Shiva's Messenger

Games of Snakes on Ladders

Chapter 5

Games of Snakes on Ladders

After hopping a flight to Vancouver, Tariq took a train south into the States. He took a table at a seaside window and ordered a beer. Another man soon asked to join him, as the rest of the places were taken.

“I’ve noticed the numerous pilings along the shore.” The programmer began small talk after some brief introductions. “In some spots, the stubble field of them was as a crop of oversized barley stems.”

“Many buildings of one sort or another once stood on them.” The man who said his name was Frank responded. “They’re gone but the supports remain as a testament to the value of construction on solid foundations.”

“It doesn’t make sense though,” Tariq sipped his beer, “to outspend the budget in driving too many top quality piles. Why would all those builders have so poorly estimated or was there some other overlooked factor?”

“When the edifice stands atop the stilts,” Frank surmised, “it protects its foundation posts from ravages of weather and perhaps the pillars only began to rot when the sheltering roofs were gone.”

“It is therefore possible to suggest that some of the warehouses once resting on the columns, collapsed sooner because of defects in the pilings.

“Some certainly are at jaunty angles.” Frank took a swig of beer.

That analogy probably explains why Wall Soft Systems still has market predominance in spite of a trashy offering. The buttressed programs above have sheltered the shoddy scaffolding underneath.

The same didn’t relate to Wall’s corporate structure. A beaver’s dam provided a better metaphor. Tariq pictured a superstructure, pressed ever higher by buck-toothed workers haphazardly pushing sticks in underneath to jostle the precarious head rodent aloft—to squirt his defecations.

After arriving in downtown Seattle on the Amtrak, Tariq soon located one of the city’s prestigious law firms. Dumont, Bach and Ratzler had a staff of over fifty practicing lawyers. The programmer, low-status nobody that he was, wrangled an appointment with a junior partner.

“Good afternoon.” Tariq Mahmud shook the woman’s decidedly cold and quite firm hand. Lauren Smyth was a statuesque woman in her early to mid thirties. Hazel eyes with bedroom lids gave her a sultry appearance, despite the chilly welcome. Those eyes complemented her auburn hair that shrouded the left side of her face. With her ‘Jessica Rabbit’ hairstyle and her mid-calf length red dress, she could’ve passed for a 1940’s pinup girl.

“What can Dumont, Bach and Ratzler do for you?” Lauren’s icy voice didn’t jive with the warm appearance. It was even colder than her quickly removed hand had been.

“The reverse may also be true.” On her brusque cue, he skipped past the small talk as well. “Your firm stands to make a lot of money from very little work.” Tariq noted that on mention of the ‘M’ word, money, her eyes flared, especially because it was preceded by the ‘lot of’ adjective phrase.

“Do tell, Mr. Mahmud, you have my rapt interest.” With an endearing smile, the scintillating redhead offered the man a seat on her divan. With a sexy wiggle, she settled into a semi-facing chair.

“Just Tariq.” The Iranian made himself comfortable with a crossed leg facing her. Although he had only put right over left because he was more used to that, Tariq couldn’t resist noticing that in the body language his late wife had touted, it suggested an open invitation.

“Whatever you wish.” The rheostat of her internal thermostat spun to a melt setting. Lauren’s sultry vocal tone now matched the scorching visual effect of her lazy-lidded eyes and those fell briefly on his knees, as if physical lingo was one of her language fluencies.

“I wrote a computer program,” Tariq was at a loss for glib words: the lovely lady lawyer had reminded him that he hadn’t been with a woman since 9/11, “that competes with Wall Soft’s and—”

“Bob’s team of lawyers,” Lauren curtly cut him off to interject a guess, “launched an infringement suit against you?”

“No.” Tariq set his laptop on her coffee table and loaded his program. He swiveled the screen and gave her a quick demonstration.

“That’s a cute little program.” Again, her manner had abruptly turned. Her lemon-bitter voice reversed the honey-dripping flavor it had after the M word was mentioned. “It’s going precisely nowhere though. A program in Wall Soft System’s latest upgrade does the same as yours. In fact, now as I see yours running, it’s almost identical to the copy I’m using on my computer.” She stood, moved to her desk and bent deliciously over it to take up her mouse. After facing a slim-line monitor towards the settee, Lauren tapped the icons to bring up the newest Wall Soft offering.

“That’s because it is my program and that is exactly why I’ve come to Dumont, Bach and Ratzler. The ‘Handshake Lite’ imitation looks, runs and even smells like mine because it is my ‘Low-Key’. Wall has tried to hack my head off by bundling my program, as a free feature with his.”

“Do you know how much a lawsuit to get the rights back would cost,” Lauren’s tone was condescending: she was seemingly disappointed that the lot of money wasn’t materializing, “even if you could win it?”

