The din of the crowd around alley five dropped to almost a whisper as the tall, long haired blonde picked up her ball and advanced to the foul line. The championship for the Blackwood County Mixed Winter League had come down to one final game between the Ashford Rockets and the Clayville Bluejays. With only the bottom half of the tenth frame left for the Rockets to bowl, the score was still too close to say for certain which team was going to walk away with the trophy.
All eyes were on Dana Craig as she stood motionless for a moment, then sent her bright green ball toward the ten pins only sixty feet down the lane. A last minute substitution for Carol Smith, who injured her wrist in the semi-finals last week, most of the focus on Dana could be attributed more to her dress than any particular skill with the ball. She had taken the team T-shirt and, not only cut off the sleeves, but knotted the bottom as to expose her midriff. What remained of the shirt, which was also at least a size too small to begin with, strained against an ample bust that threatened to spill out at any moment.
A few low groans came from the crowd as only three pins fell. A total that was only one less than Dana had knocked down with her second ball. With the score as close as it was, every pin counted.
"Tell me again why we agreed to let her play," Georgia Wood said to her teammate, Moira Cassidy as she waited for the automatic pin setters to do their work before heading up to the line to take her turn.
Moira's silent answer was a glance over her shoulder to the tall, equally blond haired man that Dana now had her arms around. Timothy Carpenter was considered by many to be the best bowler on the team, if not the league. It was his insistence that made his girlfriend the team's sixth player, rather than just taking the blind score in Carol's stead as the league rules allowed.
"Oh yeah, right," Georgia grinned as she followed Moira's gaze and watched Timothy give Dana a kiss as a reward for her performance.
Three inches shorter and twenty-five pounds heavier than Dana, Georgia knew that most of the attention that followed her up to the line was due to skill rather than her appearance. It was something that she took a great deal of pride in. Gifted with brains, skill and a man who appreciated all of her charms, Georgia didn't need to put her boobs on display to feel justified.
Eight pins went down with her first roll, with the second picking up the spare. Six more pins on the extra ball added to the still rising total. Heading back to her seat, she shot Dana a smile whose sarcasm was unfortunately lost on the airhead.
Nate Johnson followed Georgia. The forty-two year old black man had been bowling since his teens and the strike and nine pick up pins drew a loud cheer from the crowd. With only forty points now separating the two teams, it was Moira's turn.
Shorter than both Dana and Georgia, Moira stood only five one and had a compact body that matched her height. Cute as a button was a phrase the supermarket clerk had heard all her life, but it was an accurate description nevertheless.
A 7-10 split turned the recent cheer back to a groan, but all was not yet lost. The diminutive redhead managed to pick off one of the two, but had so wanted to get them both.
"It was a good try," Joseph Kirby said as she sat down next to him.
"Thanks," Moira said with a small smile, thinking that at least she hadn't gotten a field goal and missed both of them.
Quiet returned as Tim Carpenter walked up to the foul line and took aim. With an air of certainty he went into his delivery and without even waiting to watch them fall, knew that all ten pins had fallen.
Waiting for his ball to roll back onto the ball return, Tim turned to look for Dana, only to find her not in her seat. A quick glance around the alley found her standing up by one of the racks, engaged in conversation with one of the onlookers. At least she seemed to be engaged, the tall, muscular twenty-something young man she was talking to, seemed to be more interested in the oversized globes that Tim could see, even from this distance, had finally exceeded the limits of her tattered shirt.
The bowler took a step in her direction, but was held in check by Nate Johnson handing him his ball. Shaking his head slightly, he turned and once more sent it hurling down the lane, now anxious to get the game over with and take Dana out of here.
A loud gasp from the crowd filled the air, causing even Dana and her admirer to look up. Instead of the expected clean sweep, six pins still stood. It was the most he had left standing all night.
Angry, Tim let his frustration get the better of him and rushed his next shot instead of taking a few breaths to calm himself down. The result was even worse than before as, for the first time in years, his ball sailed by without touching a single pin. With the Bluejays still ahead by seventeen points, it looked like the trophy would be going home to Clayville.
Every eye on the Rockets turned to Joseph Kirby, the last man on the rotation. Only an average bowler, the forty-eight year old had the lowest average of the three men on the team. He ran his hand across his close cropped brown hair and flashed a smile that said he would do his best. Just before he rose to his feet, Moira leaned over and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek.
