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The next morning a caravan of Continental Mark Vs wound erratically through southeastern Memphis. "Where the hayull is the golf course?" snarled a Southern voice. "Danged if Ah know," answered another. "Turn on the goldurned ayer conditioner," gasped a third. "It's runnin' full blast, you knucklehead!" was the response.
"Wayull, shore," continued Bear Bryant, as if he hadn't been interrupted. "Ah remember that boy. He looked like a good 'un but he always left his football game in some parked car the night before we played. Ah remember that Auburn game in...." Bryant, Stabler's coach during his college All-America days at Alabama, was paired with Stabler for the pro-am. His deep, hoarse, mellifluous voice, eroded by hard living and the football wars of a quarter of a century, filled the car with meaningless magic, reminiscence. It was the only alleviant to the nightmare of the ride. Stabler giggled like a schoolboy at the great man's mots.
Later, under a scorching sun, Stabler quit short of nine holes. A tremendous roar had gone up moments before his retirement from the golf match. Ex- President Gerald Ford had just shot a hole in one. Playing behind him, Stabler stopped. His own shots were snaking into the rough. He pleaded "migraine."
"Hayull," grumped Bear in mock chagrin as Kenny was departing for the clubhouse, "Ah was gonna pull that one myself but you beat me to it."
The ride back to the motel is a montage of hysterical blasphemies and hollow pauses while people catch their wind. One of the passengers, a fat man named " Philadelphia Phil," pours sweat and outrageous jokes in equal profusion. During one of the lulls, Stabler turns and eyes his entourage. "Let's blow this pop stand," he says. "We'll clear out of here tonight and head back home. We've had three days in Las Vegas and now this. Too much. I want to just lay back and maybe drive my boat some. I'm one of your clean-living NFL quarterbacks and I need to replenish my physical reesources."
"Sure you are," says Henry Pitts, Stabler's lawyer and good buddy from Selma, Ala. "Sure you do. I'll have you out of here and home by midnight. But meanwhile let's stop and grab us a six-pack."
Shortly after midnight, emerging from the airport at Pensacola, Fla. on his way home, Stabler is haled to the curb by a traffic cop. He's just made a left turn, the cop informs him, on a red light. Stabler produces his license with decorum—no protest, no mention of who he is or what he'd done to become it. The cop writes him up. "Now take care, heah?" the cop says, unsmiling.
"Shore," says Kenny. Then he smiles into the dark. "Win a few, lose a few."
Stabler is eating a fried-oyster sandwich in the Pink Pony Pub. A pitcher of draft beer sweats on the table before him. Both sandwich and beer are disappearing at a remarkable rate. He is clad in a red T shirt with a silvery cobra silk-screened on the chest, its hood opening and closing to his swallows, white shorts and a pair of battered flip-flops. This is the uniform of the day when he's at home. The Pink Pony Pub dominates the beachfront of Gulf Shores, Ala., a resort-cum-fishing community south of Foley. A rickety string-pier extends into the Gulf of Mexico. Milky blue water laps the dunes of the offshore islands between Mobile Bay and Pensacola. Girls in bikinis bake on the beach, turning slowly, voluptuously. Stabler never misses a move.
Twice divorced and now living just up the coast from Gulf Shores with the blonde girl named Wanda—"Wickedly Wonderful Wanda," as she styles herself, but more prosaically, Wanda Blalock, age 23, from Robertsdale—he eschews the married state or any demanding facsimile thereof. He likes to watch girls. But now his anatomical studies are interrupted by a lean, middle-aged man who plunks himself down at the table to chat. Denzil Hollis was Stabler's baseball, basketball, track and football coach in junior high. "That was when I gave him the nickname 'Snake,' " says Denzil. "Back in the eighth or ninth grade. He'd run 200 yards to score from 20 yards out." He slaps Stabler's thick gut. "Skinny as a snake too, back then. Straight up from top to bottom, and when he turned sideways, he weren't no thicker than a airmail letter."