Page 17


“That’s your favorite thing about me?”


‘At the moment, yes.”


“Well, gee, it’s not something I can work on.”


” Work on?”


“Things you like about me, I want to do them even better. Say in­stead you liked my grooming or my taste in clothes, or my pancakes. I’m always improving my pancakes, just ask Terri - they’re light and fluffy yet full of taste. But I don’t know how to be smart and simple at the same time better than I am now. In fact, I’m not even sure I know what you mean.”


“Good. It’s nothing you should think about. It’s nothing you can work on. It’s just who you are. Anyway, when I marry you, it won’t be for money.”


She offered a churro to me.


Considering how fast my heart was racing and my mind was spin­ning, the last thing that I needed was sugar, but I took the pastry.


We ate in silence for a minute, and then I said, “So this marriage - when do you think we should order the cake?”


“Soon. I can’t wait much longer.”


With relief and delight, I said, “Too much delayed gratification can be a bad thing.”


She grinned. “You see what’s happening here?”


“I guess I’m just looking with my eyes. What should I see?”


“What’s happening is - I want a second churro, and I’m going to have it now instead of next Thursday.”


“You’re a wild woman, Stormy Llewellyn.”


“You don’t know the half of it.”


This had been a bad day, what with Harlo Landerson and Fungus Man and the black room and the bodachs everywhere and Elvis in tears. Yet as I sat with Stormy, eating churros, for the moment all was right with the world.


The moment didn’t last long. My cell phone rang, and I wasn’t sur­prised to hear Chief Porter’s voice.


“Son, the sacristy at St. Bart’s gives new meaning to the word trashed. Someone went purely berserk in there.”


“Robertson.”


“I’m sure you’re right. You always are. It was probably him. But he was gone by the time my men reached the church. You haven’t seen him again?”


“We’re sort of hiding out here but… no, not a sign of him.” I sur­veyed the parking lot, the continuous traffic coming in and out of Mexicali Rose’s drive-up service lane, and the street beyond, looking for Bob Robertsons dusty Ford Explorer.


The chief said, “We’ve had a watch on his house for a few hours, but now we’re actively looking for him.”


“I might give psychic magnetism a chance,” I said, referring to my ability to locate just about anyone by cruising at random for half an hour.


“Is that wise, son? I mean, with Stormy being in the car?”


“I’ll take her home first.”


Stormy quashed that idea: “Like hell you will, Mulder.”


“I heard that,” said Chief Porter.


“He heard that,” I told Stormy


“What do I care?” she said.


Chief Porter seemed tickled: “She calls you Mulder, like on The X-Files?”


“Not often, sir. Only when she thinks I’m being paternalistic.”


“Do you ever call her Scully?”


“Only when I’m in the mood to be bruised.”


“You ruined that show for me,” the chief said.


“How’d I do that, sir?”


“You made all that weird stuff too real. I didn’t find the supernatu­ral to be entertaining anymore.”


“Me neither,” I assured him,


By the time Chief Porter and I finished talking, Stormy had gath­ered all our dinner wrappings and containers, and had stuffed them into one bag. When we left Mexicali Rose, she dropped them in a trash can that was stationed along the exit lane.


As I turned left into the street, she said, “Let’s stop by my place first, so I can get my pistol.”


“That’s a home-defense gun. You’re not licensed to carry”


“I’m not licensed to breathe, either, but I do it anyway.”


“No gun,” I insisted. “We’ll just cruise and see what happens.”


“Why’re you afraid of guns?”


“They go bang.”


“And why is that a question you always avoid answering?”


“I don’t always avoid answering it.”


“Why’re you afraid of guns?” she persisted.


“I was probably shot to death in a past life.”


“You don’t believe in reincarnation.”


“I don’t believe in taxes, either, but I pay them.”


“Why are you afraid of guns?”


“Maybe because I’ve had a prophetic dream in which I was shot.”


“Have you had a prophetic dream in which you were shot?”


“No.”


She can be relentless. “Why’re you afraid of guns?”


I can be stupid. As soon as I spoke, I regretted my words: “Why’re you afraid of sex?”


