Thursday, December 08, 2016

The Case of the Bogus Detective 36

Mr. Isaac ‘Icy’ Blue was about to spot me, so I crept off the train and plunged into the crowd of people entering the Willows. I do not like seething masses of people but I let myself be carried along with the shuffling & laughing throng. I had to find somewhere to hide out until he had gone. 

At a ticket booth beside the gate, they were asking a quarter a person for admittance to the grounds and theater. I had to use the emergency coin in my medicine bag to make 25 cts for the entry fee. I thought they might baulk at the sight of a $20 gold eagle but the ticket-man accepted it without comment and made change for me at once, partly in coins, partly in dollar bills. 

I put the change back in my medicine bag and slipped it back into the neck of my yellow dress. I was surely glad I carried it around my neck. Otherwise I would be ‘broke’. 

As soon as I got through the gate I looked for a hiding place. I saw several weeping willow trees near a big white house. I ran past a sign saying the Troupe from Gilberts Melodeon was Performing 2 Shows Daily & parted the curtain of green fronds of the second nearest willow & went inside & then peeped out to see if Icy Blue was still on my tail. 

I could not see Icy, but I could see that the Willows Amusement Park was aptly named. It had lots of weeping willow trees giving cool shade on this hot Sunday noontime. I counted six pathways & two duck ponds & various grassy expanses all laid out with stalls and cages. I saw colorful throngs of people dressed in their Sunday best, including ladies in hoopskirts & parasols with children in boots & bonnets. 

Over by the white house, a little boy of about 8 years old was walking up and down the line, calling out in a piping voice. ‘Get em here! All your favorite entertainers. Lotta Crabtree! Minnehaha! Martin the Wizard! Little Jennie Worrell, with or without her sisters! The California Pet! Dressed as a boy or dressed as a girl!’

This last statement caught my ear. A girl dressed as a boy sounded even more interesting than a Giant Chicken. 

I waited about 10 minutes, and when I was sure Icy Blue had not entered the Willows Amusement Park, I parted the draping green willow branches & ventured across the grass to where the boy stood with a various photographic cards hung around his neck.  

‘Help you, Miss?’ he said. 

‘Is that the California Pet a girl dressed as a boy?’ I asked, pointing to one of the photographic cards on his board. 

‘Yup, that is the California Pet,’ he said. ‘That one shows her blacked up as a minstrel singer,’ he added.

I examined the two cards showing the ‘California Pet’. I could not believe it: here in Frisco a girl could wear trowsers & get paid to do it! Then I saw a card of an Indian girl. She wore a tight buckskin top & puffy embroidered skirt with leggings & moccasins & she had long wavy black hair with an eagle feather in it. On the border underneath, someone had written Minnehaha.

I pulled out two quarters they had given me as change and bought a photographic card of the California Pet dressed as a young man and also a photographic card of Minnehaha.

‘Where can I see this California Pet?’ I asked the boy. ‘Is she performing with Gilbert’s Melodeon in that white house?’

‘She was here last week but she has gone to Sac City,’ he said. ‘But you can see Minnehaha. She is right over there on the other side of the pond. Look for her Medicine Show wagon.’

I looked where he was pointing & saw something colorful showing between the willows on the other side of a duck pond. It was a small yellow and blue platform like the outdoor stage of a music hall. It had red curtains. Behind it I could see a wagon and a dun horse tethered nearby. I put my 2 photographic cards in my neck pouch and started towards Minnehaha’s show. I kept a sharp lookout in case Mr. Icy Blue had come in by another entrance, but I saw only ladies rolling tenpins on a smooth grassy pitch & men popping pistols at a shooting gallery & children riding ‘Flying Horses’ round & round a carousel. 

At last I found myself standing in on green grass in front of a small stage with a wooden frame & the words Minnehaha’s Famous Indian Medicine Show above & red velvet curtains either side. On the stage was the girl from the photographic card wearing exactly the same outfit of tight buckskin top & puffy embroidered skirt & an eagle feather in her glossy, wavy hair. Minnehaha had a gun belt slung around her hips with cartridge holders and holsters containing a pair of Smith & Wesson’s No. 2 with ivory grips. And she kept reaching into a leather shoulder bag making a throwing motion with her arm. 

She was throwing knives! 

She was facing a big wheel like a giant target with a spread-eagled man strapped to it. The wheel was revolving & the crowd was cheering as she threw those knives at him. Some of them were striking only inches from his head & limbs! 

I was impressed. So was the crowd. They clapped & cheered.

When the Indian girl had thrown all her knives, she turned the disc so the spread-eagled man was right side up & she unstrapped him and helped him down & she curtsied to him & he laughed & wiped his forehead with his handkerchief & bowed to the applauding crowd. Minnehaha presented him with a hawk feather for bravery & a signed photographic card of herself as everybody cheered again. 

For her next act, she got people to throw tin cans up into the air & she shot holes in them with her pistols & never missed once. 

I was entranced & watched until the end of her show. When she had taken her ‘curtain calls’ she jumped down off the stage & passed through the crowd with an empty quiver instead of a hat. I saw people dropping coins in. When she got to me she winked. 

Danged if I did not put in a whole greenback, willy-nilly! 

I wandered off in a kind of daze. 

My ears were still ringing from the gunshots & my mind was spinning with the revelation that here in California, gals could wear buckskin and/or trowsers in public! I looked up at the blue sky, which was softer than the hard desert sky of Virginia City. The sun warmed me all over, neither too hot nor too cold. I could smell flowers & grass & I even saw a butterfly flutter by. 

I thought, ‘Maybe Frisco is the place for me.’

Then I thought, ‘If I lived here, I could dress like a boy. Or an Indian. Or both!’

And finally, ‘I could set up a detective agency here, now that I have burned my bridges back in Virginia City.’

That reminded me of my mission. I needed to make my way back to the Occidental hotel and search Violetta’s room for evidence that would get me off the hook.

