I also rented shoes and played eight or ten games. I am no good at the sport.
Watching me play, Stormy had once said that if I were to become a regular bowler, I would spend far more time in the gutter than would the average alcoholic hobo.
Over sixty million people in the United States go bowling at least once each year. Nine million of them are diehards who belong to bowling leagues and regularly compete in amateur tournaments.
When Stormy and I entered Green Moon Lanes that Tuesday night, a significant percentage of those millions were rolling balls down polished lanes toward more spares than splits, but more splits than strikes. They were laughing, cheering one another, eating na­chos, eating chili-cheese fries, drinking beer, and having such a good time that it was difficult to imagine Death choosing this place to har­vest a sudden crop of souls.
Difficult but not impossible.
I must have been pale, because Stormy said, ‘Are you all right?”
“Yeah. Okay I’m good.”
The low thunder of rolling balls and the clatter of tenpins had never previously struck me as fearsome sounds; but this irregular se­ries of rumbles and crashes strummed my nerves.
“What now?” Stormy asked.
“Good question. No answer.”
“You want to just wander around, scope the scene, see if you get any bad vibes?”
I nodded. “Yeah. Scope the scene. Bad vibes.”
We didn’t wander far before I saw something that made my mouth go dry. “Oh, my God.”
The guy behind the shoe-rental counter had not come to work in the usual black slacks and blue cotton shirt with white collar. He wore tan slacks and a green polo shirt, like the dead people in my bowling dream.
Stormy turned, surveying the long busy room, and pointed toward two additional employees. “They’ve all gotten new uniforms.”
Like every nightmare, this one of mine was vivid and yet not rich in detail, more surreal than real, not specific as to place or time or cir­cumstances. The faces of the murder victims were twisted in agony, distorted by terror and shadow and strange light, and when I woke, I could never describe them well.
Except for one young woman. She would be shot in the chest and throat, but her face would remain remarkably untouched by violence. She would have shaggy blond hair, green eyes, and a small beauty mark on her upper lip, near the left corner of her mouth.
As Stormy and I proceeded farther into Green Moon Lanes, I saw the blonde from the dream. She stood behind the bar, drawing draft beer from one of the taps.
STORMY AND I SAT AT A TABLE IN THE BAR ALCOVE, BUT we didn’t order drinks. I was already half drunk with fear.
I wanted to get her out of the bowling alley. She didn’t want to leave.
“We’ve got to deal with this situation,” she insisted.
The only way that I could deal with it was to phone Chief Wyatt Porter and tell him, with little explanation, that when Bob Robertson had his coming-out party to celebrate his status as a full-fledged mur­derous psychopath, the site of his debutante ball was likely to be Green Moon Lanes.
For a man tired from a day of hard work, bloated with barbecue and beer, and ready for bed, the chief responded with admirable quickness and clarity of mind. “How late are they open?”
Phone to my right ear, finger in my left ear to block the alley noise, I said, “I think until midnight, sir.”
‘A little more than two hours. I’ll dispatch an officer right now, have him stand security, be on the lookout for Robertson. But, son, you said this might go down August fifteenth - tomorrow, not today.”
“That’s the date on the calendar page in his file. I’m not sure what it means. I won’t be certain it couldn’t happen today until today is over and he hasn’t shot anyone.”
“Any of these things you call bodachs there?”
“No, sir. But they could show up when he does.”
“He hasn’t returned home to Camp’s End yet,” the chief said, “so he’s out and about. How were the churros?”
“Delicious,” I told him.
“After the barbecue, we had a difficult choice between mud pie and homemade peach pie. I thought it through carefully and had some of both.”
“If ever I had a glimpse of Heaven, sir, it was a slice of Mrs. Porter’s peach pie.”
“I’d have married her for the peach pie alone, but fortunately she was smart and beautiful, too.”
We said good-bye. I clipped the cell phone to my belt and told Stormy we needed to get out of there.
She shook her head. “Wait. If the blond bartender isn’t here, the shooting won’t happen.” She kept her voice low, leaning dose to be heard over the clash and clatter of bowlers bowling. “So somehow we get her to leave.”
