The Holmes Files - Roller Skate Roundup
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I was sitting at my desk, wishing that the AC worked and that the
wheezing fan that was feebly wafting air in my direction wasn't as old
as I felt. It was hot, and it's always hotter when you don't
have anything to do.
I'm Bob, I'm a private eye. I'm a good one, too, but that
doesn't mean lots of people know it. The few who notice
manage to pay the bills, but I'm not living the high life, if you know
what I mean. And, of course, I have this soft spot for good
people in a bad fix. I usually didn't get any money from
those jobs. I felt good...but good feelings don't pay the
rent, if you know what I mean.
The faded brown paper on the walls of my ratty office seemed to press
in on me, like in that play, The Haunting of Hill House. It
was kind of creepy, and I'd just decided to take a little walk and see
if there was some breeze out in the twilight, when I saw a dark
silhouette appear in the pebbled glass pane of the door.
I watched the latch turn and rested my hand on the .45 holstered on my
I've pissed off a lot of people in the past.
But it wasn't some husband I'd caught with his fingers in the wrong
honey pot. Nor was it a businessman I'd caught fleecing his
customers, and put out of business. Nor was it any number of
people I'd arranged to get the goods on for a lawsuit of some kind.
It was a dame.
She was a strange one. I could tell that
immediately. Her hairdo was the first obvious clue.
Young, maybe in her mid twenties, she was a mixture of conflicting
signals. Her hair was two shades of red. The
majority of it was maybe an eighth of an inch long and almost black,
but there were long bangs and what my sister used to call dog ears that
were a deep red tint. The bangs were swept to one side and
fell casually down across her right cheek. Her features were
elfin. Her nose looked like it had been transplanted from an
older woman, onto the face of a teenager in a world where acne just
didn't exist. The skin on her cheeks looked as soft and pale
as a baby's butt, and it was obvious she didn't spend a lot of time in
Her body was all woman, though. She didn't have so much up
top, but it was all relative, since what she did have looked delicious
in the thin tank top she was wearing. She wasn't wearing a
bra, and it was obvious, even in the heat. A tattoo made up
of blues and greens in some intricate design—not the sissy
kind of small tattoo a college girl gets, thinking she's being
adventurous—covered most of one shoulder.
Jeans, below the tank top, encased hips a guy could grab onto if he was
in the middle of a wild, passionate ride. Below the jeans I
could see the tops of something that looked suspiciously like military
style jump boots. It didn't look like they'd stomped anybody
recently, but she gave the impression of being able to take care of
herself. I just knew this woman owned a leather
jacket. She looked like a biker babe, or maybe a bull
dyke...except that she didn't.
Lots of adjectives sprang to mind.
Odd…strange...even bizarre...but overlaying them all was the
noun those words were helping to describe. That noun was
"stone fox," as crazy as that sounds, based on what I've described.
It was strange, and she was interesting before she ever said a word.
She came in and just stood there, looking at me. Those bangs
had fallen forward to cover one eye, and the other one looked a little
wary, which made me want to laugh. I wasn't tempted in any
way, shape or form to fuck with this little beauty. She had
an air about her that said she should be wearing one of those t-shirts
that says, “Here comes trouble.”
"What can I do for you?" I asked, my voice neutral. For some
reason I thought that coming on too strongly, or speaking too loudly,
would make her leave.
"I'm not sure," she said.
Man...what a voice. High...youthful...the kind of voice you
want to have somebody read you something really long in.
Maybe something like War and Peace.
"That could make things difficult," I tossed off. "Why don't
you have a seat and we'll see if we can figure it out."
She looked around and her eye came back to me. She
I'm not all that much to look at. Not like back in the good
old days, when I was a stud. While in my mind I still FEEL
young, the stud kind of wore off of the outside over the
years. I have a little gut these days. All that
working out I did in the past kept my muscles firm, but didn't do much
to prevent some weight falling out of the sky and landing on
me. I grew a beard to cover up the double chin, and kept it
when people said it made me look dangerous.
"I have a problem," she said softly.
"I'm in the problem solving business," I said.
"You're not what I expected," she said, still not sitting down.
"You either need a problem solver, or you don't," I said.
"Doesn't much matter what one looks like...you know?"
Only the decrepit fan made any noise for a few seconds, and then she
finally sat down.
"Tell me about your problem," I suggested.
"Somebody has something of mine and won't give it to me," she said.
"And you want me to go get it?"
"Do you do that kind of thing?"
"Depends," I said. I reached in the bottom drawer of my desk
and pulled out a bottle of Scotch.
"I don't drink," she said.
Now THAT was an eye opener. She looked like she could drink
just about any man under the table and then take on the women in the
"I don't believe I offered you a drink," I said, smiling.
"It would be rude for you to drink without offering me something too."
