The Holmes Files - Roller Skate Roundup
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I figured this would be a cake walk. I mean, how hard could
it be to talk an old woman out of a pair of roller skates that she
didn't use, which were gathering dust in some closet somewhere, or
maybe that garage Ronnie had talked about in her soliloquy.
Mom had no use for them—her daughter wanted them.
Parents want their kids to be happy, right? And,
I’m an intimidating looking fellow, I’m told, so if
just asking didn’t work, I’d intimidate the old bat
a bit. That's why I didn't plan on charging my latest
customer anything more than the cost of the gas it would take me to
drive over to Ohio, retrieve the skates, and come back.
During that drive, I let my mind wander. I looked over at the
passenger seat and imagined the skates, sitting there, minding their
own business, waiting to be delivered to their owner. I
imagined them to be excited, eager to go back on the feet that had
ridden in them over those countless miles of smooth pavement while the
little girl in them became a young woman.
Then I imagined the skates becoming Veronica Powers, sitting beside me,
unimaginably thankful that I had recovered one of the totems of her
journey to adulthood. Well...not unimaginably thankful...not
exactly. I could think of a way she was welcome to thank
me. It involved a lot of heavy breathing and her naked skin
moving all over my naked skin, while I showed her how lucky she was to
BE a woman, all grown up and fully involved with mature things.
I almost ran into the back of an eighteen wheeler carrying a load of
cattle. I let off the accelerator just as a cow let loose out
of one of the holes in the side of the trailer and a brown hazy cloud
appeared, only to be whipped toward me in the wind. My
windshield was suddenly opaque and I cursed, slowing more.
Let me tell you something. Windshield wipers aren't designed
to deal with cow excrement, moistened with piss and atomized by a
seventy mile an hour wind. Not even when you use the washers.
I didn't see that as an omen of how my trip to get Ronnie's skates was
going to go.
But I should have.
Ronnie had given me the rundown on her mother, one Madeline Wilkenson,
formerly Madeline Powers. It hadn't been easy getting the
information. You might get some idea of that from her initial
response to: "So, tell me about your mother."
The level to which their relationship had sunk was revealed
clearly. Her answer had been succinct, if not quite a term
that would be approved by the literary guild.
"She's a giant buttface," she muttered.
She'd added an adjective, but I needed a little more than that, and by
continued probing I learned more. There had been a divorce
when Ronnie was very young, a step-father after that, and a string of
"uncles" after the second marriage ended in divorce as well.
I knew the type. Some women can't figure out what they want,
or how lucky they are to have a decent man in the first
place. Such women think mostly of themselves and their own
wants. Which, since they don't know what they want, makes for
a pretty dismal kind of playing at being an adult.
That, combined with the fact that her mother and father were bona fide
hippies, and probably did way too many drugs during the "free love"
years, made it almost a miracle that Ronnie seemed to have grown up
with a relatively stable personality. Kids pick up a lot from
their parents, and I'm not talking about what the parents are TRYING to
teach them. There are a lot of Gen-Xers out there who are
messed up because their parents weren't very good role models.
I had pretty good data about when Maddie, as I now thought of her, had
been a young mother. But Ronnie had left home at seventeen,
and there was a dearth of information about what I was heading into
now. Ronnie tried very hard not to spend any time with her
mother. The term "quality time" just wasn't in Ronnie's
vocabulary, as it pertained to the woman who had given her life.
Then again, I didn't think I'd need to know all that much,
really. I knew how to find her house, and that she worked as
a teacher with learning disabled kids in Columbus, but that was about
it. If a woman with a face like a derriere came to the door I
might blow it by laughing, but I didn't really think that was going to
happen. I figured I was savvy enough to finesse just about
any woman, if I put my mind to it.
I had no trouble finding the house. I got there about seven
in the evening, which was great, as far as I was concerned.
It wasn't too late, but probably wouldn't allow for an invitation to
sit and chat about how Ronnie was doing, once I got the
skates. I planned a quick in and out visit, and, with the
help of some NoDoz, I could be handing Ronnie her skates the next
That's not to say I abandoned my usual vigilance. Being
observant is a primary requirement of being in the business.