“No. A premonition in a dream isn’t in every detail a picture of ex­actly what will happen. She could be home safe, and the shooter could show up here anyway.”
“But at least she will have been saved. One less victim.”
“Except that somebody else who wouldn’t have died might be shot in her place. Like the bartender who replaces her. Or me. Or you.”
“Yes, might be, but how can I save one if there’s a likelihood that it means condemning another?”
Three or four bowling balls slammed into pin setups in quick
succession. The racket sounded a little like automatic gunfire, and though I knew it wasn’t gunfire, I twitched anyway.
I said, “I’ve got no right to decide that someone else should die in her place.”
Prophetic dreams - and the complex moral choices they present-come to me only rarely. I’m grateful for that.
“Besides,” I said, “what’s her reaction going to be if I walk over to the bar and tell her she’s going to be shot to death if she doesn’t get out of here?”
“She’ll think you’re eccentric or dangerous, but she might go.”
“She won’t. She’ll stay there. She won’t want to jeopardize her job. She won’t want to appear fearful, because that makes her look weak, and these days women don’t want to seem weak any more than men do. Later she might ask someone to walk with her to her car, but that’s all.”
Stormy stared at the blonde behind the bar while I surveyed the room for any bodachs that might precede the executioner. Nobody here but us humans.
“She’s so pretty, so full of life,” Stormy said, meaning the bartender. “So much personality, such an infectious laugh.”
“She seems more alive to you because you know she might be fated to die young.”
“It just seems wrong to walk out and leave her there,” Stormy said, “without warning her, without giving her a chance.”
“The best way to give her a chance, to give all the potential victims a chance, is to stop Robertson before he does anything.”
“What’s the likelihood you’ll stop him?”
“Better than if he’d never come into the Grille this morning and I’d never gotten a look at him with his bodach entourage.”
“But you can’t be sure you’ll stop him.”
“Nothing’s for sure in this world.”
Searching my eyes, she thought about what I’d said, and then re­minded me: “Except us.”
“Except us.” I pushed my chair away from the table. “Let’s go.”
Still staring at the blonde, Stormy said, “This is so hard.”
“What death isn’t?”
She rose from her chair. “You won’t let her die, will you, Oddie?”
“I’ll do what I can.”
We went outside, hoping to be gone before the promised police of­ficer arrived and became curious about my involvement.
No cops on the Pico Mundo force understand my relationship with Chief Porter. They sense that something’s different about me, but they don’t realize what I see, what I know. The chief covers well for me.
Some think that I hang around Wyatt Porter because I’m a cop wannabe. They assume that I yearn for the glamour of the police life, but that I don’t have quite the smarts or the guts to do the job.
Most of them believe that I regard the chief as a father figure be­cause my real father is such a hopeless piece of work. This view con­tains some truth.
They are convinced that the chief took pity on me when at the age of sixteen I could no longer live with either my father or my mother, and found myself turned out into the world. Because Wyatt and Karla were never able to have children, people think that the chief has a fa­therly affection for me and regards me as a surrogate son. I am deeply comforted by the fact that this seems to be true.
Being cops, however, the members of the Pico Mundo PD sense in­stinctively that they lack some crucial knowledge to be able to fully understand our relationship. Likewise, although I appear uncompli­cated and even simple, they regard me as a puzzle with more than one missing piece.
When Stormy and I stepped out of Green Moon Lanes at ten o’clock, an hour after nightfall, the temperature in Pico Mundo re­mained over a hundred degrees. By midnight the air might cool below triple digits.
If Bob Robertson was intent on making Hell on Earth, we had the weather for it.
Walking toward Terri Stambaugh’s Mustang, still thinking about the death-marked blond bartender, Stormy said, “Sometimes I don’t know how you can live with all the things you see.”
“Attitude,” I told her.
“Attitude? How’s that work?”
“Better some days than others.”
She would have pressed me for a further explanation, but the patrol car arrived, pinning us in its headlights before we reached the Mustang. Certain that I would have been recognized, I waited hand-in-hand with Stormy for the cruiser to stop beside us.
