Josh and I were heading down the cart path towards Euless Country Club’s thirteenth hole when we stopped to let a golf cart pass. Except it didn’t pass. The course pro, Mr. Holland, stopped to chat.
“Hope you have good hunting today boys, my supplies are running low.” During the summer months, Mr. Holland let us come at dusk to look for lost balls in the creeks and lakes. He paid us a quarter for each ball. He sold them in the pro shop as experienced balls for a buck apiece. “Bruce Peterson bought a sleeve of those new Strata Tour Ultimates today before his round. Guys playing with him said he put all three balls into the creek at thirteen. I’ll bet the box is probably still in the trash can at the tee box.” Mr. Holland winked with the last bit of information. He climbed back into his golf cart. “Keep an eye out for my watch!” he yelled over his shoulder.
“His watch,” said Josh. “How many years have we been looking for that watch? Our dads couldn’t find it thirty years ago when he tossed it in the creek.” Josh picked up a rock and hurled it across the fairway. “Now those Stratas, my dad’s been talking about them for weeks. A sleeve of them would make a great present.”
“You can have them. My dad is stuck on Precept EV’s”. Our fathers hunted balls together growing up. Now they golfed together on Saturday mornings and any other time my dad could close his law office and Josh’s dad could leave the barber shop.
“Funny, Mr. Holland would bring up the watch today. He hasn’t mentioned it in months,” I said as we got to the tee box on number thirteen.
Josh dug through the trash. “Wouldn’t today be his wife’s birthday?”
“Yeah, that’s it.” My dad said when he was my age, Mr. Holland was supposed meet his wife at her mother’s house. They had dinner reservations in Fort Worth for her birthday. As usual, he got caught talking to someone about a golf tournament. Mrs. Holland, hating to be tardy, decided to walk to the golf course. The delivery truck that killed her was also running late. Sick with grief, he threw the pocket watch, an anniversary gift, into the creek at thirteen, where he had proposed to her.
Josh popped up from the trash can holding his prize – the shiny foil Strata box. “Now to fill it,” he said. We walked across the rough to the creek which ran along the entire thirteenth hole. On a normal day, we could find fifty or so errant golf balls. Weekends were bonus days – one Sunday night we found over one hundred and thirteen lost balls. We felt rich that week.
The course was quiet. Most of the golfers were gone and the only sounds came from bullfrogs along the creek bank. The sun was about gone and the shade of the oak trees made the greens look like velvety carpets. Rabbits started to appear in the fairway, catching a snack of well-irrigated Tif-way Bermuda. Now and then a squirrel, spoiled by golfers, would come scold us for not offering a tidbit his way. The water of the creek was still and clear. I could see straight down to the bottom. There were pebbles, sand, and there, a prize, a golf ball. I extended my ball retriever and scooped it up. I wiped it off on my jeans and added it to my Wal-Mart bag. It made a soft click as it hit the other balls in my bag.
“Got one!” Josh held up a golf ball.
“Yeah, you find any yet?
“No, just a couple of Maxflis and a bunch of those American flag balls from the Memorial Day tournament.”
“Two to go then.” Josh hunkered down. He loved the challenge of searching for special balls. “Look, here’s another. If Mr. Peterson is anything, he’s consistent.”
I concentrated on the water. The last Strata Pro Ultimate was here somewhere. There was something shiny poking out from the river bank. I climbed down the bank, put one foot in the cool water and one on the bank, reached in and pulled it out. “Josh!”
“Did you find the last Strata?” Josh ran over.
“No, better,” I held out the silver pocket watch. “Think it could be Mr. Holland’s?”
“Can’t be. Mr. Holland’s watch would’ve been covered with mud for thirty years. This isn’t rusty or tarnished or anything.” He opened it and read the engraving, “You’re always late, but our love is timeless.”
“Maybe we should show it to Mr. Holland anyway. I’ve got a funny feeling about this.” The breeze had picked up and there was a strange smell in the air. It was kind of the smell you get during a summer drought, kind of sweet, kind of sour.
Josh held the watch to his ear. “You know, it’s still ticking. Too weird.” He handed it back to me and we started walking towards the pro shop.
The course itself was different as we walked back. I noticed it first. “Hey, Josh. Do the trees look small to you?”
“Yeah, they must’ve been out pruning this week.”
“Since when do they prune in June?”
Josh studied a tree. “The trunks even look thinner.”
We started to run and didn’t say another word until we got to the pro shop. It looked different too, almost new. When we walked in, it had a new car smell, fresh paint and carpet.
The man at the counter leaned over to greet us, “Can I help you boys?” He looked like he was Mr. Holland’s son, but Mr. Holland never had a son.