"You already said you don't drink."
"My father had...problems...with alcohol," she said.
That was something I would learn about her in the next days and
weeks. She had this way of asserting her own moral code on
others. It wasn't blatant, and she wasn't judgmental about
it. But even when you first met her you just wanted to make
her happy. It was almost spooky, later on, but I had my first
experience of it within five minutes of meeting her.
I put the bottle back in the bottom drawer and closed it. I
looked up and saw something like satisfaction in her eye, though I
don't think she was aware of it.
"What is this something someone has?" I asked.
She blushed then. It was quick and it was obvious.
Her fair skin glowed like it was going to catch fire, but it didn't
"It's a pair of roller skates," she said softly.
"Roller skates." I'm sure my voice sounded flat.
"Yes. They're special to me."
"You mean like clamped on?" I was remembering what roller
skates were like when I was growing up in the fifties. They'd
clamp on to a regular pair of shoes, and you tightened them with a
roller skate key.
"No." She looked confused for a second. "They're
white leather, with red wheels."
"Oh, OK," I said. "Like you'd rent at a roller rink."
"Uh huh, except I've never seen skates at the rink that had red wheels."
I thought about that for a short minute.
"So let me get this straight," I said. "You want me to get
your roller skates back. Who has them?"
She blushed again. She was exceedingly cute when she blushed.
"Your mother." My voice was flat. I was beginning
to think I was being made the butt of a practical joke.
"She's kind of a horrible woman," said my visitor.
"I can just imagine," I said, letting some sarcasm leach into my
voice. "I mean what kind of woman holds her little girl's
roller skates hostage? Maybe you should call her more
often. I hear mothers like that, and get testy when their
kids neglect them."
Her face got tight and that flawless skin got a bit pinker.
"If you won't help me, just say so!" she snapped. She had a
temper, this one did.
"Five hundred a day, plus expenses," I said. I have to admit
I said it somewhat smugly. That ought to get rid of my little
She stared at me and that pretty little jaw dropped. She had
good teeth. I wondered what that dainty tongue of hers would
feel like dueling with mine. I'm a pervert. I admit
it. She looked strange, but she was also cute in a
pants-tightening kind of way.
"FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS A DAY?!" she squealed. "YOU'RE INSANE!"
"I'm not insane," I said calmly. "That's my price.
I mean who knows how dangerous this could be. I have to go up
against a truly monstrous woman here. That much is
obvious. Your mother is most certainly a diabolical miscreant
to withhold something so important as...your freaking roller skates!"
Her jaw pulled back up, only to jut forward, and storm clouds gathered
on her face. She didn't blush this time, but her cheeks
suddenly looked like a little girl who had gotten into her mother's
"Norm said you'd help me," she snorted. "He said you were a
good guy." She looked at me like I was some kind of
bug. The effect of looking down her nose at me was marred by
the fact that the nose was bent a little bit. "Obviously he
"Norman Bidwell," she said, finally starting to turn.
"How the hell do you know Norman Bidwell?" I asked. Norm was
a professional photographer who had hired me to recover five thousand
dollars worth of wedding photographs paid for with a check that bounced
all the way to Milwaukee. The groom thought he was special
because he was a lower level mobster type. He had no idea
that I'd done some work for some of the heavyweights in his "company"
and that I could arrange it for them to be embarrassed if the story got
out to certain parties. Somewhat ironically, the mob has a
very strict code of ethics. You can steal somebody blind, but
you never welsh on a deal. I hope he had a nice honeymoon,
cause when he got back he owed his bosses five grand...with
interest. I figured Norm would rather have the money than a
bunch of pictures.
I know what you're thinking. What kind of self respecting
gumshoe deals with the mob? The kind who has bills to pay,
that's what kind. Get over it. They're out there
and they have money. I don't do their dirty work.
Even mobsters have legitimate needs sometimes, and pursue them in
legitimate ways. Call it networking. Besides,
knowing the right people can get you a lot farther than standing on
your principles or yelling about how holy thou art.
Anyway, Norm did mostly portrait work, and this little slice of
happiness wasn't really the sort who looked like she'd be comfortable
in front of a camera.
She paused on her way to the door. "I did his website, and
when I told him about the problem with my mother, he said he knew
somebody who was good at that sort of thing. I'm sorry you
wasted my time."
Man, that girl could pout. She could give lessons.
"Website," I said. I was no longer convinced this was one of
Vinny's crazy schemes to give me a hard time.
"I'm a web designer," she said tightly. She
blinked. "Do YOU have a website?" I could see the
wheels and gears turning in her head.
"Me?" I laughed. "What the hell would I do with a
"Generate business?" she asked sweetly. Too
sweetly. "Oh...I forgot...you're not interested in
business. You'd rather laugh at people with problems and
commit highway robbery against them."