I had almost reached the western exit of The Willows when I saw a cage full of monkeys and next to it what appeared to be a giant chicken in his own cage! He had long grayish brown feathers & a black neck & orange eyes. There were some women & children tossing it pieces of bread pulled from a fine white loaf. 

I pushed forward to have a better look. 

I looked at the Emeu and the Emeu looked at me. He seemed to be smiling. 

I thought, ‘You are a Misfit like me. But you seem to like it here, too. Maybe Frisco is the place for Misfits.’

Then I got that prickly feeling I get when someone is spying on me. I looked past the giant emeu chicken through the bars of the cage & the pale green willow branches, and I saw two figures. One of them was in black and one in a blue uniform. The one in black wore a pair of round blue goggles beneath a black bowler hat. 

It was Icy Blue, and he had found a policeman.

They were heading my way with purpose & intent!

[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!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Case of the Bogus Detective 35

I had just spotted my mortal enemy, Mrs. Violetta de Baskerville from Carson City. 

My head was spinning with questions & my heart was full of exclamation points!!!

But I did not have time to ponder the implications for I suddenly realized what the commotion was at the back of the church. 

It was a man in a rose-pink stovepipe hat and droopy gray mustache. He was flanked by two uniformed policemen. 

The gray-mustached man was pointing at me with a silver-tipped walking stick.

‘Seize that kid in the brown greatcoat!’ cried the man. ‘He is wanted for theft and possibly murder!’ 

Everyone turned to look at me, including Mrs. Violetta de Baskerville. 

My lightning-quick reflexes made me flip up the collar of my greatcoat & pull my head into it like a turtle in his shell: I did not want her to identify me. 

Men were shouting & women were screaming & hands were reaching out to grab me.

I did not hesitate. 

I took the only way out I could. I ran forward at a crouch & leapt up onto the stage & nipped between the open-mouthed hymn singer & wide-eyed Rev. Starr King & found a door near the organ at the back. It led into a little back room that Methodists would have called a ‘vestry’. (I do not know what Unitarians called their little back rooms.)

I looked around the small dim space for some means of escape. 

Then I spotted it: a door in a corner. 

I ran to it & opened it & saw a sunlit churchyard promising Freedom! 

But just as I was starting through that door, I was pulled up sharp by a fist grasping the turned up collar of my greatcoat.  

‘Got you!’ cried a man’s voice. 

I did not wait to see if it was the man in the rose-pink stovepipe hat or one of the policemen or the Reverend Starr King himself. 

I writhed out of my greatcoat like that certain young man in Mark chapter 14 and verse 52, who left his garment in the hands of the soldiers at Gethsemane. 

Bareheaded, and clad only in that danged daffodil-yellow dress and my girly-girl button-up boots, I burst into the brilliant Sunday morning. I whizzed across the green grass of the churchyard & I lifted up my yellow skirts & vaulted a low, wrought-iron fence. Out on the street now, I ran like a boy. My arms were pumping and my knees almost touching my chin as I pelted through the streets of San Francisco. Without even stopping to get my bearings, I swerved south & raced along the sidewalk, then veered west down a shaded alley between two lofty brick buildings. 

I modified my run to a fast walk so as not to attract attention. 

About a block on, I passed a girl who had removed her pink poke bonnet to fiddle with the ribbon. I am sorry to confess I snatched it from her fumbling fingers. I needed to cover up my short & boyish hair, which was a dead giveaway. 

(The glimpse I got of her startled face and round gray eyes has now been imprinted on my memory like an ambrotype.)

‘Sorry!’ I called as I tied the ribbon under my chin & burst into a fresh sprint. Now that I was bonnetted, I tried running like a girl, with my arms clamped to my sides & my hands bent at the wrists with fingers splayed out & palms facing the ground. The green flounces sewn to my waistband were flapping like half a dozen dog tongues.

Tip-tap, tip-tap, tip-tap! went my button-up boots on the sidewalk. 

By and by I found myself on a wide & crowded street that cut across the normal grid of city streets. I reckoned it was one of the main thoroughfares of San Francisco. 

Once again, I forced myself to walk, not run; I did not want to turn heads and thus draw attention to myself. Straight ahead, I saw the rear end of an omnibus just moving off. There were people inside & also up on top. 

I did a fast walk to catch up & was now glad of my tippy-tap boots for they went with my girly outfit. I hopped up onto the back of the omnibus just as it was gathering speed. 

A man in a uniform was selling tickets. I had pulled out my medicine bag & was fishing in it for my book of tickets, when the ticket-taker pushed me through the door.

‘Better get inside, Missy,’ he said, patting my pink poke bonnet. ‘Your folks will be wondering where you got to.’ 

Gratefully, I plunged into the crowded carriage & squished past people in their Sunday Best. The omnibus seemed longer than normal ones and there were stairs to the roof in the middle. When I reached the far end I was surprised to find another carriage hooked to mine!

I took a big step over to the next car & pushed through the throng & went up the stairs of the second omnibus & found more people sitting on the roof. I was astonished to see big puffs of white steam rising up from the black smoke stack. 

I was not riding an omnibus. 

I was riding a steam-powered railroad car disguised as an omnibus! 

As a cloud of steam dispersed, I looked back to see if I was still being pursued. 

From my lofty vantage point atop the train, I saw a group of four men standing a few blocks back by the alley from which I had emerged only moments before. They were gesturing & looking around. I was glad of the stolen bonnet, for it hid my face. I could see the man with the rose-pink stovepipe hat & the 2 uniformed policemen. Then I spotted someone else, viz. – a white-faced man in black with little round blue goggles. 

My heart jumped like a jackass rabbit. It was Icy Blue, stagecoach conductor for the Overland stage! 

As I sat down in the last free seat up there on the top deck of the street train, I thought I saw him turn his little blue goggles in my direction. 

Had he spotted me?

I prayed not!

The seats on that street train did not face forward. They faced sideways so you could watch buildings slide by & see right into the upstairs windows. I sat there facing the buildings and not daring to move. By and by the buildings got smaller & sparser & there were more sand dunes and trees. As we went up hill and down, I pondered my revelation and my predicament. 

