My sister never listens to me. I have warned her to avoid crowds. People are walking germ carriers. They do not bathe enough. They eat with their hands and lick their fingers. I have seen kids drop cookies in the middle of the road and moms pick up the danged things and hand them right back to the kids. Disgusting. But crowds at a sports event are a necessary evil, and an LPGA tournament as prestigious as the Avonita Classic needs crowds—also known as fans.
“Watch it, lady,” a sumo-sized man in a Hawaiian shirt said.
Ignoring him, I tugged the hem of my green-striped golf shirt over the waistband of my shorts and forged through the throng who were clustering like sheep as they picked through pink plastic bags full of Avonita handouts. Two years ago, Avonita Hair and Beauty Products decided to stage a golf event in Avon, Connecticut, thinking the link between Avon and Avonita might bolster its name recognition. It worked. Northeasterners embraced the tournament. Avonita’s sales tripled. Hiring my sister as the spokesperson hadn’t hurt. At the age of twenty-two, Bev Brannigan could hit a ball as far as most guys. Better yet, she looked as hot as a rock star with her long blonde hair, perfect oval face, and alluring eyes. Some of the media said Bev had grasped the male population’s attention by the balls. The Ladies’ Professional Golf Association, while comfortable with its female crowds, did not know what to make of the rowdy, beer-drinking fans that yelled for Bev’s attention. At the end of tournaments, many of Bev’s male fans removed their shirts, wrote their phone numbers on them, and threw them at Bev. She had a locker full of sweaty tokens in our family garage, which was a mere stone’s throw from the golf course. I had told her, on more than one occasion, to burn the suckers, but she would not hear of it. Fans, she told me, were the ones that ultimately paid her salary.
Trying my best not to touch any of the fans, I elbowed my way through three layers of men, women, and children, the scent of suntan lotion so cloying it made my head spin, and drew near to the eighteenth hole where Bev was getting ready to putt. The hole, a dogleg to the right, was considered one of the finest finishing holes on the Tour. Avonita had paid Avon Country Club a lot of money to improve the hole by adding a kidney-shaped lake in front of the green. They also had paid to surround the green with droves of pink azaleas. Mark Twain once said, “Golf is a good walk spoiled.” He was wrong. Playing the game in an idyllic setting like this was a good walk made better.
I raised a hand to shield the sun from my eyes and peered at Bev, so confident, so composed. She stood on the putting surface, towering above the other players, her Avonita-treated hair sparkling in the June sun, her sunblock-protected face glowing. As always, on the final day of a tournament, she wore a snug red golf outfit that accentuated her curvy figure. I wished I had her body, but donuts—not broccoli—seemed to call my name on a daily basis. Bev was up one shot. She had won four of her last five tournaments. Next to the Korean, Kira Park, Bev was the greatest woman golfer in the world. Granted, I could beat her on occasion, but I was not a competitor. I choked in pressure situations. She possessed an uncanny ability to concentrate. Me, I caved to distractions like the crowd’s murmurs and the drone of low-flying planes. Too many thoughts whirled inside my brain like dervishes. During freshman year of high school, I made the varsity golf team, but the coach bounced me inside of a month. If a fan moved in my backswing, I hooked the ball. If a groupie took a picture, I sliced the darned shot. My mother says I make up all sorts of excuses for failing. Maybe she’s right.
Speaking of my mother, a month ago while staying the night at my parents’ house, I heard my mom and dad whispering about getting a divorce. I did not confront them. I was too torn up. My parents are the Ozzie and Harriet of Connecticut, a dynamic duo until death do them part. Or so I thought. I had desperately wanted to talk to Bev that night, but she had gone out on yet another date with Jim. Good old Jim, known to television fans as Jungle Jim, the guy who toured the world photographing exotic animals. I had met Jim first, but then he saw Bev and, well, enough said. I could not compete with my sister. I had wanted to discuss our parents’ situation this morning—Bev and I always ate an early breakfast at our parents’ house on the Sunday of the Avonita Classic—but Jim had horned in on our private time.
“Sh-h-h-h. She’s getting ready to putt,” a sunburned woman to my right said to no one in particular.
The officials raised their quiet signs. A hush enveloped the crowd.
I inched closer to the ropes and watched as Bev squatted and eyed her putt. Her ball lay about twenty feet from the hole. The putt was a downhill streaker with a five-foot break toward the lake. If Bev hit the ball too hard, it could roll into the water, but if she hit it too softly, she would leave herself another tricky downhill putt.
My heart started to thump so hard I could feel it pulsing in my ears. If she sank the putt, she would win the event and scoot past Kira in the rankings.
After a long moment, Bev stood up. She circled to her right and assessed the putt from the side. A few seconds later, she strolled to the opposite side of the green and viewed the putt again, this time with the flag between her and the ball. Routine, she said, was vital to winning. She was nothing, if not deliberate. Kira Park, a pint-sized woman with slick black hair and an angry line of a mouth, watched Bev like a cat watching a sassy mouse, no doubt praying Bev would miss the putt. Praying for bad luck was not the proper thing for a competitor to do, but it was human nature.
“Hit the darned ball, B.B.,” an admirer yelled.
“Yeah, hit it, B.B.,” squawked another.