"For good luck," the twenty-six year old said.
Joe took a long breath as he lined up his shot, then sent his cobalt blue ball down the lane with a silent prayer. Not so much a wish that he'd save the game as much as a plea that he didn't screw it up.
His eyes never left the ball as one by one, pins fell in every direction until only one remained. The number four pin refused to follow the rest, but it was good enough for him. Unlike Tim, Joe carefully lined up his next throw and a roar came from behind him as the number four finally fell.
It all came down to the next ball, they would win with eight and lose with seven. Joe looked over his shoulder and saw looks of encouragement from Nate, Moira and Georgia. Tim and Dana were having a heated discussion over on the side and seemed to have lost interest in the outcome, thinking their loss a forgone conclusion.
A conclusion that Joe proved wrong as only two pins remained after his final roll. He stood there stunned, just staring at the scoreboard as the computer tallied up the totals and declared the Rockets League Champions.
"I can't believe they gave Tim the MVP award," Moira said in disgust after the League Coordinator finished giving out the last of the trophies and the post tournament party began to wind down.
"Well he did have the high score," Joe replied, still working on only his third beer of the evening.
"Big fuckin' deal," the slightly intoxicated woman objected. "If it weren't for you, it wouldn't be the Rockets name that they're going to be engraving on the trophy."
"I'm just glad we won," Joe smiled. "Besides, I'm sure that little piece of plastic means more to him than it ever would to me."
"It's still not right," Moira insisted.
"What's not right?" Georgia asked as she came up from behind the two of them, her husband at he side.
"That they gave that selfish prick, Tim, the MVP," Moira repeated. "It was bad enough that we let him stick us with his bimbo girlfriend. I think that they should add her score to his and then average it out. We would've been better off with..."
"I think you'd be better off with a couple of cups of coffee," Georgia cut her off, never having been one to hesitate saying just what was on her mind. "We won girlfriend, lets just enjoy that. Next year we'll have Carol back and all will be right with the world."
"Still not fair, Joe here deserves the trophy," Moira went on, refusing to let the matter drop.
"Well be that as it may, what's done is done," Georgia said, refusing to let her teammate spoil her own victory celebration. "Me and Harry here were just coming over to say goodnight. We're going to take our party home with us were we can celebrate in private."
"The two of you have a safe trip home," Joe said, shaking Harry's hand and giving Georgia a friendly kiss on the cheek.
"It might not be a bad idea to call it a night as well," Joe said after the married couple had left and he noticed that Nate and his wife were also already gone. "It looks like aside from us the only ones left are Tim and Dana."
Moira looked over to the front of the bar where a crowd of well-wishers were still buying Tim victory drinks, or where gathered around Dana to admire her outfit, or lack of it.
"Want to bet she's on her knees blowing one of those guys before the nights over?" Moira said in a sarcastic tone. "It wouldn't be the first time."
"I wouldn't know," Joe said, never having been much for prying into the private lives of people.
"Are you really leaving?" Moira asked, changing the subject.
"I guess so."
"Then I guess I am too," the redhead replied. "I'm certainly not going to hang out with this bunch."
"How are you getting home?" Joe asked out of concern.
Moira looked up at the taller man and smiled, appreciative of his concern. "Well I'm not going to drive, if that's what you're worried about. I might be a little plastered but I'm not stupid. I'll leave my car here and call a cab or something."
"That's good," Joe replied, visibly relieved. "But how about I just drop you off myself. There's no telling how long you might have to wait for a car this late on a Friday."
What he didn't mention was his concern that an unscrupulous driver might take advantage of the younger woman in her current condition. Old habits died hard, he told himself.
"You live over in Scarborough, right?" Moira said, remembering that Joe had once mentioned his house in the nearby suburb. "Even at this time of night that has to be at least forty-five minutes out of your way."
"I don't mind," he said.
"I do," Moira answered. "You're a nice guy, but I think too many people take advantage of that."
"It's not taking advantage if you're doing it for me," Joe countered, changing track. "I'll sleep better knowing you got home okay."
"In that case, I accept," the short redhead finally gave in.
"Good," Joe smiled. "Just let me make a quick visit to the little boys room and I'll meet you by the front door."
As Joe exited the bar out of the back door and headed for the restrooms, Moira gathered up her things. She took one final look at the thinning crowd at the bar and noticed Dana paying particular attention to one good looking young man who couldn't have been more than nineteen or twenty.