My revelation was this: Mrs. V.F. von Vingschplint was my mortal enemy, Violetta de Baskerville. 

My predicament was this: I was a fugitive in black button-up boots, a daffodil-yellow dress & pink poke-bonnet. Most of my money & my bogus pa’s revolver & his Meerschaum pipe & my ledger book & pencil stubs had been in the pockets of my abandoned greatcoat. I feared I would never get them back. Thank goodness I had the medicine bag which I always wear around my neck. I patted myself below the neck and felt the reassuring bulge. It contained my Muff Deringer, 5 spare rimfire cartridges, 3 Lucifers, my original ma’s flint knife, a silk butterfly, a $20 gold coin & my real pa’s Detective Button. 

‘You going to see the emeu?’ said the man sitting next to me. 

‘Emeu?’ I said. 

‘Why, yes!’ he said. It is an exotic bird. It looks like a chicken but is as big as a man. 

He recited, ‘Oh, say, have you seen at the Willows so green, so charming and rurally true, A singular bird, with a manner absurd, which they call the Australian Emeu?

‘No,’ I said. ‘I have never seen this Australian Emeu nor even heard of one until today.’ 

When the steam train disguised as an omnibus reached the end of the line about 10 minutes later, everybody piled off and headed for a gate by a white picket fence with a big sign above it that read: 

The Willows Amusement Park

Although I was intrigued by the prospect of a Giant Australian Chicken, I decided to stay on the street train for its return journey. I needed to get back to the Occidental Hotel & search room 202 for evidence to prove Violetta had plotted against me. 

But then I saw a sight that gave me the fantods. 

It was an albino man dressed all in black and wearing little round blue goggles. He was riding a big roan gelding up the street. 

Had Mr. ‘Icy’ Blue spotted me atop the street train? Or was he just acting on instinct? 

Either way, I had to get away from him! 

[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!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Case of the Bogus Detective 34

Dawn broke as San Francisco came into view across a sheet of pearly water. The rising sun lit up its forest of ship masts & made the city beyond look fresh & roseate. 

My dear departed foster pa, the Rev. Emmet Jones – may he rest in peace – once told me that San Francisco was the Devil’s Playground. As if to prove my pa wrong, the church bells of Frisco started pealing in a joyous fashion the moment I stepped off the steamer Antelope and onto the wooden jetty. It was as if the town was saying ‘This ain’t the Devil’s Playground; this is a God-fearing place!’

Then I remembered it was Sunday and the bells were merely announcing early morning church services. I saw that the ‘Broadway Wharf’ was full of people & baggage & traps & drays & omnibuses. Beyond the wharf lay a hilly town with scattered buildings & houses & even a windmill or two up on the highest points. The sky was blue and the air was mild and the sun had a kind of sparkle to it. 

I saw a 2-horse omnibus waiting on the wharf. It had an advertisement for the What Cheer House on it! Because I was the only person not waiting for baggage to be unloaded, I got the best place: right at the front where I could see the driver & horses & the city. It only cost 5 cts for a ticket. I got a book of 6 tickets for a quarter, thus saving 5 cts.

Soon the omnibus was filled up with people. The conductor pulled a cord which made a ding-ding

He said, ‘Hold on!’ so I held on to a green-painted metal bar at the front. The driver flicked the horses’ reins & we were off. We clopped south over boards at first & then onto a wooden street called ‘Davis’ between brick warehouses. By and by we turned west on a wide street called ‘Washington’ which had two story buildings made of stone, and when the conductor dinged the bell and told us ‘Montgomery!’ I got off. 

This was the biggest street yet with fancy white buildings & street-level shop signs in gold paint on wood & awnings as colorful as the people who strolled on the sidewalks below them. 

I found the Occidental Hotel with no problems as it was about a block long and four stories tall with each window like a little Greek temple and also some statues of naked ladies above the entrance. I saw some high-tone men & women coming out. 

The women had big hats & little parasols. The men had silver-headed walking sticks & shiny black stovepipe hats. But then I saw a man in a plug hat going in. He did not look as high-tone as the others and this gave me courage. I took a deep breath and followed him in. I found myself in a luxurious lobby with chandeliers & ferns in brass pots & big leather chairs to sit in.  

The man in the plug hat was striding purposefully across a Turkey carpet towards a big mahogany counter with a man in a Magenta-colored uniform standing behind. I hurried to catch up and then listened hard, to hear how it was done. 

‘Is Mr. Potts residing here?’ asked the man in the Plug Hat. 

‘Yes, sir,’ said Mr. Uniform. ‘He is in room three oh five.’

After Plug Hat left I stepped up to the desk & stood on tiptoe to make myself look as tall as possible.  

I said in a high-tone English accent, ‘Excuse me, sir. Can you tell me is Mrs. V. F. von Vingschplint residing here?’

Mr. Magenta Uniform wrinkled his nose to make Expression No. 3 – Disgust – and said, ‘What business is it of yours, boy?’ 

I said, ‘I have an important message for her.’ 

He said, ‘You may give it to me.’ 

I said, ‘I have been instructed to place it in her hands only.’

He came out from behind the tall counter & looked me up and down, taking in my short black hair & muddy complexion & oversized greatcoat which almost reached ground & thus hid most of my girly-girl button-up boots from his view.

‘A likely story!’ he said. ‘As if a savage like you would have anything to do with Mrs. von Vingschplint.’ He grasped my arm so hard it hurt and started to haul me through the lobby towards the glass & brass double doors. 

I was trying to think what to do when my sharp nose caught the unmistakable scent. It was the ‘pipe of a thousand smells’! 

Digging the heels of my button-up boots into the Turkey carpet of the Occidental Hotel, I looked around for its owner.

Sure enough, I saw two clean-shaven men, one slightly plump with a ‘hangdog’ expression, the other good-looking with fox brown hair and a slim figure. 

I recognized them both and cried out, ‘Mr. Clemens! I mean, Mr. Twain! Please help me! Tell this man I am not bogus!’

