"Are you sure he's okay? I don't see any bubbles. Warren?"
Warren stared across the fairway. Maple leaves rustled in the dim moonlight.
"What? Oh... he's fine, Sally. Trust me. There's never any bubbles, unless something goes very, very wrong. But that's not gonna happen! Look, see this hose? That's how he's breathing down there."
The green garden hose in Warren's hand extended deep into the pond.
"I don't know... I don't like this," said Sally.
"You said you wanted me to give your brother a job. So, I gave Mikey..."
"Right. So, I gave Mitchell a job."
"I thought he'd be delivering papers for you or working the pinball machines in the barber shops."
Sally rose and picked up the nearby rake. She began erasing their footsteps in the sand trap. Warren shook his head.
"Everyone starts out here, Sal. Chuck and I used to do this all the time."
A wolf-whistle broke out across the fairway. Warren tensed.
"That's our curtain-call!"
He stood up and pulled twice on the hose, and waited for a confirming double-pull from the deep. But the hose was still.
Warren smiled meekly at Sally and pulled twice again.
Sally crossed her arms. Warren figured this was probably not the right time to ask her to the homecoming dance, but then again...
Another whistle rang out and the clubhouse's flood lights whooshed on, directly exposing them. A team of not-so-friendly-sounding dogs began barking.
Warren leapt into the pond up to his ankles and rolled the hose into looping circles around his arm, trying not to think about what might happen if this idiot kid was stuck down there. He removed his letterman's jacket -- yes, they still gave them to the varsity mathletes -- and tossed it at at Sally's sandaled feet. He removed his watch next, prepping to dive in, when something thrashed underneath the patch of lily-pads.
Sally shrieked as a round, deep-sea diver helmet emerged from the water, with its green hose attached, covered in mud and duck weed. The figure wearing the helmet held two wire baskets, each filled to the brim with slimy golf balls. Then the swamp-creature pulled open the helmet's front-panel. Inside was a soggy, freckled, smiling face.
"Did I do good, Warren?"
"Mitchell!" shouted Sally, almost climbing into the pond herself, but stopping right at the edge.
"You did great, kid," said Warren. "Here, gimme those. We gotta run."
Warren took the wire baskets and helped Michell out of the pond. Then Warren pointed across the fairway, and the three sped across the lawn, Sally carrying Warren's jacket, Warren holding the baskets of golfballs, and Mitchell trying to keep up, waddling in the heavy helmet with the garden hose trailing behind him.
The sprinklers turned on as they were halfway across the fairway, soaking them completely. Warren began laughing, and Sally turned and saw him and she started laughing, too.
But the dogs were getting closer and Warren thought he heard a shotgun cock. They were close to the edge of the golf course property. But it looked Mitchell wasn't going to make it -- the helmet was too heavy for him to run with.
Warren raced back with one of the wire baskets and flung its contents all over the fairway. Nearly a hundred golf-balls bounced in every direction. Warren hoped that the dogs would chase the balls or trip over them or something like that. He grabbed Mitchell and put his arm around his shoulder. They ran three-legged across the fairway back to Sally and they all ducked into the woods.
A convertible was waiting for them beyond the hillside, with its lights on and engine revving.
"Come on, come on, come on..." called the driver as they got in. "Hey! Watch the seats. Ugh, I just had this thing detailed."
The driver pulled the car into gear and sped off down the access road, beyond the reach of the dogs.
"Hello, Sally," said the driver, his tone now changed. She glared at the inveterate charmer. "Coca-Cola anyone?"
"Thanks Chuck," said Warren from the back seat, grabbing the soda and stretching his arm around Sally's shoulder, which she promptly shrugged off.
"Nice haul, kid," said Chuck to Mitchell in the front seat. "You know you can take off that helmet now."
Mitchell nodded in the diver's helmet, but kept it on.
They spun out from the access road onto a county highway which ran alongside the railroad tracks. There was a big freight train rumbling ahead of them, and Chuck sped up.
"Not this again, Chuck," said Warren.
Chuck didn't respond. They caught up with the Burlington Northern Santa Fe train, racing alongside it for half a mile. Chuck changed gears again, pulling ahead of the train, before swerving the car to the right at the next intersection, directly in the train's path.
Mitchell and Chuck howled as they barely cleared the freight engine. Sally's eyes were wide and she raised her hands into the air and shouted through a wide smile. Warren meanwhile missed the whole thing. He was counting tonight's haul, painfully aware that they'd lost half their loot in the escape.
At ten cents a ball, his golf ball sales weren't the most lucractive part of his empire, but they'd always been the most reliable. People can't help but hit that water hazard. But what Warren really needed was a less risky source of steady cash flows, with fewer angry dogs and cocked shotguns. Something steady, recurring, as constant as death and taxes. Something like...
They drove past a billboard for the OMAHA LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY.
The old man reached over and refilled his guest's glass from the frosted pitcher.
Alice accepted it with a nod and leaned back into the wicker rocking chair. She adjusted the yellow notepad on her knees and glanced over at the cassette-tape recorder on the table next to her. Still recording, good. She, of course, had her iPhone running a Voice Memo as a backup, but she liked to do all her interviews with this cassette recorder, the same one that her dad gave her as a kid when she decided she wanted to a start a local newspaper for her culdesac.
"So, let me get this straight," she said. "You're saying... this is how you first got involved in the insurance industry?"
The old man turned away for a moment, gazing across the front-porch of the ranch house, and then turned back.
"Oh, no. That's an entirely other story. Anyhow, our cheeseburgers should be ready soon. Should I tell you about how Charlie and I almost bought the telephone company while we wait? Cause that's a good one."
Alice nodded and picked up her pen.
This story assignment was becoming something of a snowball.