Merv’s Bowling Alley is the tackiest place in this town, but it’s got the best beer. That’s the only reason the guys and I started meeting here instead of the pub on 7th. It’s busy tonight, glow in the dark bowling is the draw. I’m lousy enough at bowling as it is, if I have to bowl in the dark I might takes someone’s head off with my ball.
I park my crappy station wagon across the street from Merv’s and pull my bowling shoes from the trunk before jay walking. Inside, everything is dark much to my dismay. Everything is glowing, the counters, the balls, the chairs, even my Hawaiian shirt’s flowers glow blue.
“Hey, Paul, over here!”
I squint in the direction of the lanes and I can make out Kev waving. I crack a smile and head over. O’Brian and Stanley are standing together on the lane arguing over which way to through the ball. Those two are a barrel of laughs when they get out from behind their desks.
“Save any beer for me?”
“Course. After the shit the chief’s been putting you through, I’ll buy your first round.”
I sit down beside Kevin and chuck off my street shoes, replacing them with my bowling ones. “I swear, that he’s got another thing coming if he thinks he can reignite a fire that burned out twenty years ago. I’m just working until retirement. Every day is another day closer to the end.”
“Tell me about it,” Kev laughs.
“In ten years I’ll be sipping margaritas on a beach somewhere while a hot islander massages my back.”
“What would your wife think about that?”
“Who said anything about Helen?” We share a dubious look before busting a gut.
O’Brian, finished arguing with Stanley, takes a seat across from us. “Hey Paul, how’s your son?” he asks, scratching his stomach.
“Who knows? He only talks to me when he needs money for school.”
“Same here. My daughter ignores me for months until she needs new textbooks or rent, then it’s all ‘Dad, can I ask you for a favor?’” O’Brian’s mouth puckers in disapproval.
“Hey, you’re up!” Stanley declares, clapping Kevin on the shoulder.
Kevin bowls a perfect strike, knocking the pins down with a professional throw. He likes coming here, not just because of the beer, but because he likes to show off. He always brags about all the trophies he won when he was a teen. Not like I care that much. He was an over achiever, unlike me.
After Kev, it’s my turn. I throw a crappy frame, the ball barrelling straight into the gutter. A burst of laughter erupts behind me.
“Maybe once you get a couple a beers in you, you might actually knock over a pin or two!” Stanley crows.
My cheeks heat a little as I return to my seat. “Well then get me a damn beer.”
An hour later I’ve gotten slightly inebriated, O’Brian chuckles to himself as he chugs his fifth beer, Stanley’s wandered off to get some nachos at the concession stand, and Kevin’s droning on about this moron he busted for parking in a handicap spot.
“He kept saying he was perfectly within his rights to park there, and I’m like dude, being an idiot isn’t a valid handicap,” Kev snorts as he downs the rest of his beer. “How goes it with your case? You’ve been listening to me ramble on all night, but you haven’t had a chance to vent yet.”
“My case?” I say. “It’s gotten only slightly more interesting. I went over to the lead’s house, she gave me a little bit of info to work with, but not much. She was pretty certain her love sick puppy was just sweet and cuddly.”
“Hmm. That’s not much. Is there any other leads you can follow?”
I think about the file on the kid. “His family lives in town, but I don’t know how helpful they’d be.”
“What would it hurt? His family would know him better than anyone. Maybe an interview with them would clear up this case once and for all. The chief might even get off your back.”
“You’re right. I’ll pay them a visit tomorrow.” A face in the crowd catches my attention behind Kevin’s head. In the dark I make out a pale face shrouded by a hood. When I blink though, it’s gone and I chuckle to myself. This case has got me stressed.
Stanley pushes his way through the crowd, a plate of nachos in hand. A giggling teenage girl backs up without seeing him and knocks the plate from his hands. Cheese and crushed chips coat the carpet. Kevin and I burst into hysterics. Stanley looks at the mess with a downtrodden expression before sinking to his knees and scooping a fingers through the cheese.
“I better stop him before he starts eating the carpet,” Kevin smirks, pushing up from his seat and heading over to Stanley.