The man with fox-brown hair stopped & turned & peered over at me with blood-shot eyes. 

‘Why P.K.!’ he slurred. ‘Imagine seeing you here in Frisco. Ain’t it fine? And ain’t this hotel the bulliest thing? It is like heaven on the half shell.’

Help me!’ I repeated. ‘I am on a detective job and they do not believe me.’

Magenta Uniform said, ‘Do you know this boy, Mr. Twain?’

‘Sure,’ drawled Sam Clemens AKA Mark Twain. ‘He is a famous personage in Virginia City. He is a miniature Pinkerton Detective.’

I was thankful he had left Virginia before the news about my being a gal got out.

The man gave Mr. Mark Twain Expression No. 5 – suspicion. And with good reason: the newspaper reporter was a known prankster and brazen liar. 

‘You on the trail of a desperado, P.K.?’ Mark Twain winked at me.

I nodded, and tugged my arm free of the clerk’s grasp. ‘I have to find a Mrs. V. F. von Vingschplint and I think she is staying here. It is a matter of life or death!’

Mark Twain turned to Magenta Uniform. ‘Please assist this young Pinkerton Detective,’ he slurred. 

The clerk heaved a deep sigh. ‘Very well, sir,’ he said. ‘If you are certain you can vouch for this person.’ 

‘I am certain,’ said Mr. Twain. ‘Is Mr. Shplingvint residing here?’ It was clear from his bloodshot eyes and languorous drawl and whiskey breath that he had not yet been to bed. 

Mrs. von Vingschplint is in room two oh two,’ said Magenta Clerk. ‘But she is not here at present. She departed a few minutes ago, on her way to church.’

‘Which church?’ I said. 

‘Why, the Unitarian Church of course,’ he replied. ‘Mr. Starr King is preaching this morning. He is small in stature but big of heart and all the ladies swoon for him.’ 

‘Dang my buttons!’ exclaimed Mark Twain. ‘Is it Sunday? I promised John D. Winters I would escort his wife to church. I said I would meet her here at ten to eleven.’ 

‘Here she comes now,’ said his friend, Mr. Clement T. Rice. ‘Perhaps I should nip upstairs and attend to my toilette.’ 

‘No!’ cried Sam. ‘Last Sunday you drenched yourself with so much cologne and bergamot that you smelled like the owner of drug store and barber shop combined. Why hello, Miz Winters,’ he drawled as a lady in gray swept up. ‘We have been waiting for you.’

Mrs. John D. Winters was wearing a gray silk gown with puffy sleeves and a lighthouse bonnet with little sprigs of gray-green sagebrush on it. I had seen her once or twice last November when I was working on a case in Carson City. Her husband was one of the legislators who had hammered out new laws for Nevada Territory. (He was a hot-tempered man who had also hammered another legislator with a piece of firewood.)

Mark Twain gestured towards us. ‘You remember Clement T. Rice AKA The Unreliable? And this here is our young friend Pinky,’ he added. ‘AKA P.K. Pinkerton, Private Eye.’

Mrs. John D. Winters greeted The Unreliable with a smile but only looked down her nose at me. I allow I must have looked like a half-Sioux street-urchin in that oversized coat and with no hat. 

‘Let us all waltz down to the Unitarian church,’ said Sam. ‘I understand the Reverend Starr King is packing them to the rafters.’

Mrs. Winters smiled & nodded graciously & took his arm.  

The four of us exited the hotel & soon found ourselves amongst a passel of finely dressed men and women all heading west on Sutter Street. At Stockton Street everybody turned south & so did we. On the other side of grassy plaza stood a squat & spiky stone church with a round window of colored glass. 

Mrs. John D. Winters had taken Sam’s arm so Mr. Clement T. Rice was walking beside me. 

‘Do you happen to know what Mrs. V. F. von Vingschplint looks like?’ I asked him, as we joined log-jam of people shuffling into the church. 

Mr. Clement T. Rice AKA The Unreliable nodded, ‘I have seen her in the hotel a couple of times. She is shapely and beautiful.’

That surprised me as the name Mrs. V. F. von Vingschplint made me think of a stout German lady of about 50 yrs.

‘She will be near the front if I am not mistaken,’ said Mr. Clement T. Rice. Then he lowered his voice. ‘They say she is climbing the Social Ladder, and that she has buried three or four husbands. She gets richer with every marriage.’

I nodded. I had met such women before. One of them was my mortal enemy: Mrs. Violetta de Baskerville. She had also made a career of marrying and then burying. I had only narrowly succeeded in preventing my mentor Poker Face Jace from falling into her deadly web of deceit. In fact, my little silver-plated Muff Deringer had once been hers. I patted the medicine bag hanging from my neck to make sure it was still there. It was. 

It was not quite 11 o’clock. The fine May morning was already hot, but inside the church it was cool & airy & full of deep organ music. I noticed the front pews were reserved for the most fashionably dressed. The usher took one look at my hatless head and oversized coat and shooed us towards the back. 

Mr. Mark Twain found us a pew in the middle. We had to squish in real good. I made sure I was on the end of the row with an exit in sight. (I always like to have an exit in sight as I do not like feeling trapped.) By the time the last surge of the organ died away, I reckon there were about a thousand people packed into that church. 

A shapely lady in a lighthouse bonnet went up & stood by the pulpit & faced the front. 

I turned to Mr. Clement T. Rice, who was sitting next to me. ‘Is that her?’ I asked. ‘Is that Mrs. V. F. von Vingschplint?’

‘No,’ he said. ‘That is a famous opera-singer. She is going to sing a Religious Song.’

Sure enough, the lady started to trill and warble in some foreign language.

I had never heard such singing in a church before & when she finished, I half expected everyone to stamp and applaud as they did at Topliffe’s Theatre in Virginia, but of course this was Church and not a Music Hall. 

Then a man of about 35 rose up from behind the pulpit & read from the Bible in a voice that seemed too big for his slight frame. He was clean-shaven with flat dark hair that covered his ears & almost reached his collar.