So I noticed the big red and white sign on the gate that said "BEWARE
OF DOG". I hadn't thought to ask Ronnie about dogs.
I made some noise so the dog, if it was out, could rush out and do his
duty. I actually hoped it would, in one sense, since that
would make Maddie owe me when she came out to see what the barking was
The only problem was that no dog came barking. That can mean
two things, usually. One is that the dog is inside, which is
fine. The other, though, is that the dog might be the sly
type that lies quietly in wait for the borders of its kingdom to be
breached, whereupon it rushes out and bites the shit out of the
I lifted the latch on the gate and stepped into the yard, holding the
gate open so I could dart back out if anything rushed out of the
shadows at me.
I wasn't packing heat, because I'm not licensed in Ohio. As I
got to the halfway point between the gate and the porch I wished I'd
thought to bring my telescoping baton, which would quickly deal with a
tardy guard dog. When I made it to the porch I felt better,
especially when my foot on a loose board brought barking from within
the house. I rang the bell and the barking doubled.
"Shut the fuck up, Muttley!" came a dim voice from within.
The porch light came on, even though it wasn't dark out yet.
There were curtains covering the window in the door and I saw them
nudged aside as I was inspected. The door opened wide and I
saw an Australian cattle dog dancing around, still barking. A
foot wearing a house shoe snapped out and kicked the dog in the
side. It yelped, whined and backed up. The
unmistakable odor of marijuana came wafting out the door.
"You don't look like a solicitor," said an alto voice that wasn't all
The woman attached to that voice was looking down her nose at
me. I realized it was because she was wearing those glasses
with more lines in them than an eye doctor's chart. I guess I
was close enough that examining me required one of the lower sections
of the glasses.
"I'm not," I said in my suave voice.
"That's good," she went on, "because if you were a solicitor, I'd have
to let Muttley loose on you. He bites children, so he should
flat out try to eat a solicitor."
"As I said, I'm not a solicitor," I said. "I'm a friend of
"Ronnie? Who the hell is Ronnie?" she asked.
"Uh...Veronica? Your daughter? I assume you're
"She calls herself Ronnie now? Well isn't that about the
blue-dyed shits!" exclaimed the woman. "I call her Ronnie one
time in her whole life and she goes into the screaming jeebies, but now
that she won't talk to me anymore it's just freaking FINE!"
She poked her head out the door. "Is she with you?"
"No," I said. "I just stopped by to..."
She slammed the door in my face. Just like that!
I rang the bell again, and Muttley started barking again. I
stood there long enough that I was beginning to think she was just
going to ignore me, when the door opened.
"Are you still here?"
"Yes," I said. "But I won't take long. I just need
to pick up something of Veronica's and I'll be on my way."
"She doesn't have anything here," said Madeline, looking down her nose
at me again.
"It's just a pair of roller skates," I said. "I just need to
pick them up and I'll be out of your hair."
She snorted. "That again? I told her she couldn't
have them. Go away."
"What do you mean she can't have them? They're HER
SKATES!" My control had slipped a little and I raised my
voice at the end.
"No they're not," she said calmly. "I paid for
them. That makes them mine."
"Come on," I moaned. "You're never going to use them."
"True," she said, smiling widely. "But they're still mine."
She slammed the door in my face again.
I stood there for another minute, trying to figure out what had gone
wrong. She must have been peeking out at me, because the door
suddenly opened and she yelled, "MUTTLEY, SIC EM!"
I heard excited barking. I cleared the gate like I might have
in my track and field days, only to turn and find that Muttley hadn't
left the porch yet. He was barking to beat the band, but he
hadn't chased me. He looked around at the door, which was
closed again, then looked back at me and barked while he wagged his
I walked back to my car. I couldn't help but think: St.
I had been caught unprepared and it smarted. My pride was
hurt. Had I known what had happened would happen, I would
have come prepared to deploy plan B. But I didn't have plan B
with me, so there was really nothing to do but drive back to
Chicago. I drove through the night, then crashed and slept
until three in the afternoon. That's definitely one of the
perks of being self-employed.