From the suddenly icy and distant perch of the passenger’s seat, she gave me a long, hard, marrow-freezing look.


For a moment I tried to pretend that I didn’t realize the impact that


my words had on her. I tried to focus on the street ahead as if I were nothing if not always a responsible driver.


I have no talent for pretense. Sooner than later, I looked at her, felt terrible, and said, “I’m so sorry”


“I’m not afraid of sex,” she said.


“I know. I’m sorry I’m an idiot.”


“I just want to be sure - “


I tried to hush her.


She persisted: “I just want to be sure the reason why you’re in love with me has less to do with that than with other things.”


“It does,” I assured her, feeling small and mean. “A thousand other things. You know that.”


“When we’re together, I want it to be right and clean and beautiful.”


“So do I. And it will be, Stormy. When the time is right. We have plenty of time.”


Stopping for a red traffic light, I held out my right hand to her. I was relieved when she took it, touched when she held it so tightly


The light changed to green. I drove with only one hand on the wheel.


After a while, in a voice soft with emotion, she said, “I’m sorry, Oddie. That was my fault.”


“It wasn’t your fault. I’m an idiot.”


“I pushed you into a corner about why you’re afraid of guns, and when I kept pushing, you pushed back.”


That was the truth, but the truth didn’t make me feel any better about what I’d done.


Six months after the deaths of her mother and father, when Stormy was seven and a half years old and still Bronwen, she was adopted by a childless, well-to-do couple in Beverly Hills. They lived on a fine es­tate. The future looked bright.


One night during her second week with her new family, her adop­tive father came to her room and woke her. He exposed himself to her and touched her in ways that frightened and humiliated her.


Still grieving her birth parents, afraid, desperately lonely, confused, ashamed, she endured this man’s sick advances for three months. Finally, she reported him to a social worker who was making a follow-up house call for the adoption agency.


Thereafter, she lived in St. Bart’s Orphanage, untouched, until her high-school graduation.


She and I became an item when we were juniors. We have been to­gether - and each other’s best friend - for more than four years.


In spite of all that we had been to each other and all that we hoped to achieve together in the years to come, I had been able to hurt her - Why’re you afraid of sex? - when she pushed me too hard about my fear of guns.


A cynic once said that the most identifying trait of humanity is our ability to be inhumane to one another.


I am an optimist about our species. I assume God is, too, for other­wise He would have scrubbed us off the planet a long time ago and would have started over.


Yet I can’t entirely dismiss that cynic’s sour assessment. I harbor a capacity for inhumanity, glimpsed in my cruel retort to the person I love most in all the world.


We sailed the blacktop rivers for a while, not finding Fungus Man, but slowly finding our way back to each other.


In time she said, “I love you, Oddie.”


My voice was thick when I replied. “I love you more than life.


“We’ll be okay,” she said.


“We are okay.”


“We’re weird and screwed-up, but we’re okay,” she agreed.


“If someone invented a thermometer that measured weirdness, it would melt under my tongue. But you - you’re cool.”


“So you deny me weirdness but agree that I’m screwed-up,”


“I see your problem. Certain kinds of weirdness can be hip, but screwedupness never is.”


“Exactly.”


“It wasn’t gentlemanly of me to deny you your weirdness.”


“Apology accepted.”


We cruised for a while, using the car as a dowser uses his rod to seek water, until I found myself pulling into the parking lot of Green Moon Lanes. This is a bowling alley half a mile from the mall where earlier in the day I had visited Stormy at the ice-cream shop.


She knows about the recurring dream that has disturbed my sleep once or twice a month for the past three years. It features dead bowling-alley employees: gut-shot, limbs shattered, faces hideously disfigured not by a few bullets but by barrages.


“He’s here?” Stormy asked.


“I don’t know.”


“Is it coming true now, tonight - the dream?”


“I don’t think so. I don’t know. Maybe.”


The fish tacos were swimming the acidic currents of my stomach, churning a bitter backwash into my throat.


My palms were damp. And cold. I blotted them on my jeans.