The responding officer, Simon Varner, had been on the force only three or four months, which was longer than Bern Eckles, who had regarded me with suspicion at the chief’s barbecue, but not long enough for the sharp edge to have been worn off his curiosity about me.
Officer Varner had a face as sweet as that of any host of a children’s TV program, with heavy-lidded eyes like those of the late actor Robert Mitchum. He leaned toward the open window, his burly arm resting on the door, looking like the model for a sleepy bear in some Disney cartoon.
“Odd, pleasure seeing you. Miss Llewellyn. What should I be look­ing for here?”
I was certain that the chief had not used my name when he had dis­patched Officer Varner to the bowling center. When I was involved in a case, he made a point of keeping me as invisible as possible, never
alluding to information acquired by preternatural means, the better not only to protect my secrets but also to ensure that no defense attorney could easily spring a murderer by claiming that the entire case against his client had been built upon the word of a flaky, self-proclaimed psychic.
On the other hand, because of my intrusion at the barbecue that re­sulted in the effort by the chief and Bern Eckles to put together a quick profile of Robertson, Eckles knew that I had some connection to the situation. If Eckles knew, then word would get around; it might already be on the police-department grapevine.
Still, it seemed best to play dumb. “What should you be looking for? Sir, I don’t understand.”
“I see you, I figure you told the chief something that makes him send me out here.”
“We were just watching some friends bowl,” I said. “I’m no good at it myself.”
Stormy said, “He owns the gutter.”
From the car seat beside him, Varner produced a computer-printed blow-up of Bob Robertson’s driver’s-license photograph. “You know this guy, right?”
I said, “I’ve seen him twice today. I don’t really know him.”
“You didn’t tell the chief he might show up here?”
“Not me. How would I know where he’d show up?”
“Chief says if I see him coming but I can’t see both his hands, don’t figure he’s just getting a breath mint from his pocket.”
“I wouldn’t second-guess the chief.”
A Lincoln Navigator pulled in from the street and paused behind Varner’s cruiser. He stuck his arm all the way out of the window and waved the SUV around him.
I could see two men in the Navigator. Neither was Robertson.
“How do you know this guy?” Varner asked.
“Before noon, he came in the Grille for lunch.”
The lids lifted slightly from those sleepy-bear eyes. “That’s all? You cooked his lunch? I thought… something went down between you and him.”
“Something. Not much.” I compressed the day, leaving out what Varner didn’t need to know: “He was weird at the Grille. The chief was there at the time, saw him being weird. So then this afternoon, I’m off work, out and about, minding my own business, and this Robertson flips me off, gets aggressive with me.”
Varner’s heavy lids became hoods, narrowing his eyes to slits of sus­picion. Instinct told him that I was withholding information. He wasn’t as slow as he looked. ‘Aggressive how?”
Stormy saved me from a rough lie with a smooth one: “The creep made a crude pass at me, and Odd told him to back off.”
Fungus Man didn’t look like the kind of macho stud who thought every woman was panting for him.
Stormy, however, is so strikingly good-looking that Varner, already in a suspicious mood, seemed inclined to believe that even a schlump like Bob Robertson would work up enough hormones to try his luck with her.
He said, “Chief thinks this guy vandalized St. Bart’s. You know about that, I guess.”
Deflecting this dogged Sherlock, Stormy said, “Officer Varner, cu­riosity is killing me. Do you mind my asking - what’s your tattoo mean?”
He wore a short-sleeve shirt, exposing his massive forearms. On his left arm, above his watch, were three block letters: POD.
“Miss Llewellyn, I’m sorry to say that as a teenager I was one screwed-up puppy. Got myself involved in gangs. Turned my life around before it was too late. I thank the Lord Jesus for that. This tat­too was a gang thing.”
“What do the letters stand for?” she asked.
He seemed embarrassed. “It’s a crude obscenity, miss. I’d rather not say.”
“You could have it removed,” she said. “They’ve gotten a lot better at that in recent years.”
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com