Josh stood still like a ball on a tee. I took a breath, “We found a watch out by number thirteen. It might be Mr. Holland’s. Is he still here?”
The man felt his pocket and smiled. “Did I lose that thing again? My wife would die if she knew how often I lose that thing.” He took the watch from me, opened it and looked and the words inside. He closed it and set it on the counter. “Speaking of my wife, it’s time to go get her. It’s her birthday and we have dinner reservations.” He called over to a man working on some golf clubs in a back room, “Charlie, I’m leaving. Could you come out here and find a suitable reward for these young gentlemen?” He winked at us as he came around the counter towards the door. Josh and I both stared at him as he started out. He was met by a tall man in a suit.
“Holland, I want to talk to you about a charity tournament.” Mr. Holland turned around and followed the man back into the shop.
Josh and I looked at each other in a panic. What do we do? We both understood at the same moment, but Josh moved first, “Mr. Holland, No, your wife…”
“Oh, goodness, the boy’s right”, Mr. Holland said putting a hand on the gentleman’s back. “James, it’s my wife’s birthday. I can’t be late today. Can Charlie help you or would you like to come by tomorrow morning?”
“I’m sure Charlie can set me up,” James said, “Enjoy your dinner. Give my best to Ruthie.”
Mr. Holland winked at Josh and headed out the pro shop door. Josh whispered to me, “Is this some kind of weird dream?”
“I don’t know what this is.” Charlie and James leaned over a calendar spread out on the counter. I went to peek at the dates they were discussing when I was almost knocked backward by a gust a wind. The droughty smell returned for a moment. Josh felt the wind too; he was sitting on the ground holding the red foil Strata box. The counter was empty of calendar and men.
The shop smelled the way it was supposed to, mildew and sweat and old golf shoes. “What happened?” I asked Josh.
He just shook his head and waved the golf ball box at me.
The pro shop door opened and Mr. Holland walked in. Old Mr. Holland, the way he’s supposed to be. “Is something wrong boys? You’re in early tonight.”
Josh just stared at Mr. Holland. I looked at the counter. The watch was still there. “I think we found your watch.” I pointed to the counter, but I wasn’t touching the thing again.
Mr. Holland ambled to the counter and picked up the watch. He stroked the case, and then he opened it to read the inscription. He snapped it shut and smiled. “Thanks boys, Ruthie would die if she knew how often I’ve lost this.”
“Your … your wife?” Josh asked.
“Yes, she’ll be here in a few minutes. Today’s her birthday and we’re going to Fort Worth for a show. We figured out twenty-five years ago that if we want to be on time, Ruthie needs to drive. Let’s keep the lost watch thing a secret, just us guys, OK?”
It was a good thing we kept it a secret. Mr. Holland seemed to lose the watch almost weekly after that. It was two weeks later when Josh walked up from the creek between the thirteenth and fourteenth holes.
“Wesley! You won’t believe what I found!” He had a blue Wal-Mart bag full of wet golf balls in his right hand. In his left, he held something small and silver. “I’ve got at least thirty balls, and Mr. Holland’s watch. Think he’ll toss in a reward?” Josh pushed his tongue back and forth in the gap between his front teeth.
“He did last time. Five dollars. And I’ve got another thirty two balls. It’s Space Rangers time!” We were saving up for a new video game, Space Rangers VII.
Josh handed me the watch. I opened it to check the time. The hands read five ‘til seven, but I could hear the bells of St. Andrew’s ringing for the seven o’clock Mass. I pulled out the little knobby thing and started to move the hands.
“I don’t…” Josh stopped suddenly, his mouth hanging wide open. I turned to see what could shut Josh up so fast. Nothing looked weird or anything. I didn’t see Mr. Holland’s golf cart. Just a golfer teeing off at number fifteen.
Josh looked funny, almost as if he was frozen. “Shut your mouth, Josh, you look like a wide mouth bass,” I said, pushing the knob back in.
“…Think you should be messing with that,” Josh said.
“Messing with what?”
“The watch. You want to break it or something?”
“I only reset the time, see?” I pulled the knob out to show him. Josh froze again. I looked around. A golf cart stopped on the cart path, with its front tire hanging over a pot hole. A golf ball hung in the air in front of the guy who drove it. He was stuck in his follow though. “His follow through could use some work,” I thought. Then, it hit me. “I’m doing this. I can stop the world.” I pushed the knob in and out a bunch of times. The golf ball stopped at different points in the air, like a picture in a golf magazine.
Josh spit out one word at a time. This was cool.
“He’s got…” Click.
“…slice.” Josh didn’t even notice. Even cooler.