The Unreliable nudged me. ‘That is Starr King. There in the pulpit.’ 

I said, ‘That little nondescript man with flat hair?’

‘Yup,’ said the Unreliable. ‘Despite his youth, he is one of the most famous preachers in the world.’

This made me eager to hear him speak, but as the lady singer launched into a second hymn, Mr. Rice bent down & whispered in my ear. 

‘Do you see the lady in the front pew with the violet-colored skyscraper bonnet?’

I nodded. 

That is Mrs. V. F. von Vingschplint!

‘Are you sure?’ 

‘I am positive. She always wears that color.’

Heart thumping, I slipped out of the pew & started down the side aisle. The opera singer was still trilling and the organ was still groaning. 

Out of the corner of my eye I saw a black-clad usher scowl & shake his head at me, but he was way over yonder on the other side of the church so I reckoned I could make it. The music drowned out my tippy-tappy boots as I clamped my arms to my side and broke into a fast walk. (How I longed for my butter-soft moccasins!)

I was almost at the front when the opera-singer ceased her song & sat down. 

Mr. Starr King stood up, rising in his pulpit. ‘Today’s lesson,’ he said, ‘will be taken from Psalm one hundred ten and verse three, Your troops will be willing on your day of battle. Please be seated.’

He was interrupted by shouting from the back of the church. Many people looked to see what was causing the commotion, including Mrs. von Vingschplint. She turned her skyscraper-bonneted head to glance back. 

At last I saw her lovely face.

My stomach did a somersault. 

Mrs. V. F. von Vingschplint was not like Mrs. Violetta de Baskerville. 

She was Violetta de Baskerville. 

Read on...

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Case of the Bogus Detective 33

Riding in the back of that stagecoach, I fell into a deep & dreamless sleep. Sometimes I half woke up when we reached a station & they opened the mail boot, but it was always to put something in. Nobody saw me burrowed in my nest. I slept through Placerville which used to be called Hangtown. I slept through Diamond Springs & Mud Springs & Buckeye Flat & Shingle Springs & Durock’s & Mormon Tavern & Folsom where there is a big prison full of desperados. I slept for about 7 or 8 hours and when I was woken by the letter-sacks being lifted up & out, it was like a resurrection. I suddenly felt damp & shivery & exposed, like a butterfly whose chrysalis has been peeled off too soon. 

I blinked up into the face of a big, black-skinned man who had been hefting out the mail-bags. 

Behind his head I saw the pale purple sky of dusk. 

He was making Expression No. 4 – Surprise. 

I said, ‘I am half Indian so they made me ride in the mail boot.’ 

Before he could question this statement, I said, ‘Is this the right place to catch a steamer to Frisco?’

‘Yeh,’ he said. 

‘Do any of the steamboats travel by night?’

‘Not usually,’ he said slowly. ‘But the Antelope, she be delayed by boiler problems. They had to fix the machinery. She just about to embark now. She be right over there.’

I tried to move but my legs were full of pins and needles. 

‘Will you help me get out?’ I asked. ‘My legs are full of pins and needles.’

He helped me get out. 

‘Thank you, sir,’ I said. ‘May the Lord bless you for your kindness.’

As I hurried in the direction he pointed, a sudden Thought came to me. If the steamship to Frisco had been delayed, maybe I was not too late to catch that murdering Ray G. Tempest. He might be on board with his dung-smelling booty!

I was bare-headed but double-coated & still wearing button-up boots. I ran tippy-tappy across the levee dodging people & pack animals & piles of suitcases, etc. 

I saw a line of people shuffling onto a big steamboat: the Antelope

In the dusky half-light it looked like a white hotel with a big smokestack rising up out of it & a big wheel on the side. I could not even see the river, though I could smell it. 

As I went across the wooden wharf, I saw a sign: 

$2.00 Cabin
50 cts Steerage

‘Excuse me, sir,’ I asked a man in the line. ‘Where do you buy tickets?’ 

‘Get away, Injun!’ He raised his cane to strike me. ‘I know your type: beggars and pickpockets!’

I backed away, but a woman pointed. ‘Over there,’ she said. ‘But this steamer is full and the ticket office closed for the day.’ 

The woman was dressed all in black. She had three children with her: two hatless little boys and a girl in a tattered bonnet. I reckoned she was a widow so I thanked her but stayed close. I shuffled along behind them in the evening gloom & hung my own hatless head like her twin boys. I hoped the ticket man would think I was with them, and he did, for he let me pass. Hallelujah! I sent up a silent thank you to the Lord. 

I followed the widow woman & her family into the ‘steerage’ section. It was like a wide wooden corridor with wooden chairs all ranked in rows. 

There were no empty chairs left, so the woman sat on the hard floor by a wall and gathered her children around her. The little girl started to cry. 

‘Shush, Eunice,’ said the woman. ‘Crying never did nobody no good.’

I sat nearby. 

I hoped she would not notice but she did. 

‘Did you follow me?’ she asked me in a low voice. ‘What do you want?’ Her face, half hidden by a black poke bonnet, was pale. 

‘Please, ma’am,’ I said. ‘My name is P.K. Pinkerton. I am a private eye in disguise.’

‘You do not look like a private eye in disguise. You look like a desperate half Indian pickpocket. I am in half a mind to summon a steward.’

‘Please ma’am,’ I said. ‘Do not give me away–’

I was interrupted by a terrible grinding that started low but got louder & louder & then ended in a shriek. I had heard of boilers exploding on steamboats and sending scalding bodies flying a mile high into the air. But nobody else seemed to mind so I guessed it was normal. 

‘Go along now,’ said the widow lady. ‘You cannot stay here with me. I used the last of my money to buy this ticket and I can not fend for another child.’ 

‘Please,’ I said above the noise of the throbbing engines. ‘You do not have to fend for me. Just let me stay here with you until we get to Frisco. Then I will leave you alone forever. But I need you to pretend I am your kid, if anyone should come by.’

I could see she was wavering. 

