Story by Bruce Harris
Illustration by John Waltrip
Eddie never liked turning calendar pages. It meant rent. Rent was never more than twenty dollars a month, not in the boarding houses Eddie called home, which at the moment was Mrs. Miller’s on New York’s Upper East Side. The dump had more roaches than window screens, but Eddie Dill couldn’t afford much more than Mrs. Miller’s at the moment. Usually, but not always Eddie’s mouth had gotten him into trouble. His last job as a cabbie, during which time he lived in a two-story off-Broadway rooming house, lasted four weeks. It ended after Eddie told a female passenger that her perfume smelled worse than the Fulton Fish Market on an August afternoon. Before that, Eddie worked the night shift at a PlayLand on Forty-third Street. He lost that position after telling some kid at the end of his shift that all of the games were rigged. Turned out, the kid’s old man owned the place. His shortest stint occurred as a dishwasher at the automat on Lexington Avenue. During his first day on the job, he thought it’d be funny to place an unclean sudsy dish into one of the macaroni and cheese window slots. Neither the customers nor management appreciated the humor. For the past couple of weeks, Eddie worked as a pin spotter at the Bowl-A-Rama on Second Avenue. Most of the pin boys were younger. That didn’t bother Eddie. Not having enough money to live well bothered him.
THIRD BANK ROBBERY screamed the headline in the morning edition. Eddie glanced at it. He didn’t read the article, didn’t want to waste the one-cent for the newspaper. Eddie received his news from the street. A trio of holdup men had made off with north of ten thousand dollars in each of their first two bank robberies. This third heist, Eddie figured, had been pulled by the same group and in broad daylight. Eddie dreamed what he would do with that kind of dough. “Move into a nice hotel and by me a fancy suit,” he said to no one, smiling for the first time in weeks. He sat down at a corner booth in Earl’s Coffee Shop.
“Eddie Dill?” The man didn’t wait for an answer. He slid into the booth opposite Eddie.
“Who the hell…”
“How’d you like to make a thousand dollars, Eddie?”
The waitress approached. “What’ll it be?” Her nametag read, “Dottie.” Eddie could have sworn every waitress in the place had the same name.
Eddie didn’t miss a beat. “Hi Dottie. Bowl of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. With bacon. Coffee.”
The gum-chewing waitress jotted the order. “You?” Her eyeballs rose toward the stranger.
“Nothing for me. I won’t be long.”
The waitress said nothing, stuck the pencil in her ample beehive-shaped bleached hair and turned away.
The man continued. “How’d you like to make a thousand dollars, Eddie?”
Eddie looked him straight in the eyes. “You said that already. I’m listening.”
The well-dressed man in his mid-forties said, “Easy money. You work at Bowl-A-Rama, right?” Eddie didn’t respond. “Easiest money you’ll ever make. Saturday night, Sammy Temple is bowling Richie Wells head to head, best two out of three. Ever hear of ‘em?”
Eddie returned the man’s stare. “Of course. Two of the best bowlers in the city, maybe the East coast. Maybe more.”
The man nodded. “The two faced each other about two-hundred times. Never at Bowl-A-Rama though, but I’ve arranged for them to bowl against each other at that fine establishment. The two are equals. Sammy’s won half, Richie half. Come Saturday, Sammy Temple wins the night. There’s a lot of money floating around on the outcome. You’re going to ensure Sammy wins.”
Eddie leaned back as the dexterous waitress placed the coffee, soup, and sandwich in front of him. “That was quick, Dottie.” He winked. She turned and walked away.
Not the kind of guy to place a napkin on his lap, Eddie spooned a few swallows of the soup and opened the sandwich, peeking at the bacon prior to taking a bite. “Good stuff. You sure you don’t want any?” he asked the man. The man shook his head. Eddie shrugged. “Okay, your loss.” Eddie shoveled several spoonful’s of soup into his mouth. He took another bite of the sandwich and placed it on the plate. “And, how do you propose I do that?” he asked. Eddie thought about his dingy digs in Mrs. Miller’s rooming house. He felt like jumping out of his skin but kept a poker face. The man looked at his wristwatch. “Easy. I’ll see to it that they bowl against each other on lane 22. That’s your lane. When Richie Wells is up, you set up the pins slightly off-center. Not enough for anyone to notice, but just enough that he’ll have a hell of a time throwing strikes. That’s all the edge Sammy’ll need.”