“As Bob did as well,” Tariq smiled mischievously, “you seem to have badly underestimated me. Don’t you suppose I could’ve foreseen his ploy coming? After all, Low-key is a javelin directly thrown at the black wallet in the geek’s ribcage that pumps the green ooze through his veins.”

“His history of software piracy,” she conceded, “is well documented.”

“He appended mine into his carpetbag of other pilfered cloth swatches without closely scrutinizing the dainty threads.” The programmer hesitated for dramatic effect. “My message cross-stitched into the code’s weft is the loose yarn in the emperor’s fancy new sweater.”

Lauren’s bedroom eyes widened as her eyebrows arched inquisitively.

A couple of obscure keystrokes,” Tariq circled to the keyboard behind her desk and tapped them out while hiding what his fingers were doing, “and voila!” A bold message showed on the monitor, surrounded by a hash-marked border of yellow and black diagonal slashes.


“Wall Soft Systems now owes me a negotiable royalty payment on each and every sold copy of their upgrade.” The programmer watched the redhead’s glowing cheeks as she flushed hot again. “Since they’ve already released it, Bob the notorious thief, should have no option but to pony up some cash. There’s not much grey area of legal wrangling here.”

“That certainly does stand boldly out to prove your theft allegation.” Lauren regarded the screen banner: her finger rose to stroke her lower lip and a tongue tip licked out to moisten it. Her eyes rolled to observe him sidelong and she slid the digit up to her knuckle in a thoughtful pose.

“So, where do we go from here, Ms. Smyth?” Tariq rounded the desk again. This time as he sat, he observed her eyes following his body. Is the fingertip she’s sucking on representational another thought on her mind? For the second time in the short interview, the man was reminded of the principles of body language—and the interpretation was bawdy too.

“Tariq,” she spoke his name so slowly that it seemed she was savoring the flavor of the vowels, “might I offer you,” she paused to consider what would suit his palate or the situation better, “a coffee?”

The Canadian programmer affirmatively nodded. Was she offering just a hot beverage? Almost as a poorly dubbed movie, he felt her seductive look hadn’t been synched very well with her velvety sounding words.

“I’d also like to bring another lawyer in. He has more expertise and frankly, I think your case merits more than one barrister.” As she moved, her walk provocatively accentuated her female body features. At the door, Lauren turned her head back sharply, flipping her hair over a shoulder. “I won’t be but a moment.”

The door closed but the client continued to stare blankly at the wood-grain as if her curvatious form were still silhouetted against it. From the courthouses to the courtyards, people are always humans and a subtle interplay between the opposite sexes invariably existed. Tariq considered the stirring effect that nuances in her gestures had engendered in him. She vacillated between hot and cold in the interview but Lauren certainly ended with her brazier set on sizzle.

“Does a finishing school teach a beautiful woman how to maximize the snaring effects they have?” The Iranian-Canadian man took a breath and tried damning the sub-currents in his libido stream. The redhead held appeal but with her fiery to frosty shifts, a tryst would risk scorching and frostbite. “Ms. Smyth is more dangerous than the bear was.” And perhaps a tryst with a client would be deemed as unethical for her too.

The programmer settled back into the settee to await the lawyer and soon, two of them arrived. The man entered first, after having allowed the woman somewhat his junior to open the door for him. Jonathon Dumont, according to the introduction, extended a hand that was lean to the verge of skeletal. If my grip is too firm, I could crush his phalanges. The two men performed the conventional business shake. It feels like my hand is full of chalk sticks. The name was Dumont but he was too young to be one of the founding partners in the well-established firm. Tariq concluded he must be of a second or even third generation down the line.

“I was told of your singularly unique situation.” Jonathon’s voice was as a car salesman’s and his smile was overly gregarious.

“That description,” the programmer found Dumont’s use of a redundant qualifier on a superlative, as grating as hard chalk on a blackboard: so he mockingly shot another one back, “was minimally brief.” If something is unique, then there is only a single and a brief is already minimal.

“Any brief against Wall Soft,” the male lawyer missed the slur and he chucked at his self-assumed clever retort, “will not be minimalist.”

“Bob’s corporation is an entity unto itself.” Lauren interjected a trite phrase and her unnecessary verbiage demonstrated that she caught the barb that had bent on Dumont’s thickness.

“One point conceded.” Tariq flashed the sharp lady lawyer a grin and then returned his eyes to the slightly bemused looking Jonathon. He hasn’t figured out what the ‘point’ was for. Dumont’s elevated position in the firm was obviously based on his family’s prestige, with a dash of seniority.

The new client’s mind went further to imagine a younger version of the skinny barrister taking an easy sponsored ride through law school and even purchasing exam answers. In the present, the Dumont scion was less than impressive too. His frail hand suggested that despite his trim appearance, Jonathon seldom lifted anything heavier than a pen.

