"Strike!" boomed the bowling alley's public address announcer for the tenth straight time, his booming baritone so loud it knocked over every empty bottle of Bud in the house. Ten times his colossal caterwaul had sliced through the silence. Ten times all ten pins had fallen on the first ball rolled by the mysterious "Mr. Smith." And now, as he removed the sixteen pound orb from the automatic ball return chute, the mysterious Mr. Smith stood and faced the phalanx of pins for the eleventh time.
"He's woikin' on a poifect!" rasped some low-life, an uncalled-for and unintended remark -- really -- I did not intend that to be there, I did not write that! (That's okay, Mr. Vonnegut, continue, while we look into it -- Ed.)
Anyway, this mysterious figure, this man called Smith, was a strange one, all right. No one had ever seen him before. He walked in off the street, on his own, he wasn't in any league, he didn't bowl nearby. A complete mystery. And, he was using one of the bowling alley's balls!
Mr. Smith steadied himself, then brought the ball to his chin, then stepped forward and began the pendulum-like motion leading to a release of the ball at the line -- the foul line, the penalty line -- whatever you call it. His release was as smooth as silk, the ball rolling down the lane and curving toward the pins with the graphic beauty of a computer animation.
"Strike!" reverberated for the eleventh time. The mysterious Mr. Smith was now one strike away from a poifect -- uh, perfect -- 300 game!
Here's a little background on this mysterious Mr. Smith that's just come to light: He's 34, married, three kids, manages mutual funds, likes to sail, bowl, plays golf -- a five handicap, a member of the local Kiwanis, the Lions Club, the Optimists, the Masons, Ranking Member - Secret Inner Circle of the Masons, CIA, NSC, NSA, and KGB. This Mr. Smith has been around.
A hush came over the entire bowling alley. It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Sorry. The now somewhat less mysterious Mr. Smith stood in his customary spot and once again brought the ball up to his chin, began his approach, five short steps, and released the ball -- which rolled -- right into the gutter, where it rattled and rumbled its way to oblivion. A groan, combined with a massive simultaneous group belch, followed.
"Gutter ball!" came the call. Mr. Smith was crushed. Sure, he'd been a secret operative in some of the most sinister organizations known to man, but he really wanted that 300 game! He started to leave, disappointed, when the public address announcer's voice stopped him.
"What?" Mr. Smith asked.
"The shoes! The shoes!" And then Mr. Smith remembered-- he'd rented his shoes and had to return them. How ironic. (Well, not really -- Ed.)
Anyway, after he left, some of the regular bowlers, keglers they're sometimes called, sat around the bar and speculated about the metaphor.
"I think it's the Myth of Sisyphus," Farley opined. "The ball is like the rock, and if the bowling alley were on an incline it would be like trying to roll a heavy rock uphill."
"Nonsense," interjected Greg, another regular. "It's the Faust legend, selling one's soul to the Devil. Smith, Mr. Smith -- a very common alias for the devil."
"Then why would he be bowling?" asked Ben, yet another regular. "Why would the Devil be bowling a perfect game? The guy who sold his soul to the Devil should be the one who's bowling the perfect game!"
"You're all wrong," pointed out Sonny, the bartender. "It's a commercial. It's a beer commercial."
And that ended that.
Meanwhile, we wait. We wait for Jimmy Boy to return to his rightful throne. And while we wait we keep plugging away, banging away at the keys, passing the time, stalling, stretching, lingering, repeating, repeating, repeating. After all, isn't this what he would be doing if he were here?
"My name is Izldr L. Qdxmnkcr and I'm a big shot out in Hollywood and I was wondering -- "
Who? What kind of a name is that?
"It's a puzzle. Figure it out?"
Not a clue.
"Well, you will. In the meantime, can I interest you in signing a contract? A contract that would guarantee you a handsome percentage of net profits, as defined by me, from all sales foreign and domestic, excluding the forty-eight contiguous states and Europe, of a movie version of this book?"
What? Are you offering me a deal for the movie rights to this book? Look, you, let's get something straight here, this is Jim's book. I'm not making any deals with some slick Hollywood type with an unpronounceable name made up of letters that, if you move back one letter in the alphabet... you get... J... a... m... e... s... M... Reynolds! Is that you, Jimmy Boy?!
"Indeed it is, Mr. Vonnegut."
Please, call me Kurt! What a relief! I hope you're ready to get back to work, Jimmy Boy, because I'm exhausted. And hungry as hell!
"Then why don't we all go down to the luncheonette that's just around the corner from the courthouse and have some pancakes with Dancing Cloud and the gang."
"Count me in!" added Maureen, and we all headed off for the luncheonette that's just around the corner from the courthouse, each of us imagining what kind of pancakes to order, or thinking about what we were going to do later, or what we had just done, or, like me, not thinking about much of anything at all. (He's back! -- Ed.)
(Editor's Note: James M. Reynolds has returned. We thank Kurt Vonnegut for taking on the unenviable task of filling in for Mr. Reynolds in his unexplained absence, and being forced to actually write in his style, but, then again, he didn't have to do it.)
("It has been my pleasure to help out, although, I must say, I'm getting a little old for this kind of thing, and it's time for me to place my order, so please, excuse me" -- Kurt Vonnegut)
Maureen ordered the pecan, I ordered apple, Dancing Cloud ordered (in Powloo) blueberry, Kurt Vonnegut had the boysenberry; Greg, Farley, Sonny and Ben all had cod; Mr. Butler, a k a Judge Butler, had strawberry; Anna Matopeia had the fruit salad; the German U-boat commander had plain pancakes; and Joseph P. Kennedy had a soft-boiled egg and rye toast.
(This ends Chapter Forty.)