Hueffer locked his left elbow, interlaced his thumbs, cocked his wrist just so and let the driver bounce in the air once or twice. He gave his hips a limbering wiggle, took a backswing and… the solid dink of a clean connection. The ball climbed, faded slightly and bounced eagerly down the right-hand side of the fairway. Nicely laid up.
Frank Baumgarten released a polite volley of applause. Hueffer looked up to catch his eye and gave a discreet nod of manly acknowledgement. Inside, his ego was dancing the merengue. That had been a belting drive. Baumgarten, going next, went right down the centre of the fairway, coming a satisfying few yards short. This would, Hueffer thought, be a contest of equals in which he hoped to come out marginally on top.
Tricky business, having a job interview over a game of golf. Hueffer didn’t want to do anything so obvious as lose on purpose, but he clearly couldn’t deliver a thrashing. If there was one thing Hueffer knew about Baumgarten – and nobody knew much at all about the reclusive chairman of Cashcoo – it was that he’d respect a winner. And this was the interview of his life. Private jet to Philadelphia, limo to the Pine Valley Golf Club and an 18-hole face-to-face with Baumgarten, at the end of which might be the offer of a six- or even seven-figure job over a shandy at the 19th.
He cast a covetous eye over Baumgarten’s caddy, a red-haired beauty barely out of her teens. Baumgarten was younger than he’d expected and he marked the looks that passed between them. Still, couldn’t blame his host for taking first pick.
“Caddy!” Hueffer said, with a brisk snap of his fingers as he ducked into his cart. The grey-haired schlump in the Titleist T-shirt scrambled to pick up his clubs and load them into the back. They pelted off after the ball.
They halved the first two. Then Hueffer closed the third for par, Baumgarten hitting a bogey. When they embarked on the 10th, Hueffer was two strokes ahead and playing the best game of his life. The conversation was genial – big man to big man.
But then Hueffer three-putted the 12th, and on the 13th it went badly wrong. The yips. He sliced his drive into a stand of trees on the right of the fairway. It took him two shots to get clear – and he went straight across to the other side into a bunker. Baumgarten had a long putt for par.
Hueffer readied the sand iron, his face hot with humiliation – and swung. A fountain of sand… and the ball remained almost exactly where it was. He looked up and saw his caddy. Was he smirking? “Caddy,” he hissed. “If I see you make that face once more I’m going to have your job. Do you understand?” he said.
“Sorry, sir,” said the caddy. “I wasn’t aware of making any face.”
“Don’t cheek me. Your job. Do. You. Understand?”
“Sir,” said the caddy. Hueffer looked up and saw Baumgarten approaching. “Tchoh!” Hueffer said brightly. “Butterfingers!” He composed himself and another stroke put him on the green. Baumgarten gave him a sympathetic grin, then turned and sank his putt. “Well played,” said Hueffer, forcing a smile.
It went from bad to worse. He couldn’t conceal his annoyance when that ruddy caddy sneezed and put him off, and he was six behind by the time they reached the clubhouse. Still, as they left the course he gave a smooth impersonation of being gracious in defeat. The real victory lay ahead. He gave Baumgarten a firm handshake and a million-dollar smile. “So,” he said, “to business?”
“I don’t think that’ll be necessary, Mr Hueffer,” the caddy interjected. “But thank you for your time. Your car is ready to take you to the airport.”
“I’m sorry?” said Hueffer, whipping round and then looking affrontedly at his host.
“A slight deception,” continued the caddy. “I’m Frank Baumgarten. This,” he said, indicating Hueffer’s golfing opponent, “is Henry Norman. Henry’s my junior VP of human resources. I’m not as good at golf as young Henry, but I like to walk round the course. And I do think golf’s a great test of character – don’t you?”