“Frankly, a label like this proclaiming ownership is abundantly clear.” After initial pleasantries, Jonathon waved at the monitor where the banner remained. “It’s so irrefutable that you don’t need much legal work.”

“Tariq Mahmud has already impressed me to the firm knowledge that he isn’t to underestimated.” Lauren Smyth reacted swiftly to loop a safety knot on the lucrative case Jonathon was on the cusp of throwing overboard. She casually touched the male lawyer on the upper arm, then her fingernail traced lightly down his to his inner elbow. “Tariq is certain he wants our representation and he should have the very best that we can offer.”

Is body contact like that normal in an employment relationship or is there more? Instead of wondering why Jonathon was trying to blow off the case, the prospective client mused over a possible intimacy between the lawyers: might it be attributable to ladder climbing. But, why would she display it here? Or did she just use female wiles to convince Jonathon’s compliance while also evoking a competition between the males?

Once more, the programmer was reminded of the interesting woman’s hot and cold oscillations. Jonathon was late thirty-something: his thinning black hair was frosted with splatters of grey. It seems as burning charcoal briquettes with ash edges: did Lauren’s match set his coif alight?

“I’m willing to clear my personal schedule and devote myself utterly to you.” Lauren targeted a warm boudoir gaze at the Iranian-Canadian man. “Jonathon will ensure that additional expertise is available as required.”

“Uh.” The male lawyer felt slightly left out of the conversation. In one moment he had been unsure of how much work the firm could bill and in the next, a subordinate staffer was committing further resources. “I don’t think this can be billed as fee-simple?”

“I’m willing to part with a percentage of my due royalties as my life insurance policy.” Were he interviewing with Jonathon Dumont alone, Tariq surmised that he would’ve already walked out to continue his search. But with Lauren Smyth as the spear’s tip, this portion of his plan could be productive and possibly even pleasurable.   “If I were to take this to Wall Soft Systems without some backup I suspect I would find myself chewing on bits of lead gum.”

“That’s a bit drastic to assume.” Jonathon said. “Business in America isn’t done with firearms anymore, even though our second constitutional amendment does allow it. However, Dumont, Bach and Ratzler are happy to oblige in being your second for this duel.”

“I’m paying you be my primary gunfighters: not the alternate.”


“Oysters on ice and an order of screaming-hot chicken wings.”

Tariq almost laughed at the table when a fiery red-haired lawyer coolly ordered the appetizers. That’s appropriate for all-season weather fronts. I’m betting on a desert of baked Alaska. He recalled the phone call, when she had asked him out to dinner.

‘Isn’t lunch the usual business repast?’ He had asked.

‘Sometimes it is,’ as she was anticipating an instant acceptance, her voice had nearly sent a jet of chilly carbon dioxide fog from his cell phone: then, the white mist would’ve turned to steam, ‘but an evening meeting allows discussion of the next morning’s work—until breakfast if needs be.’

‘Fortunately, I find my night-timer is devoid of other entanglements.’ Tariq had agreed. A slightly flirtatious relationship could even improve our business rapport. He marginalized his bad decision, as men often will to convince themselves to do what they want—instead of what they should.

“Do you like this restaurant?” Lauren turned from her exchange with the waitress to find Tariq’s brown eyes locked onto her hazel ones.

“I’m admiring a stunning vista.” The skyline outside Seattle Space Needle was breathtaking in the sunset but his eyes didn’t flicker from her.

“I’m pleased you find the view alluring.” Lauren held eye contact and walked her fingertips slowly on the windowsill to show that the restaurant was revolving. “You’ll see much more as the earth spins around us.”

“I can imagine this cityscape is scintillating from any compass point.”

“Just have patience,” she took a shell from the ice and sucked the raw oyster deliciously into her mouth, “and you’ll enjoy it all.”

“That looked succulent.” Fan yourself Tariq, the weather is sweltering right now but the forecast is for continued unpredictable.

“We can see Mount Rainier today.” When the restaurant had revolved to view the South East, Lauren suddenly perked up and touched his hand.

“Is it the snow-capped one that looks like it’s floating in the air?”

“The city of Tacoma lies in between and smog shrouds the base. Of course,” she lowered her bedroom eyelids even further than normal, “since Rainier is a volcano it can take its revenge on Tacoma whenever it wants.”

“A molten mountain under a glacier?” The Iranian inwardly chuckled again. It is no wonder Lauren likes that one.

“Rainier just hasn’t gone off in along time.”

“Yah like me.” Oops! The programmer regretted his unintentional candor that wasn’t veiled in the double entendre word game they were playing, but it was too late to bite his snippet off.

“I’m sure that lava could still erupt. It just takes the seismic event of a shifting plate.” She passed a dish across the table.   “Have an oyster.”