I stopped by the office, where I had a supply of plan B. The
answering machine on my desk was blinking. There was only one
message. It was from Ronnie, asking me to call her as soon as
I got back. I didn't have anything positive to report, and I
wasn't about to let her know about my first abortive attempt, so I
ignored the machine, got plan B all ready to go, and got in my car to
make the trip to Ohio again.
For plan B I wanted to approach the house during the daytime, and I
wanted to catch her off guard. When I got there the red
Tracker that had been in the driveway the day before wasn't there,
which confirmed that Madeline was still at work. So I went a
few blocks to get a cup of joe and a donut, then returned to wait for
her to get home.
When I saw the Tracker pull into the driveway, I got out and went to
the rear of her car. I got there just as she was getting
out. She had some bags in her hands. I was glad,
because that kept her hands busy. I adopted my no nonsense
"Mrs. Wilkenson," I said formally. "You may remember me from
yesterday. I never got a chance to introduce
myself. I'm Bob Holmes, a private investigator, and I have a
warrant here to search your house and recover property belonging to my
client. I tried to do this the easy way yesterday, but you
decided to be uncooperative."
I waved plan B in her face. It had her name and address on
it, and looked very official. It should have. It
was based on a real search warrant, right down to the signature of the
judge on it. Of course that judge had no idea I was doing
this, but that was just a technicality in my mind.
She squinted at it and I held it still.
"I can't read that out here," she complained. "You might as
well come in."
Flushed with impending victory, I offered to help her carry
things. Since she was capitulating so nicely, I figured it
wouldn't hurt to be magnanimous. She handed me some bags and
got more out of the back of the Tracker, and I followed her into the
breezeway between the house and garage. Muttley was there and
dancing around with happiness. Apparently if I came in with
the mistress it didn't call for barking, her earlier command to sic me
She dumped her bags on the kitchen table and turned to snatch the
warrant from my hand. I wasn't worried. I had a
good graphics program and the warrant looked perfectly
legitimate. She looked down her nose at it and glanced at me.
"You're supposed to have the sheriff with you when you serve a warrant."
I was ready for her.
"Considering the fact that you were smoking weed when I was here last
night, I thought I'd do you the favor of skipping the cops.
I'm not holding a grudge here. I just want to do what my
client hired me to do, then I'll be out of your life. Just
give me the skates and you'll never see me again."
"Sit tight," she said and turned around to walk away.
She didn't go very far, stopping at a wall mounted phone. She
picked it up and punched only three numbers.
"Hello? Yeah, there's a guy here impersonating a police
officer and he's threatening me. I need you to send a cop
over here like immediately, cause this guy may kill me or
something. Oh shit! He's coming in the house
now. I have to go!"
She slammed the phone back into the cradle and turned around to look at
"You're one stupid fuck to think I'd fall for that shit. That
warrant was issued in Kingston County and as any idiot would know this
is Randall County. Leave it to my loser daughter to hire a
fucking ignoramus to try to steal MY property!"
"SHIT, LADY!" I yelled. "IT'S ONLY A PAIR OF FUCKING ROLLER
"MY FUCKING ROLLER SKATES!" she screamed back at me. She
suddenly calmed. "Now, I bet if I smack my face into the wall
a few times, when the cops get here I can get you arrested for
assault..." She smiled, and I jumped as she suddenly
screamed, "AND WATCH YOU ROT IN FUCKING PRISON!"
I had enough presence of mind to move toward her. She
flinched, which gave me the only little thrill I got that day, because
she obviously thought that if I was going to get blamed for beating her
up, I might as well do it. But all I was interested in was
plan B, which I did NOT want falling into the hands of the
police. I snatched it from her hand and started beating a
"AND IF YOU THINK ANY COP WILL FIND DOPE IN MY HOUSE AFTER THIS, YOU
STUPID FUCK, YOU'RE EVEN MORE IGNORANT THAN YOU LOOK!"
Muttley figured out that it was time to bark, but I made it out the
back door before he could do anything more than that.
Saint George—still zip.
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