Or maybe shivering. 

I stood up & unbelted my greatcoat. Without removing it, I took my arms out of the sleeves & shrugged off the velvet sacque from underneath & put my arms back in the coat sleeves & stepped out of sacque which was now on the floor. I picked it up & held it out to her. 

‘Here,’ I said. ‘You can keep this purple velvet silk-lined, ermine-trimmed cape as proof of my good will.’

She made Expression No. 4 (Surprise) and then Expression No. 1 (a genuine smile). 

She took off her own thin shawl & wrapped it thrice around the narrow shoulders of her little girl & put on my velvet sacque. 

Then she began to weep. 

‘Oh,’ she said, stroking it. ‘I never felt nothing so beautiful and warm. Children, feel the fur!’ 

Eunice and her twin brothers all snuggled up to their ma & stroked the velvet cloth & white ermine trim of the sacque. Without exchanging a word or glace, the twin boys burrowed under the sacque, one on each side, so that the mother looked like a big purple hen sheltering chicks beneath her wings. 

Eunice curled up on her ma’s lap & fell asleep sucking her thumb. 

‘Come sit here,’ said the woman to me, as the boat started to move. 
I sat down on the floor with my back against the wooden wall. I could feel the whole boat pulsing. 

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the ticket-taker coming. 

What if he asked me for my ticket and found I did not have one? Would he toss me in the river? 

‘Lean your head on my shoulder,’ urged the widow lady. ‘Pretend you are asleep.’

I leaned my head against the widow lady’s shoulder & pretended to be asleep. In the golden light of oil-lamps would he notice my skin did not match her other children’s? His footsteps went past so I guessed he had not noticed. 

Soon they dimmed the oil-lamps and most everybody slept, including the widow lady. 

But I had just woken from my 8 hours good sleep the depths of the stagecoach so I was now wide awake. I reckoned it was time to see if my enemy was aboard. 

I crept up and down steerage and sniffed the keyhole of each cabins. Mr. Ray G. Tempest and his dung-smelling gold & silver sacks were not there.

I went downstairs to the engine room which was like the Fiery Place with its heat & noise & its diabolical pounding pistons & half-naked men all glistening with sweat as they shoveled wood into a gaping mouth of fire. Mr. Ray G. Tempest was not there.

I went outside into cool damp night air but found only a narrow walkway ending in the starboard paddle-wheel on one side and the port paddle-wheel on the other. The turning wheels slapped the black water into pale foam that glowed for a moment & then melted into darkness behind us. The sight of it and the swishy noise almost entranced me but I was brought to my senses by a shower of sparks falling around me.  I looked up and saw they had come down from the towering smokestack. 

While I was looking up, I saw another deck up there. I followed the pointing finger up stairs to the HURRICANE DECK at the top of the boat. 

Mr. Ray G. Tempest was not up there.

I saw a lone man, smoking a pipe in the moonlight.

The man was leaning on a rail, looking out at sedge & tule reeds poking up from black sheets of standing water. 

I went over and leaned on the rail beside him. 

‘Howdy,’ he said. 

‘Howdy,’ I replied. 

He was smoking St. James Blend, the same tobacco my photographer friend Isaiah Coffin smokes. The smell of it made me pang for Virginia City. But I had Burned My Bridges and would not be returning there any time soon. 

The man with the pipe introduced himself as Mr. Alfred Doten. He told me the Antelope was the best steamer of them all. 

‘She is a hundred and fifty feet long,’ he informed me. ‘And she carries up to three hundred passengers. There is a special reinforced room right in her middle,’ he added. ‘It is called the Gold Room.’ 

I said, ‘Gold Room?’

He nodded. ‘It has got an extra strong floor so the gold does not fall through and sink the boat.’

‘Do you reckon it is strong enough to hold an ox-cart full of dung-smelling gold and silver?’

‘You bet!’ 

I was about to ask him to show me where it was. Then I had a thought. 

‘How long would it take a stagecoach to get from Friday’s Station to Sac City?’ 

He puffed his pipe for a moment. ‘About eight hours, I reckon.’ 

‘And what about an ox-cart?’

‘Day or two,’ he puffed. 

I thought, Dang! Ray was in a slow-but-steady ox-cart while I had been flying along on a stagecoach that changed teams of horses every 15 miles. Even though he had a four-hour start, I probably overtook him somewhere on the road while I was curled up asleep in the mail boot! 

At first my spirits sank. Then I had another idea. 

I turned to Mr. Alfred Doten. ‘Have you heard of the Occidental Hotel?’

‘Why surely,’ he replied. ‘It is one of those fancy new hotels on Montgomery Street.’

I pulled out the cherry red slip in my pocket and showed it to him.

‘Is it near the What Cheer House?’

‘It surely is,’ he said. ‘Only a block or two away.’

Hallelujah! I said to myself. If Mrs. V. F. von Vingschplint is still at the Occidental Hotel then I can find out what role she played in all this & solve the mystery & clear my name.

Read on... 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Case of the Bogus Detective 32

‘I said sit!’ 

The telegraph operator at Yank’s Station was aiming a cocked Colt’s Navy Revolver at me and his tone was firm. 

But I did not sit down to ‘wait for the Law’ as he suggested. 

Instead, I feinted to the left, dodged to the right, grabbed the rickety straight-backed chair on my side of the desk & swung at the Telegraph Operator with what I hoped was a blood-curdling Lakota war cry. ‘Aiiieeee!’ 

Normally you should not attack someone who is pointing a loaded firearm at you. 

But I was riled. 

I was riled at Ping.

I was riled at my dead & bogus Pa.

I was riled at Mr. Ray G. Tempest. 

I would search out the Truth and have my Revenge. 

And I was d-mned if anybody was going to get in my way. 

THUMP! I knocked the gun out of his hand. 

CLONK! It hit the raw plank wall and rebounded back onto the floor my side of the desk. 

CRASH! I smashed his telegraph machine with the chair. 

