There are eternal questions and there are ephemeral questions—for $50 your local Indian fakir will confirm that statement. Of the eternal: Was Dostoevsky on red or black when he was wiped out for the last time at the tables of Baden-Baden? What does a woman want? asked Freud. What does a man want a woman to want? asked Mrs. Freud. Did Bela Lugosi sleep in the nude? And while we are on the subject, what about Spring Byington? Of the ephemeral questions—fast becoming eternal as of last week—who stole 144,000 golf balls from the Uniroyal company in Providence? And why?
All answers must be begun at the beginning. It is a cold, moonless Sunday night in late February in Providence, the kind of night that drove Ishmael into the embrace of the Spouter Inn. It is not a night fit for soulful robbery. Besides, it is well known in Providence that all sensitive robbers spend Sundays home with the family, enjoying a comforting pork roast, snoozing and then watching The FBI before retiring.
With a few variations—martinis, lamb with a bottle of crisp white wine, and then some bridge—the Uniroyal executives also are far off the madding pace. But those executive Sunday blues seem to persist; an unreasonable sense of dread pervades. And why not, what with the mess down in Washington, what with the paroxysms of Wall Street, the age of consumer survival kits and wiseacre fops like Truman Capote denigrating the middle class and its lawn sprinklers.
Come the next morning, Monday, the world is brighter. First some coffee, positively no headlines; think only good thoughts like, say, all those golf balls, those lovely spheres of eventual torment still sleeping in the warehouse. Ah, soon it will be a Uniroyal world once again. The weather seems warmer already, and shortly the whole God-fearing, right-thinking U.S. of A. will be in pursuit of our ball. Imagine. Thousands of our little devils out across the country looking for an identity, a life of their own; having a mind of their own on the greens; mocking and baring their teeth in sand pits; swimming joyously in streams; swooping through the air like berserk doves, and only sometimes going where someone wants them to go.
The phone rings. The conversation might have gone like this:
"Mornin', boss, Kolchek here, down at the plant."
"Yeah, boss, Seems we got a problem. Can't get into the loading area."
"How 'bout trying the key, dummy."