Web of Guilt, Chapter One Continued

That night rain pounded on my bedroom window and lightening lit up the room. I remember I was thrashing around in bed. I was half awake, half in a dream!

“ Dad, watch out, there’s a car coming! Dad! Dad! Dad!”

I felt someone shaking me.

“ What’s the matter, Carl? You’re all sweaty!”

“ It was a nightmare, Mom. It was so real. I saw the car but not the driver. If I went earlier to collect Dad I might have saved him!”

My mother wiped my brow with her hanky.

“ I feel so bad, Mom.”

“ We’re going to get through this sad time, son.”

My mother bent down and kissed me on the forehead and left the room.

It took me a long time to get back to sleep!


A week later I went back to school, but I found it hard concentrating on my studies. When any of my classmates talked about their fathers and what they did with them, I’d feel a sort of emptiness sweep over me.


It was mid January and it was snowing in Chicago. It was 1950 and times were changing. I was changing too! I was looking for something, I didn’t know what!

“ I’m going out for a while, Mom.”

“ Put your scarf on, its snowing. And Carl, I want you back for dinner and stay away from that bowling alley.”

“ Okay, Mom.”

I started kicking a stone along the path. I gave the stone a hard kick and it disappeared in the gutter. Life is harder now for my mother and I without my dad. I do a lot of the house chores because my mother feels very tired these days.

There isn’t much to be happy about, but my one big pleasure is ten-pin bowling. I usually headed to Devon Avenue, it was the entertainment centre of my world. There was the Juke Box Diner, the Ridge Movie Theatre and the Ridge Bowling Alley.

The Juke Box Diner was where I would spin around on the diner stools and eat my orders of French fries smothered in ketchup and mustard, just the way I liked them! On the juke box, I listened to the latest records, if I had some nickels. The movie theatre was where on Saturday afternoons I would go to see twenty cartoons and a superman serial or maybe a monster film.

Today, I entered the Ridge Bowl, a ten-pin bowling establishment. It was dimly lit and I could smell the mustiness. At one end there were pin-ball machines on whick I was an expert, especially when I tilted the machines! On the other end was a tavern which was off limits for me. In the middle were ten bowling alleys, which were brightly lit.

Too many unsavoury characters in bowling alleys my mother would ssay. But I had discovered bowling and it fascinated me. Bowling made me feel good and these days there wasn’t much to feel good about.

When I was on the alley, it was like I was on the stage of a theatre with the spotlight on me. There were cushioned seats behind the alleys for onlookers.

I paid my money, put my bowling shoes on and selected a ten pound ball. I couldn’t handle the full size sixteen pounder yet.

I went on stage, alley number one, the lights were bright. I could see the pin boy putting the pins in the cage slots and bringing the pin cage down, releasing the pins in a perfect triangle alignment. The stage was set for my first roll of the ball. I took the four step delivery I had practised, ending up on my left foot. I threw the ball. It rolled down the lane fast and straight. Before the ball hit the pins, I saw the pin boy’s legs lift up to avoid the flying pins and the ball.  Seven pins went down, not bad.

The problem I had was that I wasn’t sure about scoring the game when I got spares and strikes. When my game was over, I noticed and off duty pin boy sitting in a back theatre seat, watching me.

“ Could you teach me to score? I’ve got my score sheet here. I got two spares and one strike, pretty good for me,” I said.

“ What’s your name, son? Mine is John.”

The pin boy was a well-built man, fortyish, with penetrating eyes, dark stubble on his chin and a long scar on his left cheek. Except for the scar, he resembled my dad a little.

“ I’m Carl and I’m thirteen years old, almost fourteen!”

John was staring at me intently. It made me a little uneasy.

“ Let’s see that sheet,” said John.

“ I’ll give you ten cents if you teach me to score.”

John rubbed his large hands together and smiled.

“ Okay, a dime will buy me another beer. When you get a spare, it’s ten points plus how many pins your next ball knocks down. A strike is ten points plus the pins you knock down with your next two balls.”

John continued telling me some of the finer points of the game and totalled up my score sheet. I soaked up the knowledge like a sponge. John got up and went over to an empty alley.

“ Come over here, son, I’ll show you how to throw the ball accurately.”

I listened to John’s instructions intently.

“ I’m going to use the arrows on the alley as a target,” said John.

John stood in the middle of the approach, used the four step delivery and threw the ball fast down the alley with a slight hook. Nine pins went down.

