ON THURSDAYS, East Hampton entrepreneur Ethan Bryant met with some other East End men for a round of golf at the Shinnecock Hills golf course, a pleasant stretch of green located in a piece of the adjacent Town of Southampton, which also happened to be the subject of a land dispute with the nearby Shinnecock Indian Nation, a matter that had never troubled Ethan Bryant much, as he was only vaguely aware of the presence of indigenous people on the South Fork, and in those few fluttering moments when he encountered any trace of their presence merely scratched his head and thought of something else, the stock market perhaps, or his vivacious wife Tilda’s extra-marital conquests. What most preoccupied Mr. Bryant though was his golf game, and, in particular, his rivalry with Ray Bright. Bright ran an army of illegal laborers, recent arrivals from Guatemala and El Salvador, who lived 10 to a room in the few lower-income neighborhoods that still existed on the East End. It was these workers, mostly males, who tended to the hedges and lawns of the local celebrities and intelligentsia, the hot-blooded nouveau riche and blue-blooded old money alike. Bright had built his empire with some shamelessness and ingenuity, but he had amassed enough of a fortune that the upper class was unable to ignore his achievements, being a major benefactor of libraries, museums, hospitals, nature preserves, and other public works. At 50, his hair was still thick and black, and he kept a short trimmed dark beard, as well as one silver hoop earring, which earned him the nickname “The Pirate” by both critics and admirers, an image he played up. Bright was the kind of man that a savvy investor like Ethan Bryant loathed, a man who had earned his wealth through such a simplistic business model. Their friendship was an uneasy one, but Bright was one of the few who was willing to put up with Bryant and his standoffishness. Privately, he regarded the pirate Bright as a stain on the pink polo shirt of Hamptons’ dignity, but Bryant was happy to accept his offers to golf for the very reason that there was almost nobody left who was willing to golf with him. There was also nothing he would enjoy better than besting that silver-earringed brute, he told his wife Tilda while lacing up his shoes in the morning before he set out for the big game at Shinnecock Hills. A third man would also be joining them, he acknowledged, a publisher from the city named Laszlo Tuffdick, who owned chains of trade publications that linked cities and markets across the world. Tuffdick was actually a half-Hungarian, half-Tuscarora Indian from upstate who had grown up in Buffalo, a relative unknown on the Hamptons high society circuit, and who was secretly advising some of the Shinnecock elders on their land issues on the side. Tuffdick too enjoyed a good Long Island golf game. But he had other reasons for going to the Hills. Tuffdick was out to obtain compromising information that could be put to good use. And so the three met in the morning hours under a hot springtime sun. By the end of the match, one would be in jail with a black eye and on the cover of the East Hampton Picayune Star. The other would have enough kompromat to blackmail the Towns of Southampton and East Hampton to his fancy. And the third would have played a very competent golf game for just some upstart East End lawnmower man. That rogue Bright was not half bad. Not half bad at all.
For more East End Stories, read “Dinner with the Bryants.”