“Bowling” by John Jeremiah
Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.
This week, John Jeremiah takes us to a small town in New Jersey, where trouble lurks just around the corner.
In 1965 we were just short of driving age. Our mode of locomotion was hitchhiking. We spent many evenings in Wallington, either at the pool hall or the big bowling alley next door. This was a scruffy working-class town on the banks of the Passaic River in New Jersey. At the pool hall we played against each other in the afternoons and against older men for money at night.
One summer evening, the three of us were sitting on the front steps of Wallington Lanes. A huge parking lot separated the building from the street. A blue convertible came screeching into the lot, bouncing over the speed bump. It was ostensibly occupied by only the driver. He skidded to a stop in front of us and leered.
“What are you looking at?” he growled.
“Nice. Who writes your material, pal?” I enquired politely.
Suddenly, three other guys popped up. This was supposed to scare us. Two of them wore bandanas around their foreheads. It was silly punk stuff; real tough guys wouldn’t use stupid props like that.
“You wanna say that again?” said one of them.
“What are you looking at now?” one of the others threw in.
“I think I’m looking at some assholes who are up too late tonight,” I said in my most winsome manner.
They all looked to the guy riding shotgun. This nervous guy was a sad excuse for an alpha dog. I started walking right at him, holding his eyes.
“You guys going to get out, or are you just going to model handkerchiefs?”
Their car started to creep forward.
“We’re going to let it go this time!” He shouted as they picked up speed.
“You’re a fucking prince!” I called to them as they sped off.
“Why do you have to say shit like that? There were four of them.”
Tommy knew he was the only real fighter among the three of us. Moreover, he had recently taken a pretty good beating from some older guys. He had been hitchhiking alone and gave them the finger when they didn’t pick him up. As I said, he wasn’t very smart. You want to carefully consider whom you challenge. Anyway, they made a U-turn and shared some of their ideas about road manners with him. His face still bore remnants from the huddle that hadn’t entirely healed.
“Are you kidding? They didn’t have a pair of balls among them,” I said rather cavalierly.
What they did have, however, was enough gas to get them over the river into Passaic. They went through various parking lots where bored thugs hung out. They gathered up a posse to go into the white, working-class Wallington and get revenge on “the punks who were bad-mouthing Passaic.” This time, half a dozen jalopies roared and bounced into the parking lot. We were in the lot itself now, so there was no retreating into the building. This group didn’t wait to be invited to dismount. They jumped out of their cars like they were on fire.
“Who says Passaic is shit? Is that you, man?” one of them screamed at Tommy. A few of his pals spread out behind Tom. Now I was getting nervous. A couple of Puerto Rican guys surrounded me. One of them popped a switchblade. I tried to back away, but I just bumped up against his friends. He held the knife up to my neck.
“Hey man, you want to take a shave?” he taunted as the tip touched my neck. I lifted my chin and offered him my throat. I held his gaze, looking down my nose at him.
“Sure, Paco, just watch the Adam’s apple. I hate nicks.”
He was stumped. He held the knife against me, but he looked to his companions for the proper response. They were looking at the bowling alley entrance. In my peripheral vision, I could see working guys from the bowling teams piling through the front doors. Some of them were wielding balls. None of them liked greasy punks from across the river. I had confused my assailant just long enough for everyone to see where this was going.
The visitors unanimously decided that discretion was the better part of valor. They scrammed into the oncoming traffic without observing the common courtesies of the road.
Tommy came over to me and gave me a little shove in the chest.
“I am never fuckin’ going anywhere with you again.”
JOHN JEREMIAH is a retired gallery owner. He has written many articles and catalogues in his field. He is currently writing a memoir. He is an alum of the 2014 Yale Writers’ Conference. He has had four stories published since then.
Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:
—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission [email protected] paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: May 11, 2015
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