The gun was still spinning on the floor at my feet. I threw down the broken chair and had the revolver in my hand before he could react.

‘God d-mn,’ he said. ‘You busted my machine.’ 

‘Tear out the rest of those wires,’ I commanded. ‘And use them to tie your feet to the chair.’

He opened his mouth to protest. 

‘Do it!’ Using both hands, I cocked the pistol & raised it & pointed it at his heart. 

He tore out the wires & tied his ankles to the chair legs with trembling fingers. 

‘Take off your belt,’ I commanded. 

‘Stick your arms through the back slats of the chair,’ I added. 

And finally, ‘Wedge them in real good.’ 

When he had wedged his arms in real good, I went around behind him. Once I was out of his sight, I quickly uncocked the Colt’s Navy & stuck it in a pocket of my bogus pa’s greatcoat & used his own belt to tie his already wedged arms to the back of the chair. Then I came round to the front of the desk again & pulled the revolver out of my pocket. 

‘Close your eyes and count to one hundred,’ I commanded. 

Outside I heard the sound of a cavalry bugle sounding charge. 

‘What is that noise?’ I said, re-cocking the Navy. ‘Is it the cavalry come to rescue you?’

‘No,’ he said, his eyes still closed. ‘That is the 10 o’clock stage on its way to Virginia City. Major Micky is the driver. He always blows his trumpet when he is about to arrive or depart.’

‘Will they stop for lunch?’ 

‘They will stop for coffee, and stew if any passengers want it. Shall I carry on or start again?’

‘Carry on what?’

‘Counting to one hundred.’

‘Start again,’ I said. ‘And keep your eyes shut. I am going to stand right here. I will shoot you if you open your eyes before you reach one hundred.’

But as soon as he started counting again, I backed outside & dropped the revolver into a rain-barrel so he would not find it in a hurry. 

I glanced around to make sure nobody had seen me. Then I ran for the pine-woods. Once again I heard the blare of the bugle & also the jingle of harness & clop of hooves & knew the Virginia-bound Stage was pulling up in front of Yank’s Station. 

Soon they would all know about the half Injun fugitive, viz: ME

I went into the silent & dappled pine forest & circled west, going where the pine needles were thickest in case there were any trackers on my trail. I found a hiding place behind some big pine trees near the top of a rise in the road near where any Sacramento-bound coach would have to slow down on account of the steep grade. 

My plan was to jump onto the back of a stagecoach while it was going slow, and then slip inside the rear boot which is a big pouch of waterproof leather where they carry parcels & mail. I reckoned I was small enough to fit in. Unless I wanted to foot it one hundred miles or steal a horse, it was the only way I could get to Sacramento now that I was a WANTED desperado with a price on my head. 

The pine forest was still chilly in the shadows, but it was real quiet with no noise apart from the echoing knocks of woodpeckers deep in the forest and the occasional squitter of chickadees. I put up the collar of my bogus pa’s coat and took stock of my position. 

From my skin out, I was dressed in bloomers & chemise & 1 petticoat, and over that a gaudy yellow & green dress, and over that a purple velvet sacque trimmed with white ermine & cinched by a whang leather belt with a yellow velvet reticule tied to it, and over all that my bogus pa’s greatcoat, with the cuffs folded back & the hem pinned up so it did not drag on the ground. I had two guns that both took .32 caliber rimfire cartridges. In the pockets of my bogus pa’s greatcoat was his Smith & Wesson No. 2, a few coins, some greenbacks, a lion-head meerschaum pipe, tobacco, matches, this ledger book & a couple of pencils. In the medicine bag around my neck were my Muff Deringer, 5 spare rimfire cartridges, 3 Lucifers, my original ma’s flint knife, a silk butterfly, a $20 gold coin & my genuine pa’s Detective Button. 

Finally, I had my black button-up boots & a flat-crowned gray hat that had belonged to that murdering varmint Ray G. Tempest.  
It was a useful hat, but it had been described in the WANTED poster. That meant people might be on the lookout for a hat like that. Without a hat, my short hair would make me look like a boy. So I spun the hat up into a pine tree and watched it stick in some of the high branches above me. 

Then I sat still to wait for a lift to Sacto. 

I must have dozed for I woke with a start to the sound of whip cracks coming from the east and a rough voice yelling ‘Come on you beauties!’ Up the hill came six fine horses pulling a Concord Stage. 

They were heading the right direction, but I was dismayed to see not only a driver & conductor but about half a dozen people sitting on top. Some of them were facing out and two were facing back! Also, the mail boot at the rear was crammed full to bursting. 

A few moments later I heard another stage-coach. This one was coming from the west. It was the original Decoy Stage that had set out 24 hours before, with Icy riding shotgun but a new driver and a team of horses I did not recognize. They must have heard the telegraphed news that Dizzy was hurt & the silver stage wrecked. I reckoned they were heading back to investigate the scene of the crime. 

I caught a glimpse of Icy on his conductor’s seat as the stage raced downhill. His hat & little blue goggles hid his eyes but the rest of his face was ‘set like flint’. 

I thought As soon as they find the wreck and/or those horses they will come back this way. They will be looking for me!

I was about to have a bad case of the Mulligrubs when I heard another whip crack.


This stagecoach was going my way and it was not as crowded as the previous one. 

The conductor was dozing in the noontime sunshine and so were the two skull-capped, pigtailed Chinamen sitting on top among the luggage. I gathered myself and as it rumbled past I jumped onto the back like a tick on a deer. There was a gap in the fastening of the leather ‘boot’ and I wormed my way through just as the team topped the rise & we started to speed down the next hill. 

The inside of the mail boot smelled strongly of leather & faintly of ink. It was dark & warm. I spent the next half hour burrowing behind all the letter-sacks & canvas bags of printed matter. Some of the canvas bags were a bit spiky where corners of books & magazines were poking, but I had four layers of clothes including my bogus pa’s woolen greatcoat to protect me. I took a strange pleasure in being squished tight between the weight of the mailbags and the leather at the back of the stagecoach. I felt like a mole in its burrow: snug and safe. 