“Is Bob shelling-out some cash for us?” Tariq tossed a shucked husk and used the action to segue to a safer subject. I wonder if I’m a dichotomy to Lauren’s sex life versus her professional one, as her heat shifts are to me—and, intriguingly as our appetizer is? Oysters are nasty and barnacled on the exterior but mother-of-pearl within. The bi-valve creature is butt ugly to the eyesight but a vision of loveliness on the taste buds.

“Is there someone in Canada who steams up your igloo’s windows?”

“My wife passed away some time ago.”

“Did it hurt badly?” As she spoke, Lauren reached over the table. Her pattern-painted fingernails gently touched the scarred part of his left hand.

“Uh,” Tariq started slightly at the caress but held his hand steady. Was that question aimed at the loss of his wife or fingers? “I lost those in the same crash that took my wife and daughter.”

Predictably, Lauren suddenly showed her chilly streak again later in the meal. This time, it wasn’t in response to Tariq, but rather her phone.

“I need to take this call.” For privacy, she rushed to a waiter’s alcove.

“Lauren follows only one person’s agenda,” the programmer muttered, “and that is her own.”

“I have to leave right after dinner.”

“Was that Mr. Smyth?”

“Mmm.” The cool lawyer shied on the verge of answering then veered onto another tack. “Play golf with me tomorrow. What hotel are you in?”

“I haven’t taken a room yet.”

“I’ll arrange for you to stay at that one.” Lauren pointed down, as the revolving restaurant happened to be currently overlooking the downtown waterfront. “The harbor view suites are especially luxurious.”

“Thank you.”

“Elvis stayed there.” She turned in her seat to pick up her jacket from the adjacent chair’s back. “But, he’s left the building and now I must too.”

“Allow me.” As the Iranian stood to gentlemanly assist with her wrap, his thigh bumped the table hard and the wine glasses precariously wobbled. He snatched, but his knuckle hit the fullest one and toppled it. Lauren took the red liquid all over her pale blue silk skirt. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine.” Her soothing words suggested an apology acceptance, but hoarfrost in her voice almost froze the statement. “I’ll send a car at ten.”

“Brrrrr.” The programmer felt an involuntary shiver as he watched the taut muscles below the hot lawyer’s back slope skating under powder blue material: her hands were sweeping like curling brooms at a flame red stain on the front. That unfortunate wine incident is probably the best thing that could’ve happened. “Now she’s certain to ski away from me.”

“Did you enjoy your meal?” The maître d’ presented a silver bill tray.

“Didn’t my host handle this?” The Canadian fumbled for his billfold. I imagine that a desirable woman like Lauren isn’t used to picking up tabs. He surmised that her room offer would also be at his expense—and it was.


“Do you play golf much in Canada?” Jonathon Dumont was waiting at the clubhouse with Lauren and youngish female. He teed off on the first: his shot ran plumb-line straight but not exceedingly long.

“Some do.” The Iranian extraction man gripped his driver handle as he would a baseball bat. Even with two-fingers short of a double handful, his remaining digits were still awkwardly tangled. “Others simply brandish these metal sticks like weapons.” Tariq’s swing was a case-in-point as the worm-burner had no loft but plenty of inertia. The severed blades of grass flew up higher than the ball had, as it blistered a ditch though the foliage.

“I’m sure you’re toying to disarm,” Lauren cooed and briefly hugged his arm, “before you pulverize us with your superior gamesmanship.”

Tariq watched the other female lawyer from the firm send her shot also with surveyor-transit precision: her ball came up just shy of Jonathon’s. Tamara’s athletic musculature is similar to a female tennis pro’s build. Her shoulders had well-toned meat and she could doubtlessly out-drive the soda-straw thin Dumont—but didn’t choose to.

Is this sport a game of skill or eighteen-frames of sucking-up? Tariq wondered. It could be named gulp instead of golf.

Starting last, Lauren cast a coy look back at Tariq before drilling a similar lawnmower to the Canadian’s but ending slightly short of his.

The programmer couldn’t resist a toothy smile. I’m impressed. It took real talent to make him look better in the pastime where he had no latent skill and no desire to improve on his natural disability either.

“Golf seems to be a unique pass-time.” The Iranian-Canadian made the casual observation. On the fifth fairway, Tariq and Jonathon spoke as they strolled to where their respective balls had inadvertently ended up laying close. “Do you know of another sport where the lowest score wins?”

“Uh,” Dumont feigned having difficulty selecting which club to use next, as he searched his brain for an intelligent sounding answer to such an inane question. He glanced over at Lauren for a clue but she simply smiled at him. “Perhaps a pitcher’s duel in baseball is similar in that the lesser amount of thrown balls in a game equates to the better performance.” Jonathon chipped a high loft with an 8-iron and his ball dropped onto the green. He was now laying two on a par three hole.