Bev flinched. Her jaw ticked with tension. She hated the nickname B.B., an epithet even our sweetheart-of-a-father did not dare use. But rather than react to her hecklers, Bev rose to her full height, addressed the ball with her putter, eyed the hole, and swung the putter back in that smooth pendulum stroke that I and every other golfer on the planet coveted.
The club’s head struck its target. The ball rolled exactly as I imagined it would, arcing to Bev’s right about five feet. It spun across the grass…down the hill.
A horde of thickset men sitting on the grass in front of the spectator rope leaped to a stand. The crowd cheered. I could not see if the ball had fallen into the hole, but the ensuing hysteria could only mean that it had. Bev had won. There was no way Kira could beat her. I ducked beneath the rope and pushed hard through the wall of men who reeked of booze and cigarettes.
Bev, with her matchless charm, waved her thanks to the fans as she walked toward the cup. She winked at me, then bent down to retrieve the ball and suddenly crumpled to the ground.
Right before, I had heard a spitting sound. I had felt the zing of the gun’s report down to my toes. Someone shrieked.
All hell broke loose. Fans whirled on each other, in fright, in accusation. Some crouched and covered their heads.
“Oh, no,” a man yelled. “She’s been shot in the chest.”
Adrenaline rushed through my veins as I sprinted toward my sister. Before I had run five feet, an official with a gorilla-like grip grabbed me by the shoulders and restrained me.
“Where do you think you’re going?” he demanded.
“Bev’s my sister. I have to—”
“You’re not going anywhere.”
Three other officials bolted past the spectators. One yanked Kira to the ground and crouched over her. Another raced to Bev and checked her pulse. A third spoke into a walkie-talkie while scanning the crowd.
“Look at me,” I said. “We’re twins.”
My captor, whose nametag read Al, eyed me with total disbelief. I understood Al’s skepticism. I was at least six inches shorter than Bev, twenty pounds heavier, and I had drab frizzy hair that even the Avonita people could not fix. Bev had insisted that they try. I had told her to let it slide. Per usual, she had not listened to me. I had left their salon in tears.
“Let me go,” I said, wriggling in Al’s grasp. Bev had stalkers. People who did not approve of Bev’s choices of car or clothes or hair products had threatened her life. Even golfers who wanted her winning streak to stop could have pulled the trigger. “Let me go!”
The official who was checking Bev’s pulse flipped her over. Blood gushed from the area around Bev’s heart. My stomach wrenched. My knees buckled. Al held me tightly and kept me from collapsing.
The official pressed on Bev’s heart to stop the blood flow and yelled, “Get an ambulance.”
A siren blast pierced the air. Some smart citizen must have alerted the authorities about the shooting. In seconds, paramedics would descend upon the scene. I only had a moment to act. I wrested from Al’s grasp, sprinted toward my sister, and crouched beside her.
Bev saw me. Shuddering, she clenched my wrist. “Why?” She eyed the Beretta in my hand.
I glanced at it, too, wondering how I had found the courage. I had been planning to shoot my sister for weeks. Every night as I went to bed, I could see myself carrying out the plan. Every morning, I tried to talk myself into doing it but couldn’t. This morning, however, had been different. It had been hot, stifling, the kind of weather that could make even the sanest person snap.
“Why?” she repeated. Blood pooled beneath her.
“You said if you won this tournament, you were going to marry Jim.” She had downed her last bite of pancakes loaded with syrup and had been heading to the kitchen sink when she made the announcement. Minutes later, I caught her whispering with Jim by the sink. He slipped a ring onto her finger. “I couldn’t let that happen,” I said. The night I realized Jim had fallen in love with my sister and not me, I gave up golf and dedicated myself to becoming an expert marksman. Expert.
“But I didn’t win,” Bev said.
“You made the putt.”
“No, I didn’t. It lipped out.”
“The crowd was cheering,” I insisted.
“Only in your head.”
I gagged, as if someone was shoving a fist into my mouth and driving it deeper.
“All of it is in your head,” Bev whispered. “Nobody cheered. Nobody.”
I glanced at the golf hole beyond my sister’s body. A ball hovered by the edge. A black Callaway, Bev’s ball of choice.
“You stooped to pluck it from the hole,” I said.
“I was marking it.” She always marked her putt, even a one-inch putt. It was her routine. “And Jim and I”—Bev struggled with the words. Blood seeped from the side of her mouth—“you’re imagining that, too.”
“I heard you.”
“We’re just friends.”
“This morning he slipped a ring onto your finger.”
“My good luck ring.” She flicked the fourth finger of her right hand and displayed the ring I had given her the day she turned pro. The gold band sparkled in the sunlight. “I’d taken it off to wash the dishes.”
“But you said you were going to marry him.”
“No, I didn’t.”
“You’re lying,” I shouted, my voice shrill, raw. “I heard you.”
“I said when I win this tournament”—Bev’s eyes fluttered—“I’m going to Maryland. For the Slim Fit tournament.”
Maryland? Marry Jim. Rhymes with Slim. Oh, lord.
Bev’s body spasmed. A burble of air gushed out of her.
I jerked as if I had been zapped with ten thousand volts of electricity. What in heaven’s name had I done? Blood roared through my veins and into my head. “Bev,” I pleaded. “Please, don’t die.”
But my sister never listened to me. Never.
Featured in Kings River Life Magazine online, 2014