The Bowling Alley.
‘It’s the last door on the left,’ the blonde receptionist told Jack, ‘you can go right in.
Jack was a little nervous, he hadn’t seen his friend in more than ten years, now he was standing outside his office, wearing a washed out pair of Levis and a western style shirt, boots and belt somehow completed the outfit.
He looked at the sign on the door, ‘John Lowes - Executive Director’ it spelled in golden letters. It was a small company, but he felt a little intimidated.
He knocked, and was called to enter.
The office was much larger than he had anticipated, windows on two walls flooded the room with light and for a moment he was blinded by the deep orange glow of sun about to settle behind the heavy desk.
‘Take a seat Jack, I’ll be done in a few minutes,’ John said and pointed to a chair by the window. Jack took the seat then started to observe the room more closely. A redhead in a too short skirt was sat at the corner of the desk holding a notepad, her long legs dangling over the edge like the pendulum of a hypnotist. He was getting hot, knew himself to be staring, had been staring ever since his divorce more than a year ago. May have been staring before, causing cause for divorce, who could say now. His head turned with difficulty, he forced his eyes out the window, watching the sunset reflected in a million panes of mirrored glass.
‘That’s all Helen, thank you,’ John said and gave the woman a gentle pat on her behind as he walked her towards the door, causing a flustered giggle that spoke of familiarity.
‘Good evening Mr. Lowes,’ she said in a voice too highly pitched. It seemed as if she was going to say more, but then reconsidered and left the room. It felt like the scene had been played through before and put on again for effect.
‘Jack, I’m sorry for the delay.’
He rose from his chair and the two men shook hands, embraced, patted each others back, then stepped back to look at each other.
John was taller, almost six feet, broad shoulders wearing an expensive suit, his dark hair greying on the sides, a square face with intense blue eyes rimmed by dark brows. Women had always fallen for him, for as long as he could remember. In comparison Jack was just reaching 5’9”, had filled out some since their last meeting, his hair had grown thinner for a long time, slicked back it barely concealed the fact. He looked older, John thought, and cheap, his small dark eyes nervously moving around, avoiding a direct gaze.
‘You are doing well,’ Jack said.
‘Business is good, I can’t complain.’
He dared not ask what Jack was doing, maybe later, after a few drinks when it was easier to get over the embarrassment of having to listen to words of failure and despair.
‘So,’ Jack asked, ‘Henry and Steve coming down as well, right?’
‘Henry, yes, he should be here now. Steve we meet a little later at a bar he recommended.’
There was a knock on the door. John stepped over to open it, outside unmistakably Henry. He wore an excitable grin, just the way Jack remembered him, his hair the same thin blonde as always and although about the same height as John he seemed to consist mainly of arms and legs, a skinny man, as geekish as ever.
Jack smiled. He was glad Henry hadn’t changed, he wore a blazer that seemed to big and jeans that were to wide, it was as if his parents were still buying his clothes.
‘Well come on in Henry,’ roared John grinning from ear to ear, ‘or is it Professor these days?’
‘Henry will do,’ he said shaking John’s hand, then turned to greet Jack, the smile on his face still growing further.
‘Jack, you son of a bitch, let me look at you. Damn it’s good to see you, its been far to long.’ He turned facing both of them now. ‘Good to see you guys, good to see you.’ He had a broad boyish grin on his face, clearly pleased to see his friends again.
‘Why don’t we have a quick drink here,’ John said, ‘and then go and meet Steve, I got whatever you want right over here.’ He walked towards the wall cabinets, opened a small door revealing a pull out bar. ‘Now, I got, beer, Whiskey, Gin, Champagne. You just tell me what you want and I got it right here.’
‘I have a beer, if it’s cold,’ said Jack.
‘Make that two,’ followed Henry, ‘if it’s cold that is.’
‘Of course it’s cold, there is a fridge in here, keeps it all cold, got ice in there too, couldn’t offer a client a warm drink could I, I mean who would go for a warm glass of Champagne?’
‘Or beer, right Jack, here we go.’ He handed each of them a bottle. ‘The lids, they screw off,’ he said indicating the motion, like none of them ever had a beer before. ‘I think I am going to have a small bottle of Champagne,’ he said more to himself, ‘a piccolo, it’s what they call these in Europe, after all we are celebrating right.’ He turned, triumphant, pouring the bubbled wine into a plastic flute, then raising it.
‘To old times,’ he said.
The two bottles met with a clink, whereas the plastic flute just gave a solemn thud.
‘Where are we meeting Steve,’ Henry asked.
‘Wait,’ John picked a piece of scrap paper from the desk to look it over, ‘a bar called ‘The Almond Eye.’