Eddie studied the man in front of him. He took a sip of coffee and spooned soup into his mouth. One thousand dollars wasn’t in the same league as the bank heist money, but Eddie hadn’t seen that kind of dough since, well, never. “I’ve got questions. Let’s say I can do it. One, how does that help you? Two, when do I get paid? Three. What’s your name? I don’t like doing business with unnamed strangers.”
The man slid out of the booth. He reached into his pocket and counted ten C-notes. “As for your first question, it’s possible I’ll have a substantial wager on Sammy Temple. “Question two. Now.” He dropped the money on the table. “And, George Stinson.” With that, the man exited the greasy spoon.
Eddie reached for the money, more than he had made in his last six jobs combined and jammed it into his pants pocket. He finished his sandwich and drained the soup and java. He waived off Dottie’s offer for a coffee refill. Saturday was two nights away. He needed to stay clean and out of trouble until then. Back in his room he shoved the money under his thin mattress and waited for the big event.
Saturday night. Eddie reported to work as usual. “Hello, Mr. Cavanaugh. How are things?” Eddie whistled as he glanced down toward lanes 21 and 22, the two lanes he’d work this night, the same two he had worked every night since he began at Bowl-A-Rama. He looked around the place but didn’t spot Sammy Temple or Richie Wells.
Myles Cavanaugh, small in stature, squinted through wire-rimmed glasses. He wore a three-piece suit that appeared to be new. Myles looked as much like a bowling alley operator as Charles Lindbergh looked like an underwater frogman. “Listen, Eddie,” he began, “I’m glad you’re here. Jack Taft who normally works lanes one through five called out. He’s sick. I need you to cover one through five tonight. Okay?”
Heat radiated throughout Eddie’s body. He had to think fast. “Um, that’s nice of you, Mr. Cavanaugh, but if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather stick with my usual lanes.”
“It’s not all the same to me, Eddie. You see, there’s a big important match tonight taking place on lane twenty-two. I’m going to serve as pin spotter.”
“You?” asked Eddie in disbelief.
Cavanaugh chuckled. “Yes, me. I set pins long before you were out of diapers, Eddie. I’m going to prove to myself and everyone else that I haven’t lost my touch.”
Bowl-A-Rama, built in the early 1920’s when the good times rolled, covered a city block. Lanes one through eleven comprised the left half of the establishment, twelve through twenty-two the right side. Eddie had begun working lane twenty-two, the end lane. After a short while, he graduated to covering a second. Pin spotters were difficult to come by. Cavanaugh had told Eddie to keep up the good work, and that soon, he’d work lanes nineteen through twenty-two.
“I don’t think I’m ready for a change tonight. Maybe next week.”
Cavanaugh laughed it off. “Nonsense, my boy. Of course you are. I’ve had my eye on you, Eddie. You are ready to take on additional lanes. I won’t take no for an answer.”
With that, Eddie spotted George Stinson, along with an entourage surrounding Sammy Temple. The bowler waived to a few patrons who recognized him and bee-lined it for lane twenty-two. He removed a shiny black bowling bowl from its bag and ordered a beer. Stinson spotted Eddie, waived a hand with a fat cigar held between manicured fore- and middle fingers and grinned.
Eddie, about to protest, found himself chasing after the bowling alley’s manager. “Just a minute, Mr. Cavanaugh. I have to speak to you.” Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Richie Wells and his group. Richie shook hands with Sammy Temple and proclaimed, so everyone in the bowling center could hear, “Let’s get this match started!”
Cavanaugh disappeared into his office. Eddie followed. “Mr. Cavanaugh,” began Eddie, “I need to…”
The slight man with the tailored suit stiffened. In an instant, his mood and demeanor had changed. “What are you doing in my office, Eddie? No one, under any circumstances is allowed in here. That’s been made clear to everyone since they began working here. Now please, if you will excuse me, I have to change into my real work clothes.” Cavanaugh turned away from Eddie toward a tall oak hat stand. Clean crisp work clothing hung like a side of beef from a hook.
Cavanaugh turned back. “Are you still here, Dill? Leave. Now!”
