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But there were problems with the hoax scenario too.

For example, how did Mr. Total Grunge from the mall fit in?

There was indeed the rub. What role was the Crusty Nazi playing in all this? Did Chad Coldren have an accomplice? Possibly, but that really didn’t fit in well with a revenge scenario. If Chad was indeed behind all this, Myron doubted that the preppy golfer would join forces with a “skinhead wanna-be,” complete with a swastika tattoo.

So where did that leave Myron?

Baffled.

As Myron pulled up to the guest house, he felt his heart constrict. Win’s Jag was there. But so was a green Chevy Nova.

Oh, Christ.

Myron got out of the car slowly. He checked the license plate on the Nova. Unfamiliar. As he expected. He swallowed and moved away.

He opened the cottage’s front door and welcomed the sudden onslaught of air-conditioning. The lights were out. For a moment he just stood in the foyer, eyes closed, the cool air tingling his skin. An enormous grandfather clock ticked.

Myron opened his eyes and flicked on a light.

“Good evening.”

He pivoted to his right. Win was seated in a high-back leather chair by the fireplace. He cupped a brandy snifter in his hand.

“You were sitting in the dark?” Myron asked.

“Yes.”

Myron frowned. “A bit theatrical, don’t you think?”

Win switched on a nearby lamp. His face was a tad rosy from the brandy. “Care to join me?”

“Sure. I’ll be right back.”

Myron grabbed a cold Yoo-Hoo from the refrigerator and sat on the couch across from his friend. He shook the can and popped it open. They drank in silence for several minutes. The clock ticked. Long shadows snaked across the floor in thin, almost smoky tendrils. Too bad it was summertime. This was the kind of setting that begged for a roaring fire and maybe some howling wind. An air conditioner just didn’t cut it.

Myron was just getting comfortable when he heard a toilet flush. He looked a question at Win.

“I am not alone,” Win said.

“Oh.” Myron adjusted himself on the couch. “A woman?”

“Your gifts,” Win said. “They never cease to amaze.”

“Anybody I know?” Myron asked.

Win shook his head. “Not even somebody I know.”

The norm. Myron looked steadily at his friend. “You want to talk about this?”

“No.”

“I’m here if you do.”

“Yes, I see that.” Win swished around the drink in the snifter. He finished it in one gulp and reached for the crystal decanter. There was a slight slur in his speech. Myron tried to remember the last time he had seen Win the vegetarian, the master of several martial arts, the transcendental meditator, the man so at ease and in focus with his surroundings, have too much to drink.

It had been a very long time.

“I have a golf question for you,” Myron said.

Win nodded for him to proceed.

“Do you think Jack Coldren can hang on to this lead?”

Win poured the brandy. “Jack will win,” he said.

“You sound pretty sure.”

“I am sure.”

“Why?”

Win raised the glass to his mouth and looked over the rim. “I saw his eyes.”

Myron made a face. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“He has it back. The look in the eyes.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

“Perhaps I am. But let me ask you something.”

“Go ahead.”

“What separates the great athletes from the very good? The legend from the journeyman? Simply put, what makes winners?”

“Talent,” Myron said. “Practice. Skill.”

Win gave a slight shake of the head. “You know better than that.”

“I do?”

“Yes. Many have talent. Many practice. There is more to the art of creating a true winner.”

“This look-in-the-eye thing?”

“Yes.”

Myron winced. “You’re not going to start singing ‘Eye of the Tiger,’ are you?”

Win cocked his head. “Who sang that song?”

The continuing trivia game. Win knew the answer, of course. “It was in Rocky II, right?”

“Rocky III,” Win corrected.

“That the one with Mr. T?”

Win nodded. “Who played …?” he prompted.

“Clubber Lange.”

“Very good. Now who sang the song?”

“I don’t remember.”

“The name of the group was Survivor,” Win said. “Ironic name when you think of how quickly they vanished, no?”

“Uh-huh,” Myron said. “So what is this great divider, Win? What makes a winner?”

Win took another swish and sip. “Wanting,” he said.

“Wanting?”

“Hunger.”

“Uh-huh.”

“The answer isn’t surprising,” Win said. “Look in Joe DiMaggio’s eyes. Or Larry Bird’s. Or Michael Jordan’s. Look at pictures of John McEnroe in his prime, or Chris Evert. Look at Linda Coldren.” He stopped. “Look in the mirror.”

“The mirror? I have this?”

“When you were on the court,” Win said slowly “your eyes were barely sane.”

They fell into silence. Myron took a swig of Yoo-Hoo. The cold aluminum felt good in his hand. “You make the whole ‘wanting’ thing sound like it’s all foreign to you,” Myron said.

“It is.”

“Bull.”

“I am a good golfer,” Win said. “Correction: I am a very good golfer. I practiced quite a bit in my youth. I have even won my share of tournaments. But I never wanted it bad enough to move up to that next level.”

“I’ve seen you in the ring,” Myron countered. “In martial arts tournaments. You seemed plenty ‘wanting’ to me.”

“That is very different,” Win said.

“How so?”

“I do not view a martial arts tournament as a sporting contest, whereby the winner brings home a chintzy trophy and brags to colleagues and friends—nor do I view it as a competition that will lead to some sort of empty emotion that the insecure among us perceive as glory. Fighting is not a sport to me. It’s about survival. If I could lose in there”—he motioned to an imaginary ring—“I could lose in the real world.” Win looked up in the air. “But …” His voice drifted off.

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