This is just the start of...something bigger. Well, if it's just the start, I guess that would be obvious. Sorry. It's a chapter with a couple of characters that readers of The Official Private Eye Handbook have already met. You read. I'm going to go back to working on learning how to string words together coherently.
Robin tried not to think of her father much, but usually ended up failing. She loved him and found herself surrounded by memories of their happy lives together. With his death, he had left her his saloon and all of his other worldly goods. While that bequest was certainly generous, the saloon had turned out to be as much a curse as a gift. Business wasn’t good.
“Ah still say ah don’t give a damn what ol’ Guthrie says about the humidity,” Old Man Jenkins said, walking out the front doors. “Hot is hot and there ain’t no two ways about it!”
“Take it easy, Sam,” Robin said, shielding her eyes with her hand as she followed him outside. “Guthrie’s been gone for an hour and I’m not arguing with you. Until you can do something about the weather, you might as well stop bitching about it.”
“Ah know it, darlin’,” Jenkins said with a sigh and calming himself.
“Good,” Robin told him. “Now get on home before Mary comes looking for you.”
“You’re sure you don’t want to come eat with us tonight, Robin?” Jenkins asked her. “Mary said you’re always welcome.”
“Thanks for the offer, Sam,” she said, “but I’ve got…stuff to do. I’ll be fine. Stop worrying.”
“We just…hate for you to be all alone.”
“Go home, Sam,” Robin said, giving him a push toward his car.
“You take care, girl.”
“I’ll try, Sam,” Robin said, turning to go back into the saloon, “but I gotta have fun, too.”
Staring at the lifeless room, Robin heard Sam Jenkins’ car drive off. Alone, she began clearing beer mugs and bottles from a table and watching dust fall through the last rays of the orange sunset as they shone through the windows. Slowly, she stood erect, lost in thought.
“Damn it all!” she screamed, hurling the tray of mugs and bottles into the air. “What’s the use?”
To no surprise, the glass met the floor with shattering impact and a crashing, discordant song. Robin let the plastic tray fall from her limp hand, bouncing against the floor with a dull clatter, as she turned toward the bar. Alone and despondent, her head hung low. With a great sigh, she looked toward the flashing lights of the silent jukebox, always waiting patiently for its next customer. She wondered how much money it was worth and whether she could get a better price for it by selling it separately or keeping it with the saloon.
The roar of a familiar engine reached Robin from outside, bringing other memories and a tense scowl of which she wasn’t even aware. She was sure she knew the motorcycle making that rumble and, by extension, the rider. Anger and dread welled up within her as the engine went silent to be replaced by weary footsteps in heavy boots thumping their way to her door. Her eyes fixed on the man as he pushed in through the front door. His black boots and blue denim were dusty. His ruddy face wore a three-day growth of beard and his wind-tossed blonde hair told her he still didn’t wear a helmet.
“Stark,” she snarled through clenched teeth, her arms folded across her chest, “what in the world are you doing back here?”
He stopped just inside the door, removed his mirrored sunglasses and smiled broadly as he brushed dirt from his denim jacket.
“Robin, baby,” he pleaded, “y’all sound like you ain’t happy t’see me.”
“If you want a warm greetin’, go find somebody that gives a damn about your sorry ass.”
“Sounds like y’got y’self up on the wrong side of bed, darlin’,” he told her, still trying to be charming.
“I woke up alone in bed four blasted years ago!” Robin shouted. “You were conspicuously absent!”
“Well, nobody’s perfect.”
“Some less than others,” she said, glaring as her hands moved to her hips. “What the Hell are you doing here? What do you want?”
“You’re as subtle as ever, Wilson.”
“I’m sure you think you deserve better, you self-centered son-of-a-bitch,” she said, “but there’s nothing better left for you here. Dad took you in, gave you a place to--”
“And I took off and left y’all in the lurch,” he said. “Yeah, I get it, but I’ve got a life t’live, too, y’know.”
“Right, fame and fortune,” Robin scoffed. She turned on a heel and stalked off to the bar, stomping her way across the wooden floor. “You and your guitar. HA!”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I know you,” she explained, grabbing a broom from behind the bar. “All you want is to be rich and famous.”
“Y’say that like it’s a bad thing,” he laughed.
“You don’t love the music, ass,” she told him while she swept up the broken glass. “That makes you as useful as a broken glass. You’re full of greed and you’ve got no soul, which means you can’t rock and you can’t roll.”
“Cute,” he said. “So you can make a rhyme. What’s my career matter to you?”