Eddie thought about the thousand dollars and Stinson. Sammy Temple and Richie Wells were getting ready to begin their big match. The two had reputations of being the best bowlers in New York City, Temple having won the award in 1941 and Wells the following year. Both bowlers were rumored to be mixed up with, as the print boys put it, “unsavory types” from time to time. Eddie didn’t like the looks of the men that surrounded each player. The sounds of balls rolling and crashing pins cascaded through Cavanaugh’s office. Eddie thought about the money. His life. He took a quick look behind him at the open office door. No one was near. Eddie spotted a display-bowling pin with the Bowl-A-Rama logo curved around its bulging wooden body. It was some kind of award, one in which Cavanaugh must have been proud to display on his wall shelf. Eddie grabbed the pin. It nestled in his palm. He moved closer to Cavanaugh.
“Eddie, what on earth…’
Eddie tightened his grip on the bowling pin’s neck and swung it hard against the manager’s head. Cavanaugh staggered. His surprised look shocked Eddie. Eddie raised the bowling pin again, but there was no need for strike two. Cavanaugh dropped forward, slumped onto his desk. The lenses in his eyeglasses shattered when his face hit the wooden surface. Eddie tossed the death pin to the ground and scrammed out, closing the office door behind him.
“Hey, you!” shouted a teen wearing a lettered sweater. He stood on lane one. “Where’s the pin boy? My girl and I are ready to bowl.”
Eddie looked around. He pounced on an overweight man eating a hot dog at the snack bar. “Marvin. Do me a favor. Work lanes one through five. Now.”
Marvin’s face and hands were greasy. “What? It’s too early. I don’t start until another thirty minutes anyway. Besides, that’s Jack Taft’s lanes.”
Eddie turned toward Temple and Wells and licked dry lips. “I know. I know. Listen, Taft can’t make it. Cavanaugh, um, Cavanaugh told me to ask you to do it. He said he’ll pay you double for the night.”
“Double?” Marvin flopped off his stool, jammed the rest of the hotdog into his mouth and without wiping hands or face headed toward lane one.
Eddie took a deep breath. He introduced himself to the six men milling about and smoking at lane twenty-two. “Eddie’s the name. I’ll be pin setting for this match. And, let me say it is an honor and privilege.” Sammy Temple shined his ball with a clean white towel. He ignored Eddie. Richie Wells stuck out his hand.
“Richie Wells. Nice to meet you, Eddie. This here is Stan and Art.” In turn, each man greeted Eddie with suspicion and without a smile.
George Stinson introduced himself. Eddie thought he looked more threatening now than when he had first met him at the coffee shop. Maybe he was the same. Maybe Eddie was different. He now had one thousand dollars under the mattress in his room and he had just killed a man. The third person with Stinson and Temple had a high-pitched voice. “I’m Robert Whitehead. Friends call me Bob. What do you say we get this thing started?” Everyone nodded. Sammy Temple tossed the towel onto a chair and placed his polished bowling ball on the stand next to the scorekeeper’s table. Eddie made his way down the lane, toward the pins.
The balls were thrown with precision. From his unique vantage point, Eddie had never seen such consistency. Both Temple and Wells threw strike after strike. Eddie knew better. He didn’t want it to be too obvious. In the seventh frame of the first game, he misplaced the 6-pin an inch to the right. Richie Wells took aim and rolled what he thought was the perfect ball. It struck between the head- and 3-pins. Richie, certain his shot would result in a fifth consecutive strike, was wrong. The 6-pin curved around the still standing 10-pin and rolled into the gutter. Wells couldn’t believe it. He stared at the pin as if to will it down. Upset, Wells missed the spare. Eddie chuckled to himself while setting up for Temple’s next shot. The seventh frame was Wells’ undoing. Game one of three went to Temple.
The players took a short break before beginning the second game. Temple opened with a strike. Wells matched him. Eddie decided he wouldn’t wait until the seventh frame this game. Again, he shifted a pin prior to Wells’ ball release. This time, Eddie misaligned the number 8-pin, and the giddy pin boy had to control his laughter after the ball struck down nine pins in total. Only the 8-pin remained standing. Eddie earned his grand in frames five and nine as well. Sammy Temple took the second game and the contest ended.