“ You want to hit the one-three pocket for a right-handed strike.”

I knew  that the one-three pocket was the space between the head pin and the number three pin.

John proceeded to throw his second ball and knocked down the remaining pin for a spare.

“ You’re good, John,” I said.

“ I should be, I’ve done league bowling and some coaching years ago,” smiled John.

John threw his next ball and the pins went flying, a strike.

“ I taught my son to bowl.He was a little older than you.”

“ My father is dead. We used to play games together too.”

“ I’m sorry to hear that, son.”

A tear rolled down my cheek. I quickly wiped it away with a flick of my hand.

“ Thank you for helping me John.”

“ You’re welcome, Carl.”

“ John, what happened, why are you just a pin setter now?” I asked innocently.

“ Questions, questions,” said John. He then walked out of the bowling alley, mumbling to himself.

Shocked by his reaction, I ran after him. Outside the afternoon sun was strong.

John was sitting  on a bench near the WW11 tank that was mounted in the park across the street. My father and I used to play ball there. John had his head in his hands.

“ I’m sorry if I said something wrong.”

John lifted his head and smiled, his expression softened.

“ It’s not your fault, son. It’s just some memories that I’m trying to forget.” John had a nightmarish look in his eyes.

“ My wife and son were killed in an auto accident in which I was driving.”

We looked at each other in silence.

“ I’m sorry, John.”

“ I’ve felt guilty ever since. I came out of the accident with only this scar. I’ve got several incidents in my life that I feel guilty about,” said John, shaking his head.

I just stared at John for a minute while he composed himself.

“ John, would you show me how to bowl better when I come next week?”

John seemed to come back to the present and his face brightened up.

“ Sure thing, Carl. See you next week.”

I felt so comfortable in John’s company, it was almost like being with my father. I went home happily kicking a stone the whole way.

The next week I went to the alley against my mother’s wishes again, but I wanted to see John. Arriving at the alley, I saw John was working. I stuck a nickel in the pin-ball machine. I would play until John had a break.

“ Hey! Quit tilting the machine, that’s cheating.”

I turned around and there was John smiling down at me.

“ Hello John, I’m ready for my bowling lesson.”

“ Okay, come on, I’ll show you how to throw a hook ball.”

After an hour of instruction, John and I sat down in the onlooker’s area.

“ I’ll buy you a Coke,” said John, walking to the drinks machine. He came back with two Cokes. We sat watching the other bowlers.

“ I wish you were my dad, John.” I didn’t believe I had just said that, but I just blurted it out!

John looked taken aback by my impulsive statement. He stared at me with a far away look in his eyes.

“ Thanks for the compliment, Carl. You remind me a lot of my son. I enjoy helping you with your bowling.’

“ Can we be buddies, John?”

“ I’d like to be your buddy, Carl.”

I thought I saw some moisture in John’s eyes.

“ That’s great.”

“ Let’s shake on it,” said John.

We shook hands. I was elated, maybe things would get better now. Had I found what I was looking for? A substitute father!?

Web of Guilt, Chapter One

An excerpt of a novel I’m writing. Please feel free to comment.


Saturday afternoon, October, 1949, Chicago, Illinois,USA

“ Dad, let’s go home, we’ve seen the wrestling matches,” I pleaded.

“ One more beer and we’ll go, son.”

I swung around on my stool and looked out the dirty window. The sign flickered,

“ Romato’s Tavern”.

There was a television set at the end of the bar. I was fascinated with television, it was the new thing these days and only a few taverns had them to draw customers.

These were the days when the law allowed children in taverns accompanied by a parent.

I was drinking my Coke and staring at the men perched on the high stools slumped over their drinks. The smudged mirror behind the bar reflected the depressing scene. I looked at the clock on the wall through the smoky haze. Four o’clock, my Dad and I had been watching TV for three hours.

“ Come on, Dad, I’m getting tired of sitting here.”

“ Hold on, son, let me just finish my beer.”

I frowned. My father and I were such buddies in the past. We went on camping trips to  the Indiana State Dunes Park, played baseball and football together. It was a great time. But since my Dad lost his job six months ago, things hadn’t been the same.

His beer finished, my father and I left the tavern. We walked home in silence. I started kicking a stone along the path. It was a ritual I often did. It made me feel good for some strange reason.

“ Mom, we’re home,” I shouted, slamming the door.