"Don't get your panties in a wad," I said. "I thought you
were jerking my chain, that's all."
She looked down that nose at me again. "Your...chain...is all
I'd think about jerking," she said archly.
"Toucheee," I said, grinning. "That's French, you
know. They speak a lot of that in Paris."
Her smile was grim. "Not only are you lazy and insolent, you
can't even pronounce touché. You're a sad excuse
for a private detective, Mr. Holmes.”
Yes, it's true, Holmes is my last name. Ironic,
huh? Not that there were any Sherlocks in my family
tree. It was just dumb luck. I figured "Holmes
Private Investigation Agency" would look good on a door and generate
some business. The irony of that was that most people didn't
make the connection between the great detective and my name.
She didn't make my last name sound ironic, though. She made
it sound like it was a dirty word. It stung. I DO
have a reputation, and it's not all that bad.
"Look," I sighed. "Maybe we got off on the wrong
foot. I've got this friend named Vinny and he likes to pull a
fast one on me sometimes. I thought maybe that was what this
was about. Apparently, I was in error. I wouldn't
want you to get the wrong idea about me."
"You have a friend named Vinny?" she asked innocently. "And
he likes to...pull things...on you? How cute." She
had the beginnings of a smile on those lush lips. Not only
could she pout, she was pretty good at innuendo, too, much to my
"Jokes," I said quickly. "He likes to play jokes on
me. I thought maybe he sent you in here as a joke."
"It's no joke," she said, her voice suddenly serious.
"Well, think about it," I suggested. "How often do you think
I hear something like you told me? I mean most people could
manage to get a childhood toy away from their aging parents.
Cut me a little slack here, OK?"
"It's not like that," she said, pouting again. "This isn't a
simple childhood toy. Those skates were a major part of my
I found myself thinking about what I would have tried to make a major
part of her adolescence, if I'd been a boy her age when she was coming
into the blush of womanhood. I would have loved to help her
become a woman. As a matter of fact, I was distinctly
interested in reminding her she was a woman right now.
I pushed those thoughts aside. I operated—probably
too often—on gut instinct and my gut instinct liked
her. She had spunk. Not as much, though, as she'd
have if I got my way... Oops. There I went
fantasizing again. I suddenly wished I'd poured some of that
scotch, her sensibilities notwithstanding.
"Tell you what," I said. "Let's try this again. Hi,
I'm Bob. What can I do for you Miss..."
"Powers," she said softly. "Veronica Powers."
"Well, Ronnie," I said, gesturing at the chair. "How can I
"Nobody calls me Ronnie," she said.
Man, this woman was prickly. I didn't want her to think she
could call all the shots though.
"I do," I said. "I'll give you a discount. How's
"I can't afford what you charge," she said. "Even with a
discount," she added.
"Let's worry about that after we've talked. Right now I'd
like to hear about these roller skates that were the centerpiece of
your teenage years, and why your mother would want to keep you from
"I don't know," she said hesitantly. I knew that wasn't a
direct response to what I'd said. What she didn't know was
whether she could put up with me or not.
I decided to throw out a line and see if she'd bite.
"I can get them for you," I said.
She wavered for another fifteen seconds, then she sat back down.
I should have known that the relief I felt when she decided to stay
should have been a big, red flag in my mind.
I was too busy watching those luscious breasts of hers jiggle when her
butt hit the chair, though.
She reached in the back pocket of the jeans she was wearing.
I suddenly noticed that she wasn't carrying a purse. That
should have been the first thing I noticed about her. I was
getting careless. She pulled out a piece of paper.
"I wrote something about the skates one time," she said.
Now that was interesting. Who writes about a pair of
skates? This woman was getting more and more interesting all
"A poem?" I suggested.
"I wouldn't call it a poem," she said. She unfolded the paper
and stared at it.
"A story, then."
"I wouldn't call it a story either." She was just looking at
"Can I see it?"
She looked up at me. "I've never shown it to anybody."
"But you carry it around with you."
You've had those moments in life where suddenly something became
starkly clear in your mind. You suddenly get it.
There's a fancy word for it—epiphany—which most
people don't use. But I had one just then. These
roller skates, something so simple and childlike, were VERY important
to this woman. As odd as that seemed on the surface of
things, it was crystal clear that this was serious, and nowhere near a
"Sometimes," she said.
"I'd really like to see it," I said softly. "Anything that
might help me sally forth into battle and find victory is something of
unadulterated interest to me."
She tilted her head at me. "Nobody talks like that, Mr.
I shrugged. "I do...sometimes. I guess it just
depends on how motivated I am. And I'd appreciate it if you
called me Bob. Now, are you going to let me see that, or do I
have to throw you out of here like the bum you think I am?"