It must have been one of them new Concord coaches for the thoroughbrace made it rock like a cradle. I reckoned I had found the best place to ride in a stagecoach, viz: the hidden depths of the mail boot! 

I settled back & closed my eyes & offered up a prayer to the Good Lord. 

‘Lord,’ I said. ‘If you help me get to Frisco so I catch Mr. Ray G. Tempest and find out why he and Chauncy Pridhaume involved me in this crime, I promise I will not kill the lying varmint myself but will hand him over to the Law so that he can be hanged by the neck until dead. Amen.’ 

Read on...

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Case of the Bogus Detective 31

I needed to see the WANTED notice to find out what it said about me so I could make myself look different. 

‘I have posted one of these outside your front door,’ said the young messenger, ‘and I will leave you this one. Make sure you tell all the stage drivers and passengers. I’m off to Strawberry to tell them, too!’

I heard the crinkle of paper as he passed over one of the WANTED notices to the old man. Then I heard the door of the stage house slam. Then I heard the sound of a horse’s hooves galloping west. 

I put the last piece of bread in my mouth but it was as dry a pine knot and I felt the lump of it go all the way down and sit like a pebble in my stomach. 

‘What did Toby want?’ asked the old woman who had been drawing water earlier. She had appeared from a back room. She wore a stained apron & was drying her hands on a towel. 

‘Them Reb Road Agents struck again,’ said the old man. ‘But this time they had helpers. Two men and a little girl.’ 

I heard the WANTED notice crinkle as he showed it to her.

‘A little girl?’ said the old lady. ‘Oh, Pshaw!’

‘Says it right here,’ said the man. ‘So it must be true. Prudence Pinkerton, aged 12.’

I winced at the mention of my girly name. 

‘Fur-trimmed purple cape?’ said the woman. ‘Yellow dress?  Lighthouse bonnet?’

I breathed a small sigh of relief. I was wearing Ray’s flat-topped gray hat and my bogus pa’s greatcoat buttoned over my dress and sacque. Yes, I was wearing girly-girl boots, but they were black and in that long coat only the toes were visible so they could be mistaken for a boy’s shoes. 

The lady’s voice went higher. ‘It says she is half Sioux Injun and of a sallow complexion.’ 

Dang! That was bad. There was nothing I could do about my skin. I stood up & mumbled my thanks & turned for the door. 

‘Hey, you!’ cried the old man. 

I froze. 

‘That will be four bits,’ he said. 

Fifty cents was a lot of money for rancid stew and stale bread and cup of water, but I did not object. I fished in the pocket of the greatcoat and found 2 quarters & put them on the table & went out as casually as I dared. 

On the outside wall of the stage house were half a dozen notices. I saw the newest handwritten one at once. It read as follows. 

for Robbery & possibly Murder!
Mr. Ray G. Tempest, aged around 30.
Tall and dark with mustache, sideburns & a bad tooth.
Last seen wearing gray flat-topped hat.  
Mr. Robert Pinkerton, aged around 35. Medium height, brown hair, mustache, speaks in a Scottish accent.
Last seen wearing a brown greatcoat & brown beaver-felt hat.
Miss Prudence Pinkerton, his daughter, aged 12, last seen wearing a fur-trimmed purple cape, a yellow dress & a lighthouse bonnet. She is half Sioux Indian with dark hair & eyes 
& of a Sallow complexion.
Reward: $100 each for their capture.

I felt queasy. Now all the stage drivers & passengers & pedestrians & riders travelling this road would be on the lookout for me.

The sleeves of my greatcoat were folded back and the pinned-up hem nearly touched the ground. This was not normal attire for a child. All a person had to do was imagine a 12-yr-old half Sioux girl in a man’s greatcoat and flat-topped gray hat, and they would have a mental picture of me. 

I had to get out to out of there. 

I had to get to Frisco to solve the mystery and prove my innocence.

But how? This was the only road in or out of the mountains. 
Standing there in the sunshine outside the stage stop, I looked around to get my bearings. Rising up behind the stables and a few other buildings stood thick ranks of pine trees all dense and dark. That gave me an idea of how to get to Frisco unseen. 

But first I had to find out if Ping had replied to my telegraphed plea for help. 

I sauntered towards the telegraph building, all careless-like.
As I neared the shack, my footsteps slowed down. 

My telegraphic message to Ping had named all three people on the WANTED poster, viz: Robert Pinkerton, Ray G. Tempest & me, P.K. Pinkerton.

Had the telegraph operator seen the poster yet? Or heard about the robbery? 

I went to the office & peeked into the doorway, ready to skedaddle. 

‘Your reply just came through,’ said the man, with only a cursory glance. He finished tapping something on his telegraph machine & held up a slip of paper with his free hand. 

‘Here it is,’ he said. He did not even look at me.

I breathed a sigh of relief. 

He had not heard the news. 

Or, if he had, he had not put two and two together, as they say.

I stepped forward and took the paper from him & read these words:

From: Hong Ping, proprietor Pingerton Detective Agency
To: P.K. Pinkerton, Yank’s Station
It is not true that I only care about money. I care about other things than money. But I think you only care about yourself. So I will NOT help you. We are no longer pards. You can go to the fiery place. Yrs, Ping

This surprised me in three ways: 

No. 1 – I did not know Ping’s other name was Hong.
No. 2 – I did not realize that Ping cared about other things than money. 
No. 3 – I had not thought Ping would hate me enough to want me to go to H-ll.  

Then I got a 4th surprise. 

I heard the sound of a gun being cocked & looked up to see the telegraph man on his feet. He had a Colt’s Navy in his hand & a glint in his eye. ‘Miss Prudence Pinkerton, I presume?’

The revolver was pointed at my heart. 

‘You didn’t think they would tell me first?’ he said. 

Inwardly I was cursing my stupidity, but I said nothing. 

‘I have just been telegraphing every stage station on both sides of the border that you are here,’ he added, ‘so you may as well sit down to wait for the Law.’ 

Read on...