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The Paths We Take #10: Wolf Creek Lanes

Apr 17, 2018






Nancy walked out of the store just before 7:00 PM. I had been sitting in my truck for fifteen minutes, tucked between the east side of the building and the dumpsters, contemplating going back into the store that I had, according to an anonymous witness, robbed earlier that morning. This time though, I really did have a gun.

I hid behind my charcoal twill baseball cap and the steering wheel as Nancy made her way to her car, a fitting plain Toyota Camry, the color of a dusty manila folder. Everything about Nancy was plain; her round face; beady slate eyes; tortoise frame drugstore glasses; and her raisin colored knit cardigan, circa 1954. The Camry sputtered a white cloud of exhaust as the engine started, and then slid out of the parking lot onto Market Street headed towards town. I followed a few car-lengths behind, my headlights dark until she was further down Market Street. The sky was a sheet of obsidian with only a sliver of a moon and a few dim street lamps to light the way.

I thought Nancy would have headed home, but she pulled into Wolf Creek Lanes parking lot; I hadn’t pegged Nancy as the type to belong to a bowling league. The parking lot was half full. During the day, the lot was shared with Ed’s and Sandy’s, the local husband and wife owned barber and beauty shops next door; if the local grocery store had also shared the lot, the more aged of Red Pines would be able to spend their whole day in town while only having to park once, an arduous task once you hit seventy.

Nancy opened the trunk, pulled out a teal bowling bag, and lumbered into the bowling alley. I parked with a row of other cars closer to Sandy’s. I wore my navy-blue hoodie under my gray fleece North Face and blue jeans, not the all-black combination that you would purchase straight from the stalker’s handbook.

The place smelled of stale Marlboros and dirty socks; it was the grand ballroom of the working class, and the laughing of the patrons and crashing of the pins made it feel inviting and friendly, like a party with your closest friends.

“How many lanes do you need?” a gruff voice asked. A man with a bushy beard and a round belly, covered by a Covington U. t-shirt, was behind the counter. “What size shoes can I get you ?”

“I’m waiting on someone,” I said as I eyed the bar. The man nodded, and I found a seat that was facing the lanes. Nancy was slipping on her bowling shoes and talking with two other plain ladies about the same age. There were six lanes between where I was sitting at the bar, and the lane Nancy and her friends were using. I could only make out the conversations between the two men sitting next to me at the bar, the rumbling of the balls rolling on the wooden lanes muffled everything in the distance.

Wolf Creek Lanes also housed four Pool tables and a small arcade, but only half of the games were in working order at any given time. A group of two couples were playing pool at one of the tables, and judging from the “CU” on the front of the guys’ hoodies, it was safe to assume they were college kids. They were guzzling foam-topped glass mugs of beer as they played, and a gallon-sized pitcher was sitting on the table closest to them. I could hear the girls’ hyperbolic laughs as the guys tried to shoot one-handed while drinking from the mug in the other.

The pool tables were directly behind me, so I had to turn back around to keep my view of Nancy. She had just finished her turn, leaving four upright pins on the pin deck in the formation the more educated bowlers call a “dinner bucket.” She celebrated her mediocre performance with a weak high-five from one of the other women and sipped at her diet coke. Nancy looked in my direction, but she didn’t seem to recognize me without my usual suit and tie.

“Hey buddy, can you get me another beer,” a slurred voice said as I felt a thick hand on my shoulder. I turned around to find the scraggly blonde-bearded college kid wearing a Covington University baseball cap and hoodie. I could hear the laughs from his friends at the pool table, and one of the girls, a thin redhead wearing a low-cut red sweater, yelled “Not him,” trying to get his attention.

I could smell the alcohol wafting from his mouth into my nostrils, combined with the slight stench of body odor that made my stomach tighten and turn my head away. His face was blotchy and red clouds covered his eyes. “Shut up,” he slurred as he turned around towards his friends and then back to me. “Hey, you,” he said to me again as he jammed a meaty finger into my chest. “Do you go to Covington?” he asked.

I could feel the eyes watching me, the other men sitting at the bar seemed to be anxious for a fight with their toothy smiles and clenched fists. “No,” I replied.

“Well you know what they say, if you don’t go to CU, then f-”

“Alright man,” I broke in just as the cute redhead grabbed him by the arm and pulled him back over towards the pool tables as he finished slurring out the “you.” He tottered over to the table and missed when he tried to fist-bump his buddy. The redhead mouthed “sorry” back to me and then took Mr. “CU” by the arm and started walking him towards the exit. Lucky guy,I thought.

I turned back towards the lanes and caught Nancy’s gaze. Thanks to Mr. “CU”, Nancy had noticed me. I knew that I had to talk to her then, or it wasn’t going to happen. I walked over to her as she was trying to gather her bowling bag, bobbing her head around from seat to seat, until she found it sitting near the ball return.

“You told the police that you didn’t see her,” I blurted out before catching myself. “You told them that nothing happened. Why did-”

“Because nothing did happen,” she cut in, her voice boomed over the crashing pins. She caught herself as she looked at her friends, their eyes wide and mouths partially open. “Luke, this isn’t appropriate here. I told the police the truth… I don’t know anything.”

I sat down, watching Nancy as she stepped closer to me. “Nothing happened,” she insisted, her voice softer and motherly, like she was trying to comfort me. It would be nice to be comforted every once in a while, but her comfort was contrived.  I felt the anger hit, my jaw tightened, and I could feel the blood rushing to my face. I grabbed a ball from the ball return and hurled it towards the pins. The ball hit the lane with a resounding thud and then slid into the pit after hitting a couple of pins on the back corner.

Nancy was on her cell phone, an old silver flip-phone, staring at me as the other ladies scattered towards the lobby. “Get the hell out of here man,” a grizzly voice called out from the desk. The bushy-bearded man had the phone in his hand. I was sure that he was calling the police.

I just ran. I flew straight past Nancy through the lobby, and then out the front doors. My holster dug deep into my hip when I jumped into the driver’s seat of my truck. I thought about how the confrontation with Nancy and the gun concealed under my hoodie would look to police.

The group of college students were still in the parking lot, Mr. “CU” bent over puking, their eyes regarding me with curiosity as I sped out, the road screaming underneath. I made a right onto Proctor St from Market St, trying to decide where I should go. I was sure Nancy would tell the police everything.

At the dead end of Carriage Ln, there was a rusted-out metal warehouse that used to house train parts, but had since been abandoned. It was another prime place for the Covington kids to get high. My cell was buzzing; “Det. Marks” lit up on my screen. I let the buzzing give way to the silence of the night, and then I closed my eyes, and let sleep wash over me.


© Josiah A. Miller 2018. All Rights Reserved.