“That’s not quite accurate.” The programmer selected the same club and he addressed his ball. “Only three throws per inning that each resulted in a fly-ball out would be a no-hitter on only 27 pitches.”

Tariq swung hard but severely topped his target. Instead of progressing up the fairway, the dimpled ball absorbed a squashing impact between the foot of the club and the ground. It returned the inertia by hopping back towards the tee-box and landing five paces further away from the pin. The player accepted the result without commenting on it and prepared for his next stroke from the new location.

“Whereas, striking out every batter would take a minimum of nine pitches per inning for a match tally of eighty-one but this performance would be lauded as superior—,” Tariq’s next clumsy swing managed to sail the ball to the fringe of the targeted green, “—or at least on par.”

“I see your point.” Jonathon’s voice was marginally dejected because he didn’t understand the real point though. The senior lawyer had been trying to reduce his play to allow the client to win, or to at least land his ball close enough for conversations but the Canadian’s erratic shots had so far made that exceedingly difficult. This hole was his first opportunity to chat since commencing the round and the exasperating older man had effectively ruined it with a worthless chitchat.

“A programmer’s task on the other hand, would be akin to golf.” Tariq resumed the topic as the two men watched Lauren’s fine form. He admired her exquisite performance that contrasted with Jonathon’s. Her every shot had landed near to, but slightly beyond her client’s. Lawyer Smyth’s other casual actions had been similarly enthralling. Just now, she was bent at the waist and plucking at a tuft of grass. The Iranian tore his eyes from the view to continue. “Achieving a working result in the fewest keystrokes makes for code that is smaller, faster and better.”

“As your ‘Low-Key’ program clearly demonstrates.” Dumont’s mind also formulated an analogy of a legal professional’s optimum performance being winning with the least expended effort but he decided not to risk it. He envisioned a notable flaw in his case: the true measure of quality was in maximizing a suit’s dollar value and all superfluous actions adding extra-billing were the real legal aces.

“Courting is a example of a golf concept in a social setting.” Lauren had been listening to the verbal exchange while pretending to carefully evaluate her ball’s positioning. She spoke while preparing for her second stroke on the long par-3 fifth. The back of her short tennis skirt swished over the cleft of her upper thighs as she waggled her club several times. “A man prefers a maximum reward on minimal expenditures: so a female who puts-out on a first date is a hole-in-one.”

From the fairway’s other side where her tee slice had lit, Tamara also landed her second but overshot the pin. The foursome met on the green to finish the short game. Miraculously, the client’s putt took a meandering line that teetered on the lip and then fluked into the cup. The women each two-putted and Jonathon cashed his par with a nine-footer.

Three for me!” The male lawyer boasted as he over-dramatized his penciling the scorecard. “You drive for show but putt for the dough!”

“Ditto.” Tariq licked the nib of his pencil and marked a three.

“But you took two swings on the fairway.” Jonathon’s voice held an indignant edge as the programmer had stolen his triumph.

“The first one didn’t advance the ball towards the flag.” The Canadian smiled innocently. Will he show some spine and accuse me of cheating? “It traveled backward so it doesn’t count.” Shall I suggest the one negative could be subtracted from the three positives to make a birdie?

Dumont bit off any retort and they moved on to the sixth. From that link and forward, he gave up his attempts to match his play to the client’s.

“We can take a clubhouse break?” At the ninth tee box, Jonathon had regained his gregarious mood. “I’ll treat for a drink and a snack.”

Soon, they were seated in the padded swiveling lounge chairs and arranged in a boy-girl-boy-girl pattern. The Iranian client had Tamara on his left, Lauren on his right and he faced Jonathon across a low circular table. The round of beverages arrived during a few moments of small talk.

“Put it on my tab.” Dumont waved the server away. He leaned back and took a drink. “So Tariq, we haven’t had the opportunity to discuss any business. How can I write this day off my taxes as a legitimate expense?”

“Taxpayer’s sins should remain in an accountant’s confessional.” The Canadian toasted his glass at the lawyer’s blunt segue. “But if it will sooth your patriotic conscience, we can discuss whatever you like.”

“So far, Wall Soft is stunned by the screen capture I’ve shown them.” Dumont bent forward and put his glass down. He set elbows on his knees and clasped his frail hands together. “But, I haven’t fought through to the upper management tier yet and I doubt they will write a check until they see something substantive. I suggest you should appraise me of the key code sequence so I can prove it on their own systems.”

“Or, I could go on the Oprah show to do a demo for the nation.” Tariq looked around the table: each of the three faces registered similar shock but Jonathon’s mouth was physically agape.

“That wouldn’t help our bargaining.” Lauren was the first to react.

“I was just kidding.” Tariq laughed and took another sip. “However, I want to be cautious with that keystroke combination.”

“As your lawyer,” Jonathon tried again, “I’ll hold sensitive information in the strictest of confidence.”