‘Do you know it?’
‘No, but I know Steve. He’s got exotic taste, I’ll say it’s some sort of gentlemen’s club.’
‘A titty bar,’ asked Jack.
‘Possibly.’ John looked at Jack again, disapproval, the sweaty gimp had turned pervert he thought, not that he minded the choice of place, but he wasn’t about to show the same level of excitement. Like he hadn’t seen a naked woman for a year or ten. He recalled surprising his wife in the bathroom that morning, caught a good look, before she told him to get out.
John looked heavier than the last time he saw him, Henry thought, he still had the good looks but there was something sly about him, the plastic flute had made it more apparent. He wasn’t here to be impressed.
‘What is it you do these days Henry?’ John asked in a patronising tone.
‘Computer programmer for a defence contractor.’
‘War games for the government hm?’
‘Sounds interesting,’ said Jack.
‘It’s a job and like with most jobs I see myself doing something else, something,’ he struggled, ‘something interesting.’
‘John laughed, slapped his thighs, then lifted the plastic flute to his lips again, the small finger of his hand tilted away from the glass.
Jack looked at John, remembered the slap on the secretaries behind.
‘You are married, no?’ He implied and asked all at once.
‘Yes, happily, two kids as well, seven and nine, beautiful kids, wonderful family. What about you Jack?’
‘Divorced.’ He wiped the sweat of his forehead and slicked his thinning hair back in one swift motion. ‘Just over a year, we are friends though,’ he lied, ‘still close.’
‘Sorry to hear,’ Henry said.
Jack shrugged his shoulders like it was nothing. He wanted to say it was nothing, but somehow just managed to swallow, his stomach tensed at the thought, his lips formed a smile like lips did when you forced them to, but didn’t really mean it. Henry could see that it still hurt.
‘Well then, shall we get going,’ intercepted John, ‘we wouldn’t want to leave all the action to Steve do we?’ He finished the last of the bubbled wine and wiped invisible drops from his lips with the back of his hand.
Maybe Steve would be able to steady the course this evening was taking, Henry thought, remembering Steve to be the one who had carried sense way back when all others had long passed out from drink or drugs.
They left. Flagged a cab outside the building.
‘The Almond Eye,’ as they squeezed into the cab, Jack trapped in the middle pressing his big thighs as tightly together as he could.
‘The bowling alley,’ the cab driver asked with an eyebrow raised in the rear mirror.
‘The Almond Eye,’ John repeated.
‘They call it the bowling alley,’ the cab driver said, shrugged his shoulders and pulled of the curb.
They drove in silence for ten minutes then came to a halt in front of another building, ‘The Almond Eye’ it read over the entrance in bright neon. Inside there was no bowling alley, nor was there any trace of almond eyed hostesses providing floor service. A curved bar was at the centre of the room, a large seating area all around, an empty dance floor towards the back. The bar man who looked like a young John Travolta grinned as they pushed through to order.
It’s a theme bar, John thought, like in Pulp Fiction. He smiled back at the Travolta and ordered two beers, and a quarter bottle of Champagne.
‘A piccolo,’ asked the Travolta.
‘A piccolo, yes,’ said John clearly happy that someone knew the European expression.
They circled the bar, to find a table, John carrying the small bottle and the flute in one hand while the other was pushed deep into his pocket. He wore a smile he considered alluring, whereas Jack thought it contemptuous bordering on arrogant, like so often he felt that he was missing the words that would describe what he felt best. Another shortcoming that may have aided in his divorce, the constant lack of adequate expression.
Henry pointed to a small table near a blacked out window overlooking the dance floor while being placed in a cosy corner.
They raised their glasses again, made eye contact as they did the way they used to, then drank with the relief of somebody who had been waiting to have a cold drink for a long time. There was a cluster of people around the bar whereas most of the seating area remained untouched. Few women mingled amongst the after work crowd. They agreed perhaps for the first time that night that a reversal of polarities would be desirable.
‘Where are all the girls tonight,’ John asked again.
‘It’s early, still,’ said Henry.
‘They will be drawn to us like flies to the light, once they find the entrance,’ said Jack.
They ordered another round of drinks and waited for Steve who was going to be fashionably late. The bar filled some more but the flies had yet to find the entrance. The conversation stalled. Where was Steve, John thought, and hoped he hadn’t gotten drunk again and passed out. They did have a talk about tonight not long ago and Steve gave the impression of looking forward to the reunion.
‘What does Steve do?’ Henry asked.
‘He is, he does … he does freelance work, sometimes he works for me.’
‘And what does he do?’