“Josh, this watch! We can stop time!”
“What? You’re crazy!”
“No really. Here take it and pull out the knobby thing.” I handed it to him. After a second or two, he handed it back.
“That is too weird,” he said. “The birds were just hanging in the air. Did you see?”
“No, not when you had the watch.”
“I guess you have to be holding it.” Josh couldn’t stand still. “Wes, think about this, think about what we have! What we can do! Do you realize we never have to fail a test again?” He was almost dancing.
“What are you talking about?”
“The watch. We could bring it to school. Taking a test? Don’t know the answer? Stop time and stroll up to the teacher’s desk to get the answer. Sit down, restart time and get back to work.”
“Josh, that’s cheating. We couldn’t do that. Besides, we should return the watch.”
“OK, Mr. Rodgers. What about baseball? Oops, that infielder dropped another fly ball!”
This started to sound good, in a way. On Monday we would play the Orioles to see who would go on to the district playoffs in Fort Worth. They were the best team in the league. Our team, the Marlins, was in second place. It would be great to beat the Orioles. “Maybe we could return the watch on Tuesday.”
Josh slapped me on the back. “Now you’re talking.” The trip to the district playoffs always included a day at Six Flags over Texas. We were dying to try the new roller coaster. “The Superman ride is going to be great!”
We spent the night that night at Josh’s house. We went out into the yard and dug up a couple of worms, then used the watch to plant them on his older sister’s toothbrush a few times while she brushed her teeth. Britney has the best scream I ever heard.
Monday night, we arrived at the Euless Little League field. We plotted every play we could think of. The stands were filled with parents, grandparents and friends, all there to see the two best teams in the league slug it out for the title. The Orioles catcher and pitcher made it a point to read the Six Flags map in front of our dugout. Josh poked me in the ribs and pointed. Mr. and Mrs. Holland sat in the stands, waving.
I waved back. I felt funny in my chest, like maybe it was wrong to do this. I would have returned the watch right then, but Josh had it in his pocket. So I focused on the game. We were the home team, so I headed out to my spot at third base.
By the ninth inning, the Orioles were leading 4-2. We needed three runs. Josh looked at me and smiled, his tongue stuck in his teeth. By time Josh was up to bat, there was one out and runners on first and third. He swung big and got all of it, a double. Two runs scored and Josh was the winning run at second.
Troy was up next. I watched Josh pat his pocket as he took a few steps away from the bag. Troy’s bat smacked the ball into a graceful arc. The ball gently thudded into the shortstop’s glove. That meant it was up to me. I could hear the coach’s voice, “Don’t get greedy, all you need is a base hit,” and tried to let it drown out the chatter. I knew the pitcher was good. The first pitch whizzed right past. Strike one. I took a breath and reset my feet. Ball one. Ball two. I looked at Josh and he tried to wink, but it looked more like he was wrinkling his nose. The pitch came and I watched the ball hit the bat. As soon as I felt the bat vibrate, I dropped it and ran for first. The ball sailed towards right field. The center fielder ran to back up the right fielder. In his zeal to help, he crashed smack into the right fielder. The ball landed ten yards in front of them. I turned from first base to see Josh crossing home plate. The catcher threw down his face mask in disgust. Our entire team emptied the dugout to dog pile on Josh.
Josh and I packed up our gear side by side. He looked both ways, to see if anyone was around. Our parents were waiting in the parking lot, talking to the Hollands. Josh reached in his pocket and pulled out the watch. I took it up and opened it. Broken glass spilled into my hand. The knob was missing. Josh reached in his pocket again. He held out his hand, palm up. He was holding the knob. “The knobby thing broke in the second inning, when I dove for the grounder,” he said, grinning.
Tuesday morning, we took the watch over to Mr. Campino’s repair shop. He took the watch and turned it over in his big hands. “This is Clyde Holland’s watch, isn’t it?”
“Yes, sir. We found it,” I said. Josh looked in the glass case at the other antique watches.
“I must fix this thing at least once a month,” said Mr. Campino. “You’d think he’d learn to take better care of it.”
“How much to fix it?” I asked.
“Oh, Ten, eleven dollars. I replace this knob all the time. It’s always falling off. I keep the parts in stock now.”
“Really? When will it be ready, so we can take it back to him?” We couldn’t wait to get the watch back. We had a small project we wanted to do before we returned it.
“Oh, Thursday, Friday,” Mr. Campino placed the watch into an envelope and wrote something on it. “And I have a tee time Saturday morning. I’ll bring it to him, save you boys the trouble.”
Josh and I glanced at each other.
“After all,” Mr. Campino winked, “this is a very special watch.”