“If someone at Wall Soft is running a capture macro then they have the code even if you were huddled over a keyboard with your hand shielding it like a pin pad.” I have another use for that info. “Knowledge of the keys,” the programmer lied, “that evoke the warning might show a programmer how to disable it.” But he would have to be talented and probably couldn’t without a look at my source code. “If a screen image can’t jar the money tree into shedding some green then it’s your job to find what will.”

“You know computers.” The senior lawyer was rattled by the client’s blunt refusal: he took a gulp of his liquor and then thought of another ploy. “Could you tell if they were using a macro thing to snag the information?”

“I’m fairly certain I could.”

“Then if Wall is unwilling to proceed until he sees the incriminating evidence, you may have no option but to personally meet with him.”

“You’ve ruined my appetite just as our food is arriving.” The client chuckled and sat back in his chair while the waiter set out the plates. After the server had departed, Tariq resumed. “I’ll give you permission to poach my Oprah show joke: if that doesn’t work then I’ll speak with the geek.”

“Since you don’t have a taste for food,” Lauren inquired but her fingers anticipated the answer and had stolen one shrimp from his cocktail, “can I have this?” She grinned and popped it into her mouth.

“Apparently, it’s too late to say I was jesting about not being hungry.” The programmer covetously held his dish of appetizers. He savored one of the few remaining and further talk of business was shelved.

“Please excuse me for a minute.” Lawyer Smyth stood and in so doing, she purposefully kicked Jonathon’s shin. “I need to visit the ladies room.”

“I do too. Er—I mean the men’s not the women’s.” Dumont tittered.   “Tamara, entertain our guest while we are away.” He left after she nodded.

“Well.” Tamara watched her employer and Lauren leave. She turned to the client, smiled—and drew a blank. She blinked and smiled again.

Tariq waited a long awkward moment for the young woman to drop a question or conversation starting snippet behind the well but none issued.   He smiled, took a long deep breath and blinked too.

The girl looked at the Iranian and she nodded her head slightly as if in preparation to speak—but she didn’t. Her eyes flicked nervously to either side. Seemingly, it was to determine a safe place to run to.

This is uncomfortable for both of us. The programmer reached a hand up to scratch his chin. He viewed the squirming girl and raised an eyebrow to invite her to feel free to speak. Should I break the silence myself? As he thought about how to open, he realized that he knew nothing about her interests or personality. What question would he ask? How long have you worked for the firm and who really cares? That one was too trite. He could complement her on hair, nails, beauty, body, clothing or smile. Nah. She gets that from guys seeking to strum on her G-string. Anyways, I’m far more fascinated in her co-workers undergarments.

The Canadian drummed his fingers on the table. He looked at her eyes and smiled again. Our minds are doing the same thing. He wondered what questions were being tried and rejected from her perspective. Duh! If he knew that, then they would have something in common to be worth shattering this painful silence.

Come on! You were charged with being the entertainer. He supposed that finding an opening must be more difficult now, as so much time had passed that anything would have to be really good to have been worth the wait. The client smiled at Tamara, yet again, and tried with a cock of his head to suggest that absolutely anything would be interesting enough to suffice. His expectant look netted three quick successive blinks and then two slower ones. What was that ocular Morse code? Help! There’s a brain in here being restrained by a blonde! That was cruel stereotyping. To be fair, her hair had enough dark streaks to get her through law school.

“Well,” Tariq finally responded by parroting her only word: he gripped his armrests in preparation to stand. “Before starting the last nine, I’d best go hiss my one-eyed snake.” The man stood and had to hold back a laugh.

Tamara suddenly looks like she swigged concentrated lemon juice. Her forehead, eyebrows and lips had wrinkled in disgust with her mentally picturing the crude male urination metaphor. I guess I’m more politically incorrect than her sensibilities are accustomed to.

The Canadian scurried away from the gauche situation feeling like he had passed a noisy fart in an occupied elevator. He quickly rounded the corner to the washrooms and at the entry alcove, there stood Lauren and Jonathon. That’s an interesting professional pose. Jonathon’s one skeletal hand was at her side with his thumb and index finger in a loose pinch in front and back of her waist. His other fingers were rested on her hip.

Dumont looked over in mild surprise. “Ah, are we ready again?” He quickly lifted his hand and clapped Lauren softly on the shoulder with it—as if that was what the hand was in the process of doing.

The programmer ducked passed to continue his sanitary mission. Scant moments later, the group assembled at the side of the clubhouse. Tamara’s eyes were locked on the wall and see seemed vapid. Did her mind’s eye see the urinal and me with a dreadlock of Medusa’s hair stuck in my fly?

“Tariq, why don’t you take the honor?” Jonathon sensed tension and tried to diffuse it by ushering the foursome to the tenth tee.