The three room basement apartment where we lived was a dreary place. Thethick pipes near the ceiling, where the steam heat came through, were depressing. It reminded me of a boiler room. Not much light came through the small windows. The furniture was old and the carpet worn. A few family pictures were on the mantle, pictures of happier times.

Mary, my mother, came out from the bedroom and glared at my dad.

“ Why do you keep Carl out at the tavern so long?”

“ He likes watching the wrestling and we don’t have a television,” countered my dad.

“ Just another excuse to go drinking when you should be looking for a job. How are we going to pay the bills?”

“ Get off my back, woman. I get money when we need it, don’t I?”

“ Mom, Dad, please stop yelling at each other,” I said.

My father looked at me sadly. Then he stomped out of the apartment.

“ Looks like you’ll have to go and pick up your father again later. He will be too drunk to make it home by himself,” said my mother, angrily.

This is how it was most days, recently. I would end up collecting and guiding my dad home from the tavern.

My mother was once a pretty woman but now she looked haggard, her eyes were dull and empty of hope.

“ Oh Mom, do I have to? You know I’m scared of some of the men there. I don’t like the tavern,” I whispered.

“ Yes, Carl, it would give me peace of mind. I don’t know what we are going to do.

Your father’s drinking is getting me down. When he comes back we’ll have another argument about money. Day in, day out. Week in, week out,” my mother’s voice trailed off. She talked to me like I was grown up, but she needed to talk to someone.

I plunked myself down on the worn sofa, squirming a bit. I know money was a big problem for us these days.I didn’t like to hear my parents arguing all the time.

“ He gets money to pay some bills at the last minute lately. I don’t know how he does it. The only job he has now is cleaning at Romato’s tavern on the weekends,” said my mother, shaking her head.

Two hours passed.

“ Carl, can you go and pick up your father? He must be good and drunk by now.”

“ I’ll go in a little while, Mom.”

I continued listening to the radio. My favourite program was on, “ The Shadow”.

“ What evil lurks in the hearts of men,” said “ The Shadow”. I thought of some of the men at Romato’s tavern.

Thirty minutes later.

“ Carl, are you going to collect your father, or not?”

“ I’m going, Mom.”  I switched off the radio.

I looked in the mirror in the hallway. Looking back at me was a grim faced boy that looked older than his years. The light on the ceiling was at one side of the mirror so my face was half in the shadow and half in the light. Like sadness and happiness, Ithought. The image in the mirror had ordinary looks, blond hair, straight nose and blue eyes that had lost their sparkle.

I zipped up my coat and went out into the night, slamming the door behind me.

October, 1949, Saturday, 8 PM.

It was a chilly night, so I turned up my collar to the wind.

As I was nearing Romato’s tavern, I saw my father and Tom Ranke, his drinking buddy, leave the tavern. My father saw me and waved as he crossed the street.

Suddenly, the headlights of a speeding car blinded me. I knew my father was going to be killed! I heard the thud of the car hitting my dad’s body. I smelled the burning rubber of screeching tyres and the petrol fumes as the car sped away into the darkness. All this happening in an instant, but seeming like an eternity in slow motion.

I screamed, “ Dad, Dad.” My screams deafened me.Tom Ranke ran to the still body in the gutter, checking for signs of life. People were coming out of the shadows to satisfy their curiosity.

I was frozen to the spot. I couldn’t believe what I had just witnessed. I then walked over to my father’s body, as if in a stupor, and threw myself on his lifeless form. The blackness of the night matched my mood.

“ Why? Why?” I heard myself crying.

Tom ran to the public phone box and called the emergency services. Blood was coming out of my father’s nose, mouth and ears. It ran in a red stream down the gutter to the drain.

Tom grabbed me and held my head close to his chest.

“ Don’t look, son.”

“I’m too late. I’m too late. I should of come earlier. I could of saved Dad. Now, I’m too late.”

My father was dead! I was thirteen years old!


It was a grey day when my dad was buried. The only people at the graveside were me, my mother, Tom Ranke and the preacher. I think it hit me then how alone my mother and I were. Also my guilt feelings re-emerged.

I looked at all the gravestones around and wondered how many other fathers left their young sons to be the “ man” of the family. Tears welled up in my eyes. I wiped them away fast.

Then I noticed two men in black suits and hats looking on from a distance. I couldn’t see their faces because their fedoras were pulled down. When I looked again they were gone.

It started to rain.