Former pro wrestler "Hammerhead" Jed Ounstead, now a fully-fledged private investigator, is riding high after his first successful case. In this second episode, Jed leaves the wrestling realm to enter a new arena: women's flat-track roller derby. When old acquaintance Stormy Daze seeks his help finding her team's missing coach, Jed discovers that the turnbuckle-and-metal-chair mayhem of the wrestling ring pales in comparison to roller derby's four-wheeled ferocity.
As his search intensifies, Jed is drawn into the criminal orbit of a shady entrepreneur who doubles as a late-night TV personality, a high-class bookmaker with a yen for racing dachshunds, and a kinky painter with a special technique for producing art. When the thunder rolls, Jed finds he needs more than a few of his beloved banana milkshakes to solve this case.
Rolling Thunder continues A.J. Devlin's hard-hitting, award-winning mystery series with its unbeatable one-two punch of over-the-top-rope humour and elbow-to-the-face adventure.
|Publisher:||NeWest Publishers, Limited|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
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Two thoughts popped into my head when the three-hundred-pound woman on roller skates slapped me on the ass.
First, that she must have been skating very fast before delivering the spank as the force with which she pummeled my posterior sent shockwaves throughout my body and caused me to stumble forward, no small feat when you consider that I'm six-foot-three and weigh close to two-forty, give or take a few pounds, depending upon whether there's been a spike in my milkshake intake.
The second thought was that the sheer size of this heavyset hellion on wheels' hand was astounding, for when she delivered her vigorous blow to my buttocks, her giant meathook nearly engulfed the entire circumference of my behind.
I regained my balance and was rubbing my stinging rump when I realized what had just transpired turned a simple bum assault from a playful incident into a full blown calamity - upon impact the large, delicious, Dairy Queen banana milkshake I had been nursing flew out of my hand and splattered onto the concrete floor.
I was no longer annoyed. Now I was livid.
I heard the rolling fanny-whacker cackle riotously, her laughter echoing throughout the arena. I locked eyes with her across the track and she winked at me and blew me a kiss. I furrowed my brow and opened my mouth to let fly a string of obscenities, but before I had the chance Stephanie Danielson - aka Stormy Daze - ripped into her teammate like a tornado in a trailer park.
"Jesus Christ, Jabba!" she yelled. "What the hell is the matter with you?" Stormy turned to me and gently rubbed my arm. "Sorry, Jed. I know how much you like your milkshakes."
I stared at the banana-flavoured ice cream goodness as it continued to spill out of the cup onto the glossy grey concrete like a brother-in-arms bleeding out on the battlefield. I sighed deeply. At that moment the booty-smacking milkshake assassin completed another lap on the roller derby track.
"You got yourself some nice buns there, Butterfingers!" she hollered as she whizzed by and continued around the track for another lap.
"That's enough, Jabba!" barked Stormy, before patting my arm some more.
I finally snapped out of my milkshake mourning and focused.
"Why do you keep calling her Jabba?" I asked.
"That's her name," replied Stormy. "Jabba the Slut."
"That's not really her name."
"Yes, it is."
"So if I looked at her driver's license it would say 'Jabba the Slut?'"
"It may as well. This is roller derby, Jed. Our names are what empower us as warrior women and make us who we are. It's why, back when I used to wrestle, I was 'Stormy Daze,' but now when I hit the track I become the 'Amazombie.'"
Stormy put her hands on her hips and puffed out her chest proudly. I had met her eight months ago while unofficially working my first case. Her ex-boyfriend - and my former friend and pro-wrestling tag-team partner Johnny Mamba - had been murdered and my investigation led me to her. Although I briefly considered her a suspect in Johnny's death, it quickly became clear that she was a good woman who had loved him dearly. I'd not seen Stormy since Johnny's funeral. She left professional wrestling after Johnny died and I hadn't heard anything about her until she called the office that morning and asked to meet as soon as possible.
