I was not so much mad at Jace as I was mad at Mother Nature for changing me into a gal. I rode Cheeya hard until I cooled off a little. Then I turned him around & rode over to the hotel at Steamboat Springs like Jace had suggested. I had a private bath in a stone tank full of hot & sulfurous water from right out of the ground. After that I got my hair cut by Fritz the barber. I told him about the Cherry Tooth Paste & he sold me a small Tooth Brush & showed me how to brush my teeth. He left me to it & I stood in front of the mirror & spent about 10 minutes brushing my teeth & spitting into his basin. I used up about half the Cherry Tooth Paste that Jace had given me. I was amazed that my teeth went from black to white in no time.
When I got back to Virginia City it was 5.30 o’clock and starting to get dark. I stabled Cheeya & went straight to the International Hotel & asked for Mr. Pinkerton’s room.
I intended to present myself to my pa all cleaned up and see if that spurred his memory.
But the clerk said they had no Pinkertons registered.
I reckoned my pa and Ray had decided to stay in a cheaper place, but it was now dark & almost dinner-time, so I walked back to my boarding house up on B Street.
Mrs. Matterhorn currently has five boarders including me.
She would be riled if she knew I was a gal as she only takes male boarders & has rules against any females even visiting the house.
As I came in, the other boarders were just sitting down to supper. I started to go in to the dining room, but Mrs. Matterhorn gripped my upper arm & hauled me back out into the hall and looked me up & down.
‘Good to see you cleaned yourself up,’ she said to me after close scrutiny. ‘When I went to make up your bed today I found your sheets to be filthy. Also, did I see a bloodstain on them? You know the rules here, don’t you?’ Her eyes were narrowed at me.
‘I hurt my knee a few days ago,’ I lied. ‘It bled a little but it is better now.’
Her eyes were still narrowed into Expression No. 5: Suspicion.
‘Well,’ she said, ‘I changed the sheets and that means I will have to send two sets of yours to the Chinaman on washday. I will want extra pay for that. Two bits.’ She held out her hand, palm up.
I fished a quarter out of my pocket & gave it to her.
Then I went in & sat down at my usual place. The other boarders noticed I was clean & made me the butt of their jokes for a spell, but they are always joshing me so I ignored them as usual.
Mrs. Matterhorn is a bully cook with one of the best front yards in Virginia City. It is full of beans & squash & onions, and even a watermelon patch.
But I was not as hungry as I usually am & went up to bed without even tasting the chocolate layer cake, which is my favorite.
That night I had a bad dream.
In my dream I was riding on top of a stagecoach. I was sitting next to Robert Pinkerton, who was driving. My foster ma and pa and my original Indian ma were down below, riding inside. We were high on a winding mountain road & going too fast when something spooked the horses & they started to go over the edge of the precipice and we were falling & falling & falling & everybody was screaming, even me.
I woke up to a strange squealing sound, like a little animal caught in a trap. I realized it was me.
I lay there in a cold sweat with my heart pounding like a quartz mill stamp.
It was about 3 am, the time of night Ma Evangeline used to call the Hour of Bleak Thoughts.
There was a knock on my door.
‘P.K.?’ said Mrs. Matterhorn. ‘You got a gal in there?’
‘No, ma’am,’ I said. ‘There is just me. You can come in and see for yourself, if you like.’
‘That won’t be necessary,’ she said. ‘Just try to keep the noise down.’
I heard her footsteps going away.
I did not fall asleep for a long time, for I was plagued by many
When I woke up the next morning I could tell right away that I was too late for breakfast.
I splashed some water on my face and dressed in my normal clothes. When I went downstairs, I noticed Mrs. Matterhorn standing in the hall & watching me with narrow eyes & folded arms.
As I started along the boardwalk towards my office, I still felt low from my stagecoach-going-over-a-precipice nightmare. I was still thinking those Bleak Thoughts.
I thought, ‘I am sure that Robert Pinkerton ain’t my pa.’
