all I know is that you are a good golfer and a good friend. They said that they had heard that it was something more serious than just a good friend. So, I repeat my demand, Mashie Niblick. Make me an honest woman who is willing to lie to the FBI on your behalf. Yes, an honest woman who does not tell the truth. You agree to go on a real date with me, to a real restaurant, a movie at the movie theater instead of the club’s big screen TV, and a walk in the moonlight. It’s either that, or I will show you that I can walk on water!”
“Although I would love to see you walk on water, it’s a deal. I pick the restaurant, one that requires a tie – that is if I can find one in my storage locker. You pick the movie, and then we can walk along the river afterwards. Sometimes they have a jazz band play at the gazebo on Friday nights.”
As she squeezed me tight, her hand found one of the entry wound scars, but for some strange reason, it didn’t hurt.
The End. Or maybe it is a beginning.