"Yup, I'd bet the rent that he's going to be the one," she told herself as she also headed for the door. "And I'd also bet that Tim is so busy having smoke blown up his ass by his fan club that he doesn't even notice she's gone."
Joe was waiting by the front door when she got there, taking her bowling bag to carry with his own. Together they walked out into the parking lot where his truck was parked. The cool night air hit Moira full on, helping to bring some clarity back. She'd had more than a few beers after the game. but even so was never as drunk as people took her to be. She just liked to ride with it and let her inhibitions out for a while now and then.
Pulling out onto the boulevard, Jim turned on the radio, filling the front cab with light music. Wordlessly they listened for a few blocks, then Moira broke the silence.
"I hope I didn't embarrass you back there because I got so pissed about Tim getting the MVP," she said.
"Not at all."
"There's just something him that ticks me off sometimes," she expanded. "He's such an asshole."
"Is that just a general observation or is there a particular reason you feel that way?"
"The way he thinks he's God's gift to women I guess," Moira said off the top of her head. "Not that I'd ever want to defend Dana, but he's such a hypocrite the way he comes down on her for paying attention to other guys."
"So I take it that Tim has a roving eye as well?" Joe said, not really that interested but making conversation.
"A lot more than a roving eye," Moira laughed. "Twice this year alone I had to point out to him that my ass wasn't his bowling ball."
"I wish you'd told me that before," Joe said, now both interested and concerned. "I'd have had a little talk with him about it."
Moira turned and looked at the older man. From the look on his face and the tone of his words, she had the feeling that more than words might've been involved.
"It's okay, I finally convinced him that nothing was ever going to happen and he stopped."
"How did you do that?" Joe asked curiously.
"I told him I was gay. After that, he pretty much lost interest," Moira grinned. "In fact, I think he went out of his way to keep his distance after I also dropped some hints that I found Dana pretty cute. I think he was worried I might be after her."
"Are you," Joe asked, thinking that he'd never seen Moira with a guy or ever even heard her mention one. "gay I mean."
Moira took a moment before answering, thinking that the question hadn't been judgmental in tone, just curious.
"Nah, tried it once or twice back in high school," she grinned. "It was an interesting experience, but not for me. Besides, if I was I'd like to think I'd have better taste than to be interested in someone like Dana. No, I like men, just not assholes like Tim."
"Okay," Joe simply said.
"I just thought of something," Moira said, changing the subject. "Are you sure your wife won't mind you're going so far out of the way to drop me off. I have my cell in my bag if you want to give her a call."
"It's kind of late to call her," Joe said in tone that Moira found unusual as it had been one she'd never heard before. "It'll be all right, don't worry about it."
"I was really surprised that she didn't come tonight to watch the championship game," Moira added. "I know you said she really didn't like bowling after she came to the first few games but the finals. I know I'd have been there even if a guy I was seeing played a sport I really hated."
"Well Gina wasn't feeling too well either," Joe said, giving Moira the impression that he was making excuses.
"Shit!" Joe exclaimed as he realized that he'd missed a stop sign that was ill lit and partially blocked by a large overgrown bush.
The intersection had been empty, but his infraction hadn't been unobserved. Multi-colored lights came to life on a white cruiser that had been parked in the corner gas station and a quick blast of a siren called for him to pull over.
Joe opened his driver's side window, then brought his hands up to where the approaching Police Officer could see them. He waited patiently for the patrolman to ask for his license and registration, which he quickly produced.
"Have you been drinking tonight?" the officer whose nameplate read Logan asked.
"I had a few beers, but well under the limit, officer," Joe offered, surprising Moira whose attitude as far as cops were concerned was not to answer anything you could avoid.
"Would you mind getting out of the car, sir?" Logan asked, his hand automatically moving just a noticeable closer distance to his service revolver.
"Certainly, no problem," Joe replied, motioning for Moira to stay where she was and that he would take care of everything.
Moira watched as Joe followed the officer back to the patrol car, thinking that they were going to ask him to take a Breathalyzer test. Then, unexpectedly, the officer called over to his partner, who had been keeping position on the other end of the truck. The older officer walked around and took the wallet the first had taken from Joe. He took a quick look, then said, first a few words to Joe, then to his younger partner. Finally, the older officer shook Joe's hand and the two cops climbed back into their car and took off, without even writing him up a warning.