“Sure.” The programmer spiked the ball hard into the ground ahead and it skittered left into a water hazard. “Maybe I should’ve bought one basket of range balls instead of five sleeves of new ones.”

Tamara forced a giggle and shot next. The following three links found the foursome playing generally as a pair of twosomes.

“What did you say to Tamara that had such a dramatic effect?” On the thirteenth, Lauren finally broached the fresh topic. She heartily laughed as Tariq confessed. “That girl is such a prude.”

“I am sorry.” The Canadian’s words didn’t sound sorrowful as he was chuckling with her as he spoke them.

“You know,” the woman took his elbow and turned him to speak, “I’m not sure if she’s ever seen one before and You might’ve scarred her sex life.” Lauren’s face was alive with mirth. “She’ll fear that a python may coil out of a future boyfriend’s pajama bottoms.”

“That was quite the hole.” Jonathon walked beside the client on the up-sloping cart path between fourteen and fifteen. “I’ve never seen one shot ricochet off two trees on opposite sides of a fairway before. How many strokes was that?   I counted eleven but that was before you three-putted.”

“I stopped my tally when I hit the maximum eight.”

“The expression is a gentleman’s ten.” Dumont rued the loss of even those four unearned points shaved off his now reduced lead.

“I suppose it would be,” Tariq held his damaged hand prominently and wiggled the three digits, “if I had that many fingers to count on.”

Why am I intentionally antagonizing him? The programmer wondered as Jonathon headed towards the next hole, but he knew the answer to that: she was standing nearby with an unfathomable smile, like the Mona Lisa’s. Her smirk is more akin to a pussycat’s is—as it sits by an empty fishbowl.

“Now we all have an opportunity to show off.” Jonathon described the relatively short par five 15th. “This is the best chance for a birdie on the course. Why don’t you lead off?”

“Okay.” The programmer drilled his wooden tee deep into the ground and balanced his ball on it. He stood and pointed at the crest of a ridge that cut across the fairway. “Is the hole that-a-way?”

“Aim over the swale’s right hand side: you can’t see the gentle dog-leg.” Lauren added terrain knowledge. “And then peel the skin off.”

Tariq flexed and stretched his arms then twisted at the waist to limber up. He took several practice swings then stepped up to the ball. ‘Click!’ After putting all his arm and shoulder strength into the hit, the sound was as pure as an echo from a pristine glacier. The ball dropped out of sight on the right: exactly where he aimed it.

“That one definitely presents a challenge.” Lawyer Smyth went next and hers seemed to fly nearly as straight and long. “Not so bad for a girl—eh?” She grinned as she teased his Canadianism.

Tamara stepped up. So far, she had played suck-up and hadn’t used her full power but this time there were already two long balls ahead so she let rip with the third great shot at fifteen.

“The safer way to bird here,” Jonathon used a strategy excuse to mask the fact he was physically incapable of channeling very much power into his driver, “is to just drop it over the lip and let the down slope take it.”

“I still can’t see the pin.” Decent second shots with 3-woods had taken the three lawyers further up the fairway and it was the Arab’s turn again.

“It’s up there.” Jonathon mocked and pointed. “Aim in the vicinity of those three white dots up ahead.”

The programmer reared back and stroked another very solid hit but the ball bent right and vanished behind a point of trees. “Damn!”

“You mean hot damn.” Lauren corrected. “The green is in a notch just there on the right and you might even be on it.”

“I though it was over that next rise.” The programmer quizzically looked where Jonathon had suggested he shoot for. Dumont had already stomped half way to there and Tamara was trailing like a wiggling wagon tied to his heels. “You played towards there.”

“Yes, for a chip shot third to end up where you’ve landed in two.”   Lauren excitedly took his elbow and escorted him up to her ball. They still couldn’t see his on the green. “There’s a portion we can’t quite see yet.”

“Does anyone have the faintest inkling,” the Iranian asked, “of where to start searching?” The lawyers played well and the three dots were now arranged on the green. They could see the whole area now, but his ball wasn’t visible on the green or in the surrounding rough.

“You could take a drop where we last saw it,” Jonathon checked his wristwatch, “and save the search time.” Behind him, Tamara walked over to pull the flag from the cup.

“Well,” Tamara bent at the waist and she reached into the hole: her one leg stretched behind like a figure skater’s, as she plucked out a ball, “Mr. Mahmud,” finally, she had found something worth saying to him, “I think you were playing this Pinnacle 2.”

“You shot a double-eagle!” Lauren congratulated in an oddly subdued voice. “That’s one stroke better than a hole-in-one on a par three.”

The women both putted for their birdies but Jonathon didn’t even make a par. His concentration was wrecked and even winning the round was out-shadowed by the Iranian-Canadian’s amazingly lucky two-stroke hole.

Dumont moped through the sixteenth but brightened inexplicably as they approached the second to last link. “Here is good old seventeen!”