On the walk from the pin area to where the players and their followers were settling their debts, Eddie thought about the fool he had been for so long. No more would he be going from one poor paying job to another. He’d had it with cheap rooming houses. This would be his ticket. Easy money. Big money. And, Eddie figured a thousand dollars a good starting fee. Next time, he’d ask Stinson for double that amount. Heck, maybe even triple. Things would finally begin to change for him. As he approached the group of men he saw Wells’ man Art hand over a huge bundle of crisp bills to his partner Stan. Stan then handed the bounty to the squeaky-voiced Robert Whitehead. The two bowlers were placing their bowling balls into bags when George Stinson pulled a gun in his right hand and a badge in his left. “You’re under arrest for bank robbery! Don’t move. Whitehead, cuff them.” Eddie and Sammy Temple were dumbfounded.
“What the hell are you trying to prove here, Stinson?” The man called Stan began to reach into his pocket.
“Don’t!” commanded Stinson. A quick and efficient Whitehead relieved Stan of his weapon and had Wells, Stan, and Art in cuffs before Eddie managed to shut his flabbergasted open jaw.
“What’s this about?” asked Richie Wells.
“This is what’s this is about.” Stinson pointed to the stack of bills now on the scorer’s table. “That last bank job, well we have a record of all the serial numbers. It was just a matter of getting the crooks to spend it in a timely manner and especially in one lump sum. Guess what? The few serial numbers I just checked are perfect matches. We thought you thugs couldn’t resist a large wager since you no doubt figured if you lost, you could just rob another bank and replenish the stash.”
Richie Wells shook his head. “What if I won today? How could you have been so sure that Temple would beat me?”
Stinson turned toward Eddie. “We have our ways. Nice work, Eddie.”
Eddie took it all in. He tried to process what he had just witnessed. “Stinson’s a cop?” he thought to himself. “I wonder if he’ll let me keep the grand?”
As if Eddie had said his last thought out loud for everyone to hear, Stinson said, “The thousand dollars is yours to keep.”
It was the best break Eddie had had in a long time. He couldn’t get his mind off the money. He’d forgotten about Cavanaugh, until Stinson said, “We need to talk to the manager. What’s his name, Cavanaugh? Where is he?”
The high-pitched Whitehead chimed, “Let’s check his office.”
A couple of patrolmen arrived and escorted the Wells, Stan, and Art gang out of the bowling alley. Eddie, now in a near panic, blurted, “I’ve got to go. Something came up. I…”
“Nonsense,” said Stinson grabbing Eddie by the shoulder. “You were a big part of this capture. Mr. Cavanaugh needs to know how well you performed. You were an instrumental part of our plans. Who knows? Maybe Cavanaugh’ll give you a raise.”
The three men and Eddie entered the murdered manager’s office. “He’s dead!” screeched Whitehead. “Head bashed in. There’s the murder weapon,” he said pointing to the trophy pin. “Who in the world…”
Eddie wiped his mouth. “I have to go…” and started for the door. Stinson held out his hand and stopped him. “Ouch!” Stinson yelped. He looked at his cut hand. A stream of blood appeared. “No one leaves this bowling alley now until a complete investigation is done.” He examined the cut on his hand. “Damn. Look at this. It must have been stuck to your shirt, Eddie.” A shard of glass glistened between Stinson’s thumb and forefinger.
Robert Whitehead took a step closer. “Let me see that.” He took the piece from Stinson and held it up. “Hmm.” He then removed Cavanaugh’s wire-rim eyeglasses and examined the broken lenses. “Hmm,” he repeated and looked at the piece of glass that had cut Stinson. “Perfect fit,” he chirped.
Stinson faced Eddie. With a bloody hand, Stinson held out handcuffs.
— ♦♦♦ —
Amelia LeMaire. She was going to die; the Man was certain of that. She’d failed to kill him, and the cops and doctors hadn’t been able to hold him. Now, he’d have his revenge. Now he would kill Amelia.
He had a plan alright. Isaac would get it almost exactly the way he’d gotten it. He’d find out the unscrupulous woman he was bedding had really screwed him good this time, and just when it couldn’t get any worse for him, the others would be there. He’d thought of it back in the apartment: he’d let Eddie and Chowder know what their buddy Isaac had been up to, and who and what he had at his place. Then they could all kill each other for him, and he’d be $350,000 richer for it.