Then I thought, ‘Is there even any point in me learning to be a Detective?’
And finally, ‘Why am I even alive?’
I slowed to a halt & stood there pondering the meaning of my existence. I had almost sunk into the Mulligrubs – which is a kind of bad trance – when I caught a glimpse of a man in a putty-colored plug hat standing on the boardwalk outside my office.
It was Robert Pinkerton.
I did not know what to say to him, so I said nothing.
I turned the handle & was surprised to find the door locked, as it was after 10 o’clock.
I said, ‘What have you done with Ping? Have you thrown him in jail?’
He said. ‘Who is Ping?’
I remembered I had been alone when he and Ray had burst into my office.
I said, ‘Ping is my partner.’
He said, ‘I have not seen him.’ Then he added, ‘Ye look different today.’
‘I have been to Steamboat Springs,’ I said, ‘where I was bathed, manicured, trimmed and deloused.’ I unlocked the door and went into my cold & empty Detective office.
He followed me in.
I could not think what he was doing there.
‘What are you doing here?’ I asked him.
He stared at the floor. ‘Ye must think me a wretched detective.’
I said, ‘What do you mean?’
He glanced quickly up at me, then looked down again. ‘Thirteen years ago,’ he said, ‘I was in the Black Hills of Lakota Territory. I was riding shotgun, as they say, for a stagecoach plying back and forth between Chicago and Fort Laramie.’
I looked at him sharply. He had taken off his putty-colored plug hat and was turning it in his hands. He was still staring at the floor.
‘I met an Indian lassie of about seventeen.’
Hope leapt into my throat. Could it be that he was my pa after all?
Robert Pinkerton said, ‘She was bonny and brave and I succumbed to her charms. Her name was Squats on a Stump. Nine months after we met, she popped out a wee lassie and called her Glares from a Bush.’
I started to tremble. My ma had named me Glares from a Bush and only about six living people in the Whole World knew that fact.
Not many people know that I am a girl, neither.
He added, ‘Of course, I was the one who chose my daughter’s Christian names.’
Everything went real quiet of a sudden, like someone had stuffed lint in my ears. I could not hear the thud of the quartz mills nor the tinkle of piano music from the saloon nor even the tromp of footsteps on the boardwalk outside. All I could hear was a kind of high-pitched singing, like a bat. Or an angel.
I remembered what Jace had said the day before: There is one sure way to find out. If he is your pa, then he will know what P.K. stands for.
I took a deep breath & said, ‘What were your daughter’s Christian names?’
‘Prudence Kezia,’ he said, without hesitation. ‘Prudence Kezia Pinkerton.’ His voice was kind of thick-sounding and his eyes were swimming with unshed tears. ‘Yer name is Prudence Kezia and ye’re me own wee lassie.’
Then he did a surprising thing.
He stepped forward & put his arms around me & held me tight.
I gave a start, as I do not like to be touched.
But after a moment I found I did not mind being held in a strong bear hug of a long-lost pa who had finally found his child. He rocked gently from side to side & one of his buttons pressed into my cheekbone & the woolen cloth tickled my nose. The coat smelled strongly of Lucy Hinton tobacco smoke & faintly of camphor. I felt safe & protected.
Tears welled up in my eyes, willy-nilly.
They were tears of happiness.
The loud report of a gun made us jump apart.
Ping stood in the doorway with a smoking pistol in his hand.
It was a little two-shot Deringer but it took those big .50 caliber balls.
I did not even know that my Celestial pard packed a pistol.
But apparently he did. Ping had fired the first shot into the ceiling. Now he lowered his arm so the remaining ball was aimed right at my pa’s heart.
‘Make one move to hurt P.K.,’ he snapped, ‘and I shoot you dead!’
[Don't have a clue what's going on? Start with chapter one.]
The Case of the Bogus Detective by Caroline Lawrence is the fourth P.K. Pinkerton Mystery. You can buy the first 3 real cheap HERE. And you can read the rest of this one HERE. Or just check into this blog, where I will be posting chapters weekly!