Detective Paper held this morning’s issue of The Corralberg Chronicle in his callused hands as he sipped a venti cup of decaf coffee. After battling insomnia for multiple months, Paper’s doctor had recommended he switch to decaf, which he found insipid and bland, much unlike the headline on the front page: “Corralberg Bowling Alley Reports Record Number of Gutterballs.” Corralberg historically had the best bowlers in the entire state of Calpurnia, so how could they manage to achieve so many gutterballs with so much athletic talent? Paper didn’t know, but he sensed a conspiracy and hoped the rest of his detective agency did too.
“Pass me the cream,” said Officer Laura Palmhair, Paper’s partner in criminal investigation with benefits, from across the grungy table. Their mutual friend, Junior Detective Bernard, sat hunched in the corner of the room, content with a cold Pop Tart.
“Sure,” said Paper, sliding the condiment across the table. “Laura, how would you like to investigate the Corralberg gutterballs with me?”
“I don’t know, I remember they weren’t pleased when we attempted to investigate the firebombing of their Little Italy back in June,” said Laura, seasoning her coffee with a few dashes of cream. “They have a very rigid, not to mention religious police force who want no foreign detectives embarking on their soil.”
“They did,” corrected Paper. “Unfortunately for them, the Corralberg killer, Keef Smite, offed their two most intrusive officers, Conner and Dustin last year before being given a lifetime sentence in the Tijuana Jail.”
“How’d he get to Tijuana again?” asked Laura.
“It’s very complicated and confusing. I found a book about it in the library a while back and quit reading after the first twelve pages or so,” said Paper. “Same way everyone gets to Tijuana, I guess. But that’s not important now.”
Bernard finished his Pop Tart and eagerly smiled at his two superiors. “Can I go to Corralberg too?”
“Ask your mother,” joked Paper, neglecting the fact that Bernard was currently in his mid-20’s and long free from his overprotective mother’s clutches. “I don’t see much of a problem with it, as long as you remain completely discreet. No using skinheads’ heads as bowling balls or any monkey business like that.”
“Why would I do that?” asked Bernard. “Just because I’m Jewish, huh?”
“God, boy, it was just a joke,” said Paper. “We like to have fun here in Brixton, much as they do in Corralberg. Or San Narciso. Frankly, everyone everywhere likes to have fun, except you for some reason. I don’t know why that is, and we all have more important things to find out. So are you coming or not?”
“I’m coming,” said Bernard. “I haven’t been to Corralberg since my days of Jewish summer camp high in the Corralberg Hills.”
“You were high?” laughed Paper.
“No, the hills were,” snapped Laura. “C’mon, Paper, no more goofing around. We have a mystery to solve and the next bus to Corralberg leaves in 30 minutes, unless you want to walk 600 miles and end up sleeping in hotels in crap towns like Kling City.”
“I’ve got a cousin in Kling City,” said Bernard.
“Well, Bernard makes a pretty convincing argument for Kling City, but I’ll be danged if I’m not taking the bus,” said Paper, and joined his colleagues on a bus trip to Corralberg.
“Dang good decaf here in Corralberg,” said Paper as he sipped perhaps the best decaf he had ever tasted the next morning in the Corralberg Motel.
“Dang good cherry scone,” said Laura.
“Dang good nut log,” said Bernard. “That nut log lady really knew what she was talking about.”
“So how far is it to the Corralberg Bowling Alley?” asked Paper.
“I just got off the phone with a guy named Dave Warson, who’s a youth bowling instructor there. He said that we can’t get in without lifetime memberships,” said Laura.
“Lifetime memberships? What kind of hogwash is that?” exclaimed Paper. “I’ve probably been to three dozen bowling alleys in my life, and I’ve never paid a single one of them a cent in memberships.”
“Paper, don’t worry about money. I already told you, I got enough from my brother Nick’s inheritance.”
“I feel like that’s dirty money, but what the hey,” said Paper, who had always had disdain for Laura’s brother Nick.
“No, dirty money is what the Corralberg Bowling Alley is probably making, fixing the bowling alleys so that even the most talented of bowlers consistently wind up with gutter balls instead of strikes or even spares. The lifetime membership fee is only the tip of the iceberg,” said Laura.
“Have you ever bowled?” Paper asked Bernard.
“A couple of times in college,” said Bernard. “Didn’t your parents die in a bowling competition?”
“Jeez, talk about insensitive questions,” snapped Paper. “No, they died en route to a bowling competition in the Bermuda Triangle. Can you please never talk to me about that again?”
“I’m sorry, my curiosity got the best of me again,” said Bernard.
“Let’s hope that it doesn’t happen again,” said Paper.