Stormy looked even better than I remembered, especially decked out in her roller derby gear. She was dressed in a pair of form-fitting, blue short-shorts and a red sports bra underneath a white baseball baby tee that covered her curvy chest but left her taut midsection exposed. Her blonde hair was in pigtails, the tips dyed red and blue, while her symmetrical face was painted in white and black make up, with drops of fake blood around her pouty, ruby-red lips to give her that oh-so-fashionable, sexy undead look. Finally, she wore retro knee-high striped athletic socks underneath a bedazzling pair of rainbow-coloured roller skates. With their extra three inches in height, for the first time we were standing eye to eye.
With her gaudy outfit and lean, yet feminine muscular build, she looked like a walking dead version of the Batman villainess Harley Quinn on steroids.
"Jabba the Slut and Amazombie," I said, shaking my head. "And I thought professional wrestling was overly theatrical."
"Never mind Jabba," Stormy said. "The one you really need to watch out for is 'Barracougar.' If she gets her paws on you she'll make Jabba's spank feel like a love tap."
At this point the locker room doors slammed open and over a dozen women all dolled up in different outfits and make up - and all wearing retro-style four-wheeled roller skates - charged toward the roller derby track and joined Jabba the Slut for warm-up laps. Stormy escorted me out of their way as they attacked the track with the ferociousness of rabid wolverines. Hoots, hollers, and war cries were spit out with both confidence and vitriol, and by the time I wrapped my head around the unusual sight before me, Stormy had guided me over to the players' bench and taken a seat. She tapped the hard plastic and motioned for me to sit. I slowly eased my aching bottom onto the unforgiving surface and joined her, still transfixed by the colourful swarm of skaters rolling around the track at varying speeds.
"You guys dress up like this for every practice?" I asked.
"No, usually only for games" replied Stormy. "But today as a sort of a dress rehearsal." I nodded as Stormy continued. "So how about I tell you why I really asked you here."
"You mean it wasn't for an enormous woman on wheels named after a Star Wars villain to beat my ass like a rented mule?"
She smiled briefly before reaching out and squeezing my hand.
"I need your help, Jed." She waved her other glittery-gloved hand toward the roller skaters. "We need your help."
She let go of my hand and I shifted uncomfortably, my butt still stinging from Jabba the Slut's powerful smack. I glanced around the modest arena, a multi-purpose facility in the Greater Vancouver suburb of Coquitlam that, when not chockfull of estrogen-charged roller-skating maniacs, was used for indoor soccer, box lacrosse, and ball hockey. Numerous purple and gold banners hung from the rafters, all sporting different years of championships won by the Coquitlam Adanacs, the local lacrosse club. I tried to ignore my aching rump and looked Stormy in the eyes.
"What can I do for you, Stormy?"
"We want to hire you."
"You're a real detective now, right?"
"Private investigator. And yes, I am, on a provisional basis until I log enough hours."
"Good. I told the girls I was pretty sure you were legit. After what you did for Johnny it didn't matter to me, but a few of the ladies insisted we hire a professional. I told them I knew just the guy."
"Hire me for what?
"Our coach is missing. We're all a bit concerned, plus we have playoffs coming up and the team is nervous to take to the track without him."
"Has he ever disappeared for periods of time before?" I asked.
Stormy shook her head emphatically. "Not once. He lives for derby. He would never flake out like this."
"Can you think of any reason why he would leave town?"
Stormy let out a beleaguered sigh. "Well, maybe. You see, there are some rumours about him ..."
"What kind of rumours?"
"You think he might be in some trouble?"
Stormy shrugged. "I'm not sure. A couple times a guy with really big muscles came around to our practices and he and Larry would go off and have a chat. And one time Vicky Von Doom swears she heard some shouting."
"Larry, that's your coach's name?"
"Yes, but only I call him Larry. He goes by Lawrence. Lawrence of O'Labia."
It took everything I had not to facepalm my hand.
"His real name, Stormy."
"His first name really is Lawrence. O'Labia is his derby name. I don't know his last name. Pippi Longstompings would know." Stormy slipped her index fingers into opposite sides of her mouth and let out a high-pitched sound so piercing you would have thought it came from a steam whistle. "Yo! Pip! Get over here."