Jack looked at John equally interested having not seen Steve for so long, besides it was easier to talk about someone who wasn’t there.
‘He,’ John gave a nervous laugh, ‘come on guys you know Steve, he’s an all-rounder, always has been. Meddling you know, sticking his fingers here and there.’
John illustrated with both hands cutting through the air. It looked like he was performing some dance routine Henry thought and had to smile.
Like a fairy, Jack thought, when he saw John reach for the flute, his face had reddened during the performance, Jack grinned.
‘What’s funny,’ John asked then softened his tone repeating the question.
‘Steve, meddling. I always thought he would be the one with the square job, everything organised to the dot.’
‘Yeah, well people change, just look at us.’ He laughed again, raised his glass, felt sweat run from his pits.
A group of men sat down on the table next to theirs, Henry counted five, joined by another three who ventured over from the bar, clearly belonging.
They looked like executives, well dressed, self assured, suntanned.
Henry shrunk a little into himself, as did Jack. John gave a friendly smile and raised his glass nodded across. One of the guys laughed, said something to the others and a few heads turned in their direction, turned back quick though, barely a sense of acknowledgement in their tanned faces.
John’s face soured, he was sat with a bunch of losers when meant for something better, he thought. Jack, kept observing while Henry had shifted his chair a little facing their own table full on now.
Suddenly Jack gasped. He moved closer into the circle of three, looked at the two other faces then muttered, ‘they are puffs.’
‘Gays, they are gays, touching each others legs.’
‘Oh my god,’ said Jack, ‘I smiled at them, what if…?’ He didn’t finish the sentence, but had gone visibly pale. ‘One of them smiled at me, I thought he winked but thought I had gotten it wrong.’
‘You pulled,’ Henry said.
‘This is serious,’ John said in a hushed voice.
‘Where is Steve?’
‘Are you sure we are at the right place?’
‘We have to diffuse the situation, make them know that we are straight.’
‘Waving a white flag perhaps, I have a hanky.’
‘Hankies have meanings, different colours indicate what you are into. I read that somewhere,’ Jack added as an excuse for knowing such trivia.
‘I’m sure they know.’
John wiped sweat from his forehead using a handkerchief, then conscious of the fact glanced over at the table again.
They were staring him out, sniggered, he thought, came on to him in more than one way, all of those imagined. John reached critical levels. Jack nervously shifted on his chair, occasionally gazed across assuring their safety. Henry had frozen in his chair his shoulders tensed, breathing shallow crouched like a hunter, trying to hide, sat against the wind. Not seeing meant not to be seen and he tried to ignore, assured himself they were perfectly safe. He needed the bathroom though, clenched his buttocks tightly, the Indian curry he had for lunch wanting escape.
‘What shall we do?’
‘I reckon we just sit it out, Steve will turn up, we leave, no harm done.’
‘No harm done,’ John huffed, ‘what about the humiliation?’
Humiliation Jack thought, if it wasn’t for your pink tie and your manners with the champagne flute there wouldn’t be a problem in the first place. Henry had similar thoughts when his bowels let him. Thought they may get away clean if they just handed John over, he had behaved like a twerp ever since they met anyhow, who was he trying to impress, least he could do was settle the score. A cramp shot through his face and he knew he had to move fast if he wanted to avoid letting go right there. He got up.
‘Where are you going?’
‘Bathroom,’ he said another cramp shot through his face. He looked about located the place he sought at the far end of the empty dance floor, and started moving across careful holding his body rigidly upright.
He made a strange picture Jack thought, the way he moved, like he was in pain. He glanced at the other table, they seemed oblivious, self contained minding their own business, bothering no one. He looked at John who was the most obviously panicked, could it be that there was something he didn’t tell them? He watched him as he got out a cell-phone, dialled and waited. Imagined him to be calling Steve, clarify, relocate easy as pie. Jack looked about him, little else to do with Henry gone for the moment and John on the phone. There were a few women by the bar, lesbians he presumed, he wouldn’t mind watching them getting it on, they looked pretty hot, not what he had imagined. He forgot the guys on the next table as he started to daydream, his face baring a dreamy smile, his head gently lolling from side to side. John got off the phone, looked more at ease now relieved, as did Henry who returned to the table. Maybe all they needed was another drink and that would sort them out and by that time Steve would be here and they could leave. Go somewhere with the gender situation reversed.
‘The situation is under control,’ John said and leant back a satisfied smile on his face like someone who knew something, but wanted to be asked instead of just telling.
‘How is that,’ asked Henry.
John leaned into the table and motioned the others to do the same.
‘I ordered a stripper.’
Henry couldn’t believe what he just heard, Jack looked baffled and started to rub his hands, which were getting sweaty.