"What happened back there?" Moira asked as Joe slid back into the truck. "I thought for sure I was going to have to find another way home."
"They just decided to cut me a break, that's all," Joe said as he started up the engine and reached for the shift.
"Somehow I don't buy that," Moira said, thinking that Joe's tone when he said that matched exactly the one when he talked about his wife. "You didn't give them money or anything, did you?"
"No!" Joe automatically replied.
He sat there for a few seconds, then turned off the car again. Reaching into his pocket, he took out his wallet for the second time and handed it to Moira. When she opened it, she found a small gold shield.
"You're a cop?" she said in surprise, thinking that when he'd joined the team he'd told everyone that he worked at the local tool depot.
"Was," Joe corrected her. "I've been retired fifteen months. They were just passing along a little professional courtesy."
"Where were you a cop?" Moira asked, handing back the wallet and badge.
"I had twenty-nine years on the NYPD," Joe explained, "until I had a little problem with cancer that forced me to put in my papers. After that, I moved down here."
"You have cancer?"
"Well they tell me that they got all of it," Joe said, "but I still get checked out twice a year. Until they tell me different, I don't worry too much about it."
"I guess that's the best attitude to have," Moira said, thinking that she had just learned more about his past in the last ten minutes than she had in the last three months.
Joe started the car again, pulling out onto the county road. They went a few more minutes, passing a small diner just off the road. That gave Moira an idea.
"You know, maybe Georgia was right," she said. "Do you think we could stop for a cup?"
"Why not," Joe replied as he made a U-turn and headed back.
"Oh that's much better," Moira said as she finished off her first cup of coffee and signaled for a refill.
Joe was still working on his first cup, but the waitress refilled it anyway.
"I am keeping you way too late," Moira said as she started on the second brew. "I really think you should call your wife, she might think you've had an accident or something."
"Gina went home to New York two months ago," Joe finally admitted. "She's not coming back."
"Oh I'm sorry," Moira said a little shocked.
"It was a long time coming," Joe went on, "moving down here away from all her friends was just the final straw."
"Why didn't you go back with her?"
"Nothing really back there for me," Joe answered. "We never had any kids and frankly, I kind of like it down here."
"Well I'm glad of that," Moira smiled, finishing off the last of her coffee. "I like having you for a friend."
"Me too," Joe smiled.
Almost an hour passed as, the small falsehoods out of the way, Moira and Joe had possibly the longest discussion they'd ever had. He told her of life back in New York, and she talked about growing up in Blackwood County. The better times with his wife also came up, as well as a few of Moira's relationships.
"So I told him to pack his stuff and get the hell out," Moira said as she finished the story of her last relationship. "That was six months ago."
"Well from what you tell me, I think that was the right thing to do," Joe said as the waitress returned to the table to tell them they were about to close up.
"I guess we should be going then," Joe said as he dropped a few bills on the table to cover the bill and the two bundled back up to head back out into the night.
It was just about half past midnight when Joe's truck pulled up in front of the small three family building in which she lived. She led him to a side entrance, and then down to the door of the basement apartment.
"It's not much, but then I've never needed much," she said in way of apology as they entered the small studio apartment.
"I think it's a lot better than some of the places I've lived in over the years," Joe replied, thinking that while small, it was at least clean and comfortable.
"Can I offer you something to drink," Moira asked as she closed the door behind her, "beer, coffee?"
"I think I've had enough of both for the night," Joe answered.
"How about a blow job then?"
"Excuse me?" Joe said as he turned around, sure he had heard Moira wrong.
"That was pretty crude, I have to admit," she said as she closed the small distance between them, "but to be honest, I haven't been able to think of anything else for the last hour."
"I'm not sure I understand," Joe said, thinking that was the truest thing he'd said all night.
"I..." Moira said, choosing her words slowly and carefully, "have had a thing for you almost since the first day I met you. You are everything that I admire in a man and if it wasn't for the fact that I knew you were married, and that you're not the kind of man to take that lightly, I would've tried to jump your bones a long time ago."
"Moira, I'm touched, I really am," Joe said, the look on his face showing how stunned he was. "I like you too, I really do. I think you're an exceptional young woman. If things were different, if we were different, well..."
"Why, because I'm young enough to be your daughter?" she cut him off.
"Well that's one thing."