She laughed! I felt a rush of irritation as she actually
laughed at me.
But then she sat back down and, haltingly, she extended the
paper. I leaned forward and plucked it from her fingers,
before she decided to be coy again.
It only covered a quarter of the page. It wasn't long, but it
was magical, somehow. The first line was almost eerie,
because it validated what I was feeling for this cutie pie.
And from there it just grabbed the reader and transported him...me...to
a place that was shining with golden light all around, but which also
had shadows. Those shadows held menace, a clear and present
danger to the happiness of the place I was in as I read what she'd
written. Those shadows were like pebbles on the flat surface
someone skates on, which can jam up a wheel and end you up with scraped
up elbows and knees.
Hell, I'm rambling on about what I was reading. You'll
understand much better if you just read it yourself. Here is
what was on that paper:
White Leather Roller Skates With Red Wheels
I am the kind of woman people are drawn to. I have charm and charisma.
I have grace and style. But if you ask me to tell you something
important about myself, I will say—When I was twelve years
old, I had a pair of white leather roller skates with red wheels. I
used them to race, I used them to run. I used them to capture the
imaginations of neighborhood boys. In black skinny leg jeans, before I
got hips and I was afraid I would always be TOO skinny, and a green and
white checkered shirt tied at the waist, I would skate for hours.
Gliding over smooth blacktop, free from gravity and one with motion.
And I would smile at the boys that passed by. Even in my freckle-faced,
tomboy, spending more time in hospitals and doctor's offices than out,
awkward youth, I had charm and charisma. I had grace and style.
I kept those skates glimmering white, the wheels forever ketchup red.
The day I learned to skate backwards was a great personal victory. One
of those moments when you wish someone was watching, that someone else
had seen, documented, recorded, and would later verify that it had
really happened. Too many of those moments go by un-witnessed. People
watched me skate backwards hundreds of times after that, but I was
alone in that first time, that really important time, that defining
That was a bad year for me, along with a good handful of the ones that
followed, but that pair of white leather roller skates with red wheels
was a respite. They are what I choose to hold onto, a memory that I
will mention at random moments in conversation to make sure I never
forget. They are probably gathering dust in a garage somewhere
alongside numerous other tokens of my past, remnants of those happy
memories that sometimes seem scarce, but which I must fight tooth and
nail to retain. Because life is a series of moments and we must always
recognize that WE get to choose which of those moments define us. I
refuse to be defined by sadness and hurt. I will always be white
leather roller skates with red wheels.
Now you get it. When I'd finished reading that, I wanted
those roller skates, too. They represented a way to flee from
those menacing shadows in that place of golden light. I
wanted TWO pairs of them. I wanted to present hers to her,
and then put on my own, so we could skate together, whirling and
dancing away from the shadows in life.
I looked up from the page, and at its author. She had a look
of nervous anticipation on her face. She had bared a portion
of her soul to me...had taken a risk. She was waiting to see
if I laughed at her or not.
She was beautiful in a completely odd kind of way, and she had the soul
of an angel. She didn't just have spunk, she had
vision. She was wise beyond her years and I suspected she had
the key to happiness in another pocket of her jeans. All I
could think about in those few seconds was how much I wished she'd
share that key with me...open a box of happiness I could dip
I shook my head to clear it. This woman was just flat
"Interesting," I said.
Her shoulders slumped and the light went out of her eyes. I
felt like I'd just kicked a puppy.
"Fascinating," I added.
She perked back up, but only a little.
"I can understand completely why these skates are so important to you
"They are," she said, anguish in her voice.
"I can get them for you," I said, feeling like Saint George,
preparing to mount my charger and head off to find...and behead...the
"I can't afford you," she moaned.
"Yes you can," I said. I almost groaned. I hate it
when I say that. I sighed instead. "OK...so tell me
about your mother."
Veronica Powers—young, delicious, beautiful, elfin
Ronnie—looked me dead in the eye and said…
"My mother is a buttface."
She went on to tell me more about the woman who had given her
life. And, when she was finished, as odd as it might seem, I
had to admit that the first thing she said was the also the nicest
thing she said about that woman.
There are a lot of word pictures in the previous paragraphs.
The ones I would remember later were that place of shining golden
light, and Saint George and the dragon. That's because
Veronica Powers, as her name alluded to, had the power to bring that
place of golden light into the world, like Brigadoon emerging from the
mists. That would happen later...much later...but I'd
remember thinking about that as I read about the skates.
The part about Saint George and the dragon was something I'd think
about on a number of occasions in the relatively near future.
I didn't really believe in dragons...or saints either, for that
matter. Not then.
But that was before I met Ronnie Powers' mother. And let me
get this out of the way right quick… She wasn't
the saint part of that phrase.
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