‘You ordered a stripper?’
‘Yes,’ John looked happy, ‘it’s the easiest way to stand our ground, she will come in and perform and everyone will know what we are and what we are not.’
‘There is some lesbians by the bar,’ Jack interjected,’ maybe they get excited and join in.
‘Like hell they will,’ Henry said looking at Jack, then turned his attention to John, ‘you are a moron you know.’
John looked like he had been slapped, but he did a good job swallowing it down.
‘You’ll see,’ he said and grinned.
‘How long till she gets here?’
‘They said ten to fifteen minutes.’
‘We could just leave now and safe us the embarrassment.’
John shook his head. ‘I paid for a strip and I’m going to get a strip, and after that we can walk out with our heads held high.’
They ordered another drink.
Fifteen to twenty minutes later an oriental looking woman entered the bar. She wore a black shawl draped around her shoulders and a tight fitting red dress underneath. Her cleavage was exceptional and she knew and wasn’t shy to show it. She slowly moved around the bar, dishing out smiles till she came to a halt in front of their table.
‘Are you John,’ she asked, her voice tarty carrying an over the top sweetness.
Jack licked his lips and John nodded. Henry sat still and just stared, looked as if he was about to fall inside her cleavage.
‘I am Clarice, from ‘Girls are Us.’
John’s mouth had gone dry and he had an unnatural glow on his face, his palms sat on his thighs and he was nervously rubbing them up and down his leg.
‘Shall I just get started?’
There was no answer.
‘If you want any extras, they are on top of what you paid, understand?’
John nodded, his eyes glued to the woman, then bend forward and said in a conspiratorial way, maybe a lapdance would be nice.
Clarice smiled. ‘That’s and extra twenty, payable up front.’
Jack noted the men on the next table glancing over, but not altogether paying too much attention. John fumbled for his wallet and pulled twenty from it. Handed it to the woman who stuffed it into a small purse, she had held under her arm. She put the purse on the table and took a step back. Some of the men on the next table had turned now to watch. John shot them a triumphant look, before his eyes returned to the woman’s bosom.
Clarice started moving her hips, pulled open the shawl, exposing what little it had covered, then threw it over Henry’s shoulder, threw a smile after and slowly inserted a long finger into her mouth looking at Henry who turned red, like a schoolboy. Jack kept his eyes on her full behind, followed the gyrating hips, his tongue still absently licking his lips. The men on the next table followed the performance, looked over the three drooling fools, but smiled as if in agreement. John knew they had made their point. He was eager now.
Clarice, turned to Jack, slowly pulled one then the other halter from her shoulders, hugging herself in the process. He held his breath when he could see her dark nipples appear, she pushed the dress down to her hips, her breasts stood full and hard like in magazines swaying just in front of his eyes. She bend down then, arched her back, and with it her behind went in the air, long red nails scratched down Jack’s legs, making a rasping noise on his pants. Then it was John’s turn, the grand finale he thought, as she pushed her breasts against his face. Henry moaned from the other side of the table, Jack gasped for air as he remembered the need to breath.
John leant back in his chair, his face turned to a broad grin, as he savoured every moment. The woman had started to massage her breasts, then turned, her firm buttocks right in front of him, felt the urge to squeeze, felt like a million dollars his face taking on a shade of red, sweat blistering on his face his mouth open, breathing heavy. What, he thought, could measure up to this, it showed that he could get what he wanted when he wanted it. His, was a great country.
He got the sensation of her bum brushing against his leg, ready to lose it all in a split second, tensed and relaxed. She would turn again, get closer and push against him, might even get moist in the process herself. He would be close enough to sniff her panties, smell of sexual tension. When she turned it was in one swift motion, no doubt much rehearsed, elegant in its execution. Her hips moving back and forth, lowering themselves, thighs gently squeezing his leg. He was so ready now, he thought, when she started grinding her crotch against him and he felt something he hadn’t expected, slow to realise though. She smiled as he froze, his hands pushed her away, needed her off now, his face growing dark he pushed back in his chair shrunk into himself.
‘You are no woman,’ he cursed, ‘you are, you are, I don’t know what you are, but you better get away from me.’
‘Oh dear,’ Clarice said with mock pity, ‘everybody knows what this place, that’s why they sent me.’
The table next to them exploded in laughter just as Steve appeared. Henry and Jack, somehow not yet realising the full report of what had happened, looked perplexed, when John rose abruptly. He stepped past the woman who was pulling her dress up and walked past Steve who looked from one to the other then turned to follow.
The table next to theirs applauded and Clarice bowed, when Jack and Henry made their way out.