I almost wanted to drive back to Stormy’s place and get her gun.


TWENTY-TWO


THE BOWLING-CENTER PARKING LOT WAS TWO-THIRDS full. I circled, searching for Robertson’s Explorer, but I couldn’t find it.


Finally I parked and switched off the engine.


Stormy opened the passenger’s door, and I said, “Wait.”


“Don’t make me call you Mulder,” she warned.


Staring at the green and blue neon letters that spelled out GREEN MOON LANES, I hoped to get a sense of whether the slaughter I had foreseen was imminent or still some distance in the future. The neon failed to speak to my sixth sense.


The architect for the bowling center had designed it with a respon­sible awareness of the expense involved in air-conditioning a large building in the Mojave. The squat structure, which featured low ceil­ings inside, thwarted heat transfer by using a minimum of glass. Pale beige stucco walls reflected the sun during the day and cooled quickly with the coming of night.


In the past this building had not seemed ominous; its character im­pressed me only because of the efficiency of design, for it had the clean lines and the plain facade of most modern buildings in the


desert. Now it reminded me of a munitions bunker, and I sensed that a tremendous explosion might soon occur within its walls. Munitions bunker, crematorium, tomb…


“The employees here wear black slacks and blue cotton shirts with white collars,” I told Stormy.


“So?”


“In my dream, the victims all wear tan slacks and green polo shirts.”


Still in her seat but with one leg out of the Mustang, one foot on the blacktop, she said, “Then this isn’t the place. There’s some other rea­son you cruised here. It’s safe to go inside, see if we can figure out why we’re here.”


“Over at Fiesta Bowl,” I said, referring to the only other bowling center in Pico Mundo and surrounding environs, “they wear gray slacks and black shirts with their names stitched in white on the breast pockets.”


“Then your dream must be about something that’s going to hap­pen outside Pico Mundo.”


“That’s never been the case before.”


I have lived my entire life in the relative peace of Pico Mundo and the territory immediately encircling it. I have not even seen the farther reaches of Maravilla County, of which our town is the county seat.


If I were to live to be eighty, which is unlikely and which is a prospect that I view with despondency if not despair, I might one day venture into the open countryside and even as far as one of the smaller towns in the county. But perhaps not.


I don’t desire a change of scenery or exotic experiences. My heart yearns for familiarity, stability, the comfort of home - and my sanity depends upon it,


In a city the size of Los Angeles, with so many people crammed atop one another, violence occurs daily, hourly. The number of


bloody encounters in a single year might be greater than those in the entire history of Pico Mundo.


The aggressive whirl of Los Angeles traffic produces death as surely as a bakery produces muffins. Earthquakes, apartment-house fires, terrorist incidents…


I can only imagine how many lingering dead people haunt the streets of that metropolis or any other. In such a place, with so many of the deceased turning to me for justice or consolation, or just for silent companionship, I would no doubt quickly seek escape in autism or suicide.


Not yet either dead or autistic, however, I had to face the challenge of Green Moon Lanes.


All right,” I said, able to summon resignation if not bravado, “let’s go in and have a look around.”


With nightfall, the blacktop pavement returned the heat that it had borrowed from the sun during the day, and with the heat came a faint tarry smell.


So low and large that it seemed to be falling toward us, the moon had risen in the east: a dire yellow countenance, the vague cratered sockets of its timeless blind gaze.


Perhaps because Granny Sugars had been seriously superstitious about yellow moons and believed that they were an omen of bad cards in poker, I surrendered to an irrational urge to escape from the sight of that leprous and jaundiced celestial face. Taking Stormy’s hand, I hurried her toward the front doors of the bowling center.


Bowling is one of the oldest sports in the world and in one form or another was played as early as 5,200 B.C.


In the United States alone, over 130,000 lanes await action in more than 7,000 bowling centers.


Total annual bowling revenues in America are approaching five bil­lion dollars.


With the hope of clarifying my recurring dream and understanding the meaning of it, I had researched bowling. I knew a thousand facts about the subject, none of them particularly interesting.

P/S: Copyright -->www_Novel12_Com

***