“Because you left here only thinking about yourself,” she said, still sweeping, “and I know that’s still what brought you back. You’re here after something, but after you left we lost the ranch. Dad worked himself to death trying to hang onto it and we still lost it! This place is all that’s left, so you might as well get back on your bike before I figure out what I want to start hittin’ you with.”
“Come on, Robin,” he pleaded again. “We had some good enough times, baby. We made some good memories.”
“Nothing that's gonna get you any free drinks.”
“Remember those jam sessions we used to have?” he asked.
“Here and out at the ranch,” she said. “Yeah I remember and keep your toothy grin to yourself.”
“You’d sing, Billy Ray’d be on the piano, I’d be on guitar and your dad…wow,” he went on. “He was always pulling out some new instrument. It seemed like he could play about anything, but he really loved that harmonica.”
“What of it?”
“He wasted his talent, y’know,” he told her. “He could’ve really done something big with that.”
“See? You don’t get it,” Robin said, stopping her sweeping to look at him again. “He was happy. He loved playing. He had fun. That isn’t a waste, ass.”
“Whatever,” he said, throwing up his hands. “Look, I just wondered what ever happened to the harmonica.”
“Your dad’s harmonica. I figured, if you knew where it was,” he said gently, “since you don’t play, that maybe I could…”
“I knew it,” Robin said angrily. “You only came here to take. Again! Of course, you couldn‘t just be here to hit me up for cash or anything. You want something of sentimental value…for nothing!”
“I didn’t say I wouldn’t be willing to give you a few bucks for it,” Stark said, flashing his shining white teeth at her again as though he couldn‘t help himself. “It’s just…like I said, good memories. That’s all.”
“Sorry, pal,” Robin said. “Climb back on the bike and hit the road. There‘s nothing else for you here.”
“Oh, come on, babe,” he persisted. “How much could your old man have left you? You gonna look around here and tell me you couldn’t use a few extra bucks?” he asked, pulling a folded wad of worn bills from his pocket and holding them up where she could see them. “Do you know where it is?”
Robin brushed some of her thick brown hair from her face and turned back toward the bar. She leaned the broom against the bar and climbed up onto the first rung of a barstool to reach over the bar and under the cash register. In the mirror behind the bar, she caught Stark leering at her butt. Turning back to face him, she smiled as her boots hit the floor. Conversely, his smile faded as he realized that, rather than a musical instrument, the silvery metal in her hand belonged to a .45 revolver.
“I should drop you right now,” she said, his hands raising defensively as she leveled the pistol at him. “You’re not gonna start badmouthing my dad.”
“Robin, j-j-just be reasonable,” he said, trying to calm her. “I didn’t mean nothing. I’m just asking about a harmonica.”
“Well, you’re outta luck.”
“C’mon, that thing’s not loaded, is it?”
Robin squeezed the trigger and fired a shot into the floor between Stark’s feet. He jumped backward, no longer in doubt that she was serious.
“Hey!” he shouted. “There’s no call for--!”
“I know what I’m doing,” Robin assured him angrily. “The next one’s gonna hurt and you might lose something you like.”
“Y’never was worried about bein’ ladylike.”
“You’re still a slimy bastard,” she retorted, cocking the pistol‘s hammer, “and the door’s right where you left it.”
“Right,” he said, putting his sunglasses on again. “See you around.”
“Better if you don’t,” she warned him.
“I’ll try to remember that,” he said, stopping in the doorway. “If you do find--”
Stark hurried outside and across the porch. Robin listened for the motorcycle’s engine to start before she lowered the gun and then for its rumble to fade away before she lowered the hammer and put the weapon on the bar. She sat on a barstool and reached into her shirt pocket to pull out the chrome and brass harmonica she always kept nearby. In the dim light of the setting sun, the simple instrument seemed to glow as she looked at it.
“Sorry, asshole,” she said as she raised the harmonica to her lips.
Robin started to play a tune that lifted her spirit, in part because it perfectly matched the music she could hear and feel inside herself. Part of her delight came from her realization that the music always seemed to flow out so smoothly despite her complete lack of formal training. She stopped playing and looked at the harmonica again, studying it for any sign that it was something special, somehow remarkable.
“He was willing to risk his hide coming here,” Robin said thoughtfully, “and even part with cash for you. That’s sayin’ a lot. Did he actually believe those stories dad used to tell when he’d get drunk and say this thing was…magic?”
She wiped the face of the chrome with her cotton shirt and looked again at its perfect shine.
“If there’s any magic in there,” she laughed, “he’d never understand it.”
She remembered an old blues tune she used to listen to with her father and started to play it perfectly. Through the saloon’s big front window she watched the sun set below the horizon and the first faint stars begin to appear in the painted sky.