“What’s special about seventeen?” Tariq turned his puzzled expression towards the redhead but only her hazel eyes answered enigmatically.

The seventeenth tee was on a hill commanding a vista of the last two holes. The right and left had water and sand hazards as sapphire and gold, encrusted around the long oblong emerald. The clubhouse glittered like a garish fob on an eighteen-link chain.

“You are a programmer-extraordinaire.” Lauren was viewing Tariq from the corner of her eyes but shifted them back to the golf action after she had his attention. “You’ve written some ultimate code and are poised to reap the benefits.” She watched as Dumont nailed a drive that took three flat bounces and then rolled longer.

“Then you bettered a hole-in-one.” Smyth continued in a low voice as Tamara bounced one also in the middle of the link.

The auburn-haired woman swung her twinkling eyes to lock onto her client’s. “That’s just the one stellar event away from the triple crown.” She mischievously and deliberately dropped her gaze to fix it at his belt level. She waited a pause then added in a lusty tone. “You’re up now.”

His mind’s gearbox spun and sought frantically for an appropriate cog to mesh into. Heat from her lazar vision in his lap had stirred a reaction. If he wasn’t perked up already then he certainly had a passport for that state. Tariq took a faltering step towards the tee and then felt a manicured hand graze his inner elbow.

“You’ll need this.” Lauren extracted his driver and proffered it.

The client wordlessly took the club and ascended to the elevated tee box on spaghetti legs. Where is the line drawn between risqué male/female interplay and overt flirtation? Was that a map marking like the equator: a ship could sail over it without positive awareness? In a blurry mental fog, the programmer placed his ball on the wooden peg.

He stood to address the ball and his eyes found Lauren’s form directly facing: her eyes were rapt on his. Her hands were at her sides with fingers curled at the knuckles under the short white skirt’s hem, as if about to tug downwards. The next menacing barrier, demarking innuendo from sexual communion was sharper like the pre-Columbus vision of the ocean’s edge. The void passed the Earth’s brink was a navigation point that was difficult or impossible to steer back from.

Tariq swung the golf bat without looking at the ball. It careened off the driver’s toe and skittered into a water hazard. The Canadian stepped back.

Lauren squatted to set her ball, and parted her thighs: he saw a silky green mound in a frame of tanned flesh and white skirt. Her long lean legs flexed as she implanted her feet, then muscles played under creamy skin to the tempo set by swaying hips. The redhead cocked her club but Tariq’s eyes gravitated to her strained blouse buttons. Those puppies seem intent on fleeing the kennel. If her game ran true to established form, her shot should land at the water’s edge next to where Tariq’s went skinny-dipping.

“Oh, rotten luck.” Jonathon’s sympathy sounded feigned as he saw Lauren’s strongly struck ball hook strongly. It arched well off the fairway and flew into the forested area at the course perimeter.

“You almost hit the small bordering lake.” The Canadian had turned in place to follow the ball’s errant flight.

“How about if Tamara and I just play out while you two find the ball?” Dumont tapped his imitation Rolex watch with a fingernail. “We really should arrange the next meeting with Wall Soft.”

The Arabic programmer cast about as the people in the playgroup were scattering like a triangle of struck billiard balls. Whatever is going on here is occurring quickly and beyond my control. He snatched up his golf clubs and scurried after the redheaded lawyer as she disappeared into the woods.

Tariq stepped around a tree bole and saw her ten strides away and apparently waiting. The female turned, hopped over a stump and vanished yet again. Am I chasing a forest sprite?   His thoughts couldn’t resist a similar word with a second meaning, or a nymph?

Having been in woods many times, especially in the past few years, Tariq could detect a slight trail where feet had trod before. From the stump she had disappeared behind, he spied a golf bag propped against a small grassy hillock. A triangle of jade green material was wound into the clubs like a marker flag. He continued along the intimately blazoned trail and crested a rise. The grassy glade sloped gently down to a sheltered bay and an early afternoon sun was almost as warm as the beckoning sight.

“I see your rough from here.” With Lauren’s legs splayed invitingly, Tariq clearly detected a commando-style non-panty state under her skirt.

“The last jewel in your trifecta,” she spread her unbuttoned blouse and pink-capped volcanoes rolled out, “is the second-stroke get-lucky date.”

Tariq’s feet stumbled slightly on a root, but his male physiology could not have stopped even if a clear-thinking brain was on duty in his skull to demand it. Stirring magma she had teased about sought an eruption vent.

“Veni vidi vici.” Sometime afterwards, Tariq awoke from a post-coital nap to find Lauren reclined on the grass next to his chest.

“What does that mean?” Her eyes were intently watching his.

“It’s a Latin quoting of Julius Caesar. I came, I saw and I conquered.”

“It should be you conquered, came and then sawed logs.”



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