A short, stout, woman with fire truck red hair hopped off the track and skated over to us. Her long pigtails flapped in the air behind her and, as she rolled closer, I noticed she had her face painted with over-the-top freckles the size of dimes.
"What's up, Cap?" she asked, before wiping perspiration from her brow with her matching red wristband.
"Pippi Longstompings, I'd like to introduce you to 'Hammerhead' Jed Ounstead. He's the investigator we're hiring," said Stormy as we both rose from the bench.
Pippi sniffed, wiped her palm on her shorts, and stuck out a stubby arm. I nodded and shook her hand.
"Nice to meet you, Jed. Think you can find Lawrence?" she asked.
"I know I can, but I need a surname to get started."
"That's it, man."
I looked to Stormy for help but she just stared blankly back at me. Behind both Stormy and Pippi the rest of the team had started chanting while stretching and continuing to skate laps on the track. Jabba the Slut led them in the cheer.
"I'm the queen!" Jabba screamed.
"You're gonna die!" answered the team.
"Cross my path?" Jabba screeched again.
"You're gonna fly!" echoed the roller derby women.
The ladies then broke into more whooping and war cries. I looked back and forth between Stormy and Pippi as my frustration bubbled up from within.
"Look, I want to help you guys. But I'm getting a little irritated here. My ass hurts like hell, my milkshake is history, and I've got whiplash from trying to keep up with all of your different roller derby names. I just need Lawrence's legal surname."
Pippi Longstompings looked stunned and glanced at Stormy before looking back at me.
"It really is Kunstlinger. I've seen it on his driver's license."
"Lawrence Kunstlinger," I said, my voice tinged with disbelief.
"I think it's a German name," added Stormy.
I took a deep breath and glanced over at what was left of my banana milkshake. It had almost completely melted.
"Okay, then," I said.
"Thanks, big guy," chirped Pippi cheerily, before pulling a mouth guard from her shorts pocket and popping it between her teeth. She skated off and back onto the track to rejoin the other players.
"Do you have a picture of Lawrence?" I asked Stormy. She pulled out a black-and-white booklet and a pen from her back pocket.
"This is the program from our last game. It has pictures of Lawrence and the team and all of our bios inside. I glanced at the cover illustration of an anthropomorphic taco and a buff babe, both grappling one another while on roller skates. The large retro font read: TACO KICKERS VS. SPLIT-LIP SALLIES and underneath the date, venue, ticket pricing, team website, and Facebook page were all listed.
"Please tell me your team isn't the 'Taco Kickers,'" I pleaded.
Stormy giggled softly. I had forgotten how silky smooth her laugh was.
"We are not," she said.
"All right. I think I have enough to get started."
"I checked the rates on your website and I have a cheque in my purse for the retainer," she said. "Just hold on a second while I go to the locker room."
"Don't worry about that now. Besides, you're an old friend, so that means I'll charge you the friends-and-family rate our agency offers. Let's see what I can dig up first before we talk payment."
Stormy seemed relieved.
"Thank you, Jed. It took a lot for me to convince the entire team to go in on a private detective."
"How long has Lawrence been missing?"
"The last any of the girls heard from him was a week ago. He sent out an email to the team and since then no one has been able to get a hold of him. All calls go straight to voicemail."
"Do you have his phone number?"
Stormy plucked the program out of my hand and scribbled on the booklet.
"That's Lawrence's cell. I wrote mine down too," she said coyly. "Call or text me anytime. And if you could keep me updated as much as possible, I would really appreciate it. The girls and I are starting to get really worried."
I nodded and folded the program in my hands. Before I could say goodbye Stormy slowly rolled forward, cocked her head to the side, and gave me a soft, seconds-long, kiss on the cheek. The rest of the Split-Lip Sallies wooed loudly from the track.
"I really appreciate this, Jed," she said, before spinning around and skating off toward her teammates. I turned and headed for the exit before my face flushed more